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, ERLC.com, 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 IllinoisBaptist.org 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