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The prophets launch their words into the future. Where do they land?

A frequently challenging part of Scripture for many Christians is the Old Testament prophets. Sometimes, understanding their message can be a little confusing. Especially, when that message might apply (or is applied) to the New Testament. When the prophets do look into the future that God revealed to them, what do their words refer to?

I find it helpful to think of three major possible horizons of their vision. That is to say, as the prophets launch their words into the future, we can see three places where their words land, three places where their words are relevant and fulfilled—or still will be.

Horizon one: The Old Testament era

This is the horizon of the prophets’ own time or the wider Old Testament era as a whole. Most of what they predict happens either in their own lifetimes or at some point within the history of Old Testament Israel.

For example, many prophets warn that God will send Israel, and then Judah, into exile because they persistently break the covenant and rebel against him. That is fulfilled, as we have seen, within the Old Testament period itself, in 721 BC for the northern kingdom of Israel, and in 587 BC for the southern kingdom of Judah. Those prophecies are fulfilled at horizon one.

Some of the prophets also predict that God will bring the exiles of Judah back to their land. He will bring their exile to an end. The covenant will be renewed, and they will rebuild the temple. Those prophecies are also fulfilled within the Old Testament period. After the edict of Cyrus, king of Persia, in 538 BC, several waves of exiles return to Jerusalem, and the temple is rebuilt by 515 BC. Fulfillment at horizon one.

However, sometimes we will find that an Old Testament prediction that is made and fulfilled ...

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Latest example of immigration officials deploying Scripture to keep former Muslims out of UK comes as Church of England adds an official Farsi liturgy due to demand.

The British government has been using the Bible against Christians seeking asylum after converting from Islam—most recently, citing verses from Leviticus, Exodus, and Revelation as evidence that the faith was not more peaceful, as one Iranian convert claimed in his application.

Anglican leaders and other advocates for refugees condemned the immigration department’s decision to deny the Iranian’s 2016 petition for asylum this week.

The letter sent Tuesday from the Home Office declared that Christianity was not a peaceful religion, bringing up “imagery of revenge, destruction, death, and violence” in Revelation and the line “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you” from Leviticus 26:7.

“These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge,” the government official stated.

The denied applicant’s caseworker, Nathan Stevens, tweeted, “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum.” Stevens said he plans to appeal the decision.

Bishop of Durham Paul Butler, who leads bishops in the House of Lords on immigration matters, issued a response on behalf of the Church of England.

“I am extremely concerned that a government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities,” said Butler.

“To use extracts from the Book of Revelation to argue that Christianity is a ...

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The 2018 General Social Survey reports American evangelicals holding steady amid growth of the unaffiliated—and a surprising uptick for mainline Protestants.

Evangelicals in the United States are holding steady at just under a quarter of the population, according to the latest biennial figures from the General Social Survey (GSS), one of the longest-running measures of religion in America.

Despite the quick pace of news and week-to-week political polling, it’s longitudinal tools like the GSS that give social scientists the best big-picture views of how America’s religious landscape is shifting. The survey has asked about religious affiliation in the same way for more than 46 years, offering authorative, reliable measures of trends in belief and behavior over time.

As Tobin Grant, editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, pointed out: “Changes in religion are slow. No group gains or loses quickly.” (The “nones,” a popular term for the religiously unaffiliated, being an exception—gaining faster than other affiliations tend to because they pull from multiple faith groups.)

That’s mostly what the 2018 GSS results show us. Evangelicals—grouped in this survey by church affiliation—continue to make up around 22.5 percent of the population as they have for much of the past decade, while the nones, now up to 23.1 percent themselves, keep growing. (For comparison, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey put evangelicals at 25.4 percent and the religious nones at 22.8 percent.)

Other than one outlier—a slight peak of 24.7 percent in 2012—evangelicals have ranged from 22.5 percent to 24 percent of the US population over the past 10 years. Still, this steadiness doesn’t mean “no change” among the evangelical population. There is always a “churn” occurring ...

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As Christian doctors and development workers take on tuberculosis, trust is key to the cure.

“It would be better to die than to suffer this way,” Fathia says, wiping her hands together with finality. She sits across from me at the Caritas medical center in Djibouti, crying. I’m trying not to cry. I’m also trying not to back away as she coughs without covering her mouth. She is a single mother, a refugee from Somalia, and all five of her children have tuberculosis, commonly called TB.

According to the World Health Organization, close to 50 people are infected every week in Djibouti—a massive percentage for a small country with a population of less than 1 million. The disease is transmittable by air, a fact that I’m well aware of while we talk. A person of my healthy constitution and plentiful diet is unlikely to develop an active case of tuberculosis. And yet I know American lawyers who have had active TB. Diplomats. Teachers. Students. People just like me. The disease is in New York City, in Minneapolis, in Paris.

Like other infectious diseases that plague the modern world, the cure to TB is complicated. But because of the social stigma and isolation associated with it, medical professionals are increasingly convinced that part of the solution will come from one simple source: trust born of relationships.

“A trusting relationship is critical,” says Annie Mikobi, a Congolese doctor working in Djibouti. “Without it, there is no observance of treatment.”

“Stigma is a huge barrier, and breaking down stigma requires trust,” says Bob Carter, a family practice doctor with SIM (Serving in Mission) who has worked with TB patients in Kenya and Zambia for over 20 years. “TB patients must trust that I care about them, that I won’t disclose their ...

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“Unbelievers needs to see that we care for them, not just their postmortem souls but all of who they are as fallen image-bearers of God.”

Ed: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?

CJ: Eddie Glaude, a Princeton University professor, wrote a Huffington Post article in which he declared that the black church as we know it is dead! This controversial statement elicited much consternation as it was interpreted as a pronouncement of death of the church.

Actually, Glaude’s statement was a reality check on our romantic ideas about the heroic black church that was engaged in evangelism and activism during the Civil Rights Movement. Glaude called us to rethink our revisionist history and our unrealistic expectations, while also encouraging us to be the change we want to see in the church and the world.

I believe this sobering word is one not just for the black church, but for all churches of which Christ is the head. There has been much lamentation about the decline of Christianity in America; fears that we are soon becoming like god-less Europe abound.

Some of these concerns are warranted, but I believe that what we are seeing is the death of Christendom, not the way of Jesus Christ. Cultural Christianity is giving way to an authentic faith worth living and dying for, a faith expressed through good works.

Indeed, there are many local congregations that are dying or ready to die. Like the church at Sardis in Revelation 3, those churches needn’t die if only they hear and obey what the Spirit says. My hope is that we will certainly see the death of racialized, tribalized, and commercialized religion and the resurrection of a supernatural ...

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“There are millions who will never hear strong biblical teaching unless teachers are willing to go.”

Why would a respected evangelical leader like Francis Chan agree to speak at major events that also feature controversial prosperity gospel preachers? The short answer: to share the truth.

The popular author and former pastor recently came under scrutiny for appearing on the same stage as televangelist Benny Hinn and Canadian evangelist Todd White when he was the top-billed speaker at The Send, a 60,000-person rally held in an Orlando stadium last month.

The event (not to be confused with Send International or the North American Mission Board’s Send Conference) was a collaboration involving several major leaders in the charismatic and New Apostolic Reformation movement, including The Call’s Lou Engle, Bethel Church’s Bill Johnson, and International House of Prayer’s Mike Bickle.

Some Christians questioned Chan’s place on the roster, particularly when White—who told the young crowd that God would instantly remove “the mark and stain of sin” from their bodies, including STDs and cutting scars—shared a picture of the pair praying together. Another photo turned up of Chan between Hinn, who had not been listed on the public lineup for the event, and fellow faith healer Jean-Luc Trachsel.

Chan recently acknowledged these concerns and explained why he prefers to speak among crowds whose beliefs fall outside of his own, even though he considers the prosperity gospel to be “dangerous teaching.”

“Often times, I decline [speaking requests] because other speakers will be at the event who believe almost exactly what I believe. My reasoning is that it may be a waste of Kingdom resources for all of us to be there, speaking largely to people who already agree with us,” ...

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The nation’s biggest Christian retail chain ends its brick-and-mortar operations.

LifeWay Christian Resources, the largest Christian retail chain in America, plans to close all 170 stores this year and shift its offerings entirely online.

“The decision to close our local stores is a difficult one,” said acting president and CEO Brad Waggoner, who is succeeding longtime LifeWay president Thom Rainer.

“LifeWay has developed close connections with the communities where our stores are located, and we have been honored to serve those communities. We will continue serving local congregations as they meet the spiritual needs of their neighbors.”

The Southern Baptist affiliate announced in January initial plans to reduce its locations this year due to declining sales and financial pressures, but ended up deciding it wasn’t viable to keep any stores open past 2019. Rainer said they did all they could to save the stores, which span across 30 states.

“Our retail strategy for the future will be a greater focus on digital channels, which are experiencing strong growth,” Waggoner said in an announcement on Wednesday. The chain will continue online sales through LifeWay.com.

LifeWay’s store closures come two years after its competitor, Family Christian Resources, shut down all 240 locations in the midst of mounting debt and bankruptcy. Cokesbury Bookstores closed all 38 retail stores in 2013.

“As someone who spent 20 years working in Christian retail, I am sad that there will be 170 fewer physical stores where people can find and purchase Christian books, Bibles, and resources,” said Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) president and CEO Stan Jantz in response to LifeWay’s news.

“Certainly in the short run, adjusting to this new reality ...

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Is this a case of government oppression or the Chinese church coming into its own? How to understand “sinicization.”

The headlines out of China last week sounded ominous. In strident language not heard in a long time, the head of China’s Protestant church gave a speech supporting the government’s policy of reducing Western influence on religion and making it “more Chinese,” a process dubbed sinicization in English.

Is the move a step toward tighter government control, an opportunity to further indigenize and contextualize the faith, or perhaps both? As with most things in China, the answer is complicated.

This sinicization campaign has been going on for a few years. While outsiders have observed it with growing alarm, many believers in China understand that though the government may have a political agenda, it might also provide opportunities for outreach.

The Chinese National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, convened at the beginning of the month in Beijing, and Premier Li Keqiang delivered his annual work report speech. According to the National Catholic Reporter, he reiterated the government’s commitment to “fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the sinicization of religion in China.”

The following week, Xu Xiaohong, chairman of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which oversees Protestant Christianity in China, spoke on his support for the policy and vowed to press on with its own five-year sinicization plan. Xu claimed that anti-China forces were using Christianity to subvert state power.

“[We] must recognize that Chinese churches are surnamed ‘China’, not ‘the West,’” he told delegates to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. “The ...

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In the Black Belt—once cleared for cotton plantations—rural black communities suffer the consequences of poor land stewardship.

In 2013, the septic system at Jesus Christ Church of God the Bibleway failed and sewage began leaking into a neighbor’s yard—not uncommon for rural Alabama, an area plagued by sewage problems and a related upsurge in hookworm cases. A warrant was issued for the arrest of the church’s pastor, Bishop Ira McCloud.

The public health department accused McCloud of failing to fix the problem after multiple warnings. But McCloud had actually been trying to resolve the problem for months by connecting the church to a city sewer line; it would be cheaper and easier than buying a new septic system. The city, however, wasn’t making it easy.

When McCloud heard there was a warrant for his arrest, he immediately turned himself in. “I walked into the station and didn’t know what to do, so I put my hands up,” he recalled. “I had tears in my eyes when they took my picture.”

McCloud, fortunately, didn’t have to spend a night in jail. The sheriff’s department told him to go home; they weren’t in agreement with the state’s orders to make the arrest. With the problem unsolved, the city later threatened to shut off the church’s electricity and take the property away.

Leaking sewage systems—and the subsequent legal problems they cause—aren’t unique to Alabama and can be understood with a deeper “reading of the landscape,” an exercise recommended by ecologist Kristen Page, a faculty member at Wheaton College. She references Job 12: “… speak to the earth, and it will teach you.” It can help us understand our role as a part of creation and our connection and responsibility to our neighbors, she explained.

“Christ will ...

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What Does It Look Like to Embody Gospel-Shaped Power?

In this final post, I want to address practical ways pastors and church leaders can properly and biblically use power to help foster healthy churches and communities.

I suggest five key elements you can implement.

First, structure a church with pastoral accountability.

If the church structure does not have pastoral accountability, we need to question that structure, regardless of denomination or ecclesiological association. Good pastors recognize the need for accountability and their own tendency towards brokenness and sin.

Godly pastors with developed heart character long to shepherd well and want to mitigate their own sin so it does not run amuck and damage the church. They are thoughtful, careful, and they structure churches with pastoral accountability. If you want to be a good pastor, structure your church so your decisions are held accountable.

Second, seek accountability.

It’s one thing to structure a system with accountability, but it is a whole other thing to actually seek and be open to receiving accountability.

I can offer some personal experience on this point specifically. I have a boss; her name is Margaret Diddams, and she is the Wheaton College Provost, the college’s Chief Academic Officer. She can and has called me out and shut me down, because she's my boss. We all need someone like that.

However, the reality is that most pastors don't have an identified group of people who actually hold them accountable. And the accountability must be fostered and received. For instance, pastors should want to surround themselves with leaders who are willing to tell them “No” to protect them from blind spots and for the overall health and direction of the organization.

If you have a group of leaders ...

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