Archives For religion

Briefing

2018’s top Bible verse
According to the world’s most downloaded Bible app, YouVersion, the most popular Bible verse of 2018 is found in the Old Testament. Isaiah 41:10’s “Do not fear…” verse was shared, bookmarked, and highlighted more than any other passage by hundreds of millions of YouVersion users. 

Congress approves aid for religious minorities
Persecuted religious minorities victimized by Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria are now set to get some relief from the U.S. government. Congress unanimously passed a law designed to provide aid to Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and other religious minorities that underwent displacement and genocide at the hands of ISIS.

Evangelical church sees highest giving since 2014
Evangelical churches saw an increase in giving of almost 6% in 2017, the highest increase since 2014, according to a new report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. ECFA President Dan Busby said in a statement that he was “so pleased to see this increased support for Christ-centered churches and ministries.”

Ill. town cancels trip to Ark after complaints
An Illinois town canceled a trip to KY’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter after an atheist group filed a complaint. Charleston’s parks and recreation department cancelled the trip for its community after the atheist group argued that the trip violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

School district faces pressure over nativity display
A Michigan civil rights group is threatening to sue the Newaygo Public School District if they do not remove a Wise Men display from an elementary school building, citing it to be a violation of the US Constitution. Most citizens of the small Michigan town, however, support keeping the display, which has been part of Newaygo’s Christmas tradition since the 1940s.

Sources: Christianity Today, World, Christian Post (2), CBN News

The Briefing

SBC WRAP-UP: Greear, Pence, #MeToo draw SBC’s focus
At an annual meeting that saw what chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty called an “extra heavy volume of business” on its opening day, the Southern Baptist Convention elected J.D. Greear as convention president and heard an address by Vice President Mike Pence.

Local county condemns abortion, declares ‘unborn sanctuary’
The Effingham (Illinois) County Board passed a resolution declaring the county a “sanctuary for the life of unborn human beings.” It’s an issue causing an uproar among residents. The board passed the resolution Monday. It means the county is taking the stance condemning abortion, except if both mother and child are at risk.

4 in 10 LGBT Americans identify as Christian
Approximately four out of ten LGBT Americans identify as religiously unaffiliated, roughly equaling the percentage that identify as Christian, according to a new survey. A poll conducted May 24 to June 1 by BuzzFeed News and Whitman Insight Strategies of 880 LGBT Americans found that 39 percent of respondents did not have a religious affiliation.

Under pressure from VP, aid is sent to Christian, Yazidi communities in Iraq
The premier U.S. aid agency is poised to send millions of dollars directly to Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq under a rarely used, streamlined funding arrangement after coming under pressure from Vice President Mike Pence.

Meet the World Cup stars who love Jesus
World Cup fever will be consuming the planet for the next month. As you learn the stories of the hundreds of athletes from nearly three dozen countries, hear them talk about their faith in their own words.

Sources: Baptist Press, WCIA news, Christian Post, Washington Post, Christianity Today

The Briefing

J.D. Greear to be SBC president nominee again
Two years after withdrawing from a closely contested election for Southern Baptist Convention president, North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear once again will be nominated for SBC president, Florida pastor Ken Whitten announced Jan. 29. In a statement released to Baptist Press, Greear said, “I am again allowing my name to be placed in nomination” after “a lot of prayer, encouragement and counsel, with the consent of our [Summit] leadership team and Veronica my wife.”

Among themes Greear would emphasize as SBC president, he wrote, are “the Gospel above all” as the convention’s source of unity; “cultural and racial diversity”; “intentional, personal evangelism”; “church planting”; and “engagement of the next generation in cooperative giving and mission.”

After baptism gone wrong, court weakens church protections
A year ago, the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided a Muslim convert to Christianity couldn’t sue First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa for inadvertently alerting his would-be murderers with its online announcement of the baptism. Ten months later, the justices changed their minds, issuing a decision that the man could have his day in court. Last week, First Presbyterian has asked the state’s top court to take a third look at the case, arguing that the justices mixed up two separate issues of law: the ecclesiastical extension/church autonomy doctrine and the ministerial exception.

Barna: Atheism doubles among Generation Z
More than any other generation before them, Gen Z (born between 1999 and 2015) does not assert a religious identity. They might be drawn to things spiritual, but with a vastly different starting point from previous generations, many of whom received a basic education on the Bible and Christianity. And it shows: The percentage of Gen Z that identifies as atheist is double that of the U.S. adult population.

Same-sex couples fight citizenship battle
Two same-sex couples filed lawsuits this week against the U.S. State Department, arguing it unlawfully discriminated against them by denying their children U.S. citizenship. Since the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right, LGBT advocates have been pushing back against laws that uphold the biological reality that every child is the genetic offspring of just one man and one woman and that a biological connection carries weight.

The internet has made Americans more casual about religion
A recent study by Baylor University has found evidence that the more we use the internet, the less likely we are to have a specific religious affiliation or to believe in and practice one religion exclusively. The study found that 55% of Americans don’t use the internet to access religious or spiritual content; another 23% said they do so at most once a month. Three-quarters of Americans said they never talk about their religious views on social media.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Barna Research, World Magazine, Gizmodo

The Briefing

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

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


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

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

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

Old Holy Bible and the American Flag

As we approach July 4th, many pastors preach about Christians in America repenting of sin and turning back to the Lord so that He will bless His churches. One text they often use is 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB):

“[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Is that an appropriate application of this text?

To be clear, these are God’s words spoken to Solomon, King of Israel. Likewise, the “land” referred to was the land of Israel. When the Israelites sinned against the Lord, He would send the plagues mentioned in verse 13. But if they responded by humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways, God would hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land.

Can Christians in America find any appropriate application from this text?

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB), “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The word “Scripture” in this text referred to Old Testament Scripture. That would include 2 Chronicles 7:14, rightly interpreted.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul cited Old Testament examples of rebellion in Israel’s history that prompted God’s punishment, he noted that they also served as warnings for Christians living under the new covenant. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NASB), “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”

Is America Israel? No. Is God an American? No. But can warnings and promises to God’s people in the Old Testament be applied to Christians today? Absolutely.

Regarding 2 Chronicles 7:14, it is very appropriate for any Christian to obey the spirit of this text by endeavoring to humble himself or herself, pray, seek God’s face and turn from wicked ways, trusting that God will hear, forgive and heal.

The apostle Peter, speaking to a group of first-century Christians, said this: “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10 NASB). Today, followers of Jesus are God’s people. Christians are those who are “called by [His] name.” Therefore, it is appropriate that we apply the timeless truths of 2 Chronicles 7:14. How suitable for all Christians in America, and in any other nation, to humble ourselves, pray, seek the Lord’s face and turn from our wicked ways, asking Him to graciously hear from heaven, forgive our sin and bring spiritual healing to the ailing, impotent churches in our land.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, we note three precepts that are consistently called for by God throughout Scripture: humility, hunger and holiness.

The first requirement for such spiritual healing is humility. “[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves.” It is always good for Christians to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). God will share His glory with no one because God alone can handle His glory. Every redeemed human being should give all glory to Jesus for salvation and every benefit it brings.

Frankly, modern Christianity is marked by far too much arrogance and condescension. For instance, all of us need to use great caution and wise deliberation when posting on social media. The Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 NASB). The word “unwholesome” is the Greek word sapros, meaning “rotten.” Here it refers to speech that is likened to “garbage” or “trash.” Frankly, there is too much “trash-talk” on social media. Humility is always becoming in any child of God.

The second requirement for spiritual healing is hunger. We see it in 2 Chronicles 7:14 in the words: “(If) My people who are called by My name … pray and seek My face.” Jesus urged His followers to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 NASB). All Christians in America — and other nations — would do well to increase our hunger for godliness. We should taste and see that the Lord Jesus is good (cf. Psalm 34:8).

The final requirement for spiritual healing is holiness. “[If] My people who are called by My name … turn from their wicked ways.” Holiness comes by means of repenting from sin. Repentance means to confess our sins and turn away from them. That leads to true holiness.

These three emphases from 2 Chronicles 7:14 — humility, hunger and holiness — are much needed among Christians today, whether we live in America or not. Just because 2 Chronicles 7:14 was not written to Americans does not mean that Christians in America cannot benefit from its admonitions by obeying its precepts. Again, “all Scripture is profitable.” The warnings in the Old Testament “were written for our instruction.”

Many Christians in America are praying for a fresh spiritual awakening and revival among those of us who know Jesus Christ. I for one am praying for American Christians to embrace genuine humility, hunger and holiness. I am also praying that the Lord will graciously see fit to hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and send His much-needed healing.

When I think of it that way, I don’t know of a verse in the Bible that serves as a better guide for praying for revival than 2 Chronicles 7:14.

–Steve Gaines is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church. This column originally appeared at BPnews.net.

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London | I went to Borough Market on a bright, sunny Friday in late September. The market, which has been in existence in one form or another for about 1,000 years, was filled with people going about their business. Vendor stalls were piled high with fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, cheeses, fish, and just about anything else you might want to eat. Surrounding the market stalls, the streets were lined with cake shops, restaurants, and pubs. People were enjoying delicious food, celebrating special occasions, and simply having a good time.

I’m sure the scene was much the same that warm Saturday night in early June as people dined in the restaurants and pubs. The vendor stalls would have been closed for the evening, but there was still plenty of food to enjoy and fun to be had. At least until three terrorists plowed a van into people walking on nearby London Bridge, then jumped out of the van, running to the market area, and into the restaurants where they began stabbing people with knives intent on killing them. As they did this, eyewitnesses reported one of the terrorists cried, “This is for Allah!” The terrorists killed seven and injured 48.

London prides itself on being a multicultural city — 37% of its residents come from outside the United Kingdom and one-quarter of its population arrived within the last five years. At least 45% of the population has no religious affiliation. Many Brits view Christianity as “been there, done that.”

The June 3 attacks on London Bridge and in Borough Market, the May 23 Manchester suicide bomber, and the March 22 Westminster bridge attack highlight the need for Christ, not only in London, but the rest of England. The International Mission Board is building missional communities in London using the 280 Tube (underground subway) stops as hubs to organize these communities around.

Still others are working in immigrant communities with Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. These communities isolate themselves keeping their customs and religions. There is a very real danger for those missionaries and those who convert to Christ.

Pray for the English people, that as a nation they will turn back to Christ, reviving their strong Christian heritage. Pray also that immigrants, first, second, and third generations — will find true freedom in Christ. The deception and oppression they endured in their home countries has traveled with them and is spreading. The only way to stop it is the through the Truth of Christ.

Last fall, Lisa Misner Sergent visited London to learn about the International Mission Board’s new strategies.

The long road to peace

The docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War, will be shown in theaters one night only, May 23.

Update: Due to a near record turnout in theaters May 23, Fathom Events will bring “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem” back to theaters on June 1. To learn more visit InOurHands1967.com.

Here’s something I never thought I would do—discuss Middle East policy with Gordon Robertson, son of “700 Club” and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.

I met the younger Robertson, now the CEO of his father’s network, at the recent Evangelical Press Association Conference in Chicagoland. He was there to screen his docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War as they battled their way into the old city, eventually unifying it under Israeli control.

The film, which is being released prior to the 50th anniversary of the war in June, includes interviews with the soldiers who fought and re-enactments showing how armies from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria joined together to attempt to banish the state of Israel. It highlights the determination of the Israeli people, the tension between them and Arab leaders, how God keeps his promises, and how some of those who fought felt they didn’t really win because they didn’t keep the Temple Mount for Israel.

Robertson was incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, having made several trips to the Middle East and met many of its leaders. My conversation with him, and my viewing of the documentary, felt especially timely in light of current global events—and throws into sharp relief the severe divisions still present in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump met earlier this month Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and is likely to visit Israel at the end of May, according to media outlets. The president hopes to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but many who are knowledgeable about the long-standing conflict between the two have noted the leaders of both appear much less willing to meet in the middle.

In a column for Denver Post, writer Greg Dobbs pointed out that the eight U.S. presidents preceding Trump have all worked in some capacity toward peace between Israel and Palestine—ultimately to no avail. “Some expended more energy and intellect than others. Some came closer than others,” Dobbs wrote. “But ultimately, all failed.”

Taken in the current context, Gordon Robertson’s documentary is an important picture of the complicated struggle that embroils the Middle East, and of the often arduous journey toward any lasting peace. The film will be shown in theaters for one night on May 23; I highly recommend it.

-Lisa Misner Sergent