Eric_Reed COMMENTARY | Eric Reed

With one week left in Pastor Appreciation Month, you may be wondering how to appreciate your pastor. What does he need? Or want?

Not a Bible. He has many Bibles on his shelves, and hundreds more on his phone.

Not a painting of Jesus, and certainly not on black velvet.

Maybe a suit, if only for funerals, but let him pick his own.

Not a trip. As a church member, I once gave a pastor and his family a gift certificate for a getaway weekend. The smile on his face said, “I’d rather have cash.”

As a pastor, the remembrances that blessed me most (in addition to the occasional love offering) were handwritten cards and letters. Once while I was on vacation, a deacon had the congregation fill a three-ring binder with thank-you notes. And another time, as the children’s classes presented me with a three-foot tall card they had drawn, a young woman in the choir loft exclaimed, “He’s gonna cry!” I did.

Ted Traylor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, told a story that still chokes me up. Many years ago during a stormy season in his ministry, Traylor arrived home one night to find three deacons sitting on the curb. “Oh, no,” he thought. “Here it comes.”

“Pastor, remember when you preached on the mighty men of David?” one of them said, “How when David longed for water from home, they snuck across the battle lines and brought it to him?”

Traylor nodded.

“Well, we went to your hometown today and we talked with your parents.” It was a twelve-hour round trip.

The pastor was astonished to learn they had brought him a sapling native to North Alabama to remind him of home, even as he served hundreds of miles away. They fetched a jar of water from the clear mountain springs to remind him of the living water of Christ. And they delivered two large stones from the hillside ledge where as a teenager Traylor was called by God to the ministry. The men instructed him to place the rocks in his own garden and whenever he felt unsure of himself or his calling, to stand on them as a reminder that he stands on the Rock.

And the three mighty men pledged their personal support of their pastor and his ministry, whenever and wherever he needed them, “unless you do something illegal, immoral, or unethical—then we’ll take you out ourselves,” he remembered, smiling.

That’s what pastors want.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist and IBSA’s associate executive director, Church Communications team.

Religious liberty advocates say city still asking too much

THE BRIEFING | Subpoenas requiring pastors to turn over their sermons are a violation of their First Amendment rights, religious freedom advocates argued in the wake of action by the Houston’s mayor and city attorney.

The five subpoenaed ministers had been part of an effort to repeal Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), adopted by the city council in May. The subpoenas are for a lawsuit brought by ordinance opponents, who collected thousands of signatures on a petition to repeal HERO. But the city disqualified enough of the signatures to prevent a vote, Tom Strode and Bonnie Pritchett reported for Baptist Press.

On Friday, Oct. 17, Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman removed “sermons” from the subpoenaed materials, which also include text messages, e-mails, speeches and presentations related to the ordinance, the referendum to overturn it, Mayor Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.

The removal of the word “sermons” isn’t enough, said the attorneys representing the pastors. And Mayor Parker “acknowledged the new subpoenas do not explicitly preclude sermons from being produced,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

After the initial subpoenas, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called Christians to support the five ministers by using the Twitter hashtag #4Houston5. The Southern Baptist agency also encouraged pastors everywhere to send their sermons on marriage and sexuality to Mayor Parker.

“A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque, or any other place of worship,” blogged ERLC President Russell Moore.

“…The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever.”

Pastors participate in month-long Pulpit Freedom Sunday emphasis
Hundreds of pastors so far have participated in an annual effort to encourage free speech in church pulpits, even if that expression is about politics. Alliance Defending Freedom, who sponsors Pulpit Freedom Sunday, reported on their website Oct. 10 that 1,517 pastors had “preached sermons presenting biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates and signed a statement agreeing that the IRS should not control the content of a pastor’s sermon.” Additionally, 242 pastors signed the statement only. The campaign began Oct. 5 and extends through Election Day (Nov. 4).

Christianity Today noted that on that before this year’s emphasis began, Pew Research reported  49% of Americans say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on day-to-day social and political questions.

Leaders may return to Mars Hill after Driscoll’s resignation
Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Oct. 14 resignation after 18 years at Mars Hill Church could result in the return of leaders who previously had left the church and Driscoll’s leadership, The Christian Post and other media sources have reported. Former worship coordinator Kevin Potts told KING5 News: “A faith in Christ is a faith in redemption and healing, and if we’re not willing to put that foot forward and say, “I will help with that,” what right do we have to call ourselves followers of Christ?”

Driscoll had been on a leave of absence since August amid charges of anger and unbiblical leadership. Following his resignation, Mars Hill’s Board of Overseers released a statement saying Driscoll had not been asked to resign and that they were “surprised” to receive his resignation.

Bishops’ final report reflects controversy, differences of opinion
After a meeting of Catholic bishops seemed to point to a drastic shift in the Church’s teaching on same-sex lifestyles and relationships, the group’s final report showed the most controversial topics are still unresolved, Catholic News Service reported. The Oct. 13 mid-term report from the Synod of Bishops on the family included a section titled “Welcoming homosexual persons,” and pondered whether Catholic churches could accept and value same-sex lifestyles, “without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.”

That section of the synod’s final report, released Oct. 18, was amended by the bishops, according to CNS, but still failed to receive the super majority usually needed for approval, along with two paragraphs on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. The Church will hold a world synod on the family in 2015.

Hillsong pastor addresses same-sex marriage views
Pastor Brian Houston sparked controversy when he didn’t clearly define his church’s stance on same-sex marriage at a press conference last week. Now, the pastor of Hillsong Church is clarifying his views, reported The Christian Post. “Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage,” Houston said in a statement. “I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

I was sitting relaxed in our local movie theater, enjoying a bag of popcorn. Our kids were settled in next to their mom and me, excited to see “Jonah,” the first feature-length, animated movie by VeggieTales.

Nate_Adams_callout_Oct20Of course Jonah (played by Archibald Asparagus in this case) is the story of the reluctant prophet who did not want to deliver the message of God’s impending judgment and the need for repentance to the people of Nineveh. To set up the telling of the Old Testament story, a conversation takes place between “Junior” (Asparagus) and some amusing characters known as “the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything,” about the importance of compassion.

“Compassion is when you see that someone needs help, and you want to help them,” the pirate captain tells Junior. He then goes on to tell about the time they took Jonah on a voyage.

In the middle of this delightful cartoon movie, however, there was a serious “aha” moment for me. The pirates begin by talking with Junior about the compassion that Jonah lacked, and then they move on to talking about mercy, which God wanted to give to the people of Nineveh. “Mercy is when you give someone a second chance, even when they don’t deserve it,” the pirate explains.

A little confused, Junior asks whether the story is about compassion or about mercy. The pirate’s profound answer still penetrates my heart: “You can’t have mercy without compassion.”

I realized in that animated moment that the reason I don’t show mercy more often is that I don’t really have compassion. The reason I don’t share Christ more often is that I don’t really care about the lost people I see. And the reason I don’t really experience revival in my own heart is that I don’t really want to admit my own sin.

In other words, there is a deep place in me where truly transformational things take place. Not only do I rarely allow the Holy Spirit to go there, I rarely go there myself, or even admit that it exists. It’s the place where my self still rules my life. It’s the place where, deep down, regardless of my words or reputation, I know what I want. Maybe I do the right thing out of duty sometimes, even most of the time. But I do it without the right motive, without it being from the heart of Jesus in me.

That’s the place I need to go for revival. It’s the place where I can expose the deepest part of me to the deepest reach of God’s transforming power. It’s where, perhaps reluctantly, even fearfully, I can admit my own motives and desires, and with trembling hands give them up to God for His Lordship and control, whatever the cost.

I have often heard it said that, for each of us, revival must begin in “me,” that I should draw a circle around myself and ask God to bring revival there before I can expect Him to bring it anywhere else. I guess that silly, profound movie just helped me see where the bull’s eye of that circle must be.

In just a few days, hundreds of us from churches all over the state will gather in Springfield for the 2014 IBSA Annual Meeting. Whether you are able to attend or not, would you join me, both in your prayers for revival among our churches, and also in drawing that circle around “me” that asks God to begin revival there?

Near the close of the VeggieTales movie, Junior notes that Jonah still seems to lack compassion, and asks the pirates what Jonah really learned. The pirate replies, “The question is not what did Jonah learn, but what did you learn?” May we each learn to expose to God that deep place in our hearts where revival can truly begin.

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

Kevin Smith (left) and Jill Finley (right) joined local ministry specialists including IBSA's Sylvan Knobloch (center) for the Elevate Marriage conference Oct. 16 in Springfield.

Kevin Smith (left) and Jill Finley (right) joined local ministry specialists including IBSA’s Sylvan Knobloch (center) for the Elevate Marriage conference Oct. 16 in Springfield.

NEWS | Preachers don’t have to make the Word of God relevant, said Kevin Smith, a pastor and professor in Louisville, Ky. “The teaching of Scripture is relevant. But we must teach Scripture.”

In practicing the prophetic role of the pulpit as it relates to biblical marriage and sexuality, pastors need to preach systematically the whole of Scripture, including its teachings on those topics, Smith said during the “Elevate Marriage” conference held Oct. 16 in Springfield, Ill.

Pastors and church leaders gathered at the Illinois Baptist State Association to hear from national and local experts, including Smith, Jill Finley, women’s ministry director from Bethel Baptist Church in Troy, and Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. IBSA sponsored the one-day conference to help leaders navigate the shifting marriage culture in Illinois and nationwide.

Illinois’ state legislature legalized same-sex marriage last November, and unions officially began in June. The U.S. Supreme Court decided this month to let stand lower-court rulings on marriage. Their action plus a subsequent appeals court decision means a total of 35 states could soon have legal same-sex marriage.

But the wave of support for same-sex marriage isn’t the only cultural shift threatening biblical marriage. It is a symptom of the decline of marriage, Walker told conference attenders in a video message, not the cause. The ERLC’s director of policy studies urged church leaders to be “happy warriors” in defending biblical marriage. “To speak the truth as we’re called to do, is to do so in love,” he said.

Ministry specialists from the Illinois Baptist State Association also were on hand to update churches on constructing their bylaws and membership policies in ways that protect marriage, and preaching on the topic in a way that elevates it. The process, said IBSA’s Mark Emerson, starts at home.

“Before we can elevate marriage in the church, we have to elevate our own marriage. We have to take a look at our own life.” Tim Sadler, IBSA’s director of evangelism, followed Emerson with four tips for preachers preaching on marriage:

1. Preach the truth of God’s word as a sinner/saint,
2. Preach biblical marriage, instead of “traditional” marriage,
3. Root your theology of marriage in creation, and
4. Understand and preach the role of Christian marriage in evangelism.

“Christian marriage done properly is a picture of how Christ loves the church and sacrificially gave himself for her,” Sadler said, referencing the apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians. “So, in our preaching we need to elevate biblical marriage and the living out of biblical marriage before a watching world, because it is only in biblical marriage, marriage done rightly, that the watching world gets a beautiful picture of how Christ loves the church.

“And any time we mar the picture, then we convolute the picture the world has of how Christ loves the church and is in relationship with the church.”

Look for more on on the “Elevate Marriage” conference in the next issue of the Illinois Baptist, and watch for videos of presentations by Kevin Smith and Jill Finley on www.e-quip.net, IBSA’s online training resource. Go to www.Vimeo.org/IBSA.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The Supreme Court’s decision Oct. 6 to let stand lower-court rulings on same-sex marriage combined with a subsequent appeals court ruling could mean 35 states will soon have legal same-sex marriage, Baptist Press reported.

The effort to “redefine marriage is perhaps the fastest, most effective social change in our nation’s history,” said Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “The furthered erosion or deinstitutionalization of marriage that comes by redefining it will re-wire or re-circuit how we understand family arrangements.”

The_BriefingBefore the courts’ rulings, 19 states allowed same-sex marriage, including Illinois. The Supreme Court’s action legalized same-sex unions in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Utah, and put Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming on the same path. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down laws marriage laws in Idaho and Nevada on Oct. 7, a decision that will likely affect Alaska, Arizona and Montana.

Walker will be part of this week’s “Elevate Marriage” conference at the Illinois Baptist State Association in Springfield, Ill. For more information and to register, go to www.IBSA.org/Marriage.

Hong Kong protestors include Christians
Some churches in Hong Kong are supporting protestors in the city this week, Christianity Today reports, and some Christians are actively objecting to the Chinese government’s control over Hong Kong’s 2017 election. CT and other media outlets explain how tensions between China’s Communist government and a growing church movement could be at the root of the protests.

Ebola survivor urges greater response
“…The reality on the ground in West Africa is worse than the worst report you’ve seen,” Dr. Kent Brantley told an audience at Abilene Christian University this month. Brantley, the missionary doctor who contracted Ebola and was successfully treated in the U.S., expressed sympathy for the family of now-deceased Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, The Christian Post reported. He also urged listeners to avoid panic. “Let’s stop talking about that highly improbable thing and focus on saving people’s lives and stopping the outbreak where it is.”

YouVersion reaches 1,030 versions, 721 languages
A Bible app developed by a media-savvy Oklahoma church is now available in 1,030 versions and 721 languages. And counting. A ticker on YouVersion.com tracks key metrics like versions, languages and installs—currently at more than 156 million. The app, developed by Lifechurch.tv’s Bobby Gruenewald, reached the 1,000-version mark earlier this month, but there are still more than 1,800 languages that do not have a Bible translation in progress, according to YouVersion.

Care line offers help for pastors
A new telephone care line opened Oct. 1 for pastors dealing with crises in their personal lives, families, or congregations. 1-844-PASTOR1 is co-sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Focus on the Family. “Because [pastors] have always been there for others, it’s our privilege to be there for them,” said Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, in a NAMB article about the care line. Workers from the ministry’s Family Help Center answer the confidential calls, pray with pastors, and refer the call to a counseling team as needed. The care line, open weekdays between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern time, offers help in English and Spanish.

“The more our lives are devoted to spreading this gospel,” said David Platt at an October meeting near St. Louis, “…do we really think that our adversary and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are going to sit back and just watch that take place?"

“The more our lives are devoted to spreading this gospel,” said David Platt at an October meeting near St. Louis, “…do we really think that our adversary and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are going to sit back and just watch that take place?”

NEWS | Meredith Flynn

Arnold, Mo. | Voice crackling with intensity, David Platt painted a picture of the current status of the gospel: With seven billion people in the world, even the most liberal estimates leave 4 or 5 billion who do not know Christ. And a couple billion of those have never even heard the gospel, added the recently elected president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

“If that’s true in the world…then we don’t have time to play games in the church,” he told the crowd gathered at First Baptist Church in Arnold, south of St. Louis.

“We don’t have time to waste our lives on a nice, casual, comfortable, cultural version of Christianity. Because, number one, that’s not Christianity. Number two, God’s created us for something so much greater than that.”

Hundreds of people gathered Oct. 6 for the St. Louis-area stop of the Send North America Experience Tour. The two-hour service, facilitated by the North American Mission Board, was part of a multi-city effort leading up to the national Send North America Conference in August 2015.

Worshipers of all ages stood and sang before Platt came to the podium. He started his message with the bleak reality of billions of people who don’t know Christ. Then, he preached better news from the Book of Acts. Reading from the end of chapter 7 through the beginning of 8, he told the audience that it’s “ordinary people” through whom the gospel is spread.

In a part of northern India known as a spiritual graveyard, Platt said, a chicken farmer and a school superintendent attended a disciple-making training session where they were assigned to go out into the villages and ask how they could pray for the people there. The two men didn’t expect success, Platt said, but they went anyway. Near the end of their time in the village, they met a man who said he had heard about Jesus, and wanted to know more. The man went to get his family so that they could hear the good news too. Around 20 people in the village came to Christ. A few years later, there are 350 churches in villages in that part of India.

“Let’s put aside an unhealthy dependence on places and programs and realize that the gospel in ordinary people has power,” Platt said. But it’s not their own power. The extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit was at work in Acts and is still at work in Christians today, and through that it, believers proclaim the gospel, Platt said.

Many believers say they witness through their lives, by being kind. “Hopefully, that’s a given,” he said, as the audience laughed. “Nobody gets on a witness stand and smiles. They speak. They testify. And this is why the spirit is in us, that we might speak the gospel.”

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, early disciples also prayed and fasted, he continued. And they suffered.

“How will we ever show the world a proper, clear picture of Jesus if everything always goes right for us?” Platt asked. Suffering makes sense in the life of a believer.

“If our lives are on the front lines making the gospel known in our communities and cities and to the ends of the earth, we can expect to be met with the full force of hell.”

Alan and Jean Lasley sat three rows from the front of the auditorium with their pastor and his wife and another couple from First Baptist Church in Red Bud. Platt’s simple delivery was the thing he would take away from the evening, Alan said.

“Just be more intent on telling others about Jesus,” Jean said of what she had heard. A simple message for sure, and clear. As Platt concluded his message, he appealed to every ordinary disciple in the room.

“In a world and a time and a place where God has put us, in a city where God has put you, let’s say we consider our lives worth nothing to us if only we may finish this race and complete this task the Lord Jesus has given us.

“Ordinary people in this room, every single follower of Christ with extraordinary power….wherever God leads you, whether he leaves you here the rest of your life, or sends you to people who’ve never heard the gospel. Testify. Preach. Pray. Give. Even suffer, for the spread of this gospel, to the ends of the earth.”

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

Gary Watson works on a carpentry project outside Light of Christ in East St. Louis, where a group of Illinois Campers on Mission served for a week in August.

Gary Watson works on a carpentry project outside Light of Christ in East St. Louis, where a group of Illinois Campers on Mission served for a week in August.

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

The three-year-old sleeping in Leroy Burnett’s lap hardly stirred as he talked at a lunch table at Light of Christ Church. Burnett and his wife are in East St. Louis with their fellow Campers on Mission to work on a variety of projects in this hulking building on the corner of Cleveland Avenue and 16th Street. But during lunch, Pastor Barnicio Cureton’s daughter, Chloe, has found a comfortable spot for a nap.

“You’ve got your work cut out for you,” Irma Burnett told her husband.

Leroy Burnett adds “LOCC” lettering to the outside of the church’s building.

Leroy Burnett adds “LOCC”
lettering to the outside of the church’s building.

It’s a far cry from what Burnett was doing a few hours ago—affixing new lettering above an entryway in the church’s courtyard. The Campers came here ready to fix an electrical issue in the kitchen, add new signage outside and inside the building, pour a sidewalk to the parking lot, and complete various other projects. Plus, prepare all their meals and drive back and forth every day from the Collinsville church where they’re parked for the week.

“There’s no way this group of old people can get this done,” said Jan Kragness, who, with her husband, Don, is a regular volunteer with the Campers. “But one way or another…”

Judging from the projects they took on here, it does indeed “get done.”

They show up
Campers on Mission got its start in Illinois in 1975, when charter members formed the state’s chapter of a national Southern Baptist fellowship of campers. Irma Burnett’s parents were involved from the beginning, and Leroy traveled with them to projects during the 1980’s. The Burnetts, who are members of First Baptist Church in Morton, have been steady participants with the Campers since 2002, Leroy said.

Lois Dodson and Karen Watson clean up after lunch at Light of Christ Church.

Lois Dodson and Karen Watson clean up after lunch at Light of Christ Church.

The group, comprised of volunteers from around the state, hold annual work weeks at the Baptist Children’s Home in Carmi and IBSA’s camps in northern and southern Illinois. Usually, they’re at Streator in the spring and Lake Sallateeska in the fall. But due to a scheduling change this year, the Campers worked at the southern Illinois camp last October and this April, meaning they played a key role in Sallateeska’s extensive renovation campaign.

“During those two trips, they helped tear down the old camp store and game room; they helped frame a front porch on the dining hall; they helped insulate the new dining area; and helped put some of the log siding on,” said Camp Manager Philip Hall.

“Overall, they’ve been a phenomenal help for us in our ministry here over the past year.”

The Campers also help local churches with building or improvement projects, like this one at Light of Christ. Earlier this year, they installed siding at Beaucoup Baptist Church in Pinckneyville. “Usually all we ask is a place to park our camper, have water and electricity,” said Leroy Burnett, who serves as the group’s project coordinator.

The group generally works from April to September, while the weather is RV-friendly. But bringing a camper isn’t a requirement; churches often allow the volunteers to use their facilities while they serve there or nearby. Most of the volunteers are retired, but not everyone. The official roll of 30 to 40 Campers on Mission includes two bivocational pastors and a married couple in their 20s, Burnett said.

When Gary and Karen Watson were first exploring what they would need to do to join Campers on Mission, the response was, “Just show up,” Karen remembered. Standing in the gym at the church, she talked about the group’s camaraderie, which she experienced first-hand after her open heart surgery last year. The Campers were among the first to minister to her family after the surgery, Watson said. “That gives me goose bumps.”

Later on this afternoon in East St. Louis, Watson goes on a back-to-school shopping trip for two boys living at the homeless shelter housed at the church. A few weeks later, she and Gary helped deliver bunk beds for the boys, who were sharing a twin bed.

Whatever it takes to share the light of Christ.