Archives For Ferguson

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

After an unarmed man was shot and killed by a South Carolina police officer, urban ministry strategist D.A. Horton advocated “radical righteousness” instead of retaliation.

The_Briefing“Radical righteousness is lived out when we work to see a criminal receive proper punishment, instead of private revenge; public order instead of personal retaliation; and respond with practical righteousness in place of our personal rights,” said Horton during a chapel service at Charleston Southern University April 8. The North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for urban student missions said the church must pursue the “radical righteousness” Jesus prescribed in Matthew 5:38-42, according to Diana Chandler’s report for Baptist Press.

“I was not present for Mike Brown [in Ferguson, Mo.], for Tamir Rice [in Cleveland, Ohio], for Eric Garner [in New York City], for Ezell Ford [in Los Angeles] and for the multitude of names that have been going down. I wasn’t there when the officers got gunned down in Brooklyn,” Horton said.

“… But what I do know as a believer, there was a real world with real hurt. There [are] real issues going on out there. And if believers cannot look to the words of Christ, and be words of comfort and clarity to our culture, then we don’t need to be claiming to be the church.”

The American Humanist Association has dropped its lawsuit against a New Jersey school district, allowing students to continue saying “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance. Read the full story at

A prayer written by Southern Baptist pastor Jack Graham will be read around the country on May 7, the National Day of Prayer. Graham is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and current pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas metro area.

“We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us,” says Graham’s prayer, which will be read at Day of Prayer celebrations. “Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You.”

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is urging Christians to promote an April prayer emphasis with the hashtag #PrayforMarriage. Last week, the Southern Baptist ethics entity issued a challenge to pray at 10 a.m. (Eastern time) on April 28, the morning the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in several same-sex marriage cases. The web page includes a sample prayer guide.

A majority of Americans believe politics would be more civil and effective if politicians read the Bible more. Read more in Christianity Today’s report on the 2015 State of the Bible study from the American BIble Society.

More news from the State of Bible report: Of the nearly 7,000 languages used as first languages, more than half lack a completed Bible translation. At the same time, 72% of Americans believe the Bible is available in all the world’s languages. Read more at

By the year 2050, Pew Research has forecasted, 38% of the world’s Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, Europe’s share of the global Christian population will continue to decline, from 66% in 1910, to 26% in 2010, to 16% projected for 2050.

COMMENTARY | Mark Coppenger

Mark_CoppengerIn late February, I was in St. Louis for a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, a trip connected with my work as an apologetics prof at Southern Seminary. I figured that since I was in the area, I would visit the suburb of Ferguson, recently aflame on international news.

I was surprised at a number of things: that the city had not been reduced to Beirut, but that the vast majority of buildings were unscathed, and business alive; that the Indians who ran the store Michael Brown robbed would speak freely of the incident; that a chain fence with hundreds of inscribed streamers spoke promise more than anger, e.g., “The sky’s the limit.”

But my big Ferguson moment came at the downtown meeting, where the philosophers devoted a three-hour session to the riots. After attending presentations of other papers, I was able to make the last hour of the panel discussion. There I heard unrelenting disdain for the city and police and an unbroken strain of lament for the victimhood of Brown. And the moderator was fielding audience jeremiads without rebuttal.

When one of the panelists asked what philosophers might bring to the table, I raised my hand to suggest that we could use more Socratic give-and-take instead of the “groupthink” I was hearing. I also said that I could tell my grandson (who is white) in an affluent suburb of Nashville to expect very bad things to happen to him if he ever shoplifted, manhandled the clerk, or menaced a policeman who confronted him. My comments were not well received.

Look, anybody whose been the victim of a speed trap or addressed with gratuitous surliness by a cop has had at least a small taste of what blacks were protesting in Ferguson. The Department of Justice report pictured a sorry system of fine-doubling and a virtual debtor’s prison for some, policies that fell particularly hard upon poor blacks.

Of course, there’s a school of thought that says I have no right to speak a word of judgment on Brown or the rioters since I’ve not suffered the indignities of systemic racism, etc. But we face that sort of argument all the time in ethics. During the Vietnam War, they told us we had no right to judge Lt. Calley for the My Lai massacre since we hadn’t shared the horrors of infantry combat in Quang Ngai Province.

Similarly, we’re told we guys have no business telling a woman she has to carry a child to term since we never have to endure unwanted pregnancy. On it goes, whether you’re trying to bring a biblical word to bear on divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, or tithing. Of course, this makes ethics a joke, since feelings and testimonies of victimhood can trump standards at every turn.

One side says you really can’t make the call until you’re in their shoes. The other side says that “in their shoes” is often a bad place to make the call, since you may well be addled by the hurly burley of trials and emotions. This turns into a game of self-serving story telling, a war of anecdotes, when what we need is dispassionate moral clarity.

It is far better to sort things out, Bible in hand in your armchair or prayer closet, before descending into the chaos.

Reflecting on Ferguson, I’ve returned to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is essentially a salvation passage, one that feminists have tried to press into service against male leadership in the church and home. I hope I’m not joining the ranks of Scripture twisters in quoting it to stand up for universal standards of Christian morality, where all are subject to biblical guidelines, no matter how exalted or degraded their circumstances may be.

In Amos 7, God hangs moral plumb line beside the culture, and I think that color-blind Galatians 3:28 does the same thing.

Mark Coppenger is professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was formerly president of Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, and founding pastor of Evanston (IL) Baptist Church.

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of the Illinois Baptist’s coverage of a recent summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on racial reconciliation and the gospel. Read part 2 next week here at

NEWS | Meredith Flynn

Weeks of riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of a young black man, Michael Brown. More protests in major cities after the death of another African American, Eric Garner, during an arrest. And with the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, the culmination of a summer of racial unrest in America. And it was only the beginning.

Chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot” in the streets gave way to “Black lives matter,” and in personal conversations, the question has become “Why now?” and “I thought we had made so much progress on race relations in the U.S.”

A sad and challenging summer, followed by a new round of unrest in Ferguson after a condemning report from the U.S. Department of Justice, leaves many thinking, “Apparently not.”

And the church wonders, What can we do? And in some corners Christians have asked, What does the gospel require us to do?

“How do we as people formed by Christ start to have those conversations out in the world?” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore at a March summit in Nashville. “It starts if we’re in the same body, gathered around the same table, praying with one another, praying for another, serving one another, being led by one another, and then we will stand up for and speak up for one another.”

The state of race relations in America, from Ferguson to New York, and coast to coast, is demanding fresh thinking and producing new preaching on race in all kinds of churches—including here in Illinois.

More than 500 current and future church leaders gathered at LifeWay Christian Resources last month to address racial reconciliation and the gospel. The second-annual Leadership Summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission brought together nearly 40 speakers who presented on a wide range of topics: multi-ethnic ministry, Islam, the SBC’s history on racial issues, pop culture, and more.

In each message and panel, the summit’s key theme was clear: Racial reconciliation is a gospel issue. The gospel reconciles people to God and to one another, but sin is still at work in the world, causing tension, division, strife and violence.

The solution, leaders said at the summit, is for the church to preach and live out the gospel on matters of race. To examine itself for any lingering race-related sin of pride, and to work together to fight the common enemy of racism.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Moore said in his opening address. “Our sin keeps wanting us to divide up. But to the faithful, Jesus promises, ‘You will be called overcomers.’ And we shall overcome.”

Summit attenders gathered in the aisles and at the altar to pray together at the start of a March meeting on racial reconciliation and the gospel.

Summit attenders gathered in the aisles and at the altar to pray
together at the start of a March meeting on racial reconciliation and the gospel.

Learning how to see each other
“All creatures of our God and King; lift up your voice and with us sing…”

The first hymn led by band Norton Hall and worship leader Jimmy McNeal took on extra significance as the words reverberated around the auditorium. All creatures, lifting up their voices, together. African American, Anglo, Hispanic; male and female; young and old. At the summit, mostly young.

The picture painted in “All Creatures of Our God and King” isn’t possible when people are left to their own devices, summit speakers said. The gospel is central to racial reconciliation. In perhaps one of the few times the Good News has been compared to mayonnaise, Dallas pastor Tony Evans said it acts as an “emulsifier,” like the eggs that helps combine the ingredients in his favorite sandwich condiment.

“Grabbing a black Christian and a white Christian, a red Christian and a yellow Christian, a Baptist and a Methodist, Pentecostal,” Evans preached as the crowd clapped and agreed with Amen’s. “He’s able to pull them together when you understand that the gospel can change an environment, and can do anything.”

Thabiti_Anyabwile_blogThe mission of reconciliation can be seen in the Bible from the very beginning, said Washington, D.C., pastor Thabiti Anyabwile (right). Preaching from the book of Genesis, he urged his listeners to consider how they look at people different from themselves, in light of the fact that everyone is made in the image of God.

“Every person we have ever looked at, smiled at, greeted, encouraged, insulted, slandered, touched, is a person bearing the marks of divine likeness, the ‘imago dei.’ So, racial reconciliation must begin with our learning the habit of seeing each other as together made in the image of God, and therefore possessing inestimable, unfathomable dignity and worth and preciousness.”

But seeing other people is such a commonplace occurrence, Anyabwile continued, and then there’s the problem of sin. That’s why true reconciliation requires a constant renewing of the mind. How a Christian treats people of different ethnicities is such a key part of living out one’s faith that it ought to be a category of discipleship, the pastor said.

“That [racism has] moved so rapidly to be a despised thing is wonderful,” he said. “But along the way, I think many Christians have been so afraid of the label, so afraid of the discussion, and so afraid of the implications, that they don’t even want to have the conversation.”

Working out the reconciliation that Christ has achieved for us is one of the most underdeveloped areas in Christian discipleship in the U.S., he said. A believer can live his whole life without someone sitting down with them to explore their identity in Christ.

And so, Anyabwile said, “We’re weak when the Fergusons erupt around us, we’re weak when we watch Eric Garner choke to death on a city sidewalk. We feel incompetent when we see a Tamir Rice shot in Cleveland.

“We don’t know quite what to say or what to do, when the (Department of Justice) reports come out, whether it’s telling us that ‘hands up don’t shoot’ isn’t true, or whether it’s telling us that, man, this police department is shot through with racist practice….It immobilizes us, because we’re not discipled, because we don’t have this as a category in what it means to mature as a Christian, as a follower of Christ.”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Amid continuing tension in Ferguson, Mo., church members will engage in a block-by-block outreach initiative to promote relationships–and healing–in the St. Louis suburb rocked by violence and protests since the shooting of teenager Michael Brown last August.

The_BriefingJose Aguayo, a Ferguson pastor and chaplain with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will lead the effort to send out teams of church members tasked with getting to know residents on their assigned block. Eventually, Aguayo told Baptist Press, ministries resulting from the outreach could include “sports teams, community outings and study assistance for children and adults.”

First Baptist Church in Ferguson, led by Pastor Stoney Shaw, is one of the churches participating. He told The Pathway newspaper in Missouri, “We want to join with other churches and minister. Walking the streets and praying is a simple yet powerful plan.” Read more at

In other news from Ferguson, Christianity Today reports on a dialogue between Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders. Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, posted March 12 on his Facebook page, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience.” (Read the entire post here.) But according to a group of 31 Christian leaders who wrote an open letter to Graham, the issue is often more complicated.

Family is the most central factor in how Americans identify themselves, Barna found in a new study, followed by being an American at #2, and their religious faith at #3. But the answers change, depending on how old you are.

On the day marking the Iranian New Year, President Obama issued a statement calling for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has arrested in the country in 2012. “Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Obama said. “He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.” Read more at

Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke about Christianity and liberty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where he also announced he will run for President in 2016. Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of the Christian university, introduced Cruz but was careful to note Liberty was giving the candidate a platform rather than endorsing him, The Christian Post reported.

More than $2.5 billion is wagered on the annual March Madness basketball tournament, according to the FBI. But Christians would be wise not to throw any money in the pot, says Barrett Duke, a vice president for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Read the full story at

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

After two police officers were shot March 12 in Ferguson, Mo., chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team were back in the community where they served six weeks last year.

“It is not possible to solve a community’s deep-rooted problems with a team of chaplains deployed for six weeks, and we knew that before we started,” Billy Graham Association President Franklin Graham said then, according to a story on “But God used the chaplains to touch many hearts and to plant fruitful seeds in the community.”

The_BriefingLawmakers in Tennessee proposed legislation in February that would make the Bible the official state book. Not surprisingly, some opponents say such an action is unconstitutional. But Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who introduced the bill in the House, said the action recognizes the Bible’s “historical importance.”

“The Bible has certainly had a pivotal role in the history of our state as well as our nation,” Sexton told the Baptist & Reflector newspaper. “The Bible also plays a significantly important role in our state today with several companies in Nashville being responsible for publishing more Bibles than possibly any other city in the world.”

68% of evangelicals say Congress should act on immigration reform this year, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. Other findings: 86% say reform should secure U.S. borders, and 61% say it should include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

The Christian Post reports San Francisco’s largest evangelical megachurch will no longer require celibacy from gay people desiring to be members of the church. “We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,” Senior Pastor Fred Harrell wrote in a letter on behalf of the church’s elder board. “For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage.”

In honor of today, check out this 2009 post from Russell Moore on “what evangelicals can learn from St. Patrick.”







JesusTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

How well do Americans fare at keeping Christ the center of Christmas? Pretty well, according to a new survey from LifeWay Research. 79% agreed that “Christmas should be more about Jesus,” and 70% said “Christmas would be a better experience if it had a more Christian focus.” 63% of people said the holiday should include a visit to church.

Even so, LifeWay reported, people are less sure about the season’s theological details: Only 56% agreed that Christ existed before Jesus’ birth.

As you send your Christmas cards this year, remember who’s on the receiving end, Kay Warren said in a Dec. 4 Facebook post and a later article for Warren, whose son, Matthew, committed suicide in 2013, said receiving cards with happy family photos served as sharp reminders of their own family’s grief.

As protestors rallied to speak out against grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission changed the theme of its second annual leadership summit to racial reconciliation. The March 26-27 meeting was set to focus on pro-life issues, but ERLC leaders announced the new emphasis in light of national response to current events, Baptist Press reported.

Christian leaders will gather today in Memphis, Tenn., to discuss the church and race relations. “It’s Time to Speak” will be streamed live from the Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum. The event, organized by Memphis pastor Bryan Loritts, also includes John Piper, Derwin Gray, Matt Chandler and Darrin Patrick. Gray told The Christian Post, “This event will be a call for the local church to be what she was meant to be – a multi-ethnic and multi-class of communities of reconciliation, love, and unity.

The plywood nailed to the windows of homes and businesses reminded Stoney Shaw of living near the threat of hurricanes when he was younger.

“People would brace themselves for the storm that was coming,” said Shaw, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Ferguson, Missouri. “That’s exactly what is happening here; a devastating storm. But praise God things seem to be winding down and there is a lot of rebuilding going on, which is what we’ve been praying for.” Read the full story from the Illinois Baptist.

More than $30,000 has been donated online to help three families in the wake of a triple murder in Florida. Southern Baptist pastor Tripp Battle was one of the victims in the Dec. 4 shootings, which also took the lives of Denise Potter and Amber Avalos. Avalos’ husband, Andres, was arrested Dec. 6 in connection with the deaths, Baptist Press reported.

The upcoming movie version of Louis Zamperini’s life may not fully explore his faith, but the WW2 survivor’s conversion was in the spotlight leading up to the Dec. 25 release of “Unbroken.” The 1949 Los Angeles revival where Zamperini was saved not only changed him, wrote Religion News Service’s Cathy Lynn Grossman, but also transformed the ministry of the young evangelist preaching those nights.

THE BRIEFING | “It’s business as usual” at First Baptist Church of Ferguson.

“We had a very normal Sunday, a fairly normal size crowd for worship, without any disruptions,” said Ron Beckner, the church’s associate pastor.

Nearly a week after violence erupted in the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, the church continues to go about the business of Gospel ministry.

The_BriefingWhile there are protests ongoing, Beckner said they have been “largely peaceful” following the Thanksgiving holiday. “We’re taking things one-step at a time and are hopeful the violent reaction has faded.”

Pastor Stoney Shaw led the church in prayer for the community, its residents, and leaders Sunday morning. Beckner said Shaw reminded the church that this Christmas and throughout the year, “Jesus is the harbinger of peace.”

The church will continue with its regular Wednesday evening programming this week which includes AWANAs, youth group, and prayer meeting. “We want to be as normal as we can be,” Beckner said. “We want to function as normally as possible unless we can’t.

“We’re continuing to do what we’re planted here to do. We’ll change and adapt as needed to minister to our community.”

Reported by Lisa Sergent. Click here for more on how to pray for Ferguson.

A Ferguson-focused Facebook post by football player Benjamin Watson garnered nearly 825,000 “likes” and more than 450,000 shares in the week after the New Orleans Saint published his thoughts on the verdict. “…[U]ltimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem,” Watson wrote. “…BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind.”

Long-time Baptist leader and pastor Jim Burton writes about how the church must deal with disability in this Baptist Press column. Burton’s own experience in “the blue zone” (noting the color of handicapped parking signs) began with a 2013 diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

58% of Protestant senior pastors support immigration reform “that includes a path to citizenship for those who are currently in the country illegally,” according to a pre-election survey by LifeWay Research. While 87% of responders said the U.S. government has a responsibility to halt illegal immigration, 79% said Christians should assist immigrants, even those who are in the U.S. illegally.

Bob, Larry, and all their veggie friends are now streaming on demand in a brand-new Netflix series. The first five episodes of “VeggieTales in the House” debuted Nov. 26. “It’s been clear that if we want the characters and the ministry to stay alive, then they need to keep moving as kids move to viewing media in different ways, VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer told Baptist Press.


By Lisa Sergent

Pray for St. LouisHow shall Christians respond to the events in Ferguson, Missouri? While protestors head to the streets, some clergy are joining them. Other Christians are shaking their heads, and others still are finding the grand jury’s decision and the resulting riots a cause for prayer. Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Director John Yeats is one of them.

Yeats recently wrote a blog post on the five responses we as Christians should have to what has transpired. Yeats calls on us to unite as brothers and sisters in “extraordinary prayer.”

“The pastors in Ferguson told us last week of extraordinary moments of prayer that have occurred in their city,” he wrote. “What if we joined them? What would happen if one million believers across our nation spent the next days in prayer and fasting on behalf of Ferguson and the needs of our nation?”

Yeats urges, “What if God in His sovereignty desired to use such a moment to bring us to our knees in repentance and prayer, for the ultimate purpose of bringing the blessing of revival and awakening to this city and our nation?”

This Thanksgiving we have been given the opportunity to unite in prayers of thanksgiving for what God is doing through these events, to ask for healing and understanding between all races, and for Him to be glorified through our words and actions.

Read the full blog post from John Yeats

Other notable Southern Baptist voices on Ferguson:

Ronnie Floyd, Southern Baptist Convention President, shared, “Only the Gospel of reconciliation through Jesus Christ can heal the broken in heart, bridge the racial divide that marks our society, and calm the passions that grip the human heart.”

Fred Luter, the SBC’s immediate past president, said, “The only way that the racial problem will be resolved in our country is to understand what really is the main problem. As my friend K. Marshall Williams, the current president of the National African American Fellowship, often says, ‘We do not have a SKIN problem in America, we have a SIN problem in America!’ And to that I say Amen!’”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, noted, “The answer for the Body of Christ starts with a robust doctrine of the church lived out in local congregations under the lordship of Christ. The reason white and black Americans often view things so differently is because white and black Americans often live and move in different places, with different cultural lenses. In the church, however, we belong to one another. We are part of one Body.”

Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of LifeWay Research, said, “My hope is that as we move into the holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving later this week, we will take a moment with our friends and family to pray for the people of Ferguson, Missouri, and people everywhere in our country who feel oppressed and unjustly treated. Might we love them with the sacrificial, unconditional love of Jesus.”

Ferguson: The Morning After

Lisa Misner —  November 25, 2014

Churches minister together after grand jury’s decision sparks new violence

By Lisa Sergent

Pray for St. LouisFerguson, Missouri | First Baptist Church of Ferguson stands in the middle of the chaos. “It was a rough, volatile night,” said Ron Beckner, the associate pastor. “The Little Caesar’s [Pizza] that burned down to the ground was across from our building, [but] there was no damage or anything on our property.

“It’s very quiet and business as usual this morning,” he noted.

Violence erupted in the St. Louis suburb Monday night, after a St. Louis county grand jury refused to indict a Ferguson police officer on any criminal charges in the shooting death of a young black man. The streets were filled with protestors, some looting and setting cars and buildings on fire. Twelve businesses were burned and 61 people were arrested.

But, as of now, First Baptist Church is unharmed and still reaching out to a shaken community.

Two groups – one from FBC and another from a sister church – used FBC’s parking lot as a staging area Tuesday morning to go out into the community and pick-up trash and other debris left behind by the protestors. Beckner said the church “wants people to see that God’s people are on mission.”

The local school district cancelled classes the day following the grand jury’s decision, but requested the church be a pick-up point for student lunches prepared by the district. The church also allowed the district to have staff present for what he described as “students who wished to have an opportunity for education.”

Beckner described the situation as particularly frightening for people who live close by. “I was watching the Little Caesar’s burn down on TV and couldn’t help but think of the house that sits about 150 feet behind it. What must have been going through those people’s minds?” He walked by the house this morning and found no visible damage.

“We’re praying cooler heads prevail and that city leaders can shut the violence off. We need our leaders to take an active role.”

Referring to the protesters, he said, “It only takes a few to subvert the message… One of the saddest parts of the whole thing is the very businesses that were burned serve this community and provide jobs to the people who live in it.”

Local news is reporting that unlike the riots in August, the perpetrators of the damage to the community on November 24 where from the St. Louis area. Beckner said authorities had warned that outsiders could begin to arrive in 48 hours. “We were told it takes that long for instigators outside the community to arrive. When more and more people arrive from outside the area, it doesn’t bode well for the police or our citizens.”

First Baptist Church averages just over 200 Sunday morning worshippers. The congregation is diverse: over one third of its members are African American and that number continues to grow. “We want to look like our community,” Beckner said.

Beckner also lamented how the national media are portraying the community as racist and segregated. Most of Ferguson is “fifty-fifty white and black,” Beckner said. “There’s not a lot of tension here especially among the older, more mature individuals. This picture being presented is not we lived before this incident took place.”

Throughout the tension that has existed since the August shooting, First Baptist has stood as a beacon of peace in the community. Beckner said, “We’re praying that God will get the glory and that His people will stand tall.”

“Sometimes we pray God will keep evil away from us,” he said. “That’s very noble, but we need to be God’s advocate in the midst of that evil. We need to be looking for doors of opportunity to be His hands and feet.”

Two weeks ago, First Baptist Church hosted a prayer meeting for spiritual awakening in the heartland, an event that was planned months before the August riots. Southern Baptist leaders joined local church leaders and members to pray for the salvation of Ferguson. That story appears in the December 1 issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and online at


The world has gotten scarier in recent months. If the ongoing threat from Al Qaida, government-sponsored terror in Syria, escalating conflict in Israel, and the persecution of Christians across the Middle East were not enough, now there’s the march of ISIS, a vast, mobile, and unpredictable kind of terror that produces beheadings on our TV screens and a surge in troop deployment.

We might soothe ourselves by saying, “That’s far away—over there,” if not for Ferguson, Missouri. The scenes of protests following the shooting death of a teenager by a city policeman are still fresh, and the threat of deadly riots pending the outcome of a grand jury investigation of the policeman’s actions is even scarier. Our Illinois friends who live in metro St. Louis television market have been subjected to four months of daily news coverage predicting trouble. Teachers, pastors, and church leaders have all been advised what to do if protests again turn violent.

Eric_Reed_Nov24And don’t forget Ebola. For people all over the world, these are scary days. But into such frightening times, God often sends a message: fear not.

The Lord assures Joshua as he assumes command after Moses, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Gideon, ordered to save Israel from the Midianites, is fearful until he hears from God himself: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die’ (Judges 6:23).

From Lamentations, the prayer of all Israel: “You come near when I call on You;
You say: ‘Do not be afraid.’” (Lam. 3:57).

And most famously, the head of a night-sky army tells a little band of shepherds outside Bethlehem, “Fear not, for behold…” In their declaration there’s a reason for steely nerve: A savior, a rescuer has been born.

When God sends the message to be brave and courageous, he often couples it with an assurance of his own presence. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

In Isaiah’s question, “Who has believed what we have heard?
And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to?” (53:1), the prophet is referring to the coming Messiah. God’s strong right arm is Jesus himself. That’s who will defend us. That’s who will protect us.

“Fear not” is not an idle command; God backs up what he says. “For behold” is an invitation to look and see that His promise is ready to be tested and fully verified.

Jesus, walking on water, tells the disciples: “‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’

‘Lord, if it’s You,’ Peter answered Him, ‘command me to come to You on the water.’

‘Come!’ He said” (Matt 14:27-29).

Fear not, Peter, the Lord’s strong arm will hold you up, even on the roiling sea. With such an all-powerful guard alongside, there is no reason to be afraid.

Kizzie Davis, owner of the Ferguson Burger Bar, told KMOX radio last week she refused to board up her new business, as other owners were doing ahead of the grand jury’s report. The mom-and-pop hamburger shop opened one day before the death of Michael Brown and survived the first protests. “We had no issues at that time,” Davis told the reporter. “Prayerfully, we won’t have any issues if unrest occurs this time.”

Customers commended her brave stance. “Cool management. They fear no one, but God,” one posted at the restaurant’s website. (And the turkey burger topped with a fried egg got five stars.)

Davis reminds us all that we can’t live in fear, even in fearful times. And if we follow her example, we too will stay open, keep cooking, and pray.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist and associate executive director for IBSA’s Church Communications Team.