Archives For Jesus

Nathan Carter

Nathan Carter

At our church we have a questionnaire that anyone who desires to be an elder has to fill out. One of the questions is, “What are the five solas of the Reformation and would you be willing to be burned alive at the stake for holding these?” We strongly believe these rallying cries of the Reformation are still just as needed today as they were 500 years ago.

Before returning to Germany and facing his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived for a time in the United States. His assessment of the religious scene here was “Protestantism without Reformation.” This critique still largely holds true. We may not be Roman Catholic, but might some of the same problems that precipitated the Reformation in 16th century Europe be present in 21st century evangelicalism? I am afraid so.

The five solas provide a helpful grid for assessing the American church’s current spiritual climate and guide us in how to pray and work for revival.

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
I think there are many churches who say on paper that they believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God. But in practice, you cannot tell. Scripture does not saturate their worship services. The sermon is cut short and full of stories and tips instead of exposition and proclamation of the whole counsel of God. The Word is not trusted to grow the church, but rather we look to and lean on techniques and tricks. Science is respected over Scripture, psychology prized over theology, experience trusted over exegesis. And many church-goers today are as biblically illiterate as they were in the Middle Ages.

Sola Fide (faith alone)
If we gave Southern Baptist church-goers a test with this true or false question—“People get into heaven by doing good”—I imagine a majority would know enough to say FALSE. But that doesn’t mean they could pass an essay question on what justification by faith entails.

We may have simply lowered the bar or tried to lighten the law, but we still are preaching a form of works-righteousness when we major on what people need to do…to end sex-trafficking, get out of debt, have healthy families…instead of what Christ has done to free us from sin, forgive us our debts, and adopt us into his family. The truth is that you actually have to be perfect to get into heaven, and thus our only hope is having Jesus’ perfect record given to us as a gift, received by faith.

Sola Gratia (grace alone)
We like grace—when it is seen as an assist for our slam dunk. The polls are heart-rending that show the number of Christians who think that the quote “God helps those who help themselves” comes from the Bible. Do we really believe our salvation is wholly of grace? If so, we could never allow our Christianity to be a badge of pride that makes us feel superior to or live in fear of the big, bad world.

Solus Christus (Christ alone)
We may say that we believe Jesus is the only way to God, but do our actions back that up? We live in a highly pluralistic society. Do we really believe that the nice Hindu family living down the street is destined for hell apart from faith in Christ? Do we believe it enough to lovingly and sacrificially share with them the gospel of what Christ has uniquely done?

Our lack of evangelism betrays our lack of belief in the exclusivity of Christ. Furthermore, so much of our faith talk is vague spirituality that does not really need the virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, and imminent return of the historical God-man Jesus Christ. We spout meaningless Oprah-esque mumbo-jumbo and it is no wonder that our kids start to think Christianity is not that distinct from the other religions and philosophies of their friends.

Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone)
Ministry can so easily become about our name or brand. We like to take the credit for our successes. Plus, there is a pervasive man-centeredness in our culture which has seeped into our churches. We are not in awe of God, but obsessed with our felt needs. Therefore, we fundamentally view God as there to serve us instead of the other way around. We have not been struck by the utter weightiness of the triune God, but are pathetically shallow and flit easily from this fad to that fad.

In our consumeristic context where everyone is bombarded with endless options all the time, the solas can at first seem like a straightjacket. But they truly represent our only hope. We are in desperate need of a fresh vision of God’s glory, in the face of Jesus Christ, as a result of his grace, perceived by faith, in the pages of the Bible.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

Follow the follower

ib2newseditor —  February 16, 2017

follow-jesus

Christian leadership training experts like to cite Jesus as an example of the best leader ever, Michael Kramer told Illinois Leadership Summit breakout attenders. While he agrees, the pastor also believes Jesus is an example of the best follower the world will ever see.

The education pastor from Immanuel Baptist in Benton based his claim on this: “Christ called us to be followers. Even Jesus followed the will of the Father. Jesus was the greatest follower and his disciples followed him… As followers we are to be deeply dependent on Jesus.”

As leaders, Kramer stressed, we are to follow the tenet of John 3:30—He must increase, I must decrease. “Our intake of Jesus must be greater than our outtake,” he said. “We need to be spending much time in the Word. Not time in sermon preparation, don’t count that.”

Kramer suggested several ways to increase private prayer time and Bible reading. “Read through the Bible in a year or read a Psalm a night. Download a Bible app and listen. Buy the Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s the most creative Bible I’ve come in contact with. It goes straight to the heart. Memorize a Bible verse a week.”

“Pray the Lord’s Prayer every morning before your feet hit the floor,” Kramer said. “Go away for a few hours or an even longer period of time once a month just for prayer.” Kramer will spend a few hours in the woods walking and talking with God. He also recommended praying through a prayer list with your spouse, children, or grandchildren

By increasing time spent with God, you begin to decrease your focus on self. “What’s it look like to decrease?” he asked. “When God wants to go after your heart he’s going to do it in an unexpected way. Christ is going to go after the places that he wants to claim in our hearts.”

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.

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.”

A time for change

ib2newseditor —  December 12, 2016

These final weeks of the year seem to always bring a mixture of emotions, as we gather sentimentally with family and friends for the holidays, and start reflecting on the ups and downs of the past year. Those year-end emotions seem supercharged this year, as the recent election has brought us a dramatic change in Presidential leadership, and with it potential changes in public policy that affect our daily lives.

I won’t go further than that into the politics of our times. Instead, in these days leading up to Christmas, I want to simply observe that this same sense of looming, unknown change that many of us are feeling may have been exactly how many of the faithful felt leading up to that very first Christmas.

I come to the end of this year with a sense that I need Messiah’s presence in a fresh new way.

Those to whom it was revealed that Messiah was near—Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the wise men, eventually the shepherds—all had revelations from God that were fearful, and yet inviting. They were all awestruck with the news that this thing beyond their comprehension or control was about to happen.

And yet these folks all walked forward into the wonder of the incarnation, the wonder of Jesus, the wonder of unpredictable and unprecedented change, with faith-filled obedience and anticipation. They knew things were a mess. They knew that the status quo—Rome and religion and their own sin-sick culture—was not ushering in the Kingdom of God. They knew any discomfort of change under Messiah’s leadership was to be preferred over the best that frail humans had to offer. And so, they walked into the unknown, trusting God.

Of course, not everybody welcomed the change of the first Christmas. King Herod and the religious leaders of Jerusalem were scared to death of whoever Messiah was, and whatever changes he might bring. They held on selfishly and even murderously to their own power and self-determination as long as they could, refusing to know Messiah, much less follow him. Sadly, I did the same until I met Jesus personally.

And so this year, this Christmas, the climate of change and uncertainty and unpredictability that we face—may not be all bad. The people who walked faithfully into that first Christmas knew that change was needed, in their own lives and in their nation, and they knew that trusting God and following his Messiah into the uncertainty was the only path forward. Perhaps we have a similar opportunity.

I leave it to you to determine how this may apply to your own life, or your church’s. Personally, I am coming to the end of this year with a sense that I need Messiah’s presence in my life in a fresh new way, and I need him to bring change. I don’t know what that looks like exactly. But I don’t want things to remain the same. I don’t want to settle for the status quo.

Whoever the President is, whatever shifts are coming in public policy, or in the culture, I want to welcome the changes our sovereign God is bringing, and follow Jesus into them. Some of those changes may come in the form of new challenges, or adversity, or even persecution. I want to follow Jesus there. Some of them may come in the form of new opportunities, or new methods, or a new wave of revival or awakening in our churches, or in our land. I want to follow Jesus there.

The faithful who experienced the first Christmas waited a long time for Messiah to show up in a new way, and to bring change, and to follow him right on through it. I want to be among the faithful this Christmas who will do the same.

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

Go Church Go!

ib2newseditor —  November 14, 2016

People in the form of  church.First let me say I how much I appreciate my many friends who are St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox fans, even those who seemed to suddenly become Cleveland Indians fans just prior to the 2016 World Series. I try not to be an annoying or gloating Cubs fan, though some might say that simply writing about the Cubs here makes me so.

But it’s not really the now-world-champion Cubs team or organization that I want to draw on for inspiration with these thoughts. Rather, it’s the persevering, always hopeful, and now victorious Cubs fans. Though I grew up a Cardinals fan like many in southern Illinois, five things have always drawn me to Cubs fans, and made me one of them.

Worldwide – The WGN cable network is probably most responsible for giving the Cubs a more than regional fan base. When wearing a Cubs logo, I have found other fans all around the country, and even around the world.

Wrigley – You just can’t deny the old world charm of the historic yet modernized stadium that the Cubs call their friendly confines. For true baseball fans, it’s one of the most inviting places in the world.

Waiters – As almost everyone now knows, Cubs fans had not seen a World Series championship since 1908. As the Series approached, numerous writers listed things that are more current than a Cubs championship, including the toaster and sliced bread itself. True, faithful Cubs fans are by definition those who patiently wait.

Winsome – While I’m sure we all know an abrasive Cubs fan or two, the overwhelming majority of Cubs fans I’ve known are friendly, hopeful, optimistic, and deeply loyal. Even though “lovable losers” is a label that’s practically become part of the official Cubs brand, you can’t get a rise out of a Cubs fan with that kind of insult. After all, until this year, what defense was there to that label? Cubs fans just smile, and winsomely recite their equally well-known mantra: “Wait ‘til next year.”

Winners – And finally, this year, we can add a new capital W that could only have been used in small case a few times over the past 108 years. This year, Cubs fans are winners. Their perseverance finally paid off. Next year has finally come. And in a demonstration of support and celebration that has now been labeled the largest gathering in American history, and seventh largest in world history, more than five million fans flooded the streets and parks of Chicago to relabel their lovable losers—beloved winners.

Now, how do I rationalize writing about baseball here? Well, almost any time I am moved or inspired by something in secular culture, I find it’s because I see in that event a reflection of something larger in God’s Kingdom, or God’s character, or God’s people. In this case, I think I find Cubs fans so inspiring (admittedly, some Cubs players are not) because I see in them a faint reflection of the same qualities I see in faithful Christians, and churches.

Throughout much of the world, including our own nation and state, faithful Christians are not seen as current winners. But, at least when we’re at our best, we are seen as winsome people who are patiently waiting for our victorious Lord Jesus to return. We are seeking to take our love and loyalty and gospel message worldwide. And yet we seek to make each local gathering place as inviting and friendly as the confines of Wrigley Field.

There will be a day when the five million that gathered to celebrate in Chicago will be a pale comparison to the tribes, tongues, and nations that will gather at the feet of Jesus, to worship him forever. But for now, a long-suffering group known as Cubs fans have reminded me of a more important group of people whose patient, faithful, hopeful perseverance will eventually be rewarded by victory. Go Church Go.

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

After a destructive election cycle, it’s time to ask some basic questions. 

Flag of USA painted on cracked wall. Political concept. Old text

Inwardly I chuckled when church historian Mark Noll said, “Evangelicalism is a fractious beast.” I was interviewing him for a documentary on the role Billy Graham played in the development of the evangelical movement when he founded Christianity Today magazine in 1956. As described by Noll, at the time a Wheaton College professor, evangelicals had no driving force other than their love for Jesus and desire to share him with the world.

In post-war mid-century America, the number of evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, was growing rapidly, but they were a people “about many things” as Jesus described Martha, with impact on society disproportionately weak compared to their numbers. They had no recognized think-tank to coalesce and articulate their conservative, biblical views and no central voice to bring those views to bear on culture, the courts, and behavior of the masses. No one was really paying attention to evangelicals as a political or cultural phenomenon.

We could use another Billy Graham today.

Graham remedied that by bringing top Christian thinkers together in his magazine, brought unity around a few ideals such that evangelicals over the next twenty years became a movement, and through a popular medium of the day he gave them a megaphone to broadcast their beliefs.

We could use another Billy Graham today.

Evangelicals today are fractured. The 2016 election cycle has divided us. While 4 out of 5 white evangelicals (the SBC’s predominant constituency) voted for Trump, that fact should not be read as evangelical unity. Believers who may have voted for Trump did so for a variety of reasons. Some were wholeheartedly behind the candidate; some were choosing “the lesser of two evils.” Some were motivated by religious liberty issues, or the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, or pro-life concerns.

No single issue or theology can be said to have brought together the 81% of self-identified white evangelicals who voted for Trump.

And there’s the other 19% who didn’t. And African Americans, Asians, and Hispanic believers who pollsters don’t measure as “evangelicals” and often lump in with other Protestants groups or even Catholics.

We are divided. The divides are between white and black, urban and rural, high levels of education and lesser. And in Southern Baptist life, we have seen some divide between older and younger Christians (especially Millennials), and notable differences among spokesmen for Baptist causes, and distance between leaders and pews.

What are the few things we will stand for—that will bring us together in the name of Jesus Christ?

For the first time in a generation, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission does not appear to have spoken for average Southern Baptists. Russell Moore and a few others were critical of Trump, especially on issues of character and behavior. On the other hand, a few leading megachurch pastors, including Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, stood with Trump. Others kept mum. SBC president Steve Gaines advised not making politics a church issue, so as not to offend people who need to the hear the gospel.

In this election, there were many reasons for speaking up—or not. Thus, in their analysis of the Republican win, pundits may report evangelicals a “silent majority,” but if that is the case, this majority was bound by many motivations.

The need of the hour is for evangelicals, Southern Baptists in particular, to process this awkward election theologically—not practically, politically, or emotionally—and identify the kingdom-worthy reasons for future political involvement. What are the few things we will stand for—that will bring us together in the name of Jesus Christ?

Is it U.S. Supreme Court appointments that preserve religious liberty? Marriage, family, gender preservation?

Is it social justice and a biblical view of peace, poverty, and the sanctity of human life?

And what is the role of character and trustworthiness in supporting a candidate or, moving forward, working with a presidential administration? Which is mandatory for Christ-followers when choosing political allies: biblical political positions or biblical behavior? (It appears nearly impossible to find both in a single person these days.)

In the 1950s, Graham drew Christians together around conservative, biblical theology, and eventually brought that to bear on politics and politicians—not the other way around. At 98 (his birthday was the day before the election), does Graham even recognize the movement he codified?

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.