Archives For Suffering

O’Rourke: Opposing same-sex marriage should mean losing tax-exempt status
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said at a forum hosted by CNN and gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. O’Rourke’s controversial position has been rejected by some of his fellow candidates, but Religion News Service reports the candidates’ liberal theology on orientation and gender is now the norm for most of the country.

Conflict in Syria endangers Christianity in the Middle East
The United States’ decision to withdraw troops from a Kurdish-controlled region of Syria “could lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region,” said one evangelical leader. President Donald Trump announced last week he would hand over control to the Turkish government, a move many say will allow ISIS to continue their assault on religious minorities, including Christians.

Brunson’s book details discouragement, suicidal thoughts in prison
Missionary Andrew Brunson contemplated taking his own life while imprisoned in Turkey, he writes in a new book released Oct. 14. In “God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance,” Brunson writes at one point, all he heard from God was silence. He was released last October after more than two years in prison. Since his release, he and his wife, Norine, have shared their story at various events, including at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

Man baptized after Arkansas church offers forgiveness
Brenton Winn destroyed $100,000 of property at Central Baptist Church in Conway, Ark., in February 2019. Six months later, Winn was baptized after accepting Christ through a recovery program the church helped him enter. “As I’m starting to understand how God works, I’ve realized I didn’t pick the church that night. God picked me,” he said. “If it had been any other church, I think I’d be sitting in prison right now.”

Are our pastors our friends?
One-fifth of Christians say they regularly meet with or talk to the lead pastor of their church outside of weekly church services and events, according to Barna Research. Still, “friend” leads the list of words that best describe a Christian’s relationship with his or her pastor, followed by mentor, counselor, and teacher.

Sources: Religion News Service, Christianity Today,, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna Research

Christian leaders decry ‘system of hatred’ after weekend shootings
After a gunman killed 22 people in a Texas border town Aug. 3, evangelical pastors and ministry leaders spoke from their pulpits and on social media against the racism and white supremacy that motivated him, according to an online manifesto.

“When these manifestos outline the motive as #WhiteSupremacy, the Church CAN’T be silent in calling this out!” tweeted D.A. Horton, pastor of Reach Fellowship in Long Beach, Ca. “This doesn’t mean everyone of European descent is a White Supremacist. But it does identify the system of hatred that is rooted in evil.”

In the early hours of Aug. 4, another shooting took nine lives in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

>Related: While President Donald Trump said Monday the country “must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” USA Today reported the President’s remarks signal a focus on mental health and cultural issues, rather than gun control.

How to pray for shooting victims
Shooting survivor Taylor Schumann shares 11 specific suggestions for praying for people in the aftermath of a shooting. “I know firsthand what living through a shooting does to a mind and what a bullet does to a body,” she writes at Christianity Today online, “and I believe that my recovery and healing is a direct result of prayers that were prayed for me.”

>Related: “Welcome Jesus into the midst of this turbulent time,” author Max Lucado urged after the shootings. “Don’t let the storm turn you inward. Let it turn you upward.”

Movie trailer leads to board resignations
Founders Ministries, a Calvinist group with roots in the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the resignations of three board members following the release of a controversial promo video for an upcoming documentary about liberal drift within the denomination. The trailer for “By What Standard” features interviews with prominent Southern Baptist leaders, some who have since distanced themselves from the project.

 -Christianity Today, The Christian Post, USA Today, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

Supreme Court will hear funeral home case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will consider whether the country’s job discrimination laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. One case they’ll hear concerns a Michigan funeral home sued after firing a transgender employee.

Easter marked by mourning in Sri Lanka
Almost 300 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of suicide bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, officials were warned churches could be targeted by a radical Islamist group, Christianity Today reported.

The nation of 21 million people is on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, which profiles the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sovereign Grace responds to renewed calls for investigation
A network of churches headquartered in Louisville, Ky., said last week that an outside investigation into whether church leaders covered up sexual abuse would represent a “theological capitulation” that “would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”

Sovereign Grace Louisville, one of 72 churches in the evangelical network, was referenced by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear in a February report in which he called on the SBC Executive Committee to consider whether 10 churches had dealt appropriately with allegations of sexual abuse. The bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee later reported that the Sovereign Grace matter merited further inquiry.

Two Southern Baptist seminary presidents have apologized for their support of C.J. Mahaney, former president of the network and current lead pastor of Sovereign Grace Lousiville.

Church membership down nationwide
Half of American adults are members of a church, according to new data from Gallup. The percentage is 20 points lower than it was 20 years ago, and mirrors the trend toward non-affiliation with a religion. Twenty years ago, 8% of Americans said they had no religion, Gallup reported, but the current share is 19%.

Annual study details Americans’ relationship with the Bible
More U.S. adults are engaged with the Word of God, but fewer are Bible-centered, according to Barna’s 2019 State of the Bible survey. While 59% believe the message of the Bible has transformed their lives, 35% of adults report never using it.

Sources: USA Today, The Christian Post, Christianity Today (2), Open Doors USA, Gallup, Barna

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. 

Decatur, Ill. | Two days after a mass shooting at a Southern Baptist church in Texas, Illinois pastor Randy Johnson urged pastors to preach every message like it could be their last opportunity to deliver the gospel.

Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, filled in at the IBSA Pastors’ Conference for Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, who was slated to preach during the conference but is in Texas ministering to First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs. On Sunday, Nov. 5, a gunman killed 26 people at the small church outside San Antonio.

Preaching from the book of 2 Timothy, Johnson encouraged pastors to check their measure of gospel urgency. Preach like it could be your last message, he said, and also like it could be your hearers’ last opportunity hear the gospel.

“As a preacher of the gospel, your highest calling is to preach the word,” he said. “It is your responsibility to stand before your people in your church and tell them what is right, what isn’t right, and how to get right.”

Johnson exhorted pastors to not only remember that every message could be their last, but also that every hearer will have a last moment.

“Preach like it’s their [the congregation’s] last moment. They don’t know when it’s going to be… You’re going to have people who don’t want to hear what you’re going to say. Consider their last moment. What are you leaving them with? What are you turning their hearts toward?”

On Wednesday morning, Ed Stetzer (below) spoke to Pastors’ Conference attenders about working for and journeying toward the long view of ministry. Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, urged pastors to have an eternal perspective and to recognize the contrast between life now and eternal life in heaven.

Ed Stetzer web

“It’s a long hard slog sometimes in ministry,” Stetzer said, “and we’re going to see Jesus one day.” That sounds very “old-school Baptist,” he acknowledged, but Baptists a few generations ago talked about heaven a lot more than we do now.

Christians have a confident hope, he said, because they walk by faith and not by sight.

“The afterlife is a sighted life, but life now is not. You don’t know everything. But you have a confident hope, because you know Jesus does.”




The Briefing

Happy Reformation Day! As Christians around the world celebrate the movement’s 500th birthday, go to for our coverage of the anniversary, including:

  • Baptists’ roots in the Reformation,
  • the continuing theological debate, and
  • a list of the ‘new Reformers.’

Pence promises help for persecuted Christians
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in October that the federal government will shift funds away from United Nations programs and toward faith-based and private organizations to better aid persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” Pence said at the annual summit for the group In Defense of Christians. Critics of the U.N. projects have said they have not been effective in helping Christians in the region who have been displaced due to war and the rise of ISIS.

Ahead of rallies, Baptists denounce racism
Counter-protestors far outnumbered white supremacists at two “White Lives Matter” rallies in Tennessee on Oct. 28. Prior to the protests, Southern Baptists in Tennessee joined other faith groups to take a public stand against racism and the white supremacy movement.

Church removes historical markers
A church in Alexandria, Va., is removing plaques that mark where President George Washington and Confederate General Robert E. Lee sat when they attended services there. “For some, Lee symbolizes the attempt to overthrow the Union and to preserve slavery,” reads a letter from the Christ Church board. “Today our country is trying once again to come to grips with the history of slavery and the subsequent disenfranchisement of people of color.”

The church initially considered taking out only Lee’s plaque, but later added Washington because he owned slaves, reports The Christian Post.

House of prayer
A federal judge reaffirmed the constitutionality of legislative prayer with her Oct. 11 ruling against an atheist who filed suit against the U.S. House of Representatives and its chaplain when he wasn’t allowed to deliver a secular invocation.

Major league visibility
With the Houston Astros still in the hunt for a World Series Championship, the city’s First Baptist Church is gaining notice for its prominent sign in right field.

Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, The Tennessean, Baptist Press, The Christian Post

The Briefing

New rules protect abortion mandate objectors
Christian organizations are celebrating what they deem a win for religious liberty after the Trump administration released new rules Oct. 6 that allow institutions and corporations not to include abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health insurance plans.

A 2011 “contraceptive mandate” included in the Affordable Care Act had been the subject of legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and four Baptist universities, Baptist Press reported.

House approves late-term abortion ban
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 237-189 last week in favor of the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, is based on evidence that a child is able to experience pain in the womb after 20 weeks.

The House previously passed a pain-capable bill in 2015, but it was voted down in the Senate.

Princeton U. ministry drops “evangelical” from name
“There’s a growing recognition that the term evangelical is increasingly either confusing, or unknown, or misunderstood to students,” said Princeton Christian Fellowship’s Bill Boyce. That’s why the 80-year-old ministry at the Ivy League institution has changed its name, reports Christianity Today.

Higher education: College offers ‘marijuana degree’
Northern Michigan University’s four-year degree in medicinal plant chemistry combines chemistry, biology, and business classes—and could gain even more traction if a petition drive succeeds at getting full legalization of marijuana on Michigan’s ballot next fall.

Survey: Suicide still taboo topic in church
The majority of churches say they’re equipped to help someone threatening to take his or her own life, but a new study from LifeWay Research found only 4% of people who have lost a close friend or family member to suicide said church leaders were aware of their loved one’s struggle.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, USA Today, LifeWay

Monochrome reality

Artist Andy Rains shows Christ’s humble beauty in simple black and white.

In our self-centered era, many people think the humble are losers and only the proud win. The Suffering Servant disagrees.

These aren’t humble times. So far, 2016 has produced as much bluster and blow as any year in memory. Not the meteorological kind, rather the political kind.

It is increasingly evident that ours is a land that no longer appreciates the humble man. In most every news report in this election cycle, humility as a value is trounced by pride, promises, and vainglory. Not the videogame Vainglory produced by Super Evil Megacorp (really, that’s the actual name of a game manufacturer); but the inordinate pride in one’s self and one’s accomplishments condemned in the Elizabethan English of the King James Version of the Bible as “vainglory” (Galatians 5:26, Philippians 2:3).

Prior to the 2008 election, a book was published that proposed “Jesus for President.” In it, the authors took a familiar concept from Charles Sheldon’s famous 1896 book “In His Steps” that first asked the question “What would Jesus do” and applied it to American politics: What would Jesus do—if he ran for president?

Probably lose. At least that would appear to be the answer in 2016.

Let’s face it: the humility platform would not prove popular today. The humility platform is not high and lifted up, it doesn’t have room for boasting. Its candidate doesn’t make empty promises. He doesn’t exalt himself, even though in the case of Jesus he rightfully could. He does nothing at the expense of others. And he’s interested in only One endorsement.

How could he possibly win here in Braggadocio?

Still, there is much the Humble One can tell the candidates—and the electorate.

A better example

Four passages in the book of Isaiah have been identified as the Servant Songs. The Ethiopian eunuch reading Scripture while sitting in a royal vehicle asked Philip, “Who is the prophet talking about?” He was reading from Isaiah:

“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living…”  (Isa 53:7-8).

“Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” the servant to a queen asked Philip (Acts 8:34).

Definitely someone else.

He was talking about the Lord’s servant, the Suffering Servant. Jewish interpreters say the passage refers to the nation Israel, since in most of the book God speaks to Israel. But the verses describing an utterly humble servant and his sacrificial and redemptive work cannot be about a proud and unrepentant nation. They are clearly about the Messiah.

The Suffering Servant is Jesus.

In the Gospels, we see his humility in living tableau. He touches the unclean—lepers, lame, and blind people—and heals them as Isaiah predicted he would. He shows willing descent as he assumes the place of the lowest slave in the house and kneels to wash the feet of his followers. Then he stands with the condemned on the killing hill.

In Philippians, Paul sings a little song of the early church that puts Jesus’ humility into theological perspective.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus’ humility was not only a matter of location but also of position. He let go of all the things God deserves in terms of dominion and stooped down to his own creation. He subjected himself to his own created beings, even though he knew beforehand they would murder him.

He never sought to justify his actions. He never came to his own defense. Neither did anyone else.

Was there ever a clearer picture of humility.

The mirror cracked

Today our concept of humility is corrupted. “Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way,” songwriter Mac Davis wrote. Even our contemporary examples become more idols than icons as our culture converts them into celebrities.

Mother Teresa is rushed to sainthood so her musky humility sharpened in Calcutta ghettos can be perfumed for the ages. Pope Francis, hailed for his (relatively) simple lifestyle chides a woman in a parade line. “Don’t be selfish!” he snapped when she pulled him away from a handicapped man he was praying over. Our selfish generation demands something more grand from those who willingly would be lowly. Humility is not fashionable; it’s barely tolerated.

Could it be that Billy Graham sitting in a rocker on the porch of his Blue Ridge mountain cabin out of the glare of the Crusade spotlight is the last example of humility in our egotistical age?

The times are louder. The boasts are prouder. And the rhetoric of its claimants is so overblown that their platforms cannot support it. If only our national leaders could learn a few lessons from the Humble One. If only our countrymen would accept from their icons true servant leadership.

A humble servant is silent

“There is a time to speak,” the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, “and a time to be silent.” The Suffering Servant is more often silent, so much so that silence has become one of his chief characteristics. When he speaks, it is to the glory of God and to the benefit of others; it is rarely if ever on his own behalf.

The word picture drawn by Isaiah is of a lamb about to be slaughtered. The lamb knows something is coming, from its perspective something bad. And yet he offers not a bleat in protest. If silence is consent, then the lamb is offering his tacit acceptance. Likewise, Christ before his accusers offers no defense of himself. His defense could rightly be that he is God and has done all to the glory of his Father. But he keeps his rebuttal to himself and leans in to his mission with the same humble spirit that has characterized his whole life on earth. The day of his exaltation will come, but there before Pilate, Herod, and the Jewish supreme court, it’s still about three days away.

Andrew Murray says, “Humility is perfect quietness of heart.” In this way, a humble servant stands in stark contrast to the leading figures of our time who exhibit little quietude.

In his little book Humility, Murray describes the inner working of this outward silence: “It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”

Oh, how we need that room, that door, that peace.

He is not vain

Isaiah’s prophetic description of the Messiah says there was nothing particularly attractive about him. Even before he was “marred,” “pierced” and “crushed” at Golgotha, the Servant was a plain man with “no beauty” and a king with “no majesty.” He is not a pretty flaxen-haired Jesus as painted in Sallman’s Head of Christ over grandma’s mantelpiece.

Our generation has bought the Kardashian concept of beauty that requires everyone in the public eye to be “carved out of cream cheese.” By this standard, Abraham Lincoln couldn’t get elected to office today. He was tall enough, but homely people don’t win elections. Nor would Cleveland, Taft, or Teddy Roosevelt. Too fat, bald, or bespectacled.

Appearance is not only about outward beauty. There is the vanity of money, stature, power, and position. The desire for reputation is a form of the vanity of fame. The proud person is concerned about the opinion others have of him. “Pride must die in you,” Murray warned, “or nothing of heaven can live in you.”

This is the dying to self Jesus called for, the laying down of his life.

“Men sometimes speak as if humility and meekness would rob us of what is noble and bold and manlike,” Murray said. The humble are rarely exalted in our times, nor do they win elections. But a wise generation doesn’t judge on outward appearances. To the extent it is possible they follow God’s standard when he sent Samuel to anoint lowly shepherd boy David to replace the high but corrupted Saul: He looked on the heart.

And what does he see there?

As a “man of sorrows,” the Suffering Servant is serious about serious things. Oh, sure, he can be great fun, but he is also sober minded. Jesus enjoys a good time in good company (remember the wedding at Cana), but he handles serious subject matter with the gravity deserved. He is “acquainted with grief.” One charged with so great a task as carrying our sorrows to the cross surely feels them deeply.

The same must be true of those who claim him as Lord: “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

“Humility, the place of entire dependence on God, is the first duty and the highest virtue of the creature, and the root of every virtue. And so pride, or the loss of this humility, is the root of every sin and evil,” Murray said.

For those who follow in the way of Christ, there is an inverse relationship between vanity and a quiet spirit. “Pride must die in you,” Murray warned, “or nothing of heaven can live in you.”

He serves needs over wants

The word “populist” has returned to the American vocabulary, driven largely by the large crowds showing up at campaign rallies. By definition, a populist candidate is concerned with the interests of common people. He seeks the involvement of ordinary folks in the political process and welcomes into the discourse issues drawn from ordinary lives. But by recent example, populism involves stirring up the desires of the people, then promising to fulfill them whether they are right (and righteous) or not.

A humble servant may be populist by its original definition. He is concerned about the people, but he doesn’t play to the crowd as is the current practice. At times the crowds were with Jesus; at times they were against him; but Jesus never played to the crowds. He never healed to curry favor. He did not feed the 5,000 to increase his poll numbers.

A humble servant doesn’t dispense treats to get public approval. Or health benefits or government subsidies or campaign promises. He accepts the hard job and does the hard work to its completion, even if that causes everyone to turn away.

The challenge for Americans today is to show some maturity by supporting a leader who will do what the nation needs, not necessarily what the people want. That may sound paternalistic, but isn’t God’s kingdom paternalistic? The Father is always doing what is best for his children, even when they don’t understand it or like it.

He lives with the end in mind 

A humble servant may live and work from a lower position, but that somehow gives him a higher perspective. Isaiah’s picture of the Suffering Servant is paradoxical: he is lowly but he will be exalted; he is oppressed, yet he is the strong arm of the Lord; he is wounded for the sake of our healing. And there’s this paradox concerning “the will of the Lord”—

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:10).

It was the will of God that the Suffering Servant be crushed, yet the will of God only prospers when this is done. Crushing and prospering would seem to be opposites. One destroys while the other creates. One shrinks and the other grows. One is an ending, but the other is unending.

And in all of this the humble Servant knows there is a higher purpose than his momentary affliction. The purpose in his dying is to make possible our living—forever. His offering is our ransom. His ending is our beginning. In it all he does not object, because the Servant knows that his grief will become our source of joy and our salvation.

There, between the Lord’s will that the Servant be crushed and the prospering of the Lord’s will in the Servant’s hand is the great promise: this lowly Servant will have offspring. That’s us, his children, his followers, his redeemed.

Isaiah, 700 years before hand, describes the centerpoint of history, the cross, where the crushing intent of the Lord’s will is met by the prosperous outcome of the Lord’s will in the salvation and multiplication of his progeny. This is only possible because the lowly Servant is willing to submit to the Lord’s will that he die and that he rise again, that we believing may be born again to new life.

Rising from that moment in history is the way for all who will follow the Suffering Servant. “Here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down!” Murray said. “Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds men abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.”

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist


Update: Saeed Abedini has returned to Boise, Idahio, and has seen his children. In developing news, Saeed’s wife Naghmeh has filed a domestic relations case against him today (Jan. 27).

Saeed Abedini was released last week after more than three years in an Iranian prison. Upon his release he was taken to a U.S. Air Force Base in Germany for debriefing and medical assessment, then to the Billy Graham Training Center (the Cove) in Asheville, NC,  for a period of rest and time with his parents. The pastor from Idaho next planned a reunion with his wife, Naghmeh, and their children.

His freedom, part of a prisoner exchange with Iran following that nation’s nuclear disarmament agreement with the U.S. was announced January 16.

In his first media interview since his release from an Iranian prison was announced Jan. 16, Abedini told FOX News’ Greta Van Susteren of the brutal physical and psychological torture he suffered in Iran for three and half years. Abedini prayed hours at times to survive years of abuse and unjust imprisonment in Iran for his Christian faith, and described his prayers as a “wonderful time with the Lord” which he enjoyed.

“I was beaten within to death kind of,” he told Van Susteren in broken English. “God saved me over there.” During a botched trial, the judge closed him in a room where guards beat him so badly with their fists that he suffered internal bleeding in his stomach. And at another time, he said, he was beaten on the face and body with a heavy metal chair.

Abedini’s wife Naghmeh has twice been delayed in seeing him since his prison release. She cancelled plans to visit him in Germany, where he was treated at a U.S. military hospital before his Jan. 21 arrival in the U.S., to give him more time to recover before reuniting with their children Rebekkah and Jacob. She told Baptist Press of plans to meet him Jan. 25 at the Cove, but according to news reports, that visit had also been delayed, Reuters News reported.

“We are ready to welcome him home,” Naghmeh said in a January 17 interview with FOX News, noting that the couple’s young children were making welcome home signs.

Leaders who have long called for the pastor’s release, including Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, were quick to respond to the news. “Praise God,” he posted.

“The prayers of the Body of Christ all over the world have been answered,” Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said later in a statement released by the ERLC. “This day of celebration should remind us to pray and work all the more for the multitudes still persecuted for their faith all over the world, including in Iran. We hope and long for the day when Iran, and nations like it, are free from those who wish to enslave the conscience at the point of a sword.”

Abedini was serving an eight-year sentence after being arrested in 2012. The pastor, who was raised in Iran and later became an American citizen, had organized Christian house churches in the Muslim country.

The ERLC gave Abedini a religious liberty award in 2014, which his wife accepted on his behalf at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Baltimore. Naghmeh returned to the SBC in 2015, where pastors prayed for her family and her husband’s release during the annual Pastors’ Conference.

During much of his imprisonment, Naghmeh advocated publicly for Saeed, organizing prayer vigils for him and sharing updates on social media. Late last year, though, she stepped back from the public campaign after e-mails she sent to supporters were leaked. The messages noted “physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography)” that had marked the couple’s marriage. After her husband’s release, Naghmeh confirmed to the Washington Post that the abuse had started early in their marriage and grew worse during Saeed’s imprisonment.

“When he gets home, we can address the serious issues that have happened and continued,” she said. Naghmeh also told Washington Post religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey that it’s unclear whether her husband will continue to be a pastor.

“I think he would have to deal with a lot of issues,” she said. “There will need to be a time of healing for him and his family.” Evangelist Franklin Graham is “coming alongside our family through the next steps of the difficult journey ahead,” Naghmeh posted on Facebook January 20.

The American Center for Law and Justice, who had lobbied extensively for Abedini’s release, credited God’s intervention for his freedom. “We want to rejoice that the Lord has set these individuals free,” said Chief Counsel Jordan Sekulow.

“At the end of the day, this was a move of God, because so many circumstances had to line up correctly for this to happen, and it did. And that’s not humans doing that; that is the Lord and we were just instruments to do our part.

Eric Reed with additional reporting from Baptist Press.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Baptists will hear from two presidential hopefuls at next week’s SEND North America Conference in Nashville, Tenn. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, will interview former Florida Governor Jeb Bush Aug. 4. The conference also will include a pre-recorded interview with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

The_Briefing“Evangelicals are looking for leaders who not only understand their convictions about human dignity and family stability but have plans to address them,” Moore said in a press release, “and this event will provide the opportunity for precisely this kind of discussion with some of the leading presidential candidates, and I am greatly looking forward to it.”

The SEND Conference, which is hosted by the North American and International Mission Boards, is expected to see 13,000 attenders.

In its press release, the ERLC said the leading candidates from each major party were invited to participate, including Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Moore said in a July 22 blog post. The Aug. 4 conversations will be the first in a series of discussions with candidates, Moore added.

Pakistani woman’s execution temporarily stayed pending court review
The Pakistani Supreme Court said July 22 they will review the case of Aasiya Noreen, known in media reports as Asia Bibi. The mother of two (and stepmother of three other children) was sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory comments about Muhammad. Read the full story from Morning Star News via Baptist Press.

San Diego’s landmark cross will stay
A veterans memorial in San Diego has been sold to a private group, effectively ending years of legal battles over its constitutionality. The Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, which includes a 43-foot cross, was purchased from the U.S. Defense Department by the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association for slightly less than $1.4 million, The Christian Post reports. The group hopes to turn it into a tourist destination on par with the San Diego Zoo.

GuideStone appeals to Supreme Court
GuideStone Financial Resources has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court against a health care mandate that would require some companies it works with to provide abortion-inducing drugs. GuideStone, a Southern Baptist entity, and the churches it represents are exempt from the mandate, Baptist Press reports. But some other religious employers are at risk, they contend, even as the federal government argues it offers an accommodation for them.

Kenyan mall reopens almost two years after terrorist attack
Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi reopened July 18, 22 months after extremist group al-Shabab staged a multi-day attack that killed 67 people and wounded 175. Katherine Walton, an International Mission Board “missionary kid” now living in Kenya with her own family, was in the mall with her children during the attack, Baptist Press reports.

“It has been and still is a difficult journey in recovery. The children have all dealt with their own issues, but on the whole have done remarkably well,” she told BP. “God has been really good to us, and we keep moving forward, learning more about ourselves and about God during recovery.”