Archives For Jesus

Rocking chair

A BIG REST – The world’s largest rocking chair beckons the weary in Casey, Ill., and beyond.

A USA Today article confirmed what I’ve been thinking: I’m tired. I’m tired of bad news, the 24-hour news cycle, shootings, Congress, Tweets, screens, talking heads, arguments, and politics. I’m tired of zealots, protests, terrorists, bombings, and assassinations. I’m tired of hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards with names, missile testing, election meddling, special investigations, and dictators. And it turns out I’m not alone. We’re all exhausted, according to that Jim Beckerman article, and it’s not getting any better.

Doctors report we’re losing sleep, gaining weight, and suffering anxiety in greater numbers. We toss and turn and fret and work up a sweat. “There is a sense of danger,” one therapist said, “that we’re living in very dangerous times.” And no one is predicting relief anytime soon. Which makes these words all the more important:

Come unto me.

If any period in biblical times seems to mirror our own, it’s the first century, especially in Israel. A massive empire is in charge, a foreign power ruling from a distance, but the Pax Romana seems a farce. The peace of Rome? What peace? Troops march in the streets of all the major cities to keep a lid on the boiling pot. And in Jerusalem, the local government is threatened by activists plotting political and religious takeover. Thinkers are searching for solutions, and regular people want deliverance. Not even their religion offers relief. If anything, it only adds to the weight they carry, piling rules upon rules, and making daily life harder.

In this environment, Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden.” That is an address to an ample and ready audience. What he says next is especially nervy: “I will give you rest.”

The text in Matthew 11 is familiar and beloved. The rest Jesus offers is from the burden of religion. The Ten Commandments weren’t enough; the Jewish teachers had mounted up 613 rules for daily living that still couldn’t keep adherents in right relationship with God. The yoke Jesus offers is his own teaching, by comparison easy, like well-fitting shoulder gear, and lightweight.

But it’s not only a new teaching the itinerant rabbi offers. Jesus gives himself as a living example.

“Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”

In The Message, Eugene Peterson phrases it this way: “Are you tired? Worn out?…Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Jesus offers a promise especially suited to our tiresome times.

In times like these, we need especially to keep company with Jesus. The answer for our trying times is not to add more strident voices to the cacophony, but to follow the example of Jesus, who, by his definition, is gentle and lowly. When we spend time with Jesus, learn more of Jesus, and live like Jesus, we find real rest.

As the writer of Hebrews points out, we’ve been seeking rest since God’s people fled Egypt.

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people…Let us then make every effort to enter that rest…” (Heb. 4:8-9, 11 CSB).

For believers, there is rest in eternity, but in the spirit of “abundant life,” there is rest now as well. The key, I think, is “keeping company.”

This scene in Matthew isn’t the only time Jesus invited his followers to escape the fray. “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest awhile,” Mark recorded as Jesus’ response to a frantic season of ministry (Mark 6:31). His disciples were so busy tending and teaching that they didn’t have time to eat. Jesus, the rest-giver, declared a Sabbath.

Sounds good to me.

On a country road outside the small town where my mother grew up is a white wooden church on the flat top of a rise. It’s called Pilgrim’s Rest. Halfway to the next largest town, it seems a good place to pull the wagon off the road and give the horse a drink, before attempting the second half of the journey. Here, pilgrims rested. And a few learned to live there permanently.

Perhaps that’s what we need in these tiring times: to pull off the road, camp out with Jesus, and rest awhile.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Are revivals effective?

ib2newseditor —  March 15, 2018

Abstract cross

I was in a small gathering of folks the other week when a dear lady made reference to a revival she had been a part of.

“But, of course, nobody has revivals anymore,” she said with such confidence. I wanted to say, “Well, that’s not exactly right. I am beginning a revival this Sunday at Summit Baptist Church in Loganville.”

Here in Georgia, I remember very distinctly one statistic that stood out from research a few years ago about evangelistic churches: Churches that have revivals baptize more people than churches that do not have revivals.

In my book “Healthy Kingdom Churches” a few years back, I wrote about a doctor friend, who accepted the task of getting me well from a respiratory ailment, so I could preach a revival meeting at Atco Baptist Church in Cartersville. He made a statement and then asked a question: “I didn’t know churches were still having revivals. Are revivals still effective?”

I gave the most sincere and honest answer I knew: “Revivals are effective in some churches and not in others.”

“How do you explain that?” he asked.

I responded, “It’s like most other things. The success of a revival is determined largely by the amount of effort put into getting ready for revival.”

Churches that have revivals baptize more people than churches that do not have revivals.

The revival at Atco Baptist Church was truly amazing. It happened because the pastor, Wayne Hamrick, had prepared the congregation through praying for revival and witnessing across the community. That week we saw 57 people come to faith in Christ. In one service, we saw over 20 make professions of faith. There were many other decisions as well, with people making rededication commitments and coming on transfer of membership. God had done an amazing thing among His people who dared to trust that if they prayed and witnessed, God would do what only God can do.

I have come to the conclusion that it is wrong to declare the death of revivals, when the only reason they may be dead in a church is a lack of commitment to pray for revival toward reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the first service at the recent revival at Summit Baptist Church, pastor Jason Rothe made the statement that the congregation had literally been praying for months for this series of services. That did not surprise me because when I arrived at the church, I found a vibrant congregation filled with anticipation over what the Lord would do during the week. When the invitation was given, the aisles filled with people coming down front to pray and to unite with the church.

I want to encourage you to plan a revival for your church. As you do, remember that we have a good number of vocational evangelists in our Baptist family that God is using in a great way. When you contact them you will discover faithful, energetic and effective servants of Christ ready to bless your church.

J. Robert White is executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. This article originally appeared at http://www.bpnews.net.

Garden of Gethsemane.Jerusalem

Garden of Gethsemane. Thousand-year olive trees, Jerusalem.

The place of ‘crushing’ is not a destination, but it is a good pit stop.

A Baptist pastor said in an article I read recently that Maundy Thursday has become his favorite day of the Easter season. That was surprising, he admitted, since he didn’t grow up observing the day before Good Friday as anything special. Nor do many Baptist churches. But as he was called to pastor a church with a unique Thursday night Lord’s supper service prior to Resurrection Sunday, he took on the observance and came to appreciate it deeply.

I understood his experience. A couple of churches I served added Thursday services to their pre-Easter observance. At first, it was a matter of convenience for those who would travel on Good Friday to spend the weekend with grandma. But eventually we found we ourselves needed more time in the garden before we stood at the foot of the Cross, and ultimately at the vacated tomb.

“Maundy” Thursday may sound mournful, but the name itself comes from the Latin for “mandate.” A new commandment I give you, Jesus told his disciples in the upper room on that night, that you love one another. Maundy is a manmade term, as is the “Good” of Friday, but as for the events that happened that night, they are by God’s design.

After donning the servant’s towel and washing his followers’ feet, then giving them his body and blood in the first Lord’s Supper, Jesus led the crew, minus Judas, to the olive press on the other side of the temple grounds. Calling it Gethsemane, we forget that this was a working vineyard, where the crop was grown and at its maturity harvested, then crushed to release its treasure and fulfill its purpose. (Makes you have new respect for that bottle of oil in the cupboard, doesn’t it?) There, kneeling among the gnarled trees and the stone pressing floor, Jesus appears at his most human: suffering, knowing greater suffering was just ahead, wrestling, and yet willing.

And if we left the account there, we would miss several deep truths that make the events of Thursday night crucial to our understanding of Sunday’s victory. We might be tempted to think of Jesus as somehow less than fully human, that his deity abated his agony, if we did not see him wrestling in prayer while even his closest supporters a few yards away abandoned him in favor of sleep. We might miss a point of deep personal connection to Jesus that we need in our own times of crisis.

For Jesus Gethsemane was no rest. It is the place where one last time, his obedience and his surrender to the plans of his Father were tested. It is the place where God’s purpose and his own mission surpassed a momentary desire for relief from the pain of the night. And, blessedly, it is temporary.

In Gethsemane, the Father prepared the Son for the cross before him. Luke, who diagnosed Jesus’ suffering as bloody even in the garden, also tells us that God sent an angel to minister to Jesus.

The agony won’t last forever, but God knows we need help to get through it. And he sends it by his holy messengers. In our own seasons of crushing, we are lifted with the news that God has a purpose for the suffering he allows, and that it is temporary. God knows we hurt; God sends help; God sets a time limit.

In those times, it helps to know that Jesus suffered too. He cried over Lazarus. He cried out on the cross. And he endured in the garden where any remote possibility that he might put his relief ahead of our need was crushed: Not my will, but Yours be done, he said to the Father. We speak of “The Lord’s Prayer” as our model prayer. It, too, says, “Thy will be done.” But in Gethsemane, the prayer is tested and proven, and Jesus comes out the other side fully committed to finish his mission—at all personal cost to himself.

Finally, Gethsemane points to victory. To know the exhilaration of Jesus’ triumph over Satan and hell and sin and death, we must endure with him in his Gethsemane—and ours. In trial, we can be assured that Jesus has been here before. And though it hurts—a lot—we must not rush past Gethsemane, or we miss the magnitude of the victory, when the darkness of Thursday night surrenders to the brilliance of Sunday morning. And that light you see is the Son.

Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media. 

Why I miss Nellie

ib2newseditor —  February 15, 2018

Woman praying with her bible on table

Joe Oliver met me at the front door yesterday. One of our faithful zone consultants, Joe was in town for the monthly team meeting before returning to his ministry field in the Chicago suburbs. “We’re praying for you,” he said, helping me pull the door open. His wife, DeWanna, had said the same thing to me on the same spot the month before. And in that moment, I realized that I still miss my mother-in-law.

Folks at my house have been on the injured-reserve list for a while, and I took my turn recently. In this protracted season, I have witnessed Christ at work through coworkers and their wives who have fed us and cheered us and prayed for us. The same is true of church family, who prove they are truly family, when you need them. The soups and casseroles have been terrific, but it’s the assurances about praying for us that stick with us most.

“We’re praying for you” really means something when you know it’s true.

I used to call my grandmother on occasion and ask her to pray for me, especially during college exams. (Desperate times, desperate measures, you know.) And where she left off, my mother-in-law picked up. “Call your mother,” I’d say to my wife. Especially as a pastor in a troubled inner city, I knew we needed to send for back-up. And we got it from 600 miles away. She prayed faithfully, and she would call back wanting to know the results—because she expected results. Nellie has been with Jesus 12 years now, telling him more directly, I hope, that we need his help. Baptists don’t have a doctrine of the communion of the saints, but I hope in the Hebrews 12:1 cloud of witnesses, a picture of the packed stadium at an Olympics-style event, that there’s room for my mother-in-law and so many others still cheering us on toward the faithful completion of our own race.

And not Nellie only.

Over the years, I have counted on the prayers of Louise, Leo, Ruthie, Ethel, Pat, Pam, Carole, Sheila, Yvonne, Bev, Sherry, Millie, Bea, and Arlene, among others. And more recently Susan, Beth, Robin, Kathy, Tammie, Jean, Miriam, Ashley, Diane, and many, many others. And that’s just the women.

I’m beginning to understand why Paul’s “conclusions” to his short letters are so long. There are so many people who deserve a “thank you” for their faithful intercession. If I haven’t said it adequately out loud, please know I’m saying it in prayer.

– Eric Reed

Detour sign in New York

I learned to drive when finding your way around still involved maps—ones that were printed on paper with different size dots to represent population, and different width lines to represent what kind of road it was. To get from place to place, you would locate where you were and where you wanted to go and, most of the time, map out the shortest distance.

This worked well until you came to one of those big orange triangular signs that said “Detour.” Typically, you would be directed off the road with a sign or two and then left to your own resources to find your way back. The objective was to get back to the main road as soon as possible so you could continue your journey. On occasion, getting back to the main road seemed impossible, and you had to find a new way to get to your destination.

Personally, my life recently took a detour (with a cancer diagnosis). Not only am I now on a different road, I am headed for a new and different destination. To be honest, my wife, Robin, and I aren’t sure we know what the new destination will be. This detour is not simply a short-lived excursion, it is a brand-new road.

Sometimes God takes our lives on a detour, at least from the plans we have laid out and from the destinations we were headed toward. And trying to get back to the old road, the former route, is to miss what God wants to do in our life. As one author puts it, the detour has become the new road.

What do we make of this? Is God playing a mean trick on us, or has he changed his mind about his purpose for our lives? As I have thought (and prayed) about this, I have come to a new understanding and appreciation for what God might be doing when he interrupts our personal road maps and seeks to take us to a new destination.

Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that many of God’s choicest servants, men and women, experienced some incredible detours. Consider Abraham, who was told to leave his home land and go to a place God would show him (eventually). Ruth, a young bride-turned-widow, also journeyed to a foreign land. Peter, Andrew, James, and John left the family fishing business to wander with Jesus, and the Apostle Paul detoured from persecuting the church to being the planter of churches.

These are just a few of the dozens of examples we could mention. Let me suggest a few possibilities for what God might be up to in the detours of life:

1. You detoured when you trusted Jesus. The truth of the gospel is that we were enemies of God until he intervened and offered us salvation through Jesus. In our old life, we charted our own destination, and it was leading us to separation from God. Our repentance—doing an “about face”—represents the first and most important detour as a disciple of Jesus.

2. Your detour may last for many years before you see the benefit. Joseph was enjoying his time as the favorite son of a wealthy father. Then his brothers threw him in a pit and left him for dead. He was sold into slavery to a foreign king and later thrown into prison, even though he did nothing wrong. Quite a life-changing detour! But after decades and several more detours, Joseph’s position in the foreign land was used by God to meet the need of his people in a time of severe famine. You may not see the benefit or the blessing of a detour for many years to come.

3. Your detour may have a Kingdom impact. Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, may have had the most dramatic detour recorded. From hunting down and wanting to kill followers of Jesus, he became the greatest missionary ever, planting churches all over the known world. Only in heaven will we know how many people came to be followers of Jesus because of Paul’s ministry. This was certainly not his original life’s ambition. Yet you and I have heard the gospel because of Paul’s dramatic detour.

4. Your detour may be for the blessing of others. Consider Abram. He was a herder of livestock. God told him to leave home and set out for a place that God would show him. Not only would God bless Abram, “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). Abram’s detour resulted in all the nations of the earth being blessed.
So, don’t get in a hurry to get back to your original route. Allow what seems like a detour to be the new route of obedience for your life.

Van Kicklighter is IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team.

Summit gathers 1,000 church leaders for learning, encouragement, and reminder of shared mission

MLS main session

Springfield | Ministry in the Midwest has ups and downs, successes and struggles. The work of advancing the gospel in a diverse, large region requires creativity, perseverance, and a willingness to sacrifice personal preference.

With their common calling in mind, more than 1,000 leaders from 13 Midwest states gathered in Springfield Jan. 23-25 at the Midwest Leadership Summit, a meeting organized every three years by Southern Baptist state conventions in the region.

“We share the same love for our communities and vision to see people come to Christ,” said Tim Burgess, a pastor in Mt. Vernon, Mo., “and getting together is a great reminder that we are not working at this alone.”

The large-group sessions and more than 90 breakouts tackled specific ministries—college campuses, church planting, missions, women, youth, and Disaster Relief, to name a few. Underlying each session was the need to advance the gospel in a culture that’s moving farther away from biblical truth. In our culture of change, one thing has stayed the same, said Detroit’s Darryl Gaddy.

“You look around and notice that nothing stays the same,” said the urban church planting specialist in his keynote address to open the Summit. “Nothing is as it was ten, five, or even two years ago.

“But actually there is one thing that does stay the same. Sin. Oh, the consistency of brokenness. It never takes a vacation. But friends, we are the church. And we, like Peter who raised the lame man up in the name of Jesus Christ, are called to speak into the brokenness.”

Gaddy urged Midwest leaders to be “agents of change” in their communities, which will require obedience when it’s not convenient, becoming less so others can become more, and giving up their rights to someone else—Jesus.

“We have received information for our heads, inspiration for our hearts, and implementation for our hands,” Gaddy said. “Let’s not leave here the same way we came.”

God at work
Like the Midwest itself, leaders in Springfield for the Summit represented a wide variety of contexts, including places where new churches are making inroads into previously unreached communities. North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell facilitated a discussion with four planters who took to the main stage to talk about strategy, cooperation, and the power of prayer.

“There is a quote that I always go to when I think about our church,” said David Choi, pastor of Church of the Beloved in Chicago. “When men work, they work. But when men pray, God works. The great church planter is the Lord. Recruit prayer warriors to lift up your ministry because that’s truly the secret sauce.”

In a few years, Choi’s church has grown from one—himself—to encompass hundreds meeting for worship every weekend. He credited God for the growth, and the prayers of people who live far from his city but have made it a point to lift up Church of the Beloved.

Ezell also introduced Paul Sabino, pastor of Candeo Church on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Sabino is part of The Salt Network, a family of next-generation churches working together to plant churches in major university cities.

“We are seeing the power of God on us and it’s like holding a Dixie cup; it’s overflowing and we can’t contain it,” Sabino said. “Jesus said he would make us fishers of men. The fish are on college campuses and they are hungry. They are crying out for the living God to impact their lives.”

The focus on church planting was encouraging for Christine Watkins, who came to the Summit as a member of Jachin Baptist Church, a 10-month-old church plant in Flint, Mich. Her husband, Derrick, is pastor of the church named for a word found in 1 Kings 7:21. Jachin means “the Lord will establish,” Watkins said.

“I think attending this summit and hearing all the great knowledge and stories of how God has blessed young church plants is part of how God is opening doors and giving direction in how he is going to establish our church.”

‘Pray bigger prayers’
Jeff Iorg, President of Gateway Seminary in Ontario, Ca., understands what it means to advance the gospel in difficult environments.

“Much of what you are experiencing now in the Midwest we experienced 30 years ago in California,” he said during the Summit’s final session. “It seems like an impossible task with formidable obstacles…Yet, I’m here to tell you the gospel is advancing on the West Coast, and healthy churches are growing with denominational influence and cooperation.”

Iorg said the reason for the gospel’s advancement, especially in a hostile cultural environment, can be found in John 14.

“Jesus said in verse 12, ‘I assure you: The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.’

“‘And he will do even greater works than these’—that is quite a sober declaration of Scripture,” Iorg said. “Do you believe the word of God? Do you believe Jesus meant what he said?”

Iorg encouraged leaders to pray and ask God for what is worthy to be asked for in Jesus’ name and to surrender control to the Holy Spirit.

“Confess your powerlessness and ask the Holy Spirit for the filling, guiding, and directing,” he said. “So often, we start to rely on our own strategic plans. That’s not going to work. We must depend on the filling of the Holy Spirit to get the mission done.”

The last step to advancing the gospel in this cultural environment is to teach people to read, understand, and obey the Bible. Iorg said the only time he has seen people transformed is when they engage God’s Word.

“No games, no gimmicks,” Iorg said. “Pray bigger prayers in the name of Jesus. Work in the Holy Spirit’s power and trust him to do supernatural things in you. And find a way to teach people to internalize the Word of God. That’s it. Now let’s go home and do it.”

Kayla Rinker is a freelance writer living in Missouri.

Back to basics

ib2newseditor —  January 15, 2018

The recent holiday season gave me a little more time than usual to watch football on TV. As the regular season gave way to playoffs and bowl games, it seemed pre-game analysts spent increasing amounts of time discussing “what it will take to win” the next, tougher game. The more serious the consequence of the game, and the fewer games that remain, the more critical it seems to be able to think, and not just play.

Yet as I’ve listened to experts talk again and again about what it takes to be successful, it seems they often come back to the same basic advice. Focus on fundamentals. Block and tackle well. Everyone do your assignment. Establish the ground game. Everything else you need for success will flow from there.

In these big games, will there be an occasional trick play, or a key turnover, or a missed call that influences the game? Probably. But everyone seems to agree that the best you can do to prepare for victory is simply get back to the basics.

Now is the time to consider what it takes to be truly effective in our mission.

I found myself wondering if there is a reminder, even an exhortation, for churches to consider here. Among the most “basic” practices of Baptist churches as we follow the Lord and pursue his mission are celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and believer’s baptism. Yet these can sometimes seem like occasional, even rare, ceremonies, rather than the very blocking-and-tackling basics on which the rest of church life is built.

More than an occasional or routine ceremony, the Lord’s Supper was given to us to be a time of frequent, intimate church fellowship and worship, one that draws each participant to introspection and confession of sin, and to a carefully considered reminder of the price Jesus paid for that sin. The Lord’s Supper is, in itself, a symbol-rich proclamation of the gospel message, one that should, each time, lead us to humble worship and gratitude, and fresh motivation to live out our salvation and to share Jesus with others.

What if we got that “basic” right, every one of us, in every church, every time we celebrated the Lord’s Supper?

If we did, I think it would have a dramatic effect on the other, more neglected, “basic” of baptism. Think of it this way: What if a church were to schedule baptism celebrations as often as it scheduled Lord’s Supper celebrations? More importantly, what if that church adjusted all its other priorities with the goal of seeing at least one person baptized by that time?

In fact, what if the church filled its baptistery on that date, no matter what? If no one was ready to be baptized, the church would simply pray in lament over the unstirred waters, and ask the Lord to guide them to a different result next time.

If the core, blocking-and-tackling tasks of the church are to remember the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus, and continue his mission of seeking and saving the lost, then maybe we need to get back to the basics of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Maybe we need to let them drive our churches’ priorities and resources and schedules more than the things that drive them now.

As the football analysts remind us at this time of year, the closer we get to the end, and the fewer days that remain, the more critical it is to reflect carefully on what it takes to be truly effective in our mission. That careful reflection will almost always lead us back to the basics, and then forward to victory.

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