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

New beginnings

Lisa Misner —  April 22, 2019 — Leave a comment

Streator churches merge for the sake of their town

By Andrew Woodrow

New Start

The members of two Streator churches credit God with uniting their congregations under a new name: New Beginnings.

When Mike Young first laid eyes on Streator in 2016, he saw a small prairie town in the midst of vast farmland. But he also saw a community in great need of the gospel. Young, who moved to town to manage IBSA’s northern Illinois camp facility, soon discovered that much of Streator was still unchurched. He started praying God would raise up a church to fill that void.

Mike Young

Mike Young

When Young started looking for a church to join, there was one that caught his eye every time he’d go into town. “I would pass a church right on the edge of town called Calvary Baptist,” he said. “The building looked rough, and there were bushes growing all around it. It just looked like it was closing down.” Many people in town confirmed what Young had thought—that the church was on its way out.

Still, every time he passed Calvary, something kept tugging at his heart.
Struggling churches

“Calvary Baptist Church was a long-standing church in the community,” said Mike Blakemore. “It goes way back into the ‘50s, I believe.”

Blakemore and his wife started attending Calvary in the early 2000s; he eventually became an elder. “It was a great church, great pastor, great fellowship,” Blakemore said. But after their pastor retired, “that’s when the struggle began.”

The Southern Baptist church went through a series of interims and people just to fill the pulpit, and Calvary’s numbers started dwindling. Soon, wear-and-tear to the church’s building became evident, with mold growing inside the walls and roof.

By the end of 2015, with finances running low and numbers still dropping, the auditorium ceiling caved in after a severe hailstorm. “After much prayer and a lot of discussion, we decided to vacate the building,” Blakemore said.

A few miles away, Streator’s First Baptist Church had its own problems. The Conservative Baptist church was founded not long after Streator was incorporated in 1868. Longtime member Linda Abbot speaks fondly of her church. “I have a great, great grandfather who helped start this church,” she said. “My mother was part of this church. And when I was born, I was brought into it as well. I’ve been here ever since.”

At 13, she dedicated her life to Christ at the church. She brought her childhood sweetheart, Ken, to First Baptist where he, too, came to know Christ and eventually became an elder. The Abbots married at First Baptist and have raised their own children there.

“But in the years that we had been coming here,” Linda Abbot said, “we noticed the numbers steadily declining. And we could just see things falling apart.”
The numbers continued to decline until they were down to almost 20 people, forcing the once large church to close down its main building and move worship into the fellowship hall, a stand-alone, neighboring building.

The move was made to sustain the church, Ken Abbot said, with the knowledge that if finances dwindled to a certain level, the church would dissolve and its Conservative Baptist denomination would take over the building.

Meanwhile, Calvary sat empty for almost a year while worshipers met in homes or rented spaces, praying all the while for direction. “We had just been going from place to place, and the fear that came along with that is, how long is this going to work?” said deacon Mark Martin.

But, he added, the church’s predicament drove them closer to God. “And that’s what it did to everybody that was involved,” Martin said. “Because God doesn’t bring about situations like these to drive you away from him. There might be problems, but they are meant to bring you closer to the Lord.”

Still, the uncertainty was unnerving. After months of worshipping in different places, Calvary gathered for a prayer meeting in a home one Wednesday afternoon, bringing their future and their tattered building to the Lord.

Moving forward

“From the very beginning, once we stacked hands and were ready to move forward with the merger, we very purposefully decided this was going to work,” Calvary Baptist elder Mike Blakemore (center) said of the union between his church and another in their town.

Answered prayer
It was that same Wednesday afternoon when Mike Young, unable to shake the tugging in his heart, decided to finally investigate the rundown church building on the edge of town. He pulled into the church’s parking lot, found a phone number on the door, and called. “I explained who I was and asked if there was anything I could do. I thought maybe they would need help with their building. I could help with that,” said Young, who has facilitated extensive renovations at the camp.

“Right then, they stopped that prayer meeting and they answered the phone,” Young said. “They didn’t have a pastor, they didn’t have a building, but they still had that core group of people.”

The group eventually called Young to serve as interim pastor, sparking a new beginning that would soon include First Baptist. That church was still without a pastor, and wondering what to do with their building. That’s when they heard about Calvary.

“When we heard that Calvary’s roof caved in and they were without a building,” Ken Abbott said, “we started praying for them. And while we didn’t know it at the time, they, in turn, started praying for us too because of our situation.”

“It was a challenging year for all of us,” said Tim Walter, an elder at First Baptist. He and Abbot extended an invitation to Calvary to worship with them.

“We were two churches in need of each other,” Walter said. “They needed a church home. And we had facilities, but we weren’t using them because our building was pretty much all closed up.”

Calvary accepted the invitation, and the two churches held a worship service in First Baptist’s fellowship hall in January 2017. “Over time as we met,” Young said, “worshipping together became so sweet, and the fellowship was just excellent.”

At first, each church collected their own offerings and maintained separate prayer lists and bulletins. Church meetings were held in separate rooms. After a couple months of worshipping together, each church wanted a more long-term plan, and eventually took separate votes on whether to merge. The votes were unanimous—both churches were fully in favor.

Reaching

Pastor Aaron Jackson and his church are on a mission to proclaim Christ to their community.

Prayer, love, and willing hearts
Despite apprehension on each side that the other would want them to conform to their traditions, Blakemore said each church put aside their wants and traditions, focusing instead on God’s desire and Streator’s need for a thriving church.

Some described the experience as a marriage, with two parties making sacrifices toward a greater good. “When both churches came together, each naturally had their own tradition,” Young said. “But like any marriage, you have to give and take. And the two were willing to do that. They were willing to rely on God and trust him for the results. That is the most important part.”

“We had to come together as a new beginning,” Walter said. “The past is gone; First Baptist had to cease, and Calvary had to cease. As Dr. Dan Eddington told us, we had to have two funerals and a wedding for this to work.”

Both churches credit Young and Eddington, director of missions for Three Rivers Baptist Association, for guiding them through the merger. But overall, it was God, through prayer, that gave the churches their success.

“We had to bathe the entire process in prayer,” Blakemore said.

The Abbotts agreed. “From the beginning we were praying for Calvary and, without us even knowing, they were praying for us,” Linda said.

In September 2017, the two churches officially constituted as one, with a new name: New Beginnings Baptist Church. The church affiliated with IBSA last November.

“It’s new beginnings in a lot of different ways,” Martin said. “Not only is it a name for two churches coming together and a new start for a ministry, but it’s a new beginning for a work in Streator, as well as a new beginning to the lost who come here.”

Mike Young continued as interim pastor until the church was able to hire their first full-time pastor. Aaron Jackson has been serving as pastor almost a full year. “We’re already seeing what God is doing through ministries here at New Beginnings,” he said. “This is a very unchurched area and we’re doing as much as we can to get involved in the community.”

The church has moved back into the main building and has seen significant growth. They’re reaching out to Streator through multiple ministries. Walter describes the church as a family with a singular focus on Christ. “What is our mission? To preach the gospel and to proclaim Christ to a lost world. That is why we exist. And that’s our direction for the church: so that everything we do is to glorify him.”

Andrew Woodrow

By Eric Reed

Garden of Gethsemane.Jerusalem

Garden of Gethsemane.Thousand-year olive trees, JerusalemPassing through Gethsemane

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. 

Briefing

ERLC voices hope and concern in AI statement
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission unveiled April 11 an evangelical Christian statement on artificial intelligence, expressing both hope and concern regarding the emerging technology. The new statement is designed to help the church think about and engage AI from a biblical perspective. ERLC President Russell Moore said, “What this statement does is to say artificial intelligence is an aspect of creativity and technology that will bring with it many, many good things…. At the same time, we have very real and pressing moral and spiritual questions about the use of AI, the temptation to outsource moral decisions to algorithms, but also what happens when we lose a vision of what humanity actually is.” The statement is available here.

Ohio governor signs heartbeat bill
On April 11, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law a bill protecting unborn babies from abortion from the moment they have a detectable heartbeat – usually around six weeks of gestation. The law passed in both the House and Senate and penalizes anyone performing an abortion on an unborn baby with a detectable heartbeat. North Dakota and Arkansas have also passed heartbeat bills, but federal courts ruled them unconstitutional.

Korea legalizes abortion
In South Korea, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled April 11 that abortion must be legalized by 2020. This comes after a 65-year-old ban the country had on abortion. The ban will remain until the new law is passed. Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, lamented the ruling as the adoption of an erroneous “Western Neo-colonialist notion” that abortion is a woman’s right. “It is a setback for human rights, and a tragedy for those South Koreans whose lives will be lost,” Foster said

Hong Kong pastor facing prison, preaches to courtroom
A Baptist pastor in Hong Kong turned the stands of a Hong Kong courtroom into his pulpit. Chu Yiu-ming, pastor of Chai Wan Baptist Church, quoted Scripture and called for justice in the name of God, after he and eight other activists were convicted April 9 for crimes related to their involvement with pro-democracy protests. “In the words of Jesus, ‘Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; The Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!’” Chu said.

Intercountry adoption hits a new low
The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. families plunged again last year, according to an annual report by the U.S. State Department released in March. Intercountry adoptions declined by 14 percent, from 4,714 children in 2017 to 4,059 in 2018. The 2018 number is down 82 percent from a high of more than 22,000 in 2004.

Sources: Baptist Press (3), Christianity Today, World

Former SBC president to head Executive Committee

By Meredith Flynn

Ronnie Floyd BP

When Ronnie Floyd began his tenure as president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee this month, he immediately became a key piece of how the denomination will respond to major challenges: preventing sexual abuse in churches and caring for survivors; building leadership that reflects the diversity of Southern Baptist churches; and reigniting a passion for evangelism amid years of declining baptisms and church membership.

The search team that nominated Floyd, 63, chose him because of his decades of leadership and his vision for the SBC. They’re counting on the longtime pastor’s experience to help the SBC navigate challenges, now and in the future.

“We needed a proven leader,” said Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and president of IBSA. Robinson, who also serves as one of Illinois’ two representatives on the Executive Committee, was vice chairman of the search committee. He noted Floyd’s decades of pastoring a vibrant, baptizing, church-planting church.“That type of sustained leadership of a healthy ministry said a lot about his leadership capacity.”

Floyd, who was elected April 2 by a vote of 68-1, pastored Cross Church in northwest Arkansas for 33 years. He is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2014-2016), and also chaired the Great Commission Task Force (2009-2010) and the Executive Committee (1995-1997). He succeeds Frank Page as head of the Executive Committee. Page resigned in March 2018 after confessing a morally inappropriate relationship.

The search team believed Floyd’s experience is needed now, Robinson said, as the SBC addresses sexual abuse and tries to help churches care well for victims and prevent future incidences. A February report in the Houston Chronicle detailed hundreds of cases of sexual abuse involving Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers.

“It’s ungodly, it’s sinful, it’s criminal and obviously we would be against it,” Floyd said during post-election meetings with various Baptist leaders and groups. “But how we get to the common path of what we do, that has become the issue.”

In February, the Executive Committee approved an amendment to the SBC Constitution that would designate churches that exhibit indifference toward sexual abuse to be not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. To become part of the Constitution, messengers to the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings must approve the ammendment by a two-thirds majority.

In a Facebook Live session following his election, Floyd said Southern Baptists seem poised to unite at the 2019 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., and make “as declarative a statement as we can make to our culture about what we believe about this issue” of sexual abuse.

‘Balanced bullpen’
Floyd’s experience as an SBC leader and megachurch pastor made his nomination unsurprising to many discussing the nearly year-long process online. But the men tapped to fill recent leadership posts are Gen X-ers, and some are associated with more Reformed theology. Floyd is neither, which Robinson said should give the SBC a “balanced bullpen” of leadership.

“I think it’s good to have a diversity of leadership styles: Reformed, traditional, Calvinist, and non-Calvinist, and we all need to work together for the glory of God.”

At a press conference following his election, Floyd acknowledged his years of experience in his response to a question, posed by the Illinois Baptist, about the generational differences between him and other current leaders. “The search committee felt they needed a seasoned leader for such a time as this in Southern Baptist life,” Floyd said.

At this time, only two of five key vacancies in SBC leadership remain unfilled. Paul Chitwood, 46, was named president of the International Mission Board in November, and Adam Greenway, 41, assumed leadership of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in February. Search committees are seeking leaders for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary following the retirement of Chuck Kelley, 66, and LifeWay Christian Resources, whose president, Thom Rainer, 63, left in February.

Robinson said the vision Floyd presented for the SBC is “multigenerational, multiethnic, and multilingual.” At the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, then-SBC President Floyd gathered pastors and leaders from multiple ethnic groups to pray corporately for racial reconciliation. The next year, he invited National Baptist Convention President Jerry Young and other leaders to engage in a panel discussion on racial unity in America.

His frequent communication with Baptists through blog posts and social media was a hallmark of Floyd’s SBC presidency, and Robinson said that will continue as Floyd assumes his new role.

“I think that’s going to be part of his mission, to get the story of the SBC out to the rest of the world. To highlight the things we’re doing well, so that we’re not just known for what we’re against, but what we’re for, and what we’re doing to fulfill the Great Commission.”

That charge to make disciples of all nations—given by Jesus to his followers in Matthew 28:19-20—is the “missional vision” of Southern Baptists, Floyd said after his election. “It will be to that end, that end of reaching the world that I will give my life…in this next season—100 percent, from before daylight until exhaustion, until Jesus comes or until he calls me home.”

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from Baptist Press

By Adron Robinson

Read: Psalm 25

When facing the dark days of life, to whom can you trust your soul?

We don’t know the exact circumstances of this psalm, but we know that David wrote it at a time when he was being attacked by his enemies. The attacks left him isolated from friends, hated by foes, and discouraged in heart. Yet, in one of the darkest times of his life, David made up his mind to trust in God.

Because God alone is able to deliver him from his enemies, David pleads for the Lord to save him from the shame of defeat (Ps. 25:1-3). David knows that God has a track record of faithfulness, so he puts his soul in the hands of the only one whom he could trust.
Next, David prays that God will direct him (vv. 4-15). He asks God to lead him into his divine will, while releasing him from the snare of his enemies.

David’s prayer is for God to reveal his will so that David can pursue God’s will. David doesn’t want to live outside of God’s will, so he asks God to order his steps. And on our dark days, we should pray the same way. David Livingstone once said, “I’d rather be in the heart of Africa in the will of God than on the throne of England out of the will of God.”

Finally, David prays for God to defend him from his enemies (vv. 16-25). In his darkest days, David asks God to guard his life and rescue him from his enemies. He places his faith in God to be his refuge. Out of gratitude for all God did, David is determined to live with integrity and uprightness.

When dark days come, don’t turn from God, turn to God. He alone is faithful to protect your soul.

Prayer Prompt: God, thank you for being the always faithful presence in our lives. May we turn to you on our darkest days, and may you lead us in the way everlasting.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

There are two kinds of worship interruptions, said IBSA’s director of worship and technology Steve Hamrick—avoidable and unavoidable. Some interruptions just can’t be helped—the power goes out, a baby cries, or someone in the audience forgets to turn off their phone. But most worship interruptions, Hamrick said, can be avoided with effective planning.

“Worship interruptions are things that happen in corporate worship that distract people from the gospel and from connecting with Christ,” Hamrick said. Could it be spiritual warfare? “Yes, but often it’s poor planning.”

Hamrick offered these ideas for avoiding worship interruptions:

1. Pray for the people leading worship and for the congregation.

2. Plan. What gear is needed for the worship service? What special logistics or set-up are needed to make it work? Communicate those needs with staff and volunteers.

3. Predict. What interruptions could happen? What has happened in the past, and how can you avoid the same challenges?

4. Prepare. Know your worship plan. Work through transitions, and think through technology, video, lighting, and print materials. Create a worship checklist with needs and special circumstances for the different worship elements.

5. Practice with the technology you plan to use, including sound, video, and lighting. Approach practice as if it’s a real worship experience (and it should be).

6. Present (perform) and trust God with the results.

Worship leaders can also prepare in advance by creating an environment that encourages success for the whole team. Hamrick advises leaders to communicate the importance of each team member’s ministry by creating job descriptions for individual roles.

Avoid overwhelming your team by recruiting multiple people to work on a single service. For example, one works at the desk while someone else produces (listening, advising, and looking ahead to what happens next). Resist having one person run sound and video at the same time, if possible.

Finally, Hamrick said, handle interruptions with grace. They’re inevitable, and the tech team likely will be the first to recognize the problem.

Sign up for IBSA’s online Resource Center at IBSA.org.