Priority 17 worship

Priority Conference looks at godly womanhood

“There’s a lot going on in the culture,” Carmen Halsey said. “If Christian women are not going to talk about it, who is?”

Halsey challenged the nearly 600 attenders at the Priority Women’s Conference in Decatur April 28-29, and brought before them speakers who would address tough issues women face today. “Some of the topics (at the conference) sound a bit risky,” she said, “but the culture is talking about it; the culture is who we’re going to have to reach. We are going to have to be brave if we’re going to do it.”

Halsey serves as IBSA Women’s Missions and Ministry director. The two-day conference addressed what it means to be godly women in today’s culture.

The conference took place against a backdrop of women’s marches with pink hats and cat ears, and a resurgence of debate on feminism and abortion. An April march on the state capitol in Springfield came the day of passage of a bill expanding taxpayer-funded abortions in the name of “women’s health care,” and now there is a renewed push for Illinois to become the thirty-seventh state pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Thirty eight are required for the ERA to become part of the U.S. Constitution, although the ten-year period for adoption expired 30 years ago.

How women can hold godly views and live Christ-like lives in such an environment may have been a subtext for the conference, but the admonitions were clear: “God calls us not to just be hearers of the Word, but also to be doers of the Word,” Halsey said.

“How do we create a safe place that we can come ask questions and learn from each other?” Halsey said. She emphasized the need for women to minister to women who don’t know Christ. And she brought to the platform teachers and leaders whose experiences serve as solid examples.

The missionary
Rebecca Epley served as an International Mission Board missionary to Bangladesh until taking voluntary retirement. Epley said its people are 96% Muslim, the rest are Hindu and Buddhist, with less than 1% Christian. “Many have never heard the name of Jesus, and do not know who Jesus is.”

Working with other missionaries, they started the Light of Hope Center to reach poor families. Muslims began threatening Christians who would go to the Christian center for help.

Epley shared, “One mother was told, if your daughter continues to go to this center, we’ll burn your house down.” The strong mother of six replied that the Christians had done much more for her daughter than the Muslims ever had. “She will not stop going to the center,” Epley quoted the woman as saying. “And no, they did not burn her house down.”

Epley also told about girl who visited the center who had gotten pregnant outside marriage. The girl had brought shame on her family, her mother pushed for an abortion. “In Bangladesh, they think until a baby is born it’s just a ball of blood,” said Epley.

“We found a Christian family to adopt that baby. That girl accepted the Lord, but later she was forced to marry a Muslim man. We can’t fix that situation, but we know that Jesus is in her heart.”

Epley encouraged the Illinois women to stand strong in their faith and to follow God’s leadership. “One of the verses God has given me is ‘Be still.’ Stop trying to figure it out. I will be exalted. Keep your eyes on me. He is going to be exalted through those girls in
Bangladesh.”

Church members
What should women do in the church? That’s a question with many answers, especially at a Southern Baptist women’s conference. Nora Allison and Carrie Campbell were the leaders of a breakout discussion on that topic. Allison is Director of Women at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Ky., and teaches at Southern Seminary. Campbell is a member of Sojourn, a student at Southern, and central Illinois native.

In the Bible we first see men and women in Genesis 1:26-28 when God created male and female in his image. In Ephesians 4:14-16 men and women are to work together as part of the church body.

“Peter says men and women alike are co-heirs,” Allison shared. “God gave women specific responsibility to lead and train other women in who they are supposed to be. Men and women are not alike in how they are created, or in how they live out their faith.

“Typically our churches are 60-65% women. We need women to identify their giftedness and then use their gifts in appropriate ways in their church.” Allison suggested doing this by having women teach other women and shepherd women in small groups.

Campbell said it’s important to “know what your church believes regarding women’s roles in the church.” It’s also good to find out if your church studied the biblical text to determine what the roles of women are. “What do you believe about the roles? Have you studied what the Bible says?” she asked.

Most important, Campbell said, “Examine your motives. Where is your heart ? It’s OK and right to push back if things are not biblical. Are you doing this for yourself and your own glory, or for God’s glory and his will to be done?”

Doers
“Feminism is alive and well in our culture and in the church,” or so said the breakout topic assigned to Jeanette Cloyd. A member of the Illinois Baptist Women’s State Advisory Team, Cloyd shared how after the Industrial Revolution, women started to be more involved in churches because they were looking for something worthwhile to do. But some women took it too far and acted as if they were more spiritual than men.

Cloyd said in the last twenty years, many women in evangelical churches have moved toward a more traditional biblical model of womanhood. Women are “having this constant struggle—a lot are quitting their jobs and staying home and raising their children.”

Women have begun looking for mentoring relationships. “We need someone to mentor, and not just younger women,” Cloyd said. “The Bible should be our guide,” she said, pointing to Titus 2. “We’re supposed to be humble and helpful to one another.” And mentoring is really discipleship. “We can’t do if we don’t know. We can’t look different to the world if we’re not doers of the word. That’s where discipleship comes in.”

And that’s the challenge for Baptist women: serving in the way of Christ, as godly women in a declining culture, so the world can see the difference.

-Lisa Misner Sergent

The Briefing

Who values religious freedom, besides U.S.?
Significant differences exist in the importance Americans and Europeans place on certain freedoms, including the right to choose your own religion, according to research from YouGov. Only in the U.S. do more than half (53%) choose the right to pursue a religion of their choice as one of the most important freedoms. The next highest nation is Finland with 37%. Support in all other European nations is below 30%.

Christian leaders praise Trump’s Saudi speech
President Trump’s address in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is garnering significant attention given that it was his first address on an international trip but especially because of its theological overtones while expressing his vision for U.S.-Muslim relations. In his speech, Trump said religious leaders must make clear to their faith’s adherents that “barbarism will deliver you no glory — piety to evil will bring you no dignity. If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.” Such an explicit theological judgment struck Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as highly significant.

‘I will pray for you,’ draws personnel warning
Offering to pray for a coworker could get you fired. A Baptist mother of two has filed religious discrimination and retaliation charges against a school system that threatened to fire her for privately telling a coworker she’d pray for him. Attorneys for Toni Richardson, an educational technician with the Augusta (Maine) School Department, are awaiting a response from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding the complaint filed May 16.

Planned parenthood clinics falling like dominoes
Planned Parenthood clinics around the country have posted permanent “Closed” signs because of low finances and lack of patients. Clinics in New Mexico, Iowa and Colorado have been experiencing the most shutdowns, because of financial issues. In July, the last Planned Parenthood clinics in North Dakota, Wyoming, and North Dakota are slated to close.

Married lesbians sue Tennessee over spousal definitions
Four married lesbian couples in Tennessee are fighting a new state law they say denies their parental rights. The couples, each expecting a baby this year, filed a lawsuit last week against a law mandating that undefined words in state statutes be interpreted to have “natural and ordinary” meanings. LGBT activists are calling the law “sneaky,” arguing it “clearly targets LGBTQ Tennesseans” by requiring words like “husband,” “wife,” “mother,” and “father” in state law apply only to opposite-sex couples.

Sources: Facts & Trends, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Conservative Tribune, World Magazine

Nate Adams IBSA exterior

Former editor Dennis Dawson used to write a column in the Illinois Baptist titled, “Is This a Great State or What?” During those days, I remember many IBSA staff members who would return from a far corner of the state and parody that column’s title by asking, “Is this a great BIG state, or what?”

Illinois is almost 400 miles long from its northern border to its southern tip, and more than 200 miles at its widest point from east to west. Believe me, I know. On a given Sunday, it’s possible for me to drive three and a half hours to a church in southern Illinois, or four or more to a church north of Chicago, even from our central location in Springfield. But when it comes to traveling our great state, I have two secret weapons, or perhaps I should call them secret blessings. I have a mom who lives in the Chicago suburbs, and a mother-in-law who lives in the heart of southern Illinois.

Though both have been widowed for several years, and both are well into their 80’s, these two dear moms still maintain their own homes and are very active in their churches. And they still put a pretty good meal on the table. So when my travel takes me in their direction, my wife or I often call in advance and ask, “Is the Bed & Breakfast available this weekend?”

A word of thanks to faithful mothers for good food and, even better, spiritual refreshment.

Of course, these are our moms, not innkeepers. I would never want to presume upon their hospitality, and I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m sometimes passing through their homes quickly, with little more time than for a bed and breakfast. Yet each time I have apologized for that, our moms have both assured me that they are always glad for whatever time we have together.

Over the years, I have learned that there is more to a bed than sleep, and
more to breakfast than eating. When you’re at Mom’s house, the smells are
familiar. The sounds are familiar. The pictures on the walls and the knickknacks on the shelves are familiar. It’s home.

When you sit around the kitchen table at Mom’s house, you relax and ease up a little. You help yourself from the fridge. You change a light bulb or two, so she won’t have to. You eat, but more than that, you fellowship.

In other words, the blessing that these two moms are to me and my often extensive travel goes far beyond the hours of sleep saved. It even goes beyond the dollar they save the IBSA budget, which I’m sure would be thousands and thousands over the past few years. They refresh me. They refresh my wife and allow us to travel together more. They give me home away from home.

So as Mother’s Day passes this year, and since they both read the Illinois Baptist faithfully, I want to use this brief space to say thank you to two faithful moms, Romelia Adams and Georgianna Schultz. Perhaps in doing so I am helping other pastors or church leaders say thank you to their moms too, for all the ways that they support our ministries, from nearby or afar.

I recall my dad once saying that when his mother passed, he physically felt the absence of her prayers. I don’t know how that works exactly, but I do know that there is something extremely valuable in the support of a mother. I see it in our two moms, and I see it in my wife, not just for me, but especially for our children, and their spiritual lives.

So I will keep cherishing the times when I can pick up the phone and ask, “Is the Bed & Breakfast available?” So far it has been every time.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Blue ribbonNate Adams’s Illinois Baptist column was awarded first place by the Evangelical Press Association.

The long road to peace

The docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War, will be shown in theaters one night only, May 23.

Update: Due to a near record turnout in theaters May 23, Fathom Events will bring “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem” back to theaters on June 1. To learn more visit InOurHands1967.com.

Here’s something I never thought I would do—discuss Middle East policy with Gordon Robertson, son of “700 Club” and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.

I met the younger Robertson, now the CEO of his father’s network, at the recent Evangelical Press Association Conference in Chicagoland. He was there to screen his docudrama, “In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem,” which follows Israel’s 55th Paratrooper Brigade during the Six Day War as they battled their way into the old city, eventually unifying it under Israeli control.

The film, which is being released prior to the 50th anniversary of the war in June, includes interviews with the soldiers who fought and re-enactments showing how armies from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria joined together to attempt to banish the state of Israel. It highlights the determination of the Israeli people, the tension between them and Arab leaders, how God keeps his promises, and how some of those who fought felt they didn’t really win because they didn’t keep the Temple Mount for Israel.

Robertson was incredibly knowledgeable about the subject, having made several trips to the Middle East and met many of its leaders. My conversation with him, and my viewing of the documentary, felt especially timely in light of current global events—and throws into sharp relief the severe divisions still present in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump met earlier this month Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, and is likely to visit Israel at the end of May, according to media outlets. The president hopes to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but many who are knowledgeable about the long-standing conflict between the two have noted the leaders of both appear much less willing to meet in the middle.

In a column for Denver Post, writer Greg Dobbs pointed out that the eight U.S. presidents preceding Trump have all worked in some capacity toward peace between Israel and Palestine—ultimately to no avail. “Some expended more energy and intellect than others. Some came closer than others,” Dobbs wrote. “But ultimately, all failed.”

Taken in the current context, Gordon Robertson’s documentary is an important picture of the complicated struggle that embroils the Middle East, and of the often arduous journey toward any lasting peace. The film will be shown in theaters for one night on May 23; I highly recommend it.

-Lisa Misner Sergent

The Briefing

Trump to Liberty grads: Follow Christian convictions
In front of a record-setting crowd of about 50,000 attendees, the newly minted politician winked to his support from evangelicals—repeatedly bringing up religious freedom and identifying with their position as Washington outsiders. “In America we do not worship government, we worship God. We do not need a lecture from Washington on how to lead our lives,” he said to the graduates.

La. Executive Board concludes study of ERLC
The Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Executive Board has concluded a study of “issues of concern” related to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and issued a letter commending ERLC President Russell Moore for “confessing his failings.” The letter, addressed to the ERLC president and trustees, also urged Moore “to listen carefully and respectfully to Southern Baptists even as we listen to him.”

Graham calls persecution of Christians ‘genocide’
Franklin Graham, son of the famed evangelical preacher Billy Graham, urged fellow Christians to struggle against a “Christian genocide” that he says has killed in greater numbers than most believers can fathom. Graham spoke May 10 at a conference aimed at highlighting an issue many feel is ignored by politicians and the media.

Court sides with Christian print shop
The owner of Hands on Originals, a Lexington, Ky., print shop, did not violate a local nondiscrimination ordinance when he refused to create T-shirts for an annual gay pride festival, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled. The 2-1 decision is the second to uphold Blaine Adamson’s right to engage in “viewpoint or message censorship.” A local gay and lesbian advocacy organization asked Adamson to create T-shirts promoting the organization’s 2012 Pride Festival. Adamson declined, saying he could not promote that message as a Christian.

Majority of Protestants support gay marriage
Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say same-sex marriages should be recognized by the law as valid. Although not meaningfully different from the 61% last year, this is the highest percentage to date and continues the generally steady rise since Gallup’s trend began in 1996. However, U.S. Protestants, including all non-Catholic Christians, are now about twice as likely to support gay marriage as they were in 1996 (55% vs. 27%). This year’s poll is the first-time Protestant support has reached the majority level.

Sources: Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, World Magazine, Gallup

Welcome to our mission field

Elizabeth Young

Elizabeth Young

For the third time in 14 years, Arizona Southern Baptists will welcome the larger Southern Baptist family to Phoenix in June.

When Phoenix was chosen to host the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting the first time in 2003, we were more than a little surprised, given our reputation for high summertime temperatures. But with Baptists’ repeated visits, we figured the word must have gotten out that, given our low humidity, our average 102-106 degree June temperature isn’t as bad as “back home” for a lot of folks.

We’re delighted when the family comes to town. We hope, for many, it’s a reminder that Southern Baptist work does exist outside of the Deep South and west of the Continental Divide. Illinois Baptists may feel the same way about recognition of Southern Baptists north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

While we want to offer a warm welcome to the family, we sincerely pray that our guests will remember they are on a mission field. We pray for a quiet, peaceful annual meeting so that we don’t have to explain to our lost neighbors why feuding Baptists, or Baptists engaged in culture wars, made the local news. When you’re up to your eyeballs in lost people, it puts a different perspective on priorities of concern.

Illinois Baptists probably understand this, too. Although we have some differences, we seem to have a lot in common.

You have more people—almost 13 million to our 6.9 million—but we have more land—nearly 114,000 square miles to your almost 58,000. You have more churches—nearly 1,000 to our about 450—but we have similar church-to-population ratios—one church for every 13,000 people in Illinois and one for every 15,000 in Arizona.

Both of our states have one large metropolitan area that encompasses two-thirds or more of the state’s population. And whether it’s Chicagoland or greater Phoenix, also known as the Valley of the Sun, the city is a massive sea of people who don’t know Jesus as savior.

Whether on not you make the trek to the Grand Canyon State this summer, our message to you is the same. We’re drawing from Paul’s Macedonian Call in Acts 16:9 and inviting you to “Come over…and help us.”

Consider what God is calling you to do:
• Pray for God’s work in our vast state.
• Partner with an Arizona church.
• Plant a church in Arizona.

May God give all of us a “Macedonian” vision for Arizona—and beyond!

Elizabeth Young is director of communications for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and the editor of Portraits magazine.

woman w flowers

Almost six months ago, God gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received besides salvation and an amazing husband: a son.

Sheridan Steele Colter, born at 8 pounds and half an ounce after 30 hours of labor, is truly an answer to innumerable prayers. I’m continually in awe of the miracle of his life each time I whisper my love in his ear, stroke his strawberry-blonde hair, and tickle his tiny toes.

I’ve wanted to be a mom as far back as I can remember. My own mother modeled the role with excellence, and I grew up wanting to be just like her. Early in my marriage, however, God allowed my husband and me to experience the loss of precious life through miscarriage. Years that felt like decades passed, and with each one, we became a little less confident that we would ever become parents to biological children.

Like other holidays, this one can also be stressful.

We were in near disbelief and cautiously elated when a positive result registered on an at-home pregnancy test. We cried tears of joy that were every bit as wet and salty as those we’d shed over our previous losses. Months later, six days after his due date, our precious son arrived, a gift who shines brightly in my life, and all the brighter juxtaposed with the dimness that came before him.

I want to be sure “to forget not all [the Lord’s] benefits” (Psalm 103:2) and to thank God for the graciously sweet gift of a child. Yet, my heart remains bruised for those who approach Mother’s Day with deep sadness. Some have experienced the loss of their own mother. Some have had to bury children. Some have grieved through the pain of miscarriage. And some have watched the dream of parenthood die.

Scripture tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), and on Mother’s Day, we have the opportunity to practice both ends of that command. It seems to me that most of us have an easier time with the rejoicing part, but it’s the bearing one another’s burdens portion that can prove a bit more difficult. Here are just a few thoughts on how we might do that this year:

1. Don’t try to fix it. Only God can administer the “peace which passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Tell hurting friends you are praying for them, and then don’t forget to do it. Consider sending a snail mail card or even a text message to someone after you have prayed, letting them know you did so. Often, that will arrive at just the right moment to encourage your friend’s heart, and they will no doubt be grateful you’ve approached the Lord on their behalf.

2. Create an environment where they are welcomed to rejoice with you in your celebrations. Think less about the fact that it might make you feel awkward that you have been given a blessing they would love to have, and more about the fact that they might love to have something to celebrate along with you, even in the midst of their own pain. Don’t think that just because they are hurting they will not want to share in your times of rejoicing.

3. Give them space. After you have created a welcoming environment for them to join in with you, respect the fact that they might wish to step back for a moment. There is not one single way to grieve—some people might desire a bit of space to themselves as they work through their pain. This is one of those times when sending a card might be the way to go. There is nothing intrusive about an envelope with a note of care being delivered to their mailbox, but it certainly lets your friend know you have thought of them.

4. Don’t do nothing. Horrible grammar, I know. But, truly, this is not one of those if-you-just-ignore-something-it-goes-away things. Your friend is hurting, and even though you cannot take away their pain, you can acknowledge it. Be honest with your friend that you don’t know what to say but you want them to know you are there for them.

As I finish typing this, my son is squealing with delight in his swing next to my rocking chair. He is a beautiful gift and the “joy” that has come in my “morning” (Psalm 30:5). I’ll celebrate being his mom this year, thanking the Lord for his faithfulness in the darkest of times and the brightest. I pray God reveals that faithfulness to those who mourn this Mother’s Day and that my celebration won’t multiply their pain, but instead point to a God whose character is good in the bad times and the pleasant, and whose love is without end.

Sharayah Colter is a writer in Fort Worth, Texas, and owner of Colter & Co. Design.

– From Baptist Press