Archives For Faith

Personal belief, salvation, spiritual disciplines, formation

Report promotes civility in public discourse
The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm released a report Sept. 26 on how Christians can help heal the country’s political divides. “Faith and Healthy Democracy,” released by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and based on interviews with nearly 50 evangelical leaders, found that “toxic” was the most common adjective used to describe today’s public discourse.

Ahead of election, evangelicals report surprising priorities
A LifeWay Research survey in conjunction with the ERLC report found evangelicals are more likely to say healthcare, the economy, national security, and immigration are the public policy concerns most important to them, rather than religious liberty, abortion, providing for the needy, or addressing racial division. Only 8% say they are single-issue voters.

Pastor condemns impeachment effort
Following the announcement of an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, one of the President’s most vocal evangelical supporters said the country could be headed for a “Civil War-like fracture” should Trump be removed from office. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, also said of fellow evangelicals: “…I have never seen them more angry over any issue than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 election and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.”

2020 will see 40% decrease in refugees resettled in U.S.
Christian leaders decried the Trump administration’s announcement last week that the U.S. will resettle only 18,000 refugees in the 2020 fiscal year. Christianity Today reported the ceiling for resettling refugees hadn’t dropped below 70,000 for 30 years before it dropped to 45,000 in 2018, then 30,000 the next year.

SBC President opens U.S. House session with prayer
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear prayed Sept. 25 before the U.S. House of Representatives, asking God to “grant that this body rule in a way that directs the men, women and children of this country toward your goodness, and enables them to respond in thankfulness to you.” Baptist Press reported Greear’s visit to the Capitol also included meetings with several legislators.

Sources: Baptist Press, LifeWay Research, Times Record News, Christianity Today

 

Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer

Lisa Misner —  September 19, 2019

By Cheryl Dorsey

Cheryl DorseyIn a recent prayer meeting with pastors and prayer leaders from Chicago and its suburbs, we were directed to read Matthew 7:7 to launch our prayer time. “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Before the prayer leader had finished speaking, the Holy Spirit dropped the chorus of this old Francis Crosby hymn in my heart.

Draw me nearer, nearer
blessed Lord,
To the cross where
Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer,
nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious,
bleeding side.

As those in the room sang with me, that chorus became the opening lines of my prayer, and as I prayed, the Lord revealed that the action of prayer fulfills dual purposes. Spending time in his presence is not only a blessing for those for whom we pray; it also builds and strengthens our relationship with the Lord. Praying draws us nearer to the Lord; he speaks to us through our contemplation of his Word, and through the sweetness of communion with him.

Several passages of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments speak of “drawing near to God.” Psalms 73:7 says, “But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works.” James 4:7a says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

I have found that as I pray for others, the Lord does a work in me—comforting, correcting, enlightening, and perfecting. While we pray, asking God to help someone with “a speck in their eye,” he kindly points out “the beam” in our own, and the wise pray-er will stop, repent, receive forgiveness, and continue in the original focus of their prayer time. Prayer is full of “teachable moments.” As we stretch out on God’s word, he increases our faith and builds up our trust in him.

Specifically, God has taught me to remember and practice these things as I pray:

1. When I “draw near” to him, God places me in alignment with his plans for my life and the lives of others. Through his holy word, the perfect prayer guide, he helps me look at the situation from his perspective. He gives me the “mind of Christ” on the matter. Things that I felt were impossible are simple from his perspective. Prayers from a finite being are surrendered to the Infinite One, the Ancient of Days, the Great I AM.

2. I am not responsible for the answers to prayer. That’s the LORD’s job. My job is to pray, to lift up the needs and issues of others and this world to a Sovereign God. I am not responsible for answering the prayer, and that takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders.

We know from Jeremiah that God has a purpose and a plan, and he responds to our prayers in accordance with his purpose, his plan, and his will. We should not confuse our effort and energy with the outcome of our prayers. The only exception is, as Andrew Murray called it, “the sin of prayerlessness,” where we don’t bother to pray at all, and therefore see no result.

3. Trust and obey. A toddler’s first steps are a little ungainly until practice gives him confidence in his ability to walk across the room. Similarly, as we consistently practice the discipline of prayer, our experiences increase our understanding of and faith in God. Pray-ers learn to trust and obey him more.

There are times when we will offer up a short and sincere prayer and leave it at his feet. Other times, the Lord will have you spend some time praying about an issue. And there may be a time when you are led to turn down your plate and fast a meal or two, spending that time in prayer instead. All of these prayer efforts should be “God-breathed,” meaning the Holy Spirit prompts you in the appropriate avenue to take. It’s not formulaic; the Lord will guide you to the perfect path for the situation.

When I draw near to God in prayer, he aligns me with his plans and reminds me of his sovereignty over all things. As he guides my prayer life, I learn to trust and obey him more. As I draw near to him, he draws near to me.

Cheryl Dorsey is prayer coordinator for Chicago Metro Baptist Association. Her husband, Rick, is pastor of Beacon Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago Heights.

Christian rocker calls leaders to value truth over feeling
In a post that has since been shared nearly 40,000 times, John Cooper, frontman for Christian rock band Skillet, responded to Christian leaders who have announced they’re walking away from the faith. Author Joshua Harris and Hillsong writer Marty Sampson both made public statements recently, with Harris saying outright “I am no longer a Christian.”

Cooper, who founded the band in 1996, also called Christians—those who lead worship and those who are led in it—to a higher standard than what is relevant or trendy in the moment. Rather than lift up current influencers as ultimate truth-tellers, he posted, rely on the Word of God.  “…we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20-year-old worship singers as our source of truth,” Cooper said. “We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word.”

>Related: Russell Moore on what to do when someone you admire abandons the faith

>Related: The roles endurance and environment play in a Christian’s ability to press on

Illinois parents weigh options ahead of 2020 curriculum change
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature on a bill that will require LGBT history in public schools has sent some Christian parents looking for education alternatives, while others are resolved to keep their kids in the school system.

“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said one Springfield mother of three. “We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”

Methodists mull denominational split
Religion News Service reports a group of conservative United Methodists met this summer to discuss how the denomination can go forward amid growing divisions over its policies toward the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage. One plan under consideration would keep the UMC denomination as a centrist/liberal organization, while creating a new entity for traditionalists.

In February, delegates to the denomination’s General Conference voted narrowly not to lift bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

MacDonald indicates return to ministry
James MacDonald, former pastor of Chicagoland’s Harvest Bible Chapel, posted online last week that he’ll “be back soon with fresh messages from God’s Word.” MacDonald was fired in February amid charges of financial mismanagement and poor leadership.

Trade war won’t affect Bibles
Bibles and other religious literature were initially on a list of items that would be subject to a 10% tax hike on goods imported from China, Baptist Press reported. But Christian leaders were relieved last week when the U.S. Trade Ambassador indicated a “Bible tax” will be avoided.

Sources: Facebook, Christian Post, RussellMoore.com, Christianity Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, USA Today, Baptist Press

Pritzker signs curriculum bill set to take effect in July 2020
Public school students in Illinois will study the roles and contributions of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s approval of a bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly in May. Four other states have enacted similar legislation: California, New Jersey, Colorado, and New York.

Baylor students request review of school’s LGBT policies
Students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, have asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big 12 Conference to investigate the Baptist school’s treatment of LGBT students and compliance with Title XI civil rights law. The student group includes members of gay club Gamma Alpha Upsilon, which has sought recognition as an official on-campus student group since 2011, The Christian Post reported.

Baylor, the country’s largest Baptist university, is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Seminary denies liability in sex abuse lawsuit
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the school has a responsibility to protect students from sexual assault, and to train them to avoid such a risk. The suit was filed by “Jane Roe,” a former student who claims she was raped on campus at gunpoint by a student the seminary employed.

Hillsong songwriter renounces faith
“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me,” songwriter Marty Sampson wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post. The Australian writer of dozens of worship songs continued, “Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.” Sampson’s announcement followed a similar statement by Joshua Harris, the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” who announced last month he’s no longer a Christian.

Christians differ on the church’s role in racial reconciliation
Four hundred years after slavery began in the U.S., age and ethnicity factor into how practicing Christians think the church should respond to the African American community now. One-third of white Christians say there’s nothing the church should do, compared to 15% of black Christians. And 35% of Millennials say the church should try to repair the damage done by slavery, compared to 17% of Elders.

Sources: The Hill, Freeport News Network, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna

By Adron Robinson

Read: Colossians 3:1-4

Ask 10 different people to define what it means to be a Christian and you will probably get 10 different answers. The name Christian is often claimed in our culture today, but the corresponding lifestyle is often absent. This disparity has left many confused on what authentic Christianity looks like.

Christianity is an external demonstration of the internal reality that by faith we have been united with Christ and hidden in him. Our position in Christ is the foundation and motivation for our daily walk in the world. That’s what the Apostle Paul wants the church at Colossae to understand; faith must have a function.

We live in a world full of doubt, disagreement, and downright evil. And the only answer to the ills of this world is the transformational power of the gospel.

Our family members, neighbors, co-workers, and friends need to see living displays of the resurrected life. We need to invite them into our homes and our dinner tables and let them see what compassion looks like, what forgiveness looks like, and what love looks like. We need to talk to them and not at them, to listen to their concerns and their struggles. We need to offer them the hope of the gospel along with a loving display of the gospel.

Many of them won’t come to church, so the church needs to go to them and display the resurrected life.

They will never stop cursing people out by their own power. They will never stop gambling away their savings by their own power. They will never stop lusting by their own power. They need the power that is greater than willpower. They need resurrection power! But if we don’t live the resurrected life, how can we expect to resurrect a dead culture?

Prayer Prompt: God, we were born in sin, yet by your grace you made us alive through faith in Christ. Now help us to live in light of the resurrection so that others may believe in you.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 16, 2019

Key issues in culture

IB Media Team Report

Gaining ground on old divides
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of public conversations Baptists are having about race. Sparked in large part by shootings of unarmed black men by law enforcement, churches have been confronted by an urgent question: How does the Bible call us to respond, both in the short-term and going forward?

In 2018, several state conventions answered by adopting resolutions on racial harmony. Missouri Baptists denounced the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined a freed slave was not an American citizen. In Charleston, S.C., South Carolina Baptists held one session of their annual meeting in the African-American church where nine people were killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in 2015. The meeting’s theme, “Building Bridges,” spoke to the convention’s commitment to healing racial divides.

In Illinois, IBSA President Adron Robinson urged Baptists in the state to overcome “growing pains” and feelings of superiority that can result in division. “Salvation has never been about race,” he preached, “but it’s always been about grace.”

Especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, conversations around race tend to land on leadership. Are SBC committees and trustee boards truly representative of the entire SBC family, when recent estimates show about one-fifth of SBC churches have non-Anglo majority memberships?

SBC leadership made an effort last year to increase minority representation on boards and committees. Another key area to watch in 2019: the filling of presidential vacancies at four Southern Baptist entities.

Debate raises larger questions
At face value, “social justice” doesn’t read like a particularly controversial term. It can ruffle feathers in church life, though, especially when connected to a social gospel that downplays repentance.

After the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission convened an April conference commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., some Baptists expressed their opposition to social justice causes they said could water down the gospel. After that, well-known non-Southern Baptist John MacArthur and other leaders released a statement expressing concern “that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

Baptist reaction to the statement was mixed. With race and gender poised to remain key areas of challenge for the forseeable future, the opportunity for churches is to dive deep into a difficult question: How do we stay biblically faithful and still engage our community, and the larger culture?

Faith in peril
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, according to watchdog group Open Doors. On average, 255 are killed every month, 160 are imprisoned, 104 are abducted, and 66 churches are attacked.

In 2018, more Christians were displaced by violence in Nigeria. In China, the government intensified its crackdown on churches. American awareness of persecution was heightened by the murder of John Allen Chau, a young missionary killed while trying to share the gospel on North Sentinel Island.

Chau’s death sparked a variety of responses among Christians regarding evangelism and appropriate missiology. While his approach was debated, his commitment to take the gospel to a difficult place served as a reminder of the call to pierce darkness with the light of Christ.

In letters before their arrests in early December, Chinese church leaders Li Yingqiang and Wang Yi encouraged their church to remember the words of Paul and rejoice in the midst of persecution, and not to count it strange. The letters also assured the church that “civil disobedience” is acceptable in order to “never stop testifying to the world about Christ.”

Their words, and Chau’s example, challenge American Christians to pray for the persecuted and to take a new look at their own calling in Christ.

By Joshua Steely

Open Bible

God the Father, Spirit, Son

Veiled in glory

Three-in-One

One true God in Persons three

Wondrous divine

Mystery

The last Sunday in May was Trinity Sunday, so I preached a sermon focused on the Trinity from the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:9-11. It’s a powerful passage that displays God’s triune saving work.

A lot of Baptists, though, might think it a bit unusual to observe Trinity Sunday; we tend to leave this to our high-church brethren in other denominations. That’s a pity, because the doctrine of the Trinity is the vital heart of the Christian faith, and we should be regularly rejoicing in this great mystery. Here’s why:

First, God the Holy Trinity is the God we worship. Christianity is a relationship with God, and what is a relationship without knowing the other person (in this case, persons)? If the goal of our lives is to be near to God, to know him, then the Trinity is essential. Our prayer and worship, our personal relationship with God, is grounded in knowing him as God triune.

Second, God is our triune Savior. The doctrine of the Trinity is not only a biblical truth, it is a truth of Christian experience. God triune has saved us. When we were lost in sin and darkness, the Father sent the Son by the Spirit to rescue us. In the power of the Spirit, the Son lived a perfect human life in obedience to the Father. Having died for our sins, Jesus rose from the dead and sent the Spirit from the Father to indwell the hearts of believers. The Spirit living in us unites us with the Son by faith, for adoption as children of the Father. 

Salvation is a thoroughly triune work, and we cannot understand redemption rightly without some understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Third, God triune is the God who loves us abundantly and graciously. The Trinity tells us that relationship has always existed in the one God—there has been love between the Father, Son, and Spirit for all eternity. That means that God has never been lonely, and he loves us not because he needs us, but simply because that’s who he is—the God who loves. The wonder of God’s love is magnified when we grasp the mystery of the Trinity.

All glory be to God our King,

Lord of love, One in Three;

Hearts rejoice and voices sing

Praise for all eternity.

The Trinity cannot be left to professional theologians and pastors who read big books. It must be a vital element in the life and worship of the church. How do we make that happen? 

1. Preach and teach on the Trinity.  Now, don’t get the wrong idea—I’m not saying you should turn your Sunday morning sermon into a systematic theology lecture.  Preach on the practical significance of the Trinity. Having a Sunday a year set apart for talking about it is a good habit. But more importantly, the Trinity should be explicitly present when we preach the gospel. Talk about the work of Christ as the saving work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Talk about salvation as being united with the Son by the Spirit for adoption as a child of the Father.

2. Shape the worship service to exalt the triune God. This doesn’t mean that every praise song has to be explicitly trinitarian. But if our worship service as a whole would be acceptable in a unitarian church, that’s a problem. We worship the one true God, the tri-personal God. Some of the old hymns are really good for this—“Holy, Holy, Holy!” is a standout example.

3. Encourage Trinitarian prayer and spirituality. The beginning of our spiritual life is marked by the Trinitarian baptismal formula—in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Carry that through into the everyday spiritual life of your church. In the public prayers of the worship service and in small groups and individual settings, model the practice of praying to the Father by the Spirit in the name of the Son. Talk (humbly) about the work of the Spirit in your life, about faith in the Son, and about the love of the Father. 

Help the people in your church find devotional materials and insightful books that bring out the practical significance of the Trinity for Christian spirituality, like “Delighting in the Trinity” by Michael Reeves (IVP, 2012).

The Trinity is the heart of the Christian faith, the fundamental mystery of our great God. May our churches reflect the centrality of this awesome truth.

Joshua Steely is pastor of Pontoon Baptist Church in Pontoon Beach.