Archives For Faith

Personal belief, salvation, spiritual disciplines, formation

The Briefing

Christian nation no more?
Most Americans do not believe America is a Christian nation today, even if many say it was in the past. About one-third (35%) of the American public believes the U.S. was a Christian nation in the past and is still a Christian nation today; close to half (45%) say the U.S. was once a Christian nation but no longer remains so; and 14% say the U.S. has never been a Christian nation.

SWBTS apologizes for photo
Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, apologized for a photo of white professors posing as rappers that appeared on Twitter and was instantly deemed racist. The photo featured senior School of Preaching faculty members gesturing and wearing bandannas and chains and was labeled “Notorious S.O.P.” One of them appears to hold a handgun.

Cedarville’s Philippians 4:8 rule
This spring, Cedarville University enacted new curriculum guidelines inspired by Philippians 4:8 and aimed at purifying coursework of erotic and graphic content. The university has spelled out new guidelines officially barring any materials that “may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students.”

Religious freedom dying in Russia
Russia’s nationwide outlaw of Jehovah’s Witnesses will likely ricochet and strike other religions outside of Russian Orthodoxy there, said Donald Ossewaarde, an independent Baptist missionary forced to shut down his church in that country. He has exhausted his appeals on an August 2016 conviction of operating a church without a permit under the 2016 anti-religion Yarovaya Law. Ossewaarde, who is making plans to return May 8 to his home in Elgin, Ill., said every religion outside Russian Orthodoxy is considered a cult.

Students: Biblical views on sex ‘unChrist-like’
A student club at Seattle Pacific University recently protested against the Christian university because it adheres to biblical views on human sexuality and gender identity.  The club, called SPU Haven, which advocates for gay students, claims that the university’s “Statement on Human Sexuality” is “unethical, unscientific and unChrist-like,” according to College Fix.

Sources: Facts and Trends, Religion News, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, The Christian Post

Exterior of a building with Education engraved in stone

I hadn’t intended college to be a particularly eye-opening experience. I was excited about my newfound freedom and interesting classes and those deep friendships everyone always talked about, but I was going someplace where I thought all those things would happen in the context of familiarity. My Southern Baptist college had felt like home during my first on-campus visit—that was what drew me there in the first place.

But at the start of my second semester, I sat with my Bible on the roof of the gymnasium (where the serious scholars went to study all night), wondering whether the loneliness and uncertainty I felt meant I had made the wrong decision in coming to a place six hours from home. Those good college things—the classes and the friends and the football games and the freedom—had all happened. But instead of feeling fulfilled, I was left with a bigger question, one that I now know most people that age, particularly younger Christians, probably face at one time or another: Who am I going to be?

I met people my own age who pushed me to a deeper investigation of what it means to be a Christian, no matter what job I would eventually choose.

A few years later when I graduated, I was glad I had been at that small college six hours from home as I tried to answer that big question. Because it was there that I found people with the knowledge, experience, and empathy to help young people navigate that tricky territory between the familiar and the future. Here are three things I still value about my Christian college experience:

1. A deeper faith identity. Raised in a minister’s home, I thought I had Christianity figured out (and, at 18, probably most everything else too). That’s why it was surprising, then convicting, to find other people my age who knew much more and felt much more about the call of Jesus on their lives than I did. And these weren’t just the kids that had committed to career ministry or missions—these were everyday students studying to be dentists, attorneys, and counselors. But they seemed to understand that the responsibility of a Christian to be, well, a Christian, extended far beyond one’s future vocation. They lived their faith in a way I wanted to, and their example pushed me to a deeper investigation of what it meant to be actually be a believer in Christ, no matter what job I would eventually choose.

2. Challenging, trustworthy professors. My first class on my first day of college was Old Testament Survey, taught by a young professor who would present four or five different theories about a difficult text and then say something like: “That’s what some people think. Here’s what I think.” Usually, his opinion was similar to one that he had presented. But by giving us the breadth of knowledge on a particular topic, he showed us young Bible scholars that it’s OK to wrestle with Scripture. At the same time, his daily, trustworthy counsel through the Bible gave us an anchor to come back to amid the multiple interpretations offered by the outside world.

3. Unrequired opportunities. Like many high school youth group kids, I started going to church because my parents drove me there, and I kept going because I had always gone. But in college, I didn’t have to be anywhere. Tuesday night Bible study wasn’t a necessity; neither was a Saturday mission project in our neighboring city. Learning to commit to things that weren’t required drove me to deeper discipline about how I spent my energy and time. The ministry activities that are most valuable, I learned in college, are the ones that root themselves in your mind and heart so that you are compelled to take part, even if no one would miss you if you weren’t there.

After I graduated, I moved to the Midwest to attend graduate school at a large state university. It was certainly different than where I had been. And that’s one more reason I’m grateful for my college experience: The foundation that God, through wise professors and leaders, had begun to lay for me carried me through the challenges of a truly unfamiliar place. And has continued to do so, all these years later.

– Meredith Flynn

silhouette of cross

I was completely blindsided after being called into a meeting at my church with another woman in leadership who had been upset with me for months. But sadly, I had no idea until she told me in our meeting that morning.

Months earlier, someone told her I didn’t agree with her leadership style. But that wasn’t what I’d said in a team meeting with several other leaders. Our women’s ministry director had asked my opinion about leadership training, and I shared my thoughts, but nothing I said was directed at her.

We both volunteered countless hours in ministry, pouring our hearts and lives into women in our church. All the while, we were on the same team, and I assumed we fully supported one another. But now the trust we had built for years was unraveling.

Driving home, my spirit felt crushed. It felt like I just didn’t have it in me to keep pouring out with the risk of being misrepresented and misunderstood again. I wasn’t strong enough or resilient enough. And I was exhausted from the hurt I felt and hurt I had caused.

By God’s grace, I chose to die to my fears and rise again in His courage by relying on Christ in me to navigate this very difficult relationship, leadership, and ministry situation.

That afternoon, I sat in my home office in tears. Laying my head down on my desk, I told God, I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.

After telling Him all the reasons why it was time for me to quit, a truth buried deep in my heart rose to the surface: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20).

With my eyes closed, I pictured Jesus crucified. Arms stretched wide and willing. Willing to give His life no matter what it cost Him. Willing to be misunderstood, misrepresented, questioned, rejected, betrayed, and hurt beyond comprehension.

Tears streaming down my cheeks, I thought about Jesus on the cross. And I sensed Him asking me to die to my fears and let Him live His life and grace through me. My eyes still closed and dripping with emotion, I saw the scene of Golgotha with Jesus nailed in cruciform. But this time, there was a shadow of the cross behind Him, and I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to lie down on the floor in the shadow of the cross.

I had never had this kind of encounter with God, but I sensed it was His way of showing me how to die to my fears. How to live crucified with Christ and find strength in His resurrection power, exchanging my brokenness for His humility and strength.

Lying in the shadow of the cross, I rested and waited for strength to get up again. Strength to stand at the crossroad and decide. Would I walk away from God’s calling on my life or allow Jesus to live His life through me? Would I protect myself from getting hurt again or live by faith in the One who died for me?

Being misunderstood and misrepresented makes it especially difficult to stay the course and pour ourselves out for Christ and others.

On our own we aren’t enough. Not strong enough, resilient enough, or humble enough. But Christ in us is more than enough.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to get us out of hell and into heaven. He died on the cross to get Himself out of heaven and into us! That is resurrection life — and the very place we get our enough. When we’ve been crucified with Christ, we no longer live, but Christ lives in us, and the life we live, we can choose to live by faith in the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

By God’s grace, I chose to die to my fears and rise again in His courage by relying on Christ in me to navigate this very difficult relationship, leadership, and ministry situation. It was far from easy, but I can look back and say it was good because God was in it, and over time our friendship was restored.

Relationships are hard. Being misunderstood and misrepresented makes it especially difficult to stay the course and pour ourselves out for Christ and others. Jesus knew it would be because He faced the same temptation to walk away. Yet, He stayed the course and He stayed on the cross.

This Easter, let’s remember Jesus’ willingness to give up His life for us, knowing He would rise again and, therefore, we could, too. Let’s receive the resurrection power Christ offers as we open our hearts wide to Him and the life He wants to live through us. Let’s allow Him to be our enough, for indeed He is.

Renee Swope is the best-selling author of “A Confident Heart” and a contributing author of the (in)courage blog and “Craving Connection,” a new release from B&H Publishing. This article first appeared in HomeLife, a publication of LifeWay. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.

Church pews with hymnalsI’ve never really had a moment in my life—39 years—when I wasn’t going to church. My parents got engaged and married in the church. I was born into, raised in, and baptized in church.

My parents, first-generation Christians, were devout church-goers. We went every time the doors were open—and many times when they weren’t. My father, a plumber, volunteered thousands of man-hours helping build church buildings. My mother volunteered, worked as a secretary, and later served as a preschool teacher.

Since age five, I sat in services: Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday night prayer meetings. I wasn’t allowed to draw. I was required to sit up straight—no fidgeting. And I wasn’t allowed to fall asleep.

Up through my teenage years, I thought of church as a bit boring. Sure, there were some life-changing, soul-stirring messages at summer camp or a special service. But for most of my life, including my years as a pastor, I did pretty much the same thing every week: singing familiar songs, reading Scripture, listening to a sermon.

Ironically, one axiom of my childhood evangelical faith was this: Church is more than the service or a building; it is the called-out people of God, living on mission every day. Church, I was told, will not get you to heaven. Only a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ will do that.

Tantalizing ways to excite people, or timeless rituals that shape our hearts?

I still believe this, more strongly now than ever, but I also believe that in some ways church does—or did—save me. It didn’t save me in the ways you might expect: a spectacular Sunday service, a home run sermon, or a gripping worship set. God’s primary tool to transform my heart was not the conference speaker or the traveling revivalist or the worship concert. Those events were important, but now I realize that, more often, God changed my life using routine worship services in which I sang hymns I didn’t quite understand and heard messages I didn’t quite grasp.

During times of fear and anxiety, I drift back to the words of hope from Martin Luther’s epic hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:

And though this world, with
devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.

When I feel insecure, I recall the lines of the Methodist hymn:
I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

The hymns of the blind poet, Fanny Crosby. The majestic lines from Isaac Watts. The simple melodies of Bill Gaither. These are just a few of the hundreds of hymns that were cemented in my heart from week after week of “boring” church services. As a young child enduring the routines of our Baptist church, I didn’t realize what was happening to me.

In his book, “You Are What You Love,” James K. A. Smith talks about the way our hearts are formed:

“There is no formation without repetition. Virtue formation takes practice, and there is no practice that isn’t repetitive. We willingly embrace repetition as a good in all kinds of other sectors of our life— to hone our golf swing, our piano prowess, and our mathematical abilities, for example. If the sovereign Lord has created us as creatures of habit, why should we think repetition is inimical to our spiritual growth?”

This repetition built in my heart a deep reservoir of theology. And now, as a husband and father, and pastor, whenever I stand and sing these hymns, I can barely contain myself. Some choruses evoke memories: My father serves communion while “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” plays faintly in the background. Dad fights back tears as we sing “Jesus Paid It All.”

These rituals train our hearts. We sing to ourselves songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. We hear the gospel preached to us over and over. We lift the cup to our lips and the bread to our tongues remembering, again, our place at the King’s table. Through these practices, God takes our hearts and seals them for his courts above, to paraphrase another hymn writer, Robert Robinson.

Don’t get me wrong. We shouldn’t eschew creativity in the church. We are, after all, “new creation” people. But our creativity should not seek to tell a new story. It should be designed to communicate to our hearts that same, old, wonderful story of salvation.

When I think back on the simple routines that changed my life, I’m encouraged in my own pastoral role. I’m reminded afresh that the work of ministry is not so much about finding new, tantalizing ways to make people excited about Jesus, but about the timeless rituals that shape their hearts.

Daniel Darling is the vice president for communications for the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Previously, he served as a senior pastor in the Chicago suburbs. This column is excerpted from Baptist Press.

The Briefing‘The Shack’ film stirs debate
A fictional and emotionally destroyed Mack Phillips answers a mysterious invitation to a remote, isolated cabin. There he finds a trinity of fatherly love in a woman named “Papa” whose cohorts teach Phillips forgiveness and the faith to run on water — literally. It’s the synopsis of the movie “The Shack,” based on William Paul Young’s book by the same title, that some described as a biblically sound parable. And as with the book, others are criticizing the movie as a farce that serves to deeply distort rather than affirm biblical truths.

Poll: Decide bathroom access by biological sex
A majority of Americans think bathroom access should be granted according to biological sex, according to a new poll. Of the 545 Americans adults surveyed, 56% disagree with the assertion that people who are transitioning into the appearance of the opposite sex should be legally allowed to use whichever bathrooms they want.

Screening & abortion bringing ‘Down Syndrome-free world’
In the last nine years, no babies with Down Syndrome have been born in Iceland. Holland is following suit, with a heavy push for prenatal screening. Though 74-94% do choose to abort, a large percentage of women there (and in Britain, nearly 1/3) opt out of the prenatal screening, so some babies with Down syndrome are still born in Holland.

Christian families flee Sinai after ISIS threat
Egyptian Christians are fleeing the restive Sinai Peninsula, some with just the clothes on their backs, amid a series of killings and an explicit call by Islamic State for its followers to target the minority group. Most had gone to churches but were being provided government housing Egypt’s state newspaper, Al Ahram, quoted a parliamentary affairs minister as saying.

Tim Keller stepping down as Redeemer pastor
Later this year, Redeemer Presbyterian will no longer be a multi-site megachurch in Manhattan, and Tim Keller, 66, will no longer be its senior pastor. Keller will be stepping down in a move that corresponds with a decades-long plan to transition the single Presbyterian Church in America congregation—which has grown to 5,000 members since it began 28 years ago—into three churches.

Sources: Baptist Press, The Federalist, ForEveryMom.com, Fox News, Christianity Today

The power of one

ib2newseditor —  February 13, 2017

red leaves church steeple

This is a time of year when we at IBSA do a lot of evaluating, not only of our staff’s efforts, but also of the overall health dynamics of churches. An outstanding 95% of IBSA churches completed annual church profile reports for 2016, and this gives us a wealth of information to study.

Like every year, some churches thrived last year and others struggled, so it’s possible to overgeneralize. But looking at the broad stroke data for 964 churches and missions (up seven from the previous year), it’s reasonable to say that some ministry areas such as leadership development and Sunday School participation were up, while others such as church planting and missions giving were down, at least compared to the previous year.

Of all the “down” areas, though, none concern me more than our churches’ overall baptism number, which dropped more than 11% in 2016, to 3,953. The number of churches reporting zero baptisms increased by over 10%, to 352, meaning that more than a third of IBSA churches did not baptize anyone last year.

Just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith can turn things around.

A few days ago, one pastor asked me how things were going, and the first burden I found spilling out of my heart was the decline in church baptisms. He nodded his head in empathy and agreement. “I know we were down in our church last year,” he acknowledged.

But what he said next truly encouraged me. “So we are really getting after that this year. We have set a baptism goal, and we have evangelism training planned. But we also have set goals as a church for the number of gospel presentations we will make, and the number of spiritual conversations we will seek to have, believing that those will then lead to gospel presentations.”

He went on to tell me how each leader and church member was being challenged to look for these opportunities, and that they were reporting them through Sunday school classes and other ways.

That same week, a young pastor wrote me an e-mail, thanking me for how two of our IBSA staff members had specifically helped and encouraged his small church. He admitted that in the past he had questioned how much his church’s Cooperative Program giving helped struggling churches, compared with church plants. Now, in his first senior pastorate, he had experienced firsthand the practical ministry support that state staff provide. Others in his association felt the same, he said, and were planning to join him in increasing their Cooperative Program giving this next year.

What struck me about both these conversations, and both these pastors, was the positive power of one voice, one commitment. One pastor looked at a lower baptism number and said, “We will not be satisfied with that. Here’s what we’re going to do.” Another pastor took a fresh look at the value of cooperative missions giving and said, “We can do more.”

So often it just takes just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith to turn things around. I think of Noah, and David, and Elijah, and Nehemiah, and other Old Testament heroes. I think of Peter’s boldness and Paul’s resilience in the New Testament. And of course I think of Jesus, not only on the cross, but also in eternity past, saying to the Father, “This shall not stand. I will do what it takes to make this right.”

Today, each of those pastors is using his own power of one to lead and inspire his church to a better place, regardless of the past, or what happened last year. In doing so, they reminded me how much can change when one person simply refuses to accept the status quo.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

No help for florist, baker, photo-maker
Reports are circulating about a leaked draft of an executive order designed to expand protections for individuals, organizations, and corporations’ religious convictions—including traditional beliefs on gender, sexuality, and marriage. According to experts, the four-page draft, titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” would strengthen religious exemptions under federal laws and programs, but it wouldn’t have the reach to quell debates over Christian-owned businesses refusing to serve same-sex weddings.

Congress proposes Johnson Amendment overhaul
Members of Congress have introduced legislation to enable churches and other non-profit organizations to endorse candidates or otherwise participate in political campaigns without fear of penalties from the Internal Revenue Service. The Free Speech Fairness Act would free pastors, churches and other tax-exempt entities to intervene on behalf of or against candidates in an election campaign. The measure would still prohibit financial donations from such organizations to candidates or campaigns, a bill sponsor said.

Falwell to head Trump ed task force
Evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell Jr. will head an education reform task force under President Donald Trump and is keen to cut university regulations, including rules on dealing with campus sexual assault, the school he heads said. The Liberty University president believes on-campus sexual assault investigations are best left to police and prosecutors.

Scouting and gender politics
The Boy Scouts of America announced it would allow girls who identify as boys to participate in its boys-only programs. In the past three years, the group has allowed both homosexual adults and young men to join as Scouts and leaders. The Scouts required parents to show birth certificates to verify their child’s gender. Now, the Scouts will accept whatever gender parents list on the application forms.

Pig embryos with human cells ‘problematic’
Biologists at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., announced they generated stem cells from human skin, then injected them into a pig embryo and allowed the embryo to grow four weeks in a sow’s uterus. After four weeks, human cells “were distributed randomly across the chimera,” The Washington Post reported. Joy Riley, a physician and executive director of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics and Culture, told Baptist Press the pig embryos with human calls are “morally problematic.”

 Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, World Magazine, Baptist Press