COMMENTARY | Bob Elmore

Bob_Elmore_blog_calloutWaking up to the sound of a high-pitched alarm is never a good start to a day. But this morning in April 2012 started just that way. It had been a stormy night, so I initially thought it was the weather alert radio and I mentally prepared to get my family down to the basement—not an easy task, since we have two sons with profound autism who strongly resist any changes to their routines.

I groggily opened my eyes and remembered I had been sleeping on the couch in the living room with my wife and son, Mark, who has epilepsy in addition to autism. He had a seizure that night, so we had been keeping watch over him as he slept on the floor. I looked around at our dark house and saw an odd orange glow coming from Mark’s room. The shrill alarm I heard was our smoke alarm. Mark’s room was on fire!

I woke up my wife and we got our protesting sons out of the house and into the car, which we moved away from the house. We were in pajamas and bare feet while we waited for the heater in the car to warm up. We watched dark smoke billow out of our windows as our small local fire department arrived.

Somehow, my wife and I were filled with a peace that belied our circumstances. We gripped hands and prayed, thanking God for our family’s safety and especially that our son had not been in his room when the fire began—the first time we were ever grateful for a seizure.

We opened our eyes after the “Amen.” All we had in the world was given to us by God, like Psalm 24 tells us. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” We instinctively knew that He would give us what we needed, just like He always had before…and He did.

Our dear neighbors and loving church family in Winchester, Ill.—about an hour west of Springfield—brought us blankets, clothes, coffee and emotional support. Over the next days, weeks and months, we would watch God fold His arms around us by bringing people to us. We had spent years together trusting God to take care of our atypical family each day, and He had always proved Himself faithful and now continued to do so.

Within three months, we had relocated to Springfield, where I now serve as IBSA’s short-term missions coordinator. We have a new house and new furnishings. Most importantly, we have another reason to entrust all that we have to God. Matthew 6:21 reminds us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Our treasure always lies with our God. That way, our hearts will forever be in a safe and peaceful place.

Bob Elmore is IBSA’s short-term missions coordinator. He and his family are members of Western Oaks Baptist Church.

Image from a May 2012 YouTube video Saeed Abedini made before his imprisonment.

Image from a May 2012 YouTube video Saeed Abedini made before his imprisonment.

THE BRIEFING | At a meeting last week with the wife and children of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini, President Barack Obama said securing his release is a top priority, according to a release from the American Center for Law and Justice.

“The President was focused and gracious – showing concern to me and my children,” said Naghmeh Abedini. “I know that this meeting could not have occurred without prayer and I am grateful to the many people around the country and world who continue to pray for Saeed’s release.”

Obama reportedly told the Abedinis’ young son that he would try to have his father home by the boy’s birthday in March. The pastor, an American citizen, was arrested in Iran in 2012 and charged with “undermining national security,” Christianity Today reports. Last June, he was awarded a religious liberty award by the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which his wife accepted on his behalf.


Jury selection started yesterday in the trial over Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, spearheaded by a coalition of ministers who collected petitions to repeal the ordinance passed by the City Council last May. (The city disqualified many of the 50,000 signatures collected.) The complicated case also included an effort to subpoena communications and sermons by five Houston ministers; the subpoenas were eventually dropped.

Opponents of the Houston ordinance recently aided Plano residents in collecting signatures to stop a similar ordinance in their city, Baptist Press reported.


A rumored protest by Westboro Baptist Church didn’t come to fruition at a Quad Cities-area Illinois Baptist church, but representatives of the infamous Kansas congregation (which is not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention) did visit some churches in the area, and were met with counter-protestors. Prior to Sunday, January 25, Westboro protestors were scheduled to be at Northcrest Calvary, an Illinois Baptist State Association church in Rock Island.


Alabama is the most recent state to face a challenge to its ban on same-sex marriage, Baptist Press reports. Judge Callie V.S. Granade ruled the ban unconstitutional Jan. 23, in a case involving a lesbian couple who married in California but were denied adoption rights in Alabama. The state’s association of probate judges–who are responsible for issuing marriage licenses–said Granade’s ruling doesn’t impact anyone not named in the case.


The struggle continues between New York City public schools and churches that want to rent their space for Sunday worship, Christianity Today reports. The most recent development is an apparent change of heart by Mayor Bill de Blasio.


George Perdikis, who co-founded The Newsboys in the 1980s, has officially renounced his Christian faith, The Christian Post reports. The musician wrote in a recent post on Patheos.com: “I always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules imposed by Christianity. All I wanted to do was play rock and roll.”


Where does your city rank when it comes to “Bible-mindedness?” Barna and the American Bible Society released their annual list of the most Bible-minded cities in the U.S. Four Illinois cities landed in the top 50; see which ones at Barna.com.

 

HEARTLAND | Hundreds of leaders from 13 states across the Midwest were in Springfield, Ill., last week for the Midwest Leadership Summit, a triennial training event facilitated by state Baptist conventions in the region and national Southern Baptist entities. These “man on the street” interviews were conducted on Wednesday, a day full a breakout sessions on evangelism and discipleship, missions, women’s ministry, and dozens of other topics.

Read more about the Midwest Leadership Summit at www.Facebook.com/IllinoisBaptist, and in the next issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

 

YE_blog92 profess faith at Youth Encounter

NEWS | Rick Gage stood in front of nearly 1,000 students and leaders meeting at the Prairie Capital Convention Center for the Youth Encounter evangelism conference. The room was much quieter than it had been just a few minutes earlier, when the Dec. 29-30 event kicked off with high-energy music, improv comedy from Team WordPlay, and a performance by illusionist Bryan Drake.

When Gage took the stage, he spoke first to leaders who brought students to the annual event, thanking them for investing in young people’s lives.

“We’re here to meet with God. We’re here to do business with God. And it’s our prayer—it’s your prayer—that God would use these next 24 hours to impact not just the teenagers’ lives, but all of our lives.”

A few minutes later, after preaching a message on what it means to have an authentic relationship with God, Gage called students to the front who felt led to make a decision for Christ. They streamed down the aisles. Almost 300 people crowded near the stage (above) as the evangelist prayed over them and instructed them to head backstage to meet with counselors.

All told, 92 people made decisions to trust Christ at Youth Encounter, and 205 recommitted their faith. During the two-day conference, 20 students also answered the call to ministry, and 33 committed to pray for lost friends or family members.

“God has his hand on some guys and when they preach the gospel…I can’t explain it. I just watch it happen and shake my head, but when they preach, people respond to the gospel,” said IBSA’s Tim Sadler. “There’s an anointing that’s on their lives, and it’s just a powerful thing.”

Students met with counselors after each session to talk about spiritual decisions they felt led to make.

Students met with counselors after each session
to talk about spiritual decisions they felt led to make. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

Gage knows how to “draw the net,” said state evangelism director Sadler, who also directs YE. The decision to invite Gage was strategic because of his experience as a youth evangelist, Sadler told the Illinois Baptist.

“And I’d also add into that, I’ve heard several of our youth leaders, our local church youth leaders, talk about how they intentionally sought to bring unsaved kids to Youth Encounter this year,” said Chad Ozee, pastor of Journey Church in Bourbonnais and YE’s backstage manager.

“And that’s the key. If they just bring their core kids, then there aren’t people here that don’t know Christ, to hear that message, to have that net drawn.”

‘I’m changed now’
Jay Huddleston brought 19 students to Springfield, and all 19 made some kind of spiritual decision at Youth Encounter. The pastor of Herrick Baptist Church said the group’s Bible study after the Monday evening session got so intense, the students didn’t even finish the pizza they’d ordered.

Huddleston knows personally how Youth Encounter can change lives. He answered God’s call to preach shortly after attending the event as a leader in 1996. He’d actually realized God was calling him years earlier, but still hadn’t responded. But when some young women from his group came back from YE ready to surrender their lives to God’s purposes, he knew he had to make a decision of his own.

“The girls were standing up there talking about how they were going to make a commitment and give their life to Christ, and I’m running.” He pastored two churches before coming to Herrick Baptist, where he has been for nine years.

One of the students he brought this year was 15-year-old Michael Mey, who made a decision to trust Christ during that Monday evening session. Mey went to YE last year, so he was more used to the event this year, he said. What drew him to respond was what Gage said about only having so much time to respond to God.

When asked if there are things he’ll do differently after his decision, Mey said, “I feel like I’m changed now.”

Arrested my soul
During his message in the first session, Gage told the story of how his own life changed when he was a football coach in his 20’s. In the same vein as the Apostle Paul, Gage listed his religious qualifications:

“I was raised up in a Christian home. I was raised up in Bible-believing churches. My father, Freddie Gage, who preached the gospel for more than 50 years around the world, saw more than a million people come to know Christ. I had a very godly mother. I’ve been surrounded by great men of God all my life.

“I mean, if anybody should have been a champion for God, it should have been me.”

But he wasn’t. Gage told students how he had walked the aisle as a child, but repentance hadn’t taken root in his heart. “For nearly 18 years of my life, I professed to be a Christian because of what I did when I was eight years of age. And on top of that, my father’s Freddie Gage. And I did OK for a while, until I learned how to do bad.”

The only thing that set him apart from his classmates and teammates, Gage said, was his presence at church on Sunday—until he went away to college. Drifting farther from God, he finally found himself at a church service where a family friend preached on repentance.

“And God used that service and that message that night to reveal to my heart and my mind that I had never truly repented of my sin,” Gage told students. “And when the invitation time was given there that night…the Holy Spirit of God that night arrested my soul.”

At Youth Encounter 2014, hundreds heard a similar message—and responded. Standing near the stage on the conference’s last day, one young man asked if the group going backstage after the invitation was going for the same reason he had the day before, to repent.

With confidence, he said, “I did that yesterday.”

In 2015, Youth Encounter moves to three regional events, each held on Columbus Day Weekend, October 11-12. For more information, watch http://www.IBSA.org/students.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

doneenoughA report on a new LifeWay Research survey says what Martin Luther King, Jr., once said about Sunday morning in America is still true: “At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”

Released just before the national holiday in honor of King, the survey found more than 80% of churches are made up of one predominant racial group, but 67% of churchgoers say their church is doing enough to become ethnically diverse. And 53% disagree that their congregation needs to become more diverse.

“Surprisingly, most churchgoers are content with the ethnic status quo in their churches,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, in the research report by Bob Smietana. “In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are—and with whom they are.

“Yet, it’s hard for Christians to say they are united in Christ when they are congregating separately.”


In honor of MLK Day, ChurchLeaders.com gathered 25 of his “retweetable” quotes, starting with this one: “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or darkness of destructive selfishness.”


In the newest “Question and Ethics” podcast, Ethics and Religious Liberty President Russell Moore interviews actor David Oyelowo, who portrays Martin Luther King in a recently released movie. “…I think what you see in ‘Selma’ the film is not only was Dr. King a speaker of the word–we celebrate him as an orator–but he was a doer of it, and that’s the attribute I most admire in any Christian,” the actor says.


The U.S. Supreme Court said Jan. 16 it will soon hear arguments in an appeals court case concerning same-sex marriage. “Depending on the justices’ decision,” Baptist Press reports, “gay marriage could be legal throughout the country by the end of June or states could maintain their authority to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.”

Oral arguments about the appeals court decision, which concerns Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, are expected in March or April, BP reports, with a decision before the Court’s summer adjournment.


“I did not die. I did not go to heaven.” Christianity Today reports on that retraction by 16-year-old Alex Malarkey concerning his book “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven.”

Malarkey made his admission in a statement titled “An Open Letter to LifeWay and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven.” LifeWay Christian Resources–an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention–told The Christian Post they “are returning to the publisher the few copies we have in our stores.”

The Post also notes that during their annual meeting last June, Southern Baptists adopted a resolution reaffirming “the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell.”


Colton Burpo, whose account of heaven also became a bestselling book and later a feature film, said he stands by his story. The Christian Post reports Burpo took to his website to say, “”I know there has been a lot of talk about the truth of other Heaven stories in the past few days.

“I just wanted to take a second and let everyone know that I stand by my story found in my book Heaven is for Real.”


The Seattle Seahawks’ unbelievable comeback in the NFC championship game Jan. 18 brought quarterback Russell Wilson to tears in his post-game interview. Before and after the victory, Russell, who is vocal about his Christian faith, tweeted his thankfulness and praise to God. “My pursuit of exellence is to honor Jesus!” Wilson tweeted Saturday, with the hashtag #ItsAllAboutHim.

After the game, he posted a praise chorus by Lenny LeBlanc: “There is none like You! No one else can touch my heart like You do! I can search for all of eternity, but there is none like You!”

Students at AWSOM listen to Bible study leader Courtney Veasey.

Students at AWSOM listen to Bible study leader Courtney Veasey.

HEARTLAND | The girls from Anna Heights Baptist Church were pretty quiet after AWSOM, said their leader, Judy Halter.

“Whenever you’re raising the bar like that, I think the girls are going to get quiet.” Halter and two fellow leaders brought 14 girls to the annual conference for young women. (AWSOM stands for “Amazing Women Serving Our Maker.”)

“I think it’s all about discipleship,” she said. “It really is, and that was a great missions and discipleship conference.”

With a deep theme for 2014. The most recent AWSOM focused on “the battle for your mind” and found its biblical basis in 2 Corinthians 10:5, a verse that calls Christians to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

“The more I study about biblical womanhood and research current world issues impacting women, the root cause always begins in a person’s thoughts,” said Carmen Halsey, IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and missions. “This year’s theme was intended to be a proactive stance in educating our young women and their leaders about the power of our thoughts, and the need to discover the Word and plant it deep inside, so that the Holy Spirit is armed and ready to do war.”

Planting the Word was main speaker Courtney Veasey’s role at AWSOM. The director of women’s academic programs at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary taught on the conference theme passage and others from the Bible, urging the girls toward victory in the battle, and a deeper dependence on God’s Word. AWSOM attendees also sat in on a variety of breakout sessions:

  • Dr. Olivia Johnson, a former police officer with a doctorate in criminal justice, talked the girls through a series of potentially dangerous situations they could face in the real world, training them on how to think through each situation and make smart choices.
  • Mother/daughter pair Amy and Amanda Neibel educated the students on human trafficking prevention. The Neibels are part of a leadership team established to raise awareness among Illinois women and churches about human trafficking.
  • Brenda Sommer, a licensed clinical professional counselor, taught on the role of Christian counseling and how girls can speak truth into the lives of friends who are struggling.
  • Halter cited Renee Smith’s session on CrossFit as one moment when things weren’t so quiet. Smith, a pastor’s wife from Mt. Zion, demonstrated easy exercises and gave tips for developing a healthy selfimage.

This year’s AWSOM conference is scheduled for November 6-7 in Springfield. For more information about upcoming opportunities for women and girls, go to http://www.IBSA.org/womensmissions.

Editor’s note: This piece is reprinted from Baptist Press (BPNews.net). Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is January 18. For resources, go to ERLC.com/life.

COMMENTARY | The claim of some pro-choice groups that Scripture does not address abortion would have surprised both Jews and Christians living in the first century. That’s because they were virtually unanimous that the Bible implicitly—though clearly—prohibited the killing of unborn children.

David_Roach_calloutAbortion advocates today tend either to deny this fact or remain gladly ignorant of it. For example, Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, issued a “pastoral letter to patients” last spring stating, “Many people wrongly assume that all religious leaders disapprove of abortion. The truth is that abortion is not even mentioned in the Scriptures—Jewish or Christian—and there are clergy and people of faith from all denominations who support women making this complex decision.”

Of course, the Bible does not contain the direct commandment, “Thou shalt not have an abortion.” But based on passages like Psalm 139:14-16, Jeremiah 1:4-5, Amos 1:13 and others, ancient Jews and Christians believed it was clear that God cared for the unborn and regarded abortion as a sin.

Some may be surprised to learn that abortion existed more than 2,000 years ago, with surgical and chemical abortions performed in pagan cultures hundreds of years before Christ’s birth. The Greeks were among the first Ancient Near Eastern people to permit abortion, with Plato arguing in “The Republic” that pregnant women over 40 should be required to have abortions. In contrast to pagan cultures, Judaism emphasized the value of unborn and pre-born life dating back at least to the time of Moses, when God’s people protected infant males from being slaughtered at birth as Pharaoh ordered (Exodus 1:15-21).

In fact, some scholars believe Pharaoh’s command to kill Hebrew boys “on the birthstool” (Exodus 1:16) was actually a command to commit partial birth abortion, with “birth stool” functioning as a Hebrew euphemism for “birth canal.”

Either way, the Jewish culture of life was evident, and the Jews of Jesus’ time expressed their anti-abortion convictions. The Jewish work Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, written between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50, taught that “a woman should not destroy the unborn in her belly.” First Enoch, which was written in the first or second century B.C., said it was evil to “smash the embryo in the womb.”

Josephus, a Jewish historian born in A.D. 37, summarized, “The Law orders all offspring to be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the fetus.”

Early Christians agreed. The Didache, a first-century document that some church fathers argued should have been included in the New Testament, taught, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.” Another Christian writing considered for inclusion in the New Testament, the Epistle of Barnabas, said, “You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide.” Both of these documents were read aloud in some churches.

When Spanish bishops convened a council in approximately 305 in the city of Elvira, they voted unanimously to decree eternal excommunication for women who had abortions—a decision that reflected their just condemnation of the practice though it failed to reflect the biblical promise of forgiveness to post-abortive women who confess their sin and trust Christ as their Lord and Savior.

“If a woman conceives in adultery and then has an abortion, she may not commune again…because she has sinned twice,” the council decreed.

Among other early church leaders whose writings condemned abortion explicitly were Tertullian (c. 150-c. 229), Clement of Alexandria (c. 153-c. 215), Basil of Caesarea (c. 329-379), Jerome (c. 347-419) and John Chrysostom (c. 349-407).

Perhaps one reason the New Testament writers did not address abortion was that they did not need to. For the first 500 years of Christianity, there was a strong and practically unanimous consensus among believers that terminating a pregnancy violated Scripture’s doctrine of the sanctity of human life.

A thousand years later, John Calvin demonstrated that the Christian tradition of opposing abortion was still alive and well. Commenting on Exodus 21:22-23, Calvin wrote, “The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”

In the strictest sense, abortion advocates are correct: The Bible does not speak explicitly to abortion. But that should not leave believers in a state of moral confusion any more than the Bible’s failure to explicitly address money laundering or internet pornography. For more than 2,000 years, the Lord’s followers have extrapolated from biblical principles that some behaviors are obviously sinful. The united witness of Jews and Christians regarding abortion is a case in point.

Basil, Jerome, Chrysostom, Calvin and a host of other believers from every nation, tribe, people and tongue would scoff at the claim that Scripture is silent and that God’s people historically have been divided regarding abortion.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.