Archives For God

By Heath Tibbetts

I was supposed to die on a Tuesday in 1977. My 15-year-old mother had been scheduled to have an abortion despite her objections, leading her into the high school counselor’s office the Monday before that dreaded appointment. After hearing my mother’s story, Mr. Sheets called her mother attempting some mediation away from abortion, but to no avail. He hung up the phone and asked my mom two questions.

“You plan to keep this baby, correct? You know you may not be going home tonight?”
To both questions the brave 15-year-old responded, “Whatever it takes.”

Mom lived in a few foster homes around town for the next several months before and after my birth. She continued to go to school and wrestled with the idea of adoption. As the due date drew closer, she had decided to keep her baby and to be able to support herself within a year, which she did. Many people claimed my arrival would ruin her future, but she couldn’t bring herself to end an innocent life to correct a previous mistake. My mom wasn’t a Christian then, but she had no difficulty recognizing her unborn child as a life.

Leading on life
Moses concluded his leadership of Israel by giving them a final call to pursue God diligently. He gives the people two choices: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut. 30:19). As leader to the people, he called them to choose life for their sake and the sake of future generations.

Our leadership today pales in comparison on the issue of life. In our state and across the country, officials work toward the expansion of abortion rights, like the law passed recently in New York that allows abortion up until birth. What leads people to applaud such a law? They have forgotten the value of human life.

America has long struggled to properly apply that wonderful statement from our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” If this truth was self-evident, how did we refuse rights to the thousands of black slaves already spread throughout the colonies? The short answer is convenience. It was more convenient to exclude any mention of slavery from the Declaration, and later the Constitution, in order to unite the various states in one nation.

Issues of convenience continue to devalue life today. Abortion advocates regularly declare their concern for the health of the mother, but the top reasons for abortion in 2013 (as published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information) were “not financially prepared” and “bad timing.” Abortion is too often a procedure of convenience.

But the emotional scars carried by men and women who make this choice are anything but convenient. For years I couldn’t understand why I was my grandmother’s favorite grandchild. I’m not being a narcissist; everyone knew it was true. Only later did I learn Mom’s story and my grandmother’s role in it. My grandmother dealt with the guilt of even suggesting an abortion for decades after I was born, trying to make it up to me my whole childhood. Being able to tell her as an adult that I forgave her was probably the best gift she’s ever received from me.

“Pro-life” is being rebranded by opponents as “anti-choice,” but nothing could be further from the truth. I support every women’s right to choose avoiding sex if she’s not ready for a child. Children are rarely convenient. Even the married couple intentionally trying to bring children into their family quickly finds the dynamics of life and relationship have changed. Yet any parent will tell you these little lives are worth it.

The rest of the story
My mom was able to introduce me to her former high school counselor, Mr. Sheets, in 2002. I found myself imagining how his Monday changed when Mom walked into his office. What if he had been out sick that day or had decided not to get involved in a messy family situation? Mr. Sheets was the advocate that encouraged her to choose life, a life that became the first in my mother’s family to go to college, partnered to create the three coolest kids ever and has been used to impact lives, souls, and churches.

I often thank God for allowing me to escape the abortionist that Tuesday in 1977. My hope is to be an advocate for every unborn life in some way, attempting to convince people that every pregnancy is a creation of the Creator. I was not a choice. I am a life and every life matters.

Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

By Nathan Carter

Like a growing number of churches, The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., cancelled services the Sunday after Christmas. Pastor J.D. Greear took some heat on social media for the decision, but should he? What’s wrong with skipping a lightly attended service and giving everyone a break after the holidays? What about the growing practice of occasionally cancelling a Sunday service in order to send the people into the community for outreach projects? Should we ever cancel “church”?

In order to answer the question, there are at least two prior questions we must settle in our minds:

First, is a weekly gathering on Sunday commanded by God? Regular Sunday services are a firmly established part of the Christian tradition. There is strong historical warrant for gathering on Sundays, but is it a biblical requirement?

The answer to that question depends largely on whether we believe the Old Testament commandment about Sabbath-keeping teaches an inherent seven-day rhythm to time and the setting aside of one day in seven for special use. Some Christians will point out that the fourth commandment is the only one that is not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. Others will argue that it was never explicitly annulled.

Is it OK to cancel services now and then?

It is clear that Christians are commanded not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25). And there is an assumption throughout the New Testament that believers come together for meetings (see 1 Cor. 11, 14; James 2:2). But where did we get the idea that this expectation applies to every Sunday at the very least?

Well, Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week and met with his gathered disciples that evening (John 20:19) and again on the next Sunday (John 20:26). In Acts 20 we read that Paul was in Troas for seven days and it was on the first day of the week that the believers all gathered together. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says to collect an offering “on the first day of every week.” Are these examples prescriptive, or merely descriptive? That’s an interpretative decision. Wherever we land, we must at least admit that the case for first day observance cannot be easily dismissed.

The second question we must consider is this: What is the purpose of the Sunday gathering?

We’ve all probably wrestled at some point with whether Sundays are for the saints to be edified or outsiders to be evangelized. I think we must answer, “Both!” Paul envisioned unbelievers having an encounter with God after walking in on Christians worshiping and ministering to each other (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Even more fundamentally, however, we must reckon with the very essence of what it means to be the church. Most scholars agree that the word “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly.” This would imply that when the church assembles it is being most true to its identity.

So is gathering together simply one (among many) practical means of achieving edification and/or evangelization? Or is holding a public meeting a declaration of what it means to be the church, sinners reconciled to God and each other through the blood of Christ? These are important questions church leaders must resolve in their minds before calling off a corporate gathering.

My conviction is that there is something sacred to Sundays, not as a legalistic box to check to be right with God, but as a time for the church to gather as the people of God and be regularly reminded of what indeed makes us righteous and what alone has the power to save—the work of Christ. If workers need a break, find temporary replacements or schedule a simpler service. Cancel Christmas Eve, but stick with Sundays. And if only two or three show up, his presence is still among us.

Nathan Carter pastors Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

By Meredith Flynn

Of all the buzz words floating around churches over the past decade, “community” might be the buzziest. Biblical community is something many churches aspire to now. It can take the shape of small group meetings, monthly dinner gatherings, or a simple encouragement to show hospitality. “Community” can also be used to describe in general the way we want to feel about church. We want community. The Bible tells us we need community. Right?

What about the family who struggles to make it to small group during the week? Or the newcomer who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing personal details with relative strangers. And are “older” forms of community—like Sunday school classes—still a valid expression of the concept?

I’ve felt those tensions in my own life and family. As a single adult, community wasn’t difficult. An evening meeting with people in the same stage of life was a welcome break in the middle of the week. But as a married mother of two preschoolers, it’s often difficult for us to get out of the house on a weeknight, and even harder to arrive in an attitude befitting community as we’ve come to understand it.

Is it a command for all Christians, or just people who are wired for it?

Our current situation begs the question: What is the value of community with fellow Christians, even when a particular set of circumstances or stage of life makes it challenging?

Thankfully for us, the Bible has much to say about community, even if the authors don’t use the term like we do. By exploring how Scripture describes early Christian community, we can start to define the characteristics that ought to mark ours:

1. Community encourages. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul tells the church there that he longs to see them so he can “impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” His aim isn’t just one-way encouragement. The apostle says he wants to be encouraged by their faith too.

When we put this in context, we can draw a parallel between their time and ours. Christians in Rome were being persecuted. The level of our persecution now is drastically less severe in most cases, but there is a connection. We as believers can encourage each other to continue in the faith, even when the circumstances of our lives are difficult, or the culture moves farther away from a real understanding of God’s plan for the world.

2. Community shares the load. “Carry one another’s burdens,” Paul tells the church in Galatia. He’s talking about sin burdens, commentaries note, but Charles Spurgeon extended the metaphor this way: “Help your brethren….If they have a heavier burden than they can bear, try to put your shoulder beneath their load, and so lighten it for them.”

Many burdens have been shared in community groups I’ve been a part of over the years. Depression, career disappointment, death of a parent or a sibling or a child. These burdens were shared verbally and then figuratively, as group members prayed for each other and kept in close contact.
Community gives believers an extra shoulder to bear the weight when it’s too heavy to bear alone.

3. Community provokes (in a good way). The writer of Hebrews encourages Christians to “watch out for one another to provoke love and good works.” Whereas the encouragement we see in Romans 1 undergirded the early church, the encouragement referenced in Hebrews 10:24 spurred it forward.

In a recent community group discussion about hospitality, I listened as my fellow group members shared humbly about how God is opening doors to share Jesus, simply because they’re inviting people into their homes. I was encouraged and “provoked” to do the same so that the gospel can go forth.

4. Through community, God builds his church. Acts 2 paints a glorious picture of the church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer….Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 47, CSB).

Living faithfully in the context of community drew people to the truth of Christ. The same thing happens now. At a recent baptism at my church, two couples shared how they came to understand their need for Jesus in the context of their community group.
Scripture’s depiction of biblical community puts the emphasis on God’s graciousness to us. The gifts of community—encouragement, burden-sharing, good works, and the opportunity to see God build his church—are gifts from God himself. It’s far more about him than it is about us.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist and a member of Delta Church in Springfield.

Happy Birthday, Illinois!

Lisa Misner —  October 15, 2018

By Meredith Flynn

On our state’s bicentennial, the resolve of its early settlers has new meaning for Baptists.

Settlers arriving in the Illinois territory in the early 1800s didn’t know what to make of what they found. History tells us many of them moved north from areas that were heavily wooded. They trusted land that could support so many trees. The Illinois prairie offered no such reassurance.

“The prairies posed a new set of problems for farmers,” writes historian Pamela Riney-Kehrberg. “Below the land’s surface were tough, fibrous roots of tall prairie grasses, extending downward a foot or more. A simple wooden plow could hardly penetrate the surface.”

The pioneers made do by settling mostly in the southern part of the state, where ready access to water and trees made constructing their homes and farms more feasible. Some, though, eventually headed north, and found a way to work the hard prairie soil. It was richer than they thought, historians say. They just needed different tools. Steel, instead of wood.

Industrial pioneers John Deere and Cyrus McCormick developed tools for farming the prairie lands. And Illinois boomed. Its statehood population in 1818 was 35,000. By 1830, it had grown to 157,000, and would triple over the next decade. Still, tending the land was expensive. Families sacrificed much, Riney-Kehrberg notes, to run even a modest farm.

Two hundred years later, the challenges of tilling the soil in Illinois are different. But they still exist, especially in spiritual terms. More than 8 million people in Illinois do not know Christ. Many churches are struggling against the cultural tide to see real transformation in their communities.

Blue map copy

“I have often said that even though Illinois is the second flattest state in America, being Baptist here is an uphill climb,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “Baptists have always been somewhat counter-cultural and a minority in Illinois, but that used to be because larger groups of people from different religious cultures had settled the state.

“Now it’s because the culture overall has become less and less religious, and arguably more hardened to the gospel message.”

Like Illinois’ early settlers found years ago, sometimes hard soil calls for new tools. Last year, IBSA presented four challenges to renew “pioneering spirit” among Baptists in Illinois. (Read more about the challenges at pioneeringspirit.org.)

These “new tools” are actually tried-and-true church practices: evangelism, church planting, sacrificial giving, and raising up new generations of leaders.

“The widespread and growing lostness of our state compels us to think in new ways. Maybe old ways,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team. “The pioneers of Illinois and parts west came to those territories knowing that if they didn’t bring the gospel with them, it just would not be present. We need that same kind of spirit and thinking today.”

‘Time to do something’
After the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, David Starr led his church to tackle all four of the Pioneering Spirit challenges. His congregation, Community Southern Baptist Church in Clay City, is employing these new tools to make a difference in Illinois, especially in places where there is no IBSA church.

Starr approached Joe Lawson, director of missions for Louisville Baptist Association, about starting an association-wide prayer emphasis for the 10 counties in Illinois without an IBSA church. Community Southern, which averages around 70 in worship attendance, was assigned Carroll County in northwest Illinois. They started praying. Then, they took action.

“There’s a time to pray, and there’s a time to do something,” Starr said. He spoke with IBSA staff in Springfield and leaders in northwest Illinois, planning a mission trip that would be focused on assessing needs in the region. In July, Starr and his wife and another couple from their church traveled more than 300 miles along a diagonal line from Clay City to Savanna, Ill.

During their trip, they met with a church planter in Galena for a Monday night Bible study. Then, they knocked on doors. Starr said the small team visited 70% of the homes in the focus area, and found 21 people or families who wanted to commit themselves to seeing a Southern Baptist church planted there.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

The team also saw physical need in Carroll County. The region has lost jobs in two big industries—railroad and lumber. There’s poverty and hunger. A woman who the team encountered ran into them later at a local store. “Don’t forget us,” she said.

Starr’s team went back home to Clay City, but they’ve continued to pray. There’s a map on the church bulletin board showing the streets they visited, and printed prayer reminders for the congregation.

Along with the challenge to go new places with the gospel, Community Southern is keeping up with the other Pioneering Spirit commitments. They increased missions giving through the Cooperative Program, are working to enlist new leaders, and celebrated one baptism on One GRAND Sunday, a statewide baptism emphasis in April.

“Here is a pastor and church that captured the pioneering spirit,” Kicklighter said. “They heard about a place where there was a compelling need, and they decided to do something about it.

“We need lots of Illinois Baptist churches with this kind of passion and willingness—a pioneering spirit.”

Starr said he’s never seen anything like it in his years of ministry. His church is investing willingly in other people and places. Like Illinois’ early settlers, they’re tilling the hard soil, and using less familiar tools to do so.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

– Meredith Flynn, with info from History.com and “The Historical Development of Agriculture in Illinois” by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

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.

By Daryl C. Cornett for Baptist Press

Old Holy Bible and the American Flag

Independence Day is my favorite holiday — an occasion to celebrate our country’s existence and have some mandatory fun!

There is nothing particularly religious about it, and that’s just fine. I like the family gatherings, cookouts, parades and fireworks. I like all the red, white and blue. It is an uncorrupted holiday that is exactly what it is supposed to be.

However, I believe that this secular occasion affords us the opportunity for important spiritual perspective and reflection.

First, Independence Day is an occasion to express thankfulness for God’s gift of our American government and its perseverance. This year we celebrate the passing of 242 years since a small group of men, representing 13 British colonies, asserted that the time had come to declare their independence. They made a long list of grievances against England and declared that independence was necessary and right. After winning a war that few thought possible, the confederation of the new states decided to unite under a federal government with its own constitution.

Christians throughout history have lived within a variety of governmental arrangements — monarchies, dictatorships, communist states and democratic republics of various forms. It is fitting to celebrate that in God’s gracious providence He has blessed us with government that guards against abusive power. The design of three separate branches has proven to be a practical check against the consolidation of too much power in one place. Christians can give thanks that God has graciously allowed our context to be a democratic republic in which we get to participate in the election of our own leaders and enjoy the privileges and protections of a constitution with a primary view toward preventing oppressive government.

Additionally, we can give thanks that by God’s grace we are still here. Every nation takes for granted its own existence. Human pride causes us to believe that the United States will always be just as it is today — powerful, prosperous and blessed. No empire thinks in its days of dominance that a time could come when it wouldn’t exist. Romans 13:1 reminds us, “… For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” We should be thankful for our Founders — Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, and many others. However, we should acknowledge that our country’s existence originates from the hand of divine providence. The signers of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged this in its closing words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” As we celebrate with our material comforts and security, let’s be careful to give thanks to the One who has given these good gifts and who has preserved our nation.

Second, we should remember to pray for our leaders. The apostle Paul instructed Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers and intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions….” It doesn’t matter if you voted for him or even if you like him, your Christian political stewardship is to pray earnestly for him. She may be the antithesis of all your political views, but God has seen fit to put her in that position of leadership. Pray for her.

Third, Independence Day is an occasion for the church to renew its commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel. Because God has continued to bless us with a free society, the door for the sharing of the Gospel remains wide open. Our culture has always had sin problems. Where sinful people exist in a fallen world, the enemy is always at work challenging God’s design. Spiritual darkness pushes back against God’s good news.

In America we have incredible freedom to proclaim our faith. We should be thankful that the first of the amendments to the Constitution provides every individual with freedom for personal religion. The first phrase promises this freedom. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Since this was adopted in 1791, we have periodically fussed about what constitutes an establishment of religion but never questioned that each of us has the right to our own personal faith and the right to share it with others. We may receive some rejection, but no one is arresting us for telling others about Jesus.

We would do well to be mindful that our American freedom must not be squandered on selfish individualism. We have all the freedom we could ever ask for to live out our faith with boldness and share it with others without fear of persecution.

On this Independence Day, let our hearts be full of gratitude for what God has established, pray for those God has seen fit to put into leadership, and remember that God continues to give us the freedom to be salt and light to our neighbors and impact our communities with the hope of the Gospel.

Daryl C. Cornett is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hazard, Ky., a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and former associate professor of church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.

 

Paige Patterson clarifies comments on abuse and divorce
Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson’s spoke out to address his position on domestic violence after old comments he made regarding counseling women in abusive marriages circulated on social media over the weekend. Patterson said he has advised and helped women to leave abusive husbands, but stood by his commitment to never recommend divorce: “How could I as a minister of the gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

200 evangelical leaders tell Congress to pass prison reform
Well-known evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham, Ronnie Floyd, Jack Graham, and nearly 200 others are calling on members of Congress to pass bipartisan re-entry reform legislation that aims to provide federal prisoners with the training and rehabilitation they need to be successful once they are released back into society. The letter was sent to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and congressional leaders voicing support for the Prison Reform and Redemption Act of 2017, also known as H.R. 3356.

GuideStone, ERLC defend ministerial housing allowance
GuideStone Financial Resources and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed April 26 that asks the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago to reverse a lower court decision invalidating the exemption. It will decide on a section of a 1954 law that permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance.

Pew: 25% of survey’s Christians don’t buy biblical God
A fourth of self-identified Christians believe in what Pew described as “God or another higher power” who is not necessarily all-loving, omniscient and omnipotent as Scripture reveals. “In total, three-quarters of U.S. Christians believe that God possesses all three of these attributes — that the deity is loving, omniscient, and omnipotent,” the study found.

Butterfield: Christian hospitality’s radically different from ‘Southern hospitality’
In Rosaria Butterfield’s newest book, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post Christian World,” she articulates a gospel-minded hospitality that’s focused not on teacups and doilies, but on missional evangelism. It has nothing to do with entertainment—and everything to do with addressing the crisis of unbelief. Interviewer Lindsey Carlson spoke with Butterfield about opening hearts and front doors to our neighbors.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Christianity Today