Archives For God

The BriefingTrump relying on God now more than ever
President Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network becoming President of the United States has made him rely on God more than ever. “I would say that the office is so powerful that you need God even more,” Trump told The Brody File. “There’s almost not a decision that you make when you’re sitting in this position that isn’t a really life-altering position. So, God comes in even more so.”

Trump to announce Supreme Court pick Jan. 31
Setting up a high-stakes legal and political battle, President Trump said Monday he will announce his Supreme Court choice in a prime-time address Tuesday night, two days earlier than initially scheduled. He did not disclose the identity of his nominee, but told reporters that his pick is “unbelievably highly respected” and people will be “very impressed” by the selection.

ERLC deploys online effort for PPFA defunding
The ERLC announced an online advertising campaign to rally support for the congressional drive to cut federal dollars for Planned Parenthood, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider. The effort is the first of its kind by the ERLC and includes a digital petition that makes it possible for the commission to deliver the list of signers to congressional leaders.

Tornado damages William Carey University
An EF3 tornado that ripped through southern Mississippi Jan. 21 in the wee hours of the morning damaged nearly all the 30 buildings on William Carey University’s Hattiesburg campus and left seven students injured. William Carey is affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention and has campuses in Hattiesburg and Biloxi.

Super Bowl won’t stop church services
For churches that have Sunday night activities, most pastors say it’s still “game on” despite the big game next weekend. According to a new study from LifeWay Research, 68% of Protestant pastors say their church typically has some activity on Sunday night. And among those pastors, almost 6 in 10 (59%) say they will continue as normal on the night of the Super Bowl.

 Sources: CBN, USA Today, Baptist Press, Facts & Trends, Baptist Press (2)

Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017

Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director, talks with a pastor at the Illinois Leadership Summit January 24, 2017 in Springfield.

“Personal development requires surrender and sacrifice,” shared leadership expert Mac Lake.

“If I want to grow myself there’s a price I have to pay…Discipline is often the cost we’re not willing to pay.”

More than 250 leaders gathered in Springfield for the Jan. 24-25 Illinois Leadership Summit. Mac Lake, the architect of The Launch Network, a church planting network, served as the summit’s keynote speaker and was joined by 18 break out session leaders. Together, they taught the men and women in attendance practical ways to became better leaders and how to use what they’ve learned to develop leaders in their own churches.

Visit our Facebook page to watch video from Tuesday evening’s session, and learn from Lake:

– Why people don’t do what you want them to do
– About the strengthen conversation
– How to do one minute goal setting

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter hear from some of the breakout session leaders, and read the Feb. 6 Illinois Baptist newspaper for complete coverage of the Illinois Leadership Summit.

The BriefingBaptists mobilize after weekend storms in Southeast
Southern Baptists throughout the Southeast have started responding to a deadly storm system that reportedly claimed the lives of at least 19 people from Georgia to Mississippi over a two-day period this past weekend. According to the Associated Press, 39 possible tornadoes were reported in the Southeast.

Ban reinstated on U.S. funds promoting abortion overseas
President Trump signed an executive order blocking foreign aid or federal funding for international nongovernmental organizations that provide or “promote” abortions. The order came Jan. 23, one day after the 44th anniversary of the Roe V. Wade Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal, and days before the annual “March for Life” in Washington on Jan. 27.

U.S. abortion rate hits all-time low
The abortion rate in the United States declined to an all-time low, while the number of lethal procedures dropped below a million for the first time since 1975, according to a new report. The Guttmacher Institute reported the rate fell to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women 15 to 44 years old in 2014, which is a decline of 14 percent since its most recent survey in 2011.

Divinity schools: Stop using ‘he’ or ‘him’ to refer to God
Guidelines at two top U.S. divinity schools have recommended professors use “inclusive” gender-neutral language—including for God, according to documents from both Duke and Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt’s 2016-2017 catalog says the divinity school “commits continuously and explicitly to include gender as an analyzed category and to mitigate sexism” in its teachings.

Vatican to issue stamp featuring Martin Luther
The Vatican office charged with issuing stamps confirmed that Martin Luther, who broke away from the Catholic Church in a schism 500 years ago, will be celebrated with a postage stamp in 2017. Honoring Luther and the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is an unlikely choice for the Church. Luther, an Augustinian monk, was excommunicated in 1521.

Sources: Baptist Press, The Hill, Life Site News, Heat Street, Christianity Today

Unintended family histories

ib2newseditor —  January 23, 2017

My wife, Beth, is definitely the gift-giving genius in our family. She has, I believe, the spiritual gift of giving, and so she is not only generous, but also has a knack for choosing gifts that are personal, useful, meaningful, and often even frugal. But this year, it seems, I got lucky, and thought of a pretty neat gift for her.

Just a couple of days before Christmas, I was scrambling to put together our annual family Christmas letter. For 24 years now, since our youngest son Ethan was born, we have produced a two-page letter with an overall family update on the front page, and individual updates on the back page.

Beth provides the raw content for the letter, and then I work at making it humorous or at least interesting. Unfortunately, multiple moves and computer changes over the years had left us without copies of many of the older letters, the ones that described little boys and grade schoolers rather than college students and young men.

There’s a sense in which our churches today, now walking in the light of fully revealed Scripture, continue to add their own pages to the story of God’s faithfulness to his people, his family.

So I set out to find all the old computer files, to update and repair the documents the best I could, to recreate the pieces that were missing, and to print them out fresh, or photocopy the originals I could find. On Christmas morning, I presented Beth with a complete notebook of those letters, all carefully protected in clear plastic sleeves, and with front and back covers decorated with photos of our growing family across the years.

I kind of hoped that Beth would like the gift, and I thought our kids might eventually like copies too. So I made extra copies while I was at it, but only wrapped one to place under the tree. As soon Beth opened it, not only did she love it, but it became the conversation piece of Christmas.

Our sons and daughters-in-law quickly asked for turns reading it, and asked if they could get their own copies some time. That’s when I had the fun of retrieving books for each of them from the next room. To my surprise, all other gift opening came to a halt, as we all sat and paged through our family’s journey from little boys to big boys, from Illinois to Georgia and back to Illinois, from trips in America to trips abroad, and from one year of God’s faithfulness to another.

I’ve been reflecting since then on how surprisingly valuable and precious this last-minute gift was, and why it has continued to captivate our family’s attention. As a gift, it was much more than a flurry of searching, typing, printing, and inserting. It was an unintended family history, a series of annual mileposts that traced our journey as a family for a quarter century.

My thoughts turned from our family’s story, to the Christmas story, to the stories of the Bible, and ultimately to the fact that the Bible itself is essentially a family history of God and his people. None of its authors, though divinely inspired, could see very clearly beyond their own time in history and their own chapter of faithfulness. But once Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s revelation, early church fathers could compile and preserve all those chapters into one wonderful notebook that we now rightly call the Holy Bible.

There’s a sense in which our churches today, now walking in the light of fully revealed Scripture, continue to add their own pages to the story of God’s faithfulness to his people, his family. As I discovered this Christmas, we may not fully realize the history we are writing until we have an opportunity to look back. But looking back should make us want to write this year’s chapter with great care.

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

watch pocketIn the church I grew up in, “missionary” was a sacred and scary title, bestowed only upon the spiritual elite, the Navy Seals of the Christian world. We considered them heroes, sat in awe through their slideshows, and gladly donated our money to their ministries.

It was years later that I first realized that every Christian was a missionary, that all Christians were called to leverage their lives and talents for the kingdom. God’s calling into mission is not a separate call we receive years after our salvation; it is inherent in the very call to salvation. Every believer is given a spiritual gift and a role to play in the spread of the Great Commission. “Follow me,” Jesus said, “And I will make you fishers of men.” That’s for everyone, not just those who feel a special tingly feeling they interpret as the call of God, or those who see some message from heaven spelled out in the clouds. Too many Christians sit around waiting on a “voice” to tell them what God has already spelled out in a verse.

Another way to put it: The question is no longer if we are called to leverage our lives for the Great Commission; it’s only where and how.

When “normal” Christians embrace this idea of calling, the gospel spreads like a prairie grassfire. Luke, the writer of Acts, goes out of his way to show us that the gospel travels faster around the world in the mouths of regular Christians than it does through full-time, vocational Christian workers. Luke notes, for example, that the first time the gospel left Jerusalem, it was not in the mouths of the apostles. Regular people “went everywhere preaching the word,” while the apostles stayed in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1–4). The first time the gospel actually went out into the world, not a single apostle was involved.

  • The first “international mission trip” was taken later in that same chapter by Philip, another layman. The Spirit carried him to a desert road where he met an Ethiopian government official, and Philip led him to Christ.
  • The church at Antioch, which served as the hub for missionary activity for the last half of the book of Acts, was not planted by an apostle, but simply “some brothers,” whose names Luke did not even bother to record—presumably because no one would have known whom he was talking about.
  • Apollos, a layman, first carried the gospel into Ephesus, and unnamed brothers first established the church at Rome. These Christians didn’t travel to Rome on a formal mission trip, but were carried there through the normal relocations that come with business and life. As they went, they made disciples in every place (Acts 8:5–8; 18:24–19:1; 28:15).
  • As the historian Steven Neill notes, “Nothing is more notable than the anonymity of these early missionaries.…Luke does not turn aside to mention the name of a single one of those pioneers who laid the foundation. Few, if any, of the great Churches were really founded by apostles. Peter and Paul may have organized the Church in Rome. They certainly did not found it.”

The next wave of missions will be carried forward, I believe, in much the same way—on the wings of business. Consider this: If you overlay a map of world poverty with a map of world evangelization, you will find that the areas most in need of business development are also the most unevangelized. Many of the most unreached places in the world, most closed to Christian missionaries, have arms wide open to any kind of businessmen.

Missiologists frequently refer to a “10/40 window” in which the most unreached peoples live (lying between the 10 and 40 degree latitude lines). For business leaders, the 10/40 window isn’t a window at all; it’s a wide open door.

God may not call you to leave the United States (though he might!). But if you’re a believer, he is calling you to follow him where he goes, as he seeks to make his name known. Whether you’re an investment banker or a full-time pastor, a stay-at-home mom or an overseas missionary, God has a mission for you. From Raleigh-Durham to Bahrain, the responsibility to think that way belongs to every believer. As we often say, “Whatever you are good at, do it well for the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.”

It’s time for the “ordinary believers” in our churches to recover the understanding that they are called to the mission and shaped by God for a specific role in that mission. The question is no longer if we are called to leverage our lives for the Great Commission; it’s only a matter of where and how.

J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and author of “Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send.”

Especially for leaders, new years require fresh vision. And for Christian leaders, fresh vision requires prayer. But quality prayer takes time and, for me at least, finding that time is one of the biggest challenges I face.

Time is so precious. I often feel I don’t have enough of it simply to do well with my family, my job, my church. So I end up giving almost all my time to those things, and telling myself that God will understand.

He understands, I’m sure. But he can’t be pleased.

shortage-of-prayerIt’s been well said that you spell love: T-I-M-E. And since prayer is an expression of my love for God, and I need quality time with God to gain fresh vision for the future and power for daily living, then I must spell prayer the same way. Prayer deserves my time.

I’m convinced I’m not alone in this struggle. Many of today’s well-intentioned pastors and Christian leaders are so pressed for time. And prayer can become one of the earliest casualties of a busy schedule. Yet the shortage of serious time for prayer becomes quickly evident in a leader’s life, and in the fruit of his or her ministry. I know they are in mine.

That’s why I struggled recently when I was asked to bring a devotional word to a national gathering of SBC prayer leaders in Chicago. With some difficulty, I decided to be vulnerable. I admitted to them that I am ashamed of how little I rely on prayer compared to my own efforts. I too rarely engage God in a way that invites him to override my desires or plans. Mostly, I quickly ask him to bless what I’m rushing off to do. I told them I see this happening with Christian leaders everywhere, and that we as leaders need their help reprioritizing prayer in our lives.

Then we looked at Gideon’s experience in Judges 6-7. Like this timid, reluctant, and frustrated leader, we often toil away in our own strength at things that don’t really help much, rather than inviting God into our challenges, and letting him empower our leadership.

But one life-changing day Gideon and God, as “the Angel of the Lord,” had a conversation that has deeply challenged me about my own prayer life. Here’s a summary of what I said about it in my devotion for those prayer leaders:

Gideon was weak when his extended conversation with God began, but God loves to use weak people. Though God initiated the conversation, Gideon did most of the talking, at first. Then, after questions and fleeces, there was a moment of surrender, when Gideon gave his fears, desires, and plans over to God. After that, God did most of the talking, and acting. Gideon never had to say, “God said obey me…” to the people he led. He simply acted with a new boldness that came out of his personal conversation with God. And the people gladly followed him in his obedience to God, with a powerful result that brought God glory and his people victory.

That’s the kind of prayer encounter I need. Gideon was a small man and a reluctant, fearful leader.But all that changed when he engaged God in extended, serious prayer.

In this coming new year, I have concluded that I must do whatever it takes to meet God like that. And I must encourage and facilitate that in the lives of those I lead and influence. I look around me, in Southern Baptist life and elsewhere, and I see that there are others sensing the same need. By God’s grace, a new year gives us more time. Let’s be leaders who give a great deal of that time to God in prayer.

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

Hard issues are heart issues

ib2newseditor —  November 28, 2016

The pulpit is the best place to address difficult topics

Open Bible

I remember a time when I sensed God leading me to go deeper in my preaching, specifically on the topic of racial reconciliation. As I was speaking to the congregation, I felt the level of tension rise almost immediately.

This was confirmed by comments I received later.
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It’s not easy to preach on difficult topics. The cultural issues of our day can be divisive. They can cause conflict in a church. Pastors tend to know where their people stand on the hard topics, and since they do, many would rather stick to abstract application in order to avoid hitting a nerve with consistent volunteers and faithful tithers. No wonder we tend to shy away.

But we can’t avoid the issues people in our world are navigating every day.

In his seminal work “Christ and Culture,” H. Richard Niebuhr wrestled with how Christians are to relate to contemporary culture. For Niebuhr, the best approach is not to stand against, blend in with, take the best of, or try to sanctify culture. Rather, Christians should aim to transform culture.

There is no doubt that Niebuhr was correct in his assessment. Anyone who has understood the Gospels will affirm our Lord’s purpose and desire to change the heart of man, which invariably leads to a change of culture.

Preaching is an integral part of the process of cultural change. It is during the preaching moment that people are most in tune to the voice of their shepherd, and it is during that moment where the Spirit of God is at work both in the heart of the preacher and in the hearts of those who are listening.

The apostle Paul exemplified this kind of preaching. For him, the gospel removed barriers of race, gender, and religion; it also gave clarity to domestic issues, such as marriage and divorce, as well as matters related to sexual deviance and perversion (Romans 1:18-24; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 7:1-16; Galatians 3:28).

Since the church still contends with these same issues, preachers must continue to proclaim and apply the same gospel.

Three reservations
Some preachers hesitate to deal with cultural issues and difficult subjects because that approach lends itself to topical preaching, and away from a more expository method. However, those of us who preach should understand that some of the most effective preachers in Christian history preached sermons that were not expository in the strictest sense. And even still, one can preach expository sermons while addressing key topics as they arise.

Another reason some preachers neglect these issues is a lack of sensitivity. Pastors preach about and congregations prioritize the things that resonate most with them and the areas in which they are most involved. I know a pastor in Laredo, Texas, near the border of Mexico. He spends the majority of his time ministering to illegal immigrants trying to escape the violence perpetrated by drug cartels. Therefore, his view on whether America should build a wall is much different from someone who lives elsewhere in the U.S. The point being, in order to speak to the issues, pastors must gain some level of familiarity with the issues, if not for themselves, for the sake of those they serve.

Perhaps the most common reason pastors shy away from difficult topics is that preaching on these issues can cause conflict within the congregation. This, of course, is a pastor’s nightmare, one I faced head-on when I felt the tension begin to rise the Sunday I preached on racial reconciliation. But remember, people usually come around.

In our case, after some time had passed and those present had the opportunity to prayerfully consider what was said, their testimonies and changes in behavior demonstrated to me that spiritual growth did occur, enabling several people to move a step closer toward true healing.

Four suggestions
What then are some helpful tips for pastors who want to move forward in preaching on cultural issues and difficult topics? I offer four:

First, be sure to always revert to overarching principles in Scripture, such as love, justice, reconciliation, grace, and forgiveness. In his book “Principle-Centered Leadership,” Steven Covey argues that leaders do better to maintain focus on principles, rather than values. Values change and may differ between people and organizations, while principles remain constant.

The same prescription can be applied to pastoral leadership and preaching. Take for example issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and health care for the elderly. The reality—even in Southern Baptist circles—is that there are differences of opinion when it comes to these issues. However, the overarching principle is the sanctity of human life. Approaching any of those issues from that perspective will remind people that all life is precious in the sight of God—in the womb, the nursing home, and everywhere in between. This is where the preacher is able to deal with the issue while helping people see beyond their personal values, and lead them to submit to a higher theological principle—in this case, God’s value on life.

Second, consider the idea attributed to Karl Barth, that sermons are best prepared with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Pastors must be aware of the conversations taking place. Understand the arguments. The people you preach to on Sunday are looking for answers to the pressing concerns of the day. They are trying to figure out what position is the right position.

If pastors fail to search the Scripture and provide a biblical perspective, there is the risk that church-goers will fix their moral compass on the thoughts and opinions of Sean Hannity, Oprah Winfrey, or the panel of “The View.”

Third, after listening well to the issues, do not be afraid to deviate from a 10-week sermon series you’re currently preaching in order to tackle a difficult topic. When the entire world is talking about human trafficking, a terrorist attack, or protests and issues of race, Christians want to know the heart and mind of God on such issues.

Some are questioning where God is when tragedy strikes, and if your people are not asking these questions for themselves, it is likely they know someone who is. Imagine the witnessing opportunities members of your church will have when you have equipped them with a sound biblical perspective for the discussion that is sure to take place in the cafeteria at work or at the student union on campus.

Finally, use other venues that allow your congregation to hear your voice on crucial matters. In my experience, some of the deepest theological discussions related to culture have taken place during our mid-week gatherings. There are a couple of advantages to using a Sunday evening or Wednesday evening to preach or teach on difficult topics: If the topic is published beforehand, church members who normally do not attend may, and they might even invite a friend who does not attend church at all. And, I have found, difficult topics and current cultural issues often make room for seasons of focused prayer.

If evening or mid-week services are not an option, look for another opportunity, like a written article distributed to your congregation. For example, I wrote an article titled “The Ministry of the Peacemaker” based on Matthew 5:9 in response to violence in Africa, the Middle East, and our own city of Chicago. In the article I challenged the congregation to live incarnationally within their own sphere of influence, allowing the peace of God to emanate from their lives as a means to bring about change.

A close examination of the words of Jesus in John 17 reminds us that to isolate ourselves from culture was never our Lord’s intent. Our responsibility as pastors is to facilitate disciple-making. One way we do this is by equipping the saints to share their faith and make disciples wherever they go.

With the ever-increasing presence and influence of social media, our challenge is a culture that is constantly bombarding those who God has placed in our charge. For their sake, we must be careful not to shy away from difficult topics. Instead, we must speak clearly and authoritatively from the perspective of God’s Word.

Bryan Price pastors Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville, the congregation he started in 2003. This article was originally printed in the Spring 2017 issue of Resource magazine published by IBSA.