COMMENTARY | Josh Laxton

Last spring, my wife and I bought a used minivan. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of minivans, nor am I a fan of buying a much-older car. (I didn’t learn auto repair in seminary.) However, I am a big fan of making my wife happy.

Not long after purchasing the van, I was driving with our three small children when, suddenly, after a few mildly intense sputtering episodes, the van died. There I was, with a broken down car, stranded in the middle of the road, with no shoulder to move the vehicle to safety. As I tried to decide what to do, my 4-year-old daughter had her own breakdown. Her piercing cries of, “Daddy, Daddy!” were accompanied by heavy sobbing and huge tears. Ellie broke down because of our van’s condition.

Josh_Laxton_July31For many of us, our churches are like my minivan. Depending on the source, 80-90% of churches are in a state of plateau or decline. They were running fine, but something happened along the way, and now the church is not functioning and operating the way Jesus intended—as a God-glorifying, gospel-centered, mission-oriented, disciple-making, church-planting vehicle. Sure, the flashers, radio, horn, and air still work (worship and programs are still going, committees are still meeting). But there is a breakdown in the primary reason for the church’s existence—it’s literally not moving, not going anywhere.

The question is not whether our churches need a breakout to the next level of growth or ministry. Rather, it’s how we as leaders can get them there. To do so, like Ellie, we need to have a breakdown over the condition of the church.

Nehemiah is an excellent example of a leader who identified the need for breakout, and in doing so, had a breakdown. Although he had never been to Jerusalem, he had great affection and concern for his homeland; therefore, when his brothers came to visit, he asked how his countrymen were faring. The news he received was bad; the people and the city were broken. The Bible says that upon hearing this, Nehemiah “wept and mourned” for days. In addition, he “continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”

What led to Nehemiah’s breakdown? Two key truths stand out:

First, he knew the truth about God and what God had called His people to be and do (Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:4-6). When Nehemiah learned that the wall was in ruins and the people lived in great trouble and shame, he recognized that they were not where they were supposed to be. That has implications for our ministry today: Do we know with certainty the honest, transparent conditions of our church in relation to God’s intended reality, rather than our own presuppositions, preferences, or traditions?

Second, not only did Nehemiah know the truth about God’s intended reality for his people, he also knew the heart of God. In other words, he not only knew about God and His plan, but he also knew God. Thus, when he heard about the condition of the city and the people, he went immediately to the Father, weeping, morning, fasting, and praying.

He was broken over their condition because God was broken over their condition. As a result, the Bible tells us, Nehemiah “continued” going to the Father.

Nehemiah led in a way that reflected the heart of God and how He viewed the condition of the people. As leaders, are we leading in a way that reflects the heart of God towards the people in our churches?

Breakout in Jerusalem didn’t happen until Nehemiah broke down. The good news is that God still works in our brokenness to lead his people to breakout.

Josh Laxton is lead pastor of Western Oaks Baptist Church in Springfield. His second column on Nehemiah will appear in the August 18 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | The U.S. State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report on Monday, citing 2013 as a year when “the world witnessed the largest displacement of members of religious communities in recent memory.”

The report also listed nations where religious freedom is severely threatened and violated. Those “countries of particular concern” are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented the report, President Barack Obama announced his nominee for the country’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Rabbi David Saperstein would be the first non-Christian to hold the post, reports Christianity Today. He is director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, an attorney, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Saperstein’s nomination requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

“Rabbi Saperstein is a respected thinker and leader who brings gravity to this important task,” said Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “He has my prayers and my pledge of full cooperation. The downgrade of religious freedom and the persecution of religious minorities around the world must end.”

Other news:

Texas church ministers with blankets, BIbles, coloring books at the border
De Dorman first felt a burden for families stranded at the U.S./Mexico border when she herself was stuck in an airport for three days in June. Dorman, a member of First Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas, went back home and organized a group of volunteers from her church to help out at an immigrant processing center in their town. Part of their ministry is giving out blankets to children who aren’t used to constant air conditioning, along with bilingual Bibles and Gospel-themed coloring books. “We tell them wherever you journey, the Lord wants to go with you,” Dorman told the Southern Baptist Texan. “We do our best, as God opens the doors, to speak to them and to set resources into their hands for that long bus ride.”

Pastor preaches forgiveness after hate crime
A church in Clarksville, Tenn., has forgiven whoever burned a cross outside their building, said Pastor Vernon Hooks of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. “Whoever did it, we forgive them,” Hooks said after the cross was discovered on the grounds of his mostly African American church early on July 22. “That’s the message, that we are a forgiving church and we’ll let the police do their job.” Police have classified the incident as a hate crime and are still investigating. Read the full story from the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle.

The Bible, re-designed?
A project aimed at making the Bible more readable for more people has earned more than $1.4 million in support on the fundraising site Kickstarter.com. “Bibliotheca,” an idea from book designer Adam Lewis Greene, organizes the Bible into four volumes designed like modern books. The text is in one column, and there are no verse or chapter notations. A video on Greene’s Kickstarter page explains  the inspiration behind the project.

Barna survey measures Americans’ dietary worries
Healthier eating habits may be on trend these days, but nearly half of all Americans are worried they eat too much. And 63% say they’re concerned about not eating enough fresh produce. The new research from Barna also found 55% of Americans experience some kind of “food guilt.” Read more at Barna.org.

 

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

It feels like I have had more than a few challenging days of ministry recently. But today is an especially good Sunday, and I’d like to tell you about it.

I leave home very early, to drive almost 200 miles to an IBSA church where I know the pastor, but have never attended on a Sunday morning. It’s their 70th anniversary, and I have a nice plaque from IBSA to present to them. In all those regards, it’s not really an unusual Sunday.

Nate_Adams_July28What’s a little more unusual is that my wife, Beth, is traveling with me. Our youngest son Ethan is leading the worship team at our home church in Springfield, and Beth would like to be there too. But by evening we will be at the church where our middle son Noah is youth pastor, and so she has decided to come along. So it’s already an especially good Sunday.

We drive past one, two, three IBSA churches, and eventually past the one where I recall speaking three years ago when my oldest son Caleb also shared his testimony. He had just returned to the Lord after years as a prodigal. And as I realize that today my wife is with me, and that all three of our sons are worshiping and serving in an IBSA church, I realize that this is an especially good Sunday.

At the church celebrating its 70th anniversary we are greeted warmly, with appreciation for both IBSA and for our long drive that morning. I watch as an effective pastor loves his people, and they love him back. I meet a 93-year-old former church planter and pastor, who tells me he helped plant one of the first SBC churches in northern Indiana. He’s surprised I don’t recognize his former supervisor’s name, until I remind him I wasn’t born yet.

Later when I’m presenting the plaque, I tell both the 93-year-old church planter and the 70-year-old church that my wife and I are on our way, after church, to IBSA’s first “ChicaGO” student camp at Judson University. It’s a pilot church planting camp that we hope will continue to produce church planters, church plants, and eventually 70-year-old churches. And as I describe this picture of church planting across the generations – I realize that this is an especially good Sunday.

We arrive at Judson University late in the afternoon, and help greet students and chaperones from 11 different IBSA churches. Then a bus-load of IBSA All State Youth Choir students unload, and I remember they are there for a couple of days too, to join the ChicaGO mission week, and share a couple of concerts in the area.

That night the choir sings at Calvary Baptist Church in Elgin. In addition to being my mom’s and son’s church, this is also the church where Wilma and Jack Booth are members. During the concert, IBSA Worship Director Steve Hamrick reminds us that Wilma was one of the leaders that started the IBSA All State Choir 36 years ago. And as I reflect on the blessing of tomorrow’s worship leaders being equipped for churches across the generations – I realize that this is an especially good Sunday.

I will have to wait until my next column to tell you about the “week in the life of church planters” that follows this special Sunday. But let me punctuate this account by telling you that as the All State Youth Choir led us in singing “Jesus Messiah,” I found my eyes welling up with tears. God was reminding me that, though there will be challenging days, He is steadfastly building churches and growing leaders across the state and across the generations here in Illinois. And whenever I can see that as clearly as I do today, well, it’s an especially good Sunday.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Editor’s note: This is the final story in a series of three testimonies about Super Summer, an annual discipleship week for students sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. Click here to read how Hannah Batista met Christ at Super Summer, and here for why youth minister Tim Drury takes his students to Greenville for the week every year.

Zaxxson_NationHEARTLAND | Zaxxson Nation spent Super Summer 2014 teaching high school seniors the most practical parts of discipleship— finding a mentor, building intentional friendships, and investing in a local church. As assistant dean for the green school, which is focused on discipleship, Nation helped transfer to his students some of the same principles he learned as a Super Summer student.

Assistant dean is just one hat Nation has worn since his first week in Greenville 12 years ago. As a 16-year-old student leader from Rochester First Baptist, he realized at Super Summer that his Christianity was based more on head knowledge than faith that had taken root in his heart.

“God really changed everything in my life” that week, Nation said. “And at that point I was ready to serve, to do whatever it took to just serve Him.”

Part of what makes Super Summer different from some other camps is the laser-like focus on knowing Jesus more, Nation said. At his first Super Summer, “When we had free time, we were talking about Jesus. And when we went to bed at night, we were joking around, but we were also sharing our testimonies.”

Years later, he said, “I think it’s the same now as it was 12 years ago when I was a student. It’s still people coming together for the same reason; it’s still students that are serious about their faith.”

Nation acknowledged that Super Summer creates an environment that’s impossible to recreate once students get home and the distractions of life flood back in. Being cut off from regular life for a week is both a blessing and a curse, he said. “God uses it, though; He used it for my life,” he said.

“The other big thing about Super Summer is it’s pretty much where I got my standard for being a godly man,” Nation remembered. He met pastors and leaders who had memorized large chunks of the Bible and shared their faith regularly.

“Super Summer puts you under those guys’ teaching for an entire week, and you leave inspired. And I left personally saying, ‘Wow, I want to be like that.’

“Because as a student I saw that and was challenged by those high standards, I want to go back and work under those guys, and be peers to those guys and continue to learn from them. That’s a huge motivator for me, to think that one day a student could look at me and my life and say that I’m inspiring them in the same way that those guys inspired me.”

SUMMER | Check out these great photos from Tim Starner of IBSA’s co-ed missions camp in northern Illinois.

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 30 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, deciding that the companies do not have to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 30 in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, deciding that the companies do not have to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans.

COMMENTARY | Lisa Sergent

The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case allows employers with religious objections to opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. On the surface, one could read that sentence and assume that Hobby Lobby will not provide any contraception coverage to its employees. In talking with friends who only get their news from mainstream media, I found this is what they actually believe.

I will admit that as a self-described “news junkie” I may be better informed on the issue than they are. I read the daily newspaper as an elementary school student, was an early viewer of CNN, read Time and Newsweek magazines in the school library, and became a fan of talk radio in college. The advent of the Internet opened up a whole new world of news for me, beyond the big three networks.

This exposure to a wider variety of news and opinions widened my worldview. As the years have passed, I’ve become less trusting of the old news sources and prefer to investigate more myself.

In this case, I knew from sources I trusted, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Baptist Press, that the Food and Drug Administration has approved 20 contraceptives that are required to be covered under the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. Four of these are considered abortifacients. These four drugs are the only “contraceptives” Hobby Lobby was refusing to provide for its employees.

So, when the high court’s ruling was announced, I understood what it meant and explained it to a couple of friends in an animated discussion: Hobby Lobby and similar “closely held companies” would continue to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees, but would not pay for abortion-causing drugs.

My friends, who rely on the old guard media, were outraged by the ruling.

None of the mainstream media really explained what the ruling means, or that it is a victory for religious liberty. Instead, the Christians in these cases have been portrayed as bigots who want to deny women their rights and are surprisingly finding new allies in the male justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Is this inaccurate portrayal purposeful? I know what I think, but I’ll let you decide. In the meantime, I’m putting on my earbuds. I have a podcast to listen to.

Lisa Sergent is director of communications for IBSA and contributing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

SUMMER 2014 | It’s camp season! IBSA’s co-ed missions camp for kids is happening this week in northern Illinois at Streator Baptist Camp. The southern version, which shared the “Gotta tell it!” theme, was in June at Lake Sallateeska. Click through this slideshow for photos from both sites, and check in at Facebook.com/IllinoisBaptist this week for more from Streator. Photos by J.C. and Carla Vaca Diez, Mark Emerson, Carmen Halsey and Meredith Flynn

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