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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

The_Briefing

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

While 62% of American adults believed nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage was inevitable, slightly less than half (49%) are in favor of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in favor of it, Barna reports. 43% disagreed with the decision, and 7% were unsure how they felt about it, according to the researcher’s July 1 report.

When it comes to how Christians feel about the Court’s decision, Barna found, 28% of practicing Christians (defined as “those who say their faith is very important to their life and who have attended one or more church services during the past month”) approve of legalized same-sex marriage, compared to 43% of people who identify as Christians but don’t qualify as practicing.

Only 2% of evangelicals support the Court’s decision. Read the rest of Barna’s report at Barna.org.


U.S. Episcopal Church votes to approve same-sex marriage
Right after the Supreme Court made it legal nationwide, the U.S. Episcopal Church moved to approve same-sex marriage in the denomination, The Christian Post reports. Episcopal clergy are now authorized to perform same-sex marriages, but can opt out, according to two marriage-related resolutions passed in late June at the denomination’s General Convention.

The resolutions were opposed by 20 bishops who issued a minority report stating, “The nature, purpose, and meaning of marriage are linked to the relationship of man and woman,” and by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who said the decision “will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.”


Church violence survivors share in Charleston grief
After nine people were killed in a South Carolina church last month, Southern Baptists who have experienced similar tragedies expressed their sympathy and grief over the June 17 shooting.

“I don’t know if you ever recover from something like that,” said Cindy Winters, whose husband, Fred, was killed in his Maryville, Ill., pulpit in 2009. “I think you learn how to get through it, but I don’t think you ever get over it this side of eternity,” Winters told Baptist Press. “I know one day I will when I’m with Jesus. Obviously only by the grace of God am I able to get up each day and go forward, and find beauty and meaning…and find goodness in living.”


Burned churches receive assistance from Baptist missions agency
African American churches in need of assistance after a recent spate of church fires can receive help from a fund established by the North American Mission Board, the domestic missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Southern Baptists should be the first to condemn acts of hatred toward African Americans,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said, according to Baptist Press. “Regardless of the causes of these fires, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to come alongside and offer whatever assistance we can.”

None of the fires have been deemed hate crimes, and only some are suspected arsons. However, one confirmed arson case is Charlotte’s Briar Creek Road Baptist, a predominantly black Southern Baptist church.


Barnabas Piper: Parents, ‘Don’t fight unbelief in your kids’
“At least don’t think of it as fighting,” Piper said in an interview about his new book “Help My Unbelief.” “Belief, ultimately, is a miracle, death made life by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can work in myriad ways, and questioning is a significant one,” Piper, son of preacher and author John Piper, told Ed Stetzer.

“As parents our job is to declare and display the work of the Spirit, our relationship with God, so that children can see where the answers to those questions truly lie. Don’t argue; answer. Don’t fight; exemplify. Don’t give up; pray.”

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING |  The murder of nine people at a Charleston, S.C., church prayer meeting “should shock the conscience of every person,” a group of Southern Baptist leaders said in a joint statement after the June 17 shooting.

“There is hardly a more vivid picture of unmasked evil than the murder of those in prayer,” said Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; K. Marshall Williams, president of the SBC National African American Fellowship; and A.B. Vines, NAAF’s immediate past president.

Dylann Roof, 21, sat through the Wednesday evening prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and then opened fire in what police have called a hate crime, Baptist Press reports.

“This act of bloodshed is wicked and more than wicked,” the leaders’ statement continues. “It is literally satanic, as our Lord taught us that the devil is a ‘murderer from the beginning’ (John 8:44).”

Read the full story at BPNews.net.


InterVarsity welcome again at Cal State campuses
Christianity Today reports that after being “derecognized” on all 23 campuses of the California State University system, InterVarsity is back in business as a recognized student organization. InterVarsity’s leadership policy, which requires that leaders affirm Christian doctrines, was previously found to be in conflict with a Cal State rule that requires recognized student groups to accept all students as potential leaders.

“Cal State has not changed the language of their ‘all comers’ policy,” InterVarsity’s Greg Jao told CT. “They have clarified that the policy only requires that (a) we allow all students to become members, which we have always done, and (b) we allow all students to apply for leadership positions.”


Southern Baptist ethics entity will open office in the Middle East
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced last week it will open a Mideast office for international religious freedom. “We must contend for religious freedom for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for everyone else wherever they are on the globe,” ERLC President Russell Moore said at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, according to reporting by Baptist Press. “We will not stand idly by while those with whom we will share eternity are being led to the slaughter.”


How can Christians pray for Muslims during Ramadan?
Former International Mission Board president Jerry Rankin encourages Christians to use the traditional Muslim month of fasting and prayer (which begins this Thursday) to pray for spiritual awakening among Muslims. “Rather than hardening our hearts and dismissing their lostness to the judgment of God as something they deserve,” Rankin writes for ChristianityToday.com, “we should plead for their hearts to be open to God revealing himself.”


‘Inside Out’ puts emotions on the big screen
It’s official: The latest Disney/Pixar movie is a hit (although even it couldn’t defeat the dinosaurs of “Jurassic World” at the box office). In his review of “Inside Out” for PluggedIn.com, Paul Asay writes that the team behind the PG-rated film are communicating “a message that feels truly countercultural: Happiness isn’t everything.”

Editor’s note: The video below is from the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network.

Southern Baptist pastors are among those trying to spread hope and healing after violence broke out in Baltimore late last month. And Christians outside the city—including a mission team from Chicago who visited Baltimore last year—are praying for peace, reconciliation, and spiritual awakening.

Hundreds of people were arrested during protests over the death of 25-year-old African American Freddie Gray, who died April 19 from injuries sustained while in police custody. During rioting that broke out April 27, at least 20 police officers were injured and cars and buildings were burned. Gray’s death has since been ruled a homicide, and six police officers have been charged.

In the wake of the riots, Maryland’s governor declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard. The Orioles played an eerie afternoon game closed to fans, in fear that more riots could break out.

Things have calmed down since then, said Bob Mackey, executive director of the Baltimore Baptist Association, because starting the day after the riots, “everybody who lives in the city had to keep living in the city,” he said.

As life moved on, a group of pastors met to pray together and then went out into the city to help with the clean-up effort. Church planter Brad O’Brien was one of the pastors in the group; his church, Jesus Our Redeemer, is four miles from a CVS Pharmacy that burned during the rioting.

“We know that if the gospel can resurrect our dead hearts then it can bring hope to this community,” O’Brien told a writer for the North American Mission Board. “Our hope is not in our mayor, not in our police chief or the governor. Our hope is in Christ alone.”

Praying from Chicago
Doug Nguyen was thinking about Baltimore just before the rioting started. The missions chairman of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago visited the city last summer during the Southern Baptist Convention, and worked with Pastor Ryan Palmer and Seventh Metro Baptist Church during the annual Crossover evangelism outreach.

Seventh Metro has historical import for Southern Baptists; it’s the church where missions pioneer Annie Armstrong was baptized.

Pastor Palmer was in Chicago the Sunday before the rioting started as part of a vision tour for those interested in helping plant churches in the city. Nguyen said they spent the day with Palmer, catching up and hearing about what was going on in Baltimore.

Rioting broke out on Monday.

“We’re all praying for them right now, for churches to really step up and be the salt and light in that community,” Nguyen said. The Seventh Metro neighborhood is not unlike their own in Uptown Chicago. In fact, the North Avenue they walked along there is similar to Chicago’s own North Avenue on the west side.

It’s an impoverished area, Nguyen said, with obvious signs of homelessness and addiction. Churches in communities like Seventh Metro’s (and Uptown’s) “depend on a lot of laborers in order to disciple the people around the neighborhood,” Nguyen said.

“There are a lot of ministry opportunities there, to help build the church. You’ve got young leadership, you’ve got evangelistic opportunities similar to what we were doing out in the streets (during Crossover).”

As the protests settled down, Palmer told Baptist Press God had protected his church, located near one of the riot zones.

“Literally, the violence was a few blocks west and a few blocks east. In both cases, you could see the steeple of our church from the locations, but they did not come into our block. They have not come into our block yet. We’re giving God praise and thanks for that.”

A way forward
Even amidst the upheaval, Bob Mackey said it was encouraging for him as a director of missions to watch God’s people partner with others in the community to respond in positive ways. He told the Illinois Baptist churches in the area were planning community block parties, “just to have some fun back in the city. In Jesus’ name, if you will.”

After the rioting, Disaster Relief volunteers provided meals for first responders, and Baptists worked together to supply groceries and other basics to areas where stores weren’t immediately accessible.

As the city moves forward, churches must respond to its complex needs, African American pastor and church planting strategist Michael Crawford told Baptist Press. He gave a four-point plan for healing in Baltimore, based on listening, understanding what goes on in inner city schools, providing healthy food sources, and prayer. Communication and relationships are key, he said, adding that African Americans need a safe place to be heard.

“The reason we are stuck is because we can’t talk about it. We get offended and then we do not hear,” he said. “The real work is listening, getting offended, offering forgiveness, and then reconciling together. That’s real!”

By Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting from Baptist Pres

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

After an unarmed man was shot and killed by a South Carolina police officer, urban ministry strategist D.A. Horton advocated “radical righteousness” instead of retaliation.

The_Briefing“Radical righteousness is lived out when we work to see a criminal receive proper punishment, instead of private revenge; public order instead of personal retaliation; and respond with practical righteousness in place of our personal rights,” said Horton during a chapel service at Charleston Southern University April 8. The North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for urban student missions said the church must pursue the “radical righteousness” Jesus prescribed in Matthew 5:38-42, according to Diana Chandler’s report for Baptist Press.

“I was not present for Mike Brown [in Ferguson, Mo.], for Tamir Rice [in Cleveland, Ohio], for Eric Garner [in New York City], for Ezell Ford [in Los Angeles] and for the multitude of names that have been going down. I wasn’t there when the officers got gunned down in Brooklyn,” Horton said.

“… But what I do know as a believer, there was a real world with real hurt. There [are] real issues going on out there. And if believers cannot look to the words of Christ, and be words of comfort and clarity to our culture, then we don’t need to be claiming to be the church.”


The American Humanist Association has dropped its lawsuit against a New Jersey school district, allowing students to continue saying “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance. Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.


A prayer written by Southern Baptist pastor Jack Graham will be read around the country on May 7, the National Day of Prayer. Graham is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and current pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas metro area.

“We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us,” says Graham’s prayer, which will be read at Day of Prayer celebrations. “Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You.”


The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is urging Christians to promote an April prayer emphasis with the hashtag #PrayforMarriage. Last week, the Southern Baptist ethics entity issued a challenge to pray at 10 a.m. (Eastern time) on April 28, the morning the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in several same-sex marriage cases. The web page ERLC.com/article/prayformarriage includes a sample prayer guide.


A majority of Americans believe politics would be more civil and effective if politicians read the Bible more. Read more in Christianity Today’s report on the 2015 State of the Bible study from the American BIble Society.


More news from the State of Bible report: Of the nearly 7,000 languages used as first languages, more than half lack a completed Bible translation. At the same time, 72% of Americans believe the Bible is available in all the world’s languages. Read more at Barna.com.


By the year 2050, Pew Research has forecasted, 38% of the world’s Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, Europe’s share of the global Christian population will continue to decline, from 66% in 1910, to 26% in 2010, to 16% projected for 2050.

COMMENTARY | Mark Coppenger

Mark_CoppengerIn late February, I was in St. Louis for a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, a trip connected with my work as an apologetics prof at Southern Seminary. I figured that since I was in the area, I would visit the suburb of Ferguson, recently aflame on international news.

I was surprised at a number of things: that the city had not been reduced to Beirut, but that the vast majority of buildings were unscathed, and business alive; that the Indians who ran the store Michael Brown robbed would speak freely of the incident; that a chain fence with hundreds of inscribed streamers spoke promise more than anger, e.g., “The sky’s the limit.”

But my big Ferguson moment came at the downtown meeting, where the philosophers devoted a three-hour session to the riots. After attending presentations of other papers, I was able to make the last hour of the panel discussion. There I heard unrelenting disdain for the city and police and an unbroken strain of lament for the victimhood of Brown. And the moderator was fielding audience jeremiads without rebuttal.

When one of the panelists asked what philosophers might bring to the table, I raised my hand to suggest that we could use more Socratic give-and-take instead of the “groupthink” I was hearing. I also said that I could tell my grandson (who is white) in an affluent suburb of Nashville to expect very bad things to happen to him if he ever shoplifted, manhandled the clerk, or menaced a policeman who confronted him. My comments were not well received.

Look, anybody whose been the victim of a speed trap or addressed with gratuitous surliness by a cop has had at least a small taste of what blacks were protesting in Ferguson. The Department of Justice report pictured a sorry system of fine-doubling and a virtual debtor’s prison for some, policies that fell particularly hard upon poor blacks.

Of course, there’s a school of thought that says I have no right to speak a word of judgment on Brown or the rioters since I’ve not suffered the indignities of systemic racism, etc. But we face that sort of argument all the time in ethics. During the Vietnam War, they told us we had no right to judge Lt. Calley for the My Lai massacre since we hadn’t shared the horrors of infantry combat in Quang Ngai Province.

Similarly, we’re told we guys have no business telling a woman she has to carry a child to term since we never have to endure unwanted pregnancy. On it goes, whether you’re trying to bring a biblical word to bear on divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, or tithing. Of course, this makes ethics a joke, since feelings and testimonies of victimhood can trump standards at every turn.

One side says you really can’t make the call until you’re in their shoes. The other side says that “in their shoes” is often a bad place to make the call, since you may well be addled by the hurly burley of trials and emotions. This turns into a game of self-serving story telling, a war of anecdotes, when what we need is dispassionate moral clarity.

It is far better to sort things out, Bible in hand in your armchair or prayer closet, before descending into the chaos.

Reflecting on Ferguson, I’ve returned to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is essentially a salvation passage, one that feminists have tried to press into service against male leadership in the church and home. I hope I’m not joining the ranks of Scripture twisters in quoting it to stand up for universal standards of Christian morality, where all are subject to biblical guidelines, no matter how exalted or degraded their circumstances may be.

In Amos 7, God hangs moral plumb line beside the culture, and I think that color-blind Galatians 3:28 does the same thing.

Mark Coppenger is professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was formerly president of Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, and founding pastor of Evanston (IL) Baptist Church.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The uproar over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act continued as lawmakers introduced changes to the bill that opponents say put business owners at risk to be forced to compromise their beliefs.

The original RFRA, signed into law March 26 by Gov. Mike Pence, came under national fire from corporations, celebrities, and others who said it would allow discrimination against gay people. Supporters of the law said it would protect the religious liberty of business owners by shielding them from government action if they refused to provide services for same-sex weddings.

The_BriefingThe changes to the law, signed by Pence one week after he approved the original RFRA, say “no member of the public may be refused services by a private business based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Baptist Press reports.

The controversy, wrote Philip Bethancourt of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has served to make religious liberty “a new culture war wedge issue.”

“One indication of this change is the frequent use of ‘religious freedom’ in scare quotes, suggesting that it is merely a cover for something more malicious,” Bethancourt wrote on ERLC.com. “Danger arises when our first freedom becomes a second-class culture war issue.”


Christians in Kenya grieved on Easter Sunday for 148 people killed at a university last week by terror group al-Shabaab. The Associated Press reported on the Easter service at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Garissa, where Bishop Joseph Allessandro said, “We join the sufferings of the relatives and the victims with the sufferings of Jesus. The victims will rise again with Christ.”

During the April 2 terror attack at Garissa University College, the shooters separated Christian students from Muslims and killed the Christians, AP reported.


What do Americans believe about Jesus? According to new research by Barna, most say he was a real person, a little over half believe he was God, and 62% say they have made a personal commitment to him that is still important in their life today.


And what about the church? LifeWay Research found that while 55% of Americans say the church in America is declining, 65% believe attendance is admirable.


More interesting research: Pew says current trends forecast that Muslims will almost equal Christians in number by 2050, and the global percentage of “nones” who have no religious affiliation will actually decrease.


“We’ve got a long way to go” on race relations, said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore at a March summit on racial reconciliation and the gospel. “Our sin keeps wanting us to divide up. But to the faithful, Jesus promises, ‘You will be called overcomers.’” Read the Illinois Baptist‘s coverage of the summit here at ib2news.org.


Did you catch the premiere episode of “A.D.: The Bible Continues” on Sunday? Christianity Today is recapping each installment of the new miniseries produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, which details the history of the early church following Jesus’ death and resurrection.