Archives For God

The real first Thanksgiving

ib2newseditor —  November 22, 2017
The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_Ferris

The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (Public domain)

Images from the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving Day feast are easy to call to mind—black hats, wide white collars, Native American guests, and an idyllic feast bringing together two very different cultures. But historian Robert Tracy McKenzie—along with others in his field—say that many of those images are, to put it simply, not true.

The Pilgrims often wore bright colors, for example. And while the 1621 feast did include Native Americans, the dynamic between the two groups was likely tense.

McKenzie, chair of the history department at Wheaton College, explores the Pilgrims’ journey from England to Holland to America in his 2013 book “The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History.”

The Pilgrims, he writes, wouldn’t have been given to celebrating very many holy days. This set them apart from the Catholic and Anglican Churches. Aside from a weekly Sabbath, the Pilgrims had two distinct reasons to call for a holy day: a day of humiliation and fasting, and a day of thanksgiving.

Both happened in 1623, as new settlers arrived while the existing colonists were already struggling to survive. Food was scarce, and now there were more mouths to feed. And on top of all that, McKenzie writes, they faced a two-month drought that summer.

The Pilgrims called a day of humiliation “to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer.” They prayed for eight or nine hours, McKenzie writes, during which the sky became overcast. Then, it rained for the next 14 days.

And then the Pilgrims saw reason for another holy day—a day of thanksgiving. McKenzie writes this particular day was very different from what we traditionally think of as the first Thanksgiving, which historians generally consider to have been a kind of harvest festival. The real first Thanksgiving, he says, was “called to acknowledge a very specific, extraordinary blessing from the Lord.”

The current vestiges of Thanksgiving Day celebrations are very different than what the Pilgrims embraced, McKenzie says. “In their view, an annual Thanksgiving taught human conceit and divine predictability and could easily degenerate into a meaningless ritual that reduced God’s provision for human news to his creation of the crop cycle.

“By observing Thanksgiving irregularly, on the other hand…the Pilgrims reminded one another to look with expectancy for God’s ongoing, direct intervention in every aspect of their lives.”

– The First Thanksgiving (IVP Academic, 2013)

The Briefing

Tragedy in Texas: Christian testimony in the face of evil
Albert Mohler writes in his commentary, “Christians have learned that sometimes we have to wait for an answer, and sometimes that wait goes beyond any answer we can get in this life. Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher of the 19th century in London stated this beautifully: ‘When we cannot trace God’s hand, we are simply to trust his heart.’”

Evil has an expiration date: On Sutherland Springs and Christ
Owen Strachan writes in his commentary, “You cannot deny Jesus what is his. He died a terrible death to purchase a people for himself. His atonement was successful. His victory is undeniable. If Jesus suffers the little children to come to him, they will come. He will welcome them to his home. He will take their fragmented, torn-apart bodies, martyrs from over all the face of the globe, and he will make them whole.”

Survivors recount horror of church attack
Witnesses say the gunman who killed 27 people Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, shot babies at point-blank range and targeted anyone who cried out during his rampage. At one point, he yelled, “Everbody die!” Twenty people survived the attack, and at least five remain hospitalized. https://world.wng.org/content/survivors_recount_horror_of_church_attack

Death sweeps across 3 generations of a single family gathered at Texas church
Houses of worship are among the few regular gathering places left for families, sometimes extended ones and sometimes across many generations. The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., is no different. And within those walls on Sunday morning, together as always, were three generations of the Holcombe family.

Faith helps mass shooting survivors
No one expects their church to become the target of an attack—especially not the kind of spare-no-one shooting that took place Sunday at a Southern Baptist church in rural Texas. For survivors and their neighbors, it’s the kind of unimaginable tragedy that will change their small single-stoplight town forever.

Billy Graham’s 99th birthday offers 12-day radio special
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) will host the Billy Graham Channel Nov. 6–17 as channel 145 on SiriusXM Radio, featuring sermons from Graham’s six decades of evangelism, as well as salvation invitations and reflections from family and friends, BGEA said. A companion website, TheBillyGrahamChannel.com, will offer companion resources.

Sources: AlbertMolher.com, Center for Public Theology, World Magazine, Washington Post, Christianity Today, Baptist Press

Greg Zanis.jpg

Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Nevada to install a memorial under the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

When President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, a Fresno pastor climbed the bell tower of the church and began pulling the rope. When he descended much later exhausted from sounding the alarm, he found the sanctuary filled with mourners, looking up to him for a hopeful word. That was on a Friday afternoon. The following Sunday churches everywhere were packed with people who needed help understanding the tragedy. It was called “the Sunday with God.”

On October 8, 2017, we had another Sunday with God.

We’ve had a lot of them, especially in the past two decades. Their names become shorthand for inexplicable tragedy: Columbine, New Town, Wedgwood, Emanuel AME, Boston Marathon, Pulse Nightclub. And the signal event in this category is clearly the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Churches were full the next Sunday and for several months afterward with people asking “Why?” and wondering how God could let this happen. And all these years later we might add—again.

In Las Vegas on Sunday night, October 1, it happened again. A gunman high above an open-air concert killed 58 people with high-powered assault weapons and injured more than 500 others before turning the gun on himself. He left victim’s families, the survivors, and a nation to try to make sense of the utterly senseless.

How can we respond to what we struggle to explain—or even understand?

A retired carpenter from Aurora expressed his grief in the same way he has since his father-in-law was murdered in 1996: he built crosses. His truck loaded with 58 crosses, each with a red heart and the name of one of the 58 victims, Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Nevada to install a memorial under the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. He has built such a memorial at every mass shooting since Columbine High School. His crosses are indeed welcome in places where people need to be pointed Christ-ward.

A young man who escaped the shooting told a network interviewer, “I was an agnostic going into that concert, but after what happened there, I believe in God. It’s a miracle that any of us survived.” His comment exemplifies the baseline responses to crisis: you either blame God or you embrace him; run from God or run to him.

Las Vegas pastor Vance Pittman was honest with his congregation on the Sunday morning after the killings. “The temptation of our humanness is to run from God in moments of tragedy, but the psalmist reminds us that those are the moments we should run to God.”

Pittman, who founded Hope Church in the city 17 years ago, admitted his own wrestling with the massacre. “Anyone who didn’t simply isn’t human,” he told the crowd in the packed sanctuary. “It’s OK to ask God some hard questions…He can handle it.”

He then pointed to Psalm 62. “Where is God in the midst of tragedy?” Pittman asked. “He’s right there in the midst with us… ‘God is my refuge.’” He cited the experience of two police officers. One said to the pastor, “It’s nothing short of a miracle that more people were not killed. It’s almost like someone spread their wings over that crowd and protected them.”

A thoroughly biblical response to events such as this must address the role of evil, “an act of pure evil,” as President Trump described it two days later in Las Vegas. God created a perfect world, but willful humans introduced sin. Taken to its natural ends, man inflicts that sin on others. Such monstrous evil may seem beyond us, but in all honesty it’s not. Only God restrains lawlessness in any of us. While at times he may not intervene in the ways we wish, God is still on the scene, in the business of saving humanity. In this world where evil is rampant—be it war, massacre, or the aftermath of disaster—God is still working his purpose out.

“Nowhere is this seen more clearly than looking at the cross,” Pittman said to his searching crowd. “The cross of Jesus is the single greatest act of evil and injustice in this world, and yet God—in his sovereignty—has caused it to be now seen as the greatest demonstration of love and goodness the world has ever experienced.”

– Eric Reed (with thanks for quotes from The Las Vegas Journal-Review, CNN, and Baptist Press)

Family blocks

The word “family” conjures up feelings of warmth, sentimentality, peace, and tranquility—the kinds of things we put on Christmas cards, said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Often, though, our families aren’t really like that. We’re not lying, Moore said, but there are so many things we leave unsaid. Those things—the challenges of parenting, the hard conversations, the fears that children won’t turn out like we want them to—were at the heart of the ERLC’s conference on “Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World.”

The podium at the Aug. 24-26 meeting was filled by family experts, church leaders, storytellers, and even a U.S. Senator (Ben Sasse of Nebraska). But the audience looked a lot like real parents. Strollers lined the walls of the auditorium as parents and children listened together. One speaker in a breakout for moms tweeted that it was highly appropriate to hear several crying babies in the session.

Over three days at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, conference speakers drew on their experiences ministering and equipping families—and raising their own—to guide parents toward a gospel-centered view of the family. Along the way, they touched on some specific issues of our day—gender identity, racial division, sexuality, pornography, and the overwhelming influence of technology.

They also called Christian parents to an ideal that grows more and more radical as the culture around them changes. “Those who grow to know and serve God with everything they have do not blend in,” said author and speaker Jen Wilkin. “The goal of a Christian parent is to prepare their child to live in a world that is not their home.”

In his opening address, Moore said the unspoken challenges of parenting are part of the reason it can be so difficult. “…In our culture, parenting so often is about winning and displaying.” If something goes wrong in our family, he continued, we worry people are going to think something’s wrong with us. He quoted a friend who said he knew parenting would be humbling, but had no idea it would also be humiliating.

“Parenting matters. The stakes are high. That’s why it’s hard.”

– Russell Moore, president, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The antidote to drowning in all the potential failures? A Christ-centered perspective, one that acknowledges parents are called to follow Christ’s example and take up a cross, Moore said.

“Parenting is a unique mixture of joy and terror, beauty and brokenness, happiness and disaster. Nothing is easier than loving your children, and nothing is harder than loving your children. We as Christians ought to be people who understand that dynamic.”

Alien children
It’s easy to blame kids for peer pressure—for exerting it on one another and for feeling it themselves. But it’s generally not children who fall victim to it, said Jen Wilkin. It’s parents who feel a strong pull to soothe their own memories of not fitting in by helping their kids fit in.

But Christian parents need to be looking instead for opportunities to help their children get comfortable with being different—even “alien” in our culture, Wilkin said. She gave five areas where Christian families and kids will look different, beginning with their activities.

“We have to be running these things through a different filter than other people,” she said. A filter that places a higher priority on the dynamic at home than allowing children to run themselves—and their parents—into the ground with an ever-increasing list of activities.

She read Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

“The author of Deuteronomy seems to think that there will actually be times when we sit in our house­—together,” Wilkin said. “Seems to think there will be times where we walk by the way­—together. When we lie down­—together, and when we rise up­—together.
“This passage assumes a natural rhythm of the home that is bringing the family together, versus spreading the family out.”

Jim Kerr is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairview Heights. Wilkin’s talk on family activities resonated with him because he sees families in his church struggling to balance all the things they think they have to do. Churches can fall victim to the same kind of thinking, he said.

“The guilt of doing ministry sometimes overrides the benefit of the right amount of ministry and the right amount of time,” Kerr said. “Because we just wear ourselves out.” That’s why his church plans intentional seasons of break in certain activities and ministries, he said, “realizing that there’s so much going with our families and our children, we’re going to wear ourselves out from doing, while not really gaining the purposes we need.”

Wilkin talked about four other areas in which Christian families should be alien and strange: speech, possessions, entertainment, and friends. Look for more on counter-cultural families and how parents in Illinois are raising “alien” children in upcoming issues of the Illinois Baptist.

The role of the church
At least two speakers in Nashville quoted a study that found children are more likely to stick to their faith after high school if they’ve been invested in by adults other than their parents. Christ-centered parenting can’t be done in a vacuum. It calls parents to rely on others in their faith community, Russell Moore said. Christians are to bear one another’s burdens, including in parenting, he said.

“That is what is so dangerous about the church turning, in many cases, into silos filled with individual minivans full of families, coming to receive instruction and then to return home to their self-contained units.” Even more so in our rootless, hyper-mobile culture, Moore said, where children don’t see their extended families often and mothers and fathers fight feelings of isolation, parenting can be a lonely endeavor.

“We need each other, and we cannot be godly parents to our children if we are not brothers and sisters to each other.”

Moore recalled a woman who approached him after he preached at her church and leaned close to whisper a prayer request for her daughter, who was away at college and had decided she was an atheist. When Moore asked why she was whispering, she said, “I don’t want anybody to think, ‘There’s that lady with the atheist daughter.’”

Something’s terribly wrong with that picture, Moore said. “Here we are when every family in Scripture has prodigals, including God the Father. And we are scared to cry out to one another and say, ‘I feel like in my parenting I am drowning and I need help.’ That is what the church is for.”

If parenting in community means bearing one another’s burdens, it also involves having the courage to turn children loose to engage in God’s mission. In fact, that should be the goal of parenting, said North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear. Children are designed by God to be arrows, Greear said, referencing Psalm 127, not accessories.

Quoting family ministry expert Reggie Joiner, Greear said in our safety-obsessed culture, we forget the ultimate goal of parenting is to let go.

“The ultimate mission of the family is not to protect your children from all harm, but to mobilize them for the mission of God,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham.

And as they go, they’re sure to look different, having been shaped in a community in which the goal of the family is to glorify God and, through their example, to bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ.

“As Christian parents, the most hopeful thing we can do is lift up our own eyes and train the eyes of our children to behold our Savior, alien and strange,” Wilkin said. “He is coming on the clouds, and when he comes, may he find the family of God, and your family and my family, desperately hoping and yearning to look like him.”

For more from the ERLC’s National Conference on Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World, see upcoming issues of the Illinois Baptist, or go to ERLC.com to view conference sessions.

-Meredith Flynn, managing editor, Illinois Baptist

 

The Briefing

How do we find meaning in yet another mass shooting?
Al Mohler asks that question following the tragedy in Las Vegas.
In the face of such overwhelming news, we naturally seek after facts. But the facts of who and what and where and how, still unfolding, point to the even more difficult question — why? We cannot help but ask why because, made in God’s image, we are moral creatures who cannot grasp or understand the world around us without moral categories.

Gov. signs HB40 into law; Baptists deeply disappointed
Gov. Bruce Rauner ended months of speculation last week when he signed legislation allowing state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions. Reaction has been swift and strong.


So. Baptists, others release letter on ‘alt-right’ to Trump
A letter drafted by a group of Southern Baptists and others has called on President Trump to denounce clearly the racism of the “alt-right.” The letter commends the president for signing a joint congressional resolution rejecting white nationalism and supremacy, but it tells him the country “needs your voice and your convictions to defeat racist ideologies and movements in every form that they present themselves.”

Pew surveys governments on religion
More than 40% of the world’s countries have an official or preferred state religion, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center. The most common official state religion is Islam, which is named in the constitutions or basic laws of 27 countries. That’s 63% of the 43 countries that officially designate a religion. Thirteen countries list Christianity as their state religion—nine in Europe, two in the Caribbean, one in Africa, and one Pacific island nation.

Sources: AlbertMohler.com, Springfield State Journal-Register, Baptist Press (2), Christianity Today

Talking with kids…about race

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2017

Parenting conference takes on serious discussions

parenting panel

Steven Harris (left) moderates a panel including the ERLC’s Trillia Newbell and Texas pastor Jason Paredes on how to help children view diversity like God does. Photo by Kelly Hunter

Is it ever too early to talk about race with your children? Panelists at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Aug. 24-26 conference on parenting said no, resoundingly.

“You should not wait,” said Rachel Metzger, an educator and mother of two. “Because waiting seems like a secret, or something you don’t want to talk about.” Metzger joined four other parents and church leaders for a panel discussion on how to raise children with a biblical view of racial unity.

Coming less than a month after deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va., the panelists addressed the topic at a time when America’s racial divides are glaringly apparent. But, “this is not just something that we need to be talking about because something in the culture happened,” said Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach for the ERLC. “It’s something the church needs to be on top of, ahead of, because it is ultimately a biblical topic.”

Newbell is the author “God’s Very Good Idea,” a new children’s book about the diversity inherent in God’s creation. The book calls families to celebrate differences because they are, after all, God’s doing.

“That’s what’s missing in our culture—we don’t celebrate our differences; we politicize them,” Newbell said during the panel. “And we should celebrate. This is God’s good plan. It’s his idea.”

With kids, celebrating differences means acknowledging them. Newbell told the audience in Nashville that her son identified early on the difference between his mom’s skin color and his own. As her children have gotten older, open conversations about skin color have evolved into discussions about the realities of racism, division, and ethnic pride.

“It is heartbreaking, but it’s something that we have to be talking about,” Newbell said. “But even with that, we are sharing the full picture of the gospel that unites.”

The panelists shared several suggestions for fostering in children a biblically-based appreciation for racial diversity and unity:

1. Educate yourself. Dive into what the Bible says about the nations and the image of God, said Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. “You need to know for yourself first of all what it is that you believe, and why you believe it, so that you can better then explain it to them.” Day noted two helpful Scripture passages: Genesis 10 and Revelation 7.

2. Point to real-life examples. Adoption is such a part of the culture on his church staff, said Pastor Jason Paredes, that if an outsider were to try to match parents with kids based on skin color, it would be impossible. In that environment, said the pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, identity is based less on looks and more on family bonds, giving parents a real-life way to talk to their kids about God’s view of racial unity.

3. Lay a biblical foundation. Pastor Afshin Ziafat recalled seeing an interview with a white nationalist in the aftermath of protesting in Charlottesville. The man’s angst, Ziafat remembered, seemed ultimately to be about protecting himself.

The root of racism is the sin of self, said Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. “With our children, I want to teach them that all are made in God’s image, but I also want to make sure I’m teaching them that life isn’t about you. Philippians 2 is what I want to teach them: Count others more significant than yourselves; put the interest of others before yourself.”

4. Invite people in. Get to know your neighbors, Newbell advised. Ask God to give you eyes to see color and culture, and invite the people around you into your family’s life.

Ziafat said mission trips have motivated his church members to get to know the people around them. “As we’ve gone on mission trips and our people have gone to other cultures and come back home, I’ve seen them have a heart to now want to go meet my Indian neighbor who I’ve never even talked to, because I just got back from India. I think tharat’s been a huge thing for us too.”

5. Start now. Newbell acknowledged some listeners probably feel the guilt of not having had these kinds of conversations with their kids. “It’s never too late to talk about the glory of God and Imago Dei. If you’re listening and thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t do that,’ start today.”

The Illinois Baptist’s Meredith Flynn was there. Watch for more articles from Meredith from the conference.

White common daisy flower isolatedAs warm weather descended on San Francisco that year, so did the hippies, as many as 100,000 of them. The Haight-Ashbury District became ground zero for a festival that lasted for weeks: young people with flowers in their tresses singing and dancing and cavorting in public spaces, doing a little protesting of the Vietnam War, and smoking a lot of what their mothers wouldn’t approve.

They called it the ‘summer of love.’

Ironically, that summer in 1967 was also marked by fear and terror and rioting, as large sections of Detroit went up in flames just as Watts in Los Angeles had two years earlier. In Detroit, the violence that started after police raided an unlicensed bar ended with 2,000 buildings destroyed, more than 7,000 people arrested, over 1,000 injured, and 43 deaths. Free love on the West Coast, and unrestrained hate in the Midwest.

Here, 50 years later, we have witnessed another season of dichotomy, a tense summer of issues—and people—in conflict. The political tensions and threats of nuclear attack were topped by violent marches in Charlottesville that killed one young woman and revealed the breadth of a racial rift in America that few imagined existed.

As is 1967, the summer of 2017 was on some fronts a summer of hate. But from our vantage point, we can say, too, it was a summer of love.

There were stories in our pages that attested that: mission trips around the world where the love of Christ was shared. In downstate Cairo and Brazil and many other places, people received Christ as Savior. We saw children learn about Jesus at IBSA camps and Vacation Bible Schools everywhere.

And to cap it all, the eclipse. Carbondale was epicenter this time as millions from Oregon to South Carolina looked upward, many seeming to search for something beyond themselves. A famed Chicago weatherman wept on air for the beauty of nature. More important, Baptists in southern Illinois shared Christ, and lost people came to faith.

When they look back on the summer of 2017 to give it a name, no one will look at the protests and nuclear threats and political martial arts and call it ‘the summer of love.’ But seeing the totality of our Christian outreach this season, and the genuine outpouring from God’s heart, maybe we will.

-Eric Reed