Archives For Jesus

The stand

ib2newseditor —  August 14, 2017 — Leave a comment

Surrounded by a Forest of Tall Golden Aspen Trees

Over the years, I’ve grown to love Aspen trees. They’re not that common in Illinois, growing in only about a third of the state’s counties, mostly in the north. But in cooler or higher-altitude climates such as central Colorado, they grow abundantly, often covering the mountains like wildflowers.

It was while vacationing there with my family this summer that I started asking myself why I find Aspen trees so beautiful and interesting. Is it the “quaking” leaves, which so freely alternate their green and silver sides in the breeze, and then turn bright yellow in the fall? Or is it that those leaves are mounted on a beautiful white tree trunk, crisscrossed with black bands, that grow up to a hundred feet tall?

Perhaps it’s that these striking trees always appear so plentifully. Aspens grow in clusters or “stands” and multiply rapidly. Individual trees are actually part of a larger, singular organism that spreads rapidly in the form of new trees from a common root system.
As a result, one Aspen stand in Utah is considered by many to be the world’s oldest living organism. It’s more ancient than the massive Sequoias of the West, or even the famous Bristlecone Pines, some of which are said to be 5,000 years old. It appears that individual trees like those are not quite as enduring as the spreading organism of Aspens, which presents itself as many trees, yet underneath shares a unified root system that results in each unique tree being a genetic replicate of the others.

Inspiration for Baptists from the mighty and prolific Aspen trees

As you might guess, I find in these beautiful Aspen trees an encouraging metaphor for the equally creative work I believe God desires to do among Baptist churches here in Illinois. Like the diversely colored leaves that “quake” at the slightest breeze, our lives, stirred and filled by the Holy Spirit, should attract the attention of those we meet and invite them to know Jesus as Savior.

The bright, white-and-black banded trunk that holds us together is the local church that beautifully reflects the light of Christ and his word, not just one at a time, but in diverse sizes and shapes. Yet our churches should be united by a common root system of both doctrine and cooperation, one that makes us resilient and also allows us to multiply rapidly and spread throughout our region and the world. Aspens are the most widespread tree in North America, and there are varieties of Aspens found throughout Europe and Asia.

This year, September 10-17 is the week our “stand” of churches here in Illinois has set aside to pray for mission work here, and to receive a special offering called the Mission Illinois Offering. This offering is like a refreshing rainfall on our cooperative work as Baptist churches, work that takes place in a culture that can be as harsh on Baptist churches as mountain winters on a stand of Aspens.

But with that offering, we train leaders and church members in evangelism. We strengthen churches in multiple ministries that help them make more disciples and grow. And we provide the network of doctrinally sound cooperation that gives you confidence that the 20 or so churches being started in Illinois each year, though unique, are doctrinally united with all the churches in our “stand.”

Aspens grow all the time, even in winter. But many feel they are most brilliant and beautiful in the fall, when their golden leaves paint the mountainside with the glory of God.

This fall, when you and I give a generous offering through the Mission Illinois Offering, I believe we have an opportunity to do the same.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

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

Interior of airplane with people inside

Boarding a small airplane recently, I immediately noticed the cheerful, positive demeanor of the lone flight attendant. It was early in the morning, and amidst the crowd of bleary-eyed passengers shuffling onto the plane, she beamed like a ray of sunshine.

After welcoming us on board and making sure we were all buckled in and our carry-on luggage stowed, she proceeded to give us the prescribed safety instructions that anyone who has flown often could probably recite from memory. But instead of monotonously reading from a script about emergency exits and unlikely water landings, she delivered the entire speech from memory, yet with great personal warmth and conviction.

I was impressed, even inspired. But what I have not yet forgotten about this exceptional young lady are her spontaneous words after delivering that mandatory safety speech. She paused, and then with the most childlike wonder and enthusiasm you can imagine, she said, her eyes twinkling, “And now—it’s time to fly!”

Oh, I wish I could better convey in writing the way she bade us to the heavens with that one well-delivered phrase. As many times as she had undoubtedly endured the routines of stowing luggage, delivering safety speeches, and serving soft drinks and peanuts, she had not yet lost the wonder of getting to fly.

A few days later, I heard a comedian on a talk show describing his own recent experience on an airplane. As he awaited takeoff, he said he was contemplating the miracle that he would soon be sitting in a cylindrical tube 30,000 feet in the air, hurling through the atmosphere at 500 miles-per-hour to arrive cross country in less than four hours, a trip that used to take early pioneers a lifetime. Just then the flight attendant announced that wireless internet would not be available on that flight, and the man sitting next to the comedian flew into a fit of profanity. How quickly, he observed, we turn miracles into entitlements, and entitlements into opportunities for criticism.

How quickly indeed.

The word “miracles,” of course, turned my thoughts to the many spiritual blessings that I too often take for granted, or consider entitlements. Every week, I gather freely with other believers and have fresh opportunity to celebrate the resurrected Lord Jesus and the transformational difference he has made and is still making in my life. Every week I sing, along with people I call brother and sister, the songs of our deliverance from sin, our new life purpose, and eternity in heaven. Every week, I hear from God’s word a new, relevant message that applies to me personally.

With all that being true, it seems that every week, every worship leader in every local church should stand and tell us, “And now—it’s time to fly!” Yet it may be more common for us to settle into familiar weekly routines and even rituals. It may be more common for us to take for granted the gathering for corporate worship, and consider it an entitlement. It may be more common for us to complain about what programs or services didn’t meet our standards, or what people disappointed us.

That cheerful, positive flight attendant reminded me that it only takes one sincerely excited and grateful worshiper to call other sleepy souls out of their routines and criticisms. One person who recaptures the wonder and miracle of the church assembling together in God’s presence can rekindle that wonder in others. This Sunday, I will not be a presumptuous passenger who feels entitled to the miracle of access to God that cost Jesus so much. This Sunday, my worship will say to any on board with me, “And now—it’s time to fly!”

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

The Briefing

Evangelical leaders push for criminal justice reform
Evangelical Christian leaders are spearheading a campaign for criminal justice reform, calling for equitable punishment, and alternatives to incarceration. The declaration, and a related 11-page paper on how the church can respond to crime and incarceration, were spearheaded by evangelical organizations: Prison Fellowship, the NAE, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

Samford to withdraw from state conv. funding channel
Samford University in Birmingham will no longer receive annual budget allocations from the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC) after 2017. As of Jan. 1, 2018, the $3-plus million Cooperative Program allotment for Samford will be reduced from Alabama’s CP budget. The school’s board of trustees executive committee approved the decision as a result of an ongoing dialogue revolving around tensions concerning a proposed student organization — Samford Together — whose stated purpose was to facilitate discussion of topics related to human sexuality.

California adds four more ‘discriminatory’ states to travel ban
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed controversial legislation into law that allows child welfare providers — including faith-based adoption agencies — to refuse adoptions to hopeful parents based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” In response, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced his state will prohibit its employees from traveling to Texas because Texas has enacted laws that, he said, discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and their families.

Jesus painting on Islamic center branded hate crime
A large painting of Jesus on the cross was left at a Long Island Islamic center and police are investigating it as a hate crime.  The painting was found Friday on a fence of the Hillside Islamic Center in North New Hyde Park, Nassau County police said.

Man fined $12G for not taking shoes off in Muslim’s home
A Canadian landlord who was fined $12,000 for wearing shoes in a Muslim tenant’s home said he felt “humiliated” by the harsh penalty levied by a national human rights tribunal. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered John Alabi in April to pay the tenants $6,000 each after he failed to take his shoes off in the bedroom were the couple prayed while he was showing the home to potential renters.

Sources: Religion News Service, Baptist Press, Washington Post, NBC New York, Fox News

For the joy

Decatur | Deana Moore didn’t mind the less than stellar running conditions that greeted her early on Saturday morning, April 28. Instead of derailing her from participating in a planned 5K race, the rain and unseasonably cool temperatures helped her enjoy nature and the people she ran with in the event, which is held along with IBSA’s Priority Women’s Conference.

“It was quite an accomplishment for me too, because I was able to run the whole thing without walking or stopping,” said Moore, a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur. Running alongside her were several other women who participated in a spring “Run for God” Bible study that met on Wednesday evenings at Tabernacle.

The 5K in Decatur was a “graduation race” for the class led by Leigh Johnson, a veteran runner and the wife of Tabernacle Pastor Randy Johnson. Run for God is a curriculum created in 2010 by Georgia runner Mitchell Hollis that combines the physical and the spiritual in a 12-week study that also includes group runs.

At Tabernacle, Johnson’s group ran outside on Wednesday evenings when they could, and inside when the weather didn’t permit it. The building’s upstairs loop was their track, she said, as the group carefully dodged around children from the church’s Awana program.

“They were very gracious to kind of bob and weave with us,” Johnson said. The run also took the class through the balcony around the sanctuary, where they heard the worship band practicing for Sunday’s worship service.

The music could well have served as a reminder for the group’s ultimate purpose—to grow closer to God while doing something he has equipped them to do. “Being able to physically do those things—[to] build up to running like we did—I know that wasn’t me,” Moore said after her recent 5K. “I know that it was all God helping me to do that.”

Unhindered

Rainy weather didn’t keep runners from participating in the Priority Women’s Conference 5K race April 28
in Decatur.

One class for all levels
Leigh Johnson first heard about Run for God during last year’s Priority conference. IBSA’s Carmen Halsey, director of women’s missions and ministry, introduced the curriculum at the annual 5K race and offered to partner with churches who wanted to use it as an evangelistic outreach.

Johnson went home and looked up the program. “I was all over it,” she said.

Each week of the study focuses on a devotional piece and correlating Scripture passages, along with an educational component about running.

One week, the lesson focused on Jesus feeding the 5,000. He recognized the physical hunger in front of him, but also an even deeper need—the spiritual hunger of the people. Johnson’s group talked about how the things people do—going to church, reading books, listening to sermons in the car—are good and valuable. But they’re snack-like compared to the sustaining nourishment of a relationship with Jesus that includes personal quiet time, reading, praying, and searching.

Greeting

Members of Leigh Johnson’s Run for God Bible study group were among the runners, and she greeted them at the finish line.

Before their Wednesday evening runs together, the women discussed the Scripture passages provided with each week’s lesson. Johnson brought in local experts—including a physical trainer and a representative from a running shoe store—to help teach the group about the proper way to run.

Johnson said the study was beneficial to people at all stages of physical fitness, and spiritual development.

“I think it’s beautiful in that sense, that it could be for anyone,” she said. “For the runner, the non-runner, the person that’s been a Christian for years, a non-Christian, or a baby Christian that’s just accepted the Lord.”

One woman in the class was brought back into the hope of a relationship with Christ, after feeling like her connection with him had been broken. Another rediscovered the joy of personal devotional times with God.

Deana Moore said the week the class was challenged to share their own stories was particularly effective for her. “It made me think about my own testimony: if I’m called to give it, am I prepared for that?”

Since the 12-week class ended, Moore has also already signed up for two more 5K races, and is involving her teenage daughters in running with her.

Johnson, a self-described uncomfortable public speaker, discovered the encouragement of her group—and strength from God—could help her do something she didn’t previously think was possible. After she made a Facebook promotional video for the class and flyers were printed about the upcoming study, she realized, “I’m really going to have to do this,” Johnson said.

But with “deep breath after deep breath and prayer and prayer,” she moved forward, leaning on Scripture verses like Philippians 4:13 and Joshua 1:9, whick is a key verse for Run for God. Johnson said she’s “blown away” that God would use something she’s comfortable doing—running—to help her with something she’s less comfortable with—leading in a public setting.

At the Priority 5K in Decatur, she had to take on a completely different role after injuring her foot just before the race. Rather than running with her group, she had to take a step back and cheer them on at the finish line. Johnson stood in the rain under a large umbrella, greeting her friends as they completed the run and handing out finisher’s medals.

Had she run herself, she said, she might have forgotten what the day was supposed to be about. Instead, she ran a different race that Saturday, one that, judging by the hugs she gave and received, was every bit as vital.

For more information about women’s ministry and missions opportunities across Illinois, go to IBSA.org/women or contact Carmen Halsey at (217) 391-3143 or CarmenHalsey@IBSA.org.

–Meredith Flynn

Phoenix map 2

People everywhere need the Lord, says IBSA’s Dennis Conner

In its first two years of production, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” topped the TV ratings in the U.S. It was so popular in those early years that nearly 40% of households that were watching television were watching the Clampetts. That’s a larger percentage of viewers than Game 7 of the Cub’s World Series Championship victory.

The basis for all the humor on the show was the fact that the principal characters were out of place. The family from deep in the hills of the Ozark Mountains discovers oil on their land and moves into a posh mansion in Beverly Hills. Hilarous hijinks ensue.

While not quite that extreme, a move from a small town in northeastern North Carolina to the western suburbs of Phoenix 11 years ago was a similar learning experience for my wife and me. Here are just a few of the things we learned:

People are open to the gospel. True, church attendance has declined substantially in the little more than half century of my lifetime. Yet, while people may not be going to a church gathering to hear the gospel, they are willing to hear it, discuss it, consider it, embrace it, or reject it in a park, a coffee shop, a work place, a restaurant, a classroom, a condo building, and a myriad of other places.

When we were planting Crosspointe, the Church at Tartesso, Arizona, most of the gospel conversations I had with those who became believers (and those who didn’t) were in one of the parks in our community.

In the three years I’ve lived in Chicago, I’ve learned people are open to the gospel here as well. And while I haven’t lived in the other cities, towns, villages, or farm communities that make up the varied mission field of Illinois, I’m confident that every place in our state has people who are open to the gospel, even if they might reject an initial invitation to church.

The fruit of the Spirit is effective in opening doors of opportunity for evangelism. When our lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we will never lack opportunities to talk about what produces those qualities in us.

Unbelieving people recognize the difference in us. They are drawn to the fruit of the Spirit. They will ask questions. Often, their desire to learn will be expressed in invitations to family or social events that welcome us into their lives and networks of relationships.

Effective evangelism often starts with open ears, eyes, and minds. Taking time to get to know someone is an expression of the value we place on them. Asking questions about a person’s education, family, work, or interests demonstrates a desire to know them. If that desire is genuine, it will communicate our value of others as human beings. Simply demonstrating care and concern for others earns us relational credibility and opportunities for relational influence. As Jesus-followers, our influence will lead others to go with us as we follow after him.

New people bring new opportunities for the gospel. Moving to a new place will often open people up to new relationships and new experiences. While planting a church in a brand-new planned community in Arizona, we hosted numerous community events that were intended to serve the community and gather new neighbors together.

Bringing people together at the common ground of a park or a school gave them an opportunity to get to know each other. Being a part of those networks of relationships gave the people of Crosspointe an opportunity to share the gospel with new friends.

People who are new to Chicago will often be ready to meet new people. A monthly weekend brunch for newcomers could be an effective tool in a condo building. While small towns in rural Illinois may not see as many new people as Chicago, the new people who do arrive are often even more open to new relationships because the established social networks can be hard to penetrate.

In just a few weeks, Illinois Baptists will have an opportunity to spend several days in Phoenix for the Southern Baptist Convention. Take some time to step away from the familiar crowd from Illinois. Engage some locals in conversation. If you encounter someone who is not a Phoenix native, ask them about how different it is for them. Their answer may just make you more aware of the people in your own town who need to hear and respond to the gospel.

Dennis Conner is IBSA’s director of church planting in northeast Illinois.

Open empty tomb. Watercolor painting

The day of Jesus’ resurrection has always been an orienting point for Christians. From the beginning, it was the day for their weekly gatherings. Later it became a pivotal day in the annual Christian calendar.

Prior to Easter each year, we reflect on Jesus’ perfect submission — from His victory over Satan’s temptations in the wilderness to His ultimate act of obedience on the cross. We examine our own devotion and deal intentionally with the temptations and distractions that keep us from full obedience.

Then, on Easter, the commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection pivots us from contemplating the humility of the suffering Lamb to celebrating the power of the risen Lamb; from identifying with the crucified Servant to exalting the victorious Savior.

This shift is rooted in the events that occurred on the very day of Jesus’ resurrection, beginning with the question posed to the women who went to His tomb: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?”

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

It is true that the question had something to do with their location at the tomb. Luke reports, however, that the women had “inclined their faces to the ground” and that this posture prompted the messengers’ question. Why? Because early Christians knew they lived in a world governed by the words of Genesis 3:19: “You will eat food by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it; for you are dust, and you will return to dust.” The women’s posture that morning was entirely reasonable in light of these words. Each and every body laid in a tomb would return to the ground, the dust.

A change had occurred that morning, however, that the women’s posture did not reflect. Jesus’ resurrection had brought about a new posture. The women should not be inclined toward the ground looking for Jesus but standing and facing Him as their risen Lord.

Easter posture is not, however, merely standing and facing the resurrected Lord. It is standing and facing our future because of His resurrection.

Forty days prior to Easter, some Christians have ash placed on their foreheads and hear the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” They are reminded of the brevity of life and the urgency of present obedience.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

If you have been to a funeral this past year, you don’t need an ashen symbol to remind you of the brevity of life or that death still grips creation. As you inclined your face toward the body that was to be placed in the ground, you were confronted with the fact that this is not how God created that person. The eulogies testified to the fact that there is no one in the world who spoke, sang, laughed or loved like the one whose body lay in the casket.

It is at just this point where the women’s lesson is vital for us because the Easter posture is a posture of hope. Death results in the body returning to the ground — for now. Sorrow and grief are real — for now. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, however, we can stand and face our future with hope. The apostle Paul says it this way: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Are you struggling to face your future? Maybe you have experienced a great tragedy in your life: the death of a friend or family member, a diagnosis of a terminal disease. Maybe the loss of someone or something that has provided security has shaken your confidence in the future: the betrayal of a close friend or spouse, the loss of a job. Maybe anxiety is just your persistent struggle; you struggle to face the future even in the absence of crises.

The question is good for you to hear: Why do you seek for the living among the dead?

Allow the fact of Jesus’ resurrection to give you the confidence to face your future. With His resurrection in mind, stand up and face your future with hope.

Christopher Graham is assistant professor of theology at Criswell College and its program director for the master of divinity degree and master of arts in theological and biblical studies. This article is adapted from the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Jesus is our great hero

ib2newseditor —  April 14, 2017

Hero

All of my life, I have looked for heroes whom I could love, respect, and follow. There is an old photo of me as a small boy with my brother, standing in the backyard with towels pinned around our necks. We were trying to be like Superman, ready to fight against the bad guys and fight for justice. He was probably the first hero we had as children.

During my teenage years, I played the guitar and wrote songs, so my heroes became famous musicians who displayed their lyric artistry in recordings and concerts. When I entered the ministry, I turned to those pastors and authors whose words had profoundly shaped me. They became my heroes to admire and emulate. Later, when I became a classroom teacher, I loved to read stories about the great teachers and their influence on students.

It seems that no matter what stage of life I was in, I was constantly looking for and looking up to heroes.

I know I am not alone in my search for heroes. It’s something we all do throughout our lives. But what is more intriguing is that no one ever instructs us on the need to find and emulate heroes. In addition, no one ever explains to us the characteristics our heroes should have. We seem to be wired to look for men and women whose lives display something good, beautiful, and noble — something that tastes of glory. Think about the heroes you have admired, and you will see something of those same qualities.

Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost.

But there is something else even more intriguing. We have all engaged in something that can best be described as hero worship. It’s not just that we love, honor, and respect our heroes. We do something to them akin to worship, putting them on a pedestal and expecting things from them that they cannot possibly give. The disappointment that comes is inevitable, yet we keep hoping for heroes to come and save the day, whether it’s the new church pastor, the new government official, or the new company boss. Our search for and disappointment with our heroes can generate enormous confusion. I know it has for me.

The Bible shines a unique and penetrating light on this confusion. Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, CSB). The idea of falling short is that we are missing something and are now destitute and lacking. What are we missing? The glory of God. We were meant to bathe in that glory and then radiate it out as His image-bearers, but in turning away from Him, we lost the glory and now live in sin and shame. Yet, the longing for glory never leaves us, so when we sense a glimmer of that glory in someone else, however faintly, the draw is magnetic.

Without deliberation or hesitation, we immediately know that this is what humans were meant to be like, what we, in fact, were meant to be like. Our hero worship, however wrongly directed, is an understandable longing for what has been tragically lost. But the Bible’s story of glory doesn’t end there.

He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

Enter Jesus. John states that he saw the glory of Jesus, the glory of being God’s unique Son, the glory that took on flesh and came to dwell among us. (See John 1:14.) And how did that glory dwell among us? As the hero we have all longed for. Everything Jesus did was heroic.

He spoke the truth, even when it made Him enemies.

He did good works wherever He went, healing the sick, freeing the demon-possessed, and preaching a message of hope. He loved and served and gave without expecting anything in return for Himself.

And in the end, Jesus gave His life away for the sake of the entire world. He chose to take our place by bearing our sin and shame so that we could be set free. He did everything we ask of a hero and so much more. He is not only the King of kings and Lord of lords, but truly the Hero of heroes.

What should our response be to the Savior of our soul? Our misdirected hero worship should rightly reside and remain on Him. He is the great Hero we have all been looking for, the One who perfectly lived in the Father’s glory and radiated it out to all. Our hearts long to find someone to respect, honor, adore, and love. Because of Christ’s defeat over death and sin, we can now place that longing on Him and never again be disappointed. Yet, in the end, He will do something even more marvelous, something with eternal significance: He will turn us into creatures filled with glory like Himself. We will one day feel again the glory we tragically lost — the glory that will move us to our purest worship of Jesus, our Great Hero.

Bill Delvaux, author of Landmarks (B&H) and Divided (Thomas Nelson), leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and spiritual director. This article first appeared in Mature Living, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources. Learn more at LifeWay.com/magazines.