Report: State loses 313 people every day
Capitol news site The Center Square reported last week that Census data shows Illinois lost 114,000 people to other states between July 2017 and July 2018, for an average of 313 a day. About 40 of those move north to Wisconsin. “The state’s outmigration crisis is due to primarily working-age residents between the ages of 25 and 54 looking for work elsewhere,” the news outlet reported.

After Title X changes, Pritzker pledges to fund abortions with state money
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced last week the state will turn down $2.4 million in federal funding because of a new policy that restricts clinics that receive the funding from making abortion referrals. Instead, the Illinois Department of Public Health will provide the funding, Pritzker tweeted July 18.

House chaplain casts out ‘spirits of darkness’
Two days after members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to condemn as racist President Donald Trump’s tweets against four Congresswomen, Rev. Patrick Conroy prayed God would “anoint your servants here in the House with a healing balm to comfort and renew the souls of all in this assembly.” The House chaplain continued, “May your spirit of wisdom and patience descend upon all so that any spirit of darkness might have no place in our midst.”

Conroy later said what he witnessed during the contentious vote inspired his prayer, CNN reported. “It felt like there was something going on beyond just political disagreement. The energy of the House was very off.”

Baptist university urged to clarify faith statement
A committee charged with assessing theology at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., reported this month that the school hasn’t clearly implemented its statement of faith, Baptist Press reported. SBU President Eric Turner said his school is “currently working to clarify, boldly articulate and implement our Statement of Faith that will further align and strengthen our Baptist identity and Christian faith.”

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, followed the firing of a professor who had expressed concern over some faculty members’ theological views.

Americans believe hate speech has increased
A new study by Barna found 70% of U.S. adults say hate speech and hate crime has increased over the last five years, and many blame politicians and social media.

Sources: The Center Square, WLS-TV, Baptist Press, Twitter, CNN, The Christian Post, Barna

What’s it like to visit your church for the first time?

By Doug Munton

I moved several times as a boy and it wasn’t much fun. Each time I had to overcome old fears, break down unseen barriers, and make new friends. I never liked that feeling of being an outsider. I haven’t forgotten how it felt to my tender young soul. But it taught me some valuable lessons in helping to connect with guests at church.

Visiting a church can be awkward for a first-time guest. They don’t know the people, the customs or the expectations. They can feel nervous, intimidated, or ignored. They might not even yet know the message of the gospel.

Here are some tips that can make a real and lasting difference as church members purposely connect with guests:

1. Talk to people you don’t know.
This is the simplest thing that you can do for guests. If you don’t know someone, say hello. Tell them you are glad to see them. I ask almost every Sunday, “Have I met you before?” If I have met them before, I apologize for forgetting and work to get to know them better.

In connecting with guests, just speak to them. Look them in the eye and say a simple greeting. Welcome them. Care about them. A surprising number of church members never do this.

2. Be friendly to people who aren’t yet your friends.
Every church in America thinks they are friendly because they are friendly to their friends. But being friendly to your friends does not make your church friendly to guests. I love that our members have church friends with whom they can talk and laugh and visit. But I want them to choose to meet some new people. One of my dearest college friends was the very last guy I met of all the guys on my dorm hall.

3. Learn their names.
Introductions usually involve us telling each other our names. But if we aren’t careful, we quickly forget. Our small groups have come up with a simple solution for this. We are starting to wear name tags. You can’t easily ask the name of a couple in your small group who have been coming for months. It is embarrassing that you forgot. But name tags help us remember. And they are especially helpful for connecting with guests.

4. Read body language.
If someone looks confused, they probably are confused. A simple, “Can I help you find something?” is helpful. With a little practice, you can begin to understand what people are feeling and thinking from their body language.

Guests often look a bit apprehensive because they are. Learning to read this allows you to do something about this. A friendly face and kind word go a long way toward lowering that nervousness.

Some of our guests want to remain fairly anonymous. They typically appreciate a friendly greeting but don’t always want deep conversation until they know if they can trust us. You may be able to read that. Perhaps you could say, “If I can help you with anything, just let me know.”

Other guests would really like to have someone offer to sit with them. Or they might enjoy some friendly conversation. Body language is a language that communicates volumes when we begin to understand it.

5. Invite them to take the next connection steps.
It is entirely appropriate to tell a departing guest that you hope they come back. There is nothing wrong with letting them know about small groups, an upcoming special event or membership class, or classes for their children.

Welcoming a first-time guest is just the start of the assimilation process. A warm welcome goes a long way. But we want more than that for our guests. We want them to consider and trust the claims of Christ. We want them to join us on this discipleship journey. And ultimately, we want them to join us in welcoming other guests and helping them to follow the Lord as well.

Doug Munton is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon. He blogs at dougmunton.com.

By Eric Reed

CloudAn eight-mile trip into the countryside ended at an old barn which had been converted into a restaurant. “The food’s good here,” one of the travelers said as we set out after the Sunday service on winding rural and sometimes gravel roads.

The former feed store set in cornfields was everything Cracker Barrel would hope to be, and just what we expected. What we didn’t expect was the poster taped to the door announcing the crossroads’ first “Drag Show” with three headshots of the lead performers.

“If the Drag Show has reached this place, then times really have changed,” someone in our little church group mumbled. “I guess there’s no going back,” I thought to myself, just a half-hour after preaching on the decline of our public morality in Illinois with the recent actions of the state legislature as my chief examples: legalized marijuana, expanded gambling, and abortion with virtually no limits. And did I mention the gay-pride flag flying for the first time over the state Capitol?

But maybe I was wrong.

A new Harris Poll commissioned by the gay activist group GLAAD shows the LGBT movement is losing ground among Millennials.

That was a surprise, even to the pollsters, who called the flagging support “alarming” and said it signals “a looming social crisis in discrimination.”

The survey shows that among 18- to 34-year-olds, LGBT acceptance dropped from 63% in 2016 to 45% in 2018. As Baptist Press reported, the biggest drop from the previous year happened among young women, from 64% in 2017 to 52% in 2018. “But across all three years, the decline was especially noticeable among young males, dropping from 62% in 2016…(to) 35% in 2018.

Young people also registered a rise in discomfort in several specific scenarios: 39% said they would be “very” or “somewhat” uncomfortable learning that their child had been taught a lesson on LGBT history in school, compared with 27% in 2016. And 33% were uncomfortable with their child having an LGBT teacher, up from 25%.

While LGBT acceptance is almost steady among adults age 35 and older, declining support among Millennials may be like the “fist-sized cloud” on the horizon Elijah pointed out, the signal of change to come that, in the current climate, no one imagined possible.

– Eric Reed

Political leaders say current division isn’t as bad as what country has overcome
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias convened leaders in government, education, media, and business in Washington for a forum aimed at bringing people together. “At the Table,” a new project from Zacharias’s ministry, launched July 10 with a panel discussion that challenged the idea that current divisions are the worst the country has ever seen.

“I’m startled many times when I hear news people pontificating about how terrible things are,” said U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black. “And I’m [wondering], ‘Is this an alternative universe that I’m looking at?’ Because I know what bad looks like and this is not as bad as it’s been.”

Joni shares cancer-free news
Author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada shared a positive report after being diagnosed with breast cancer a second time last year. “For now, we have been spared of more cancer battles,” said Tada, best known for ministering in the disability community. “We humbly realize that may well change in the future; but for today, for now, we are rejoicing in those wonderful words from my medical oncologist: ‘all clear!’ Onward and upward…”

Christian bookseller changes logo to avoid cannabis confusion
Christian Book Distributors, online at ChristianBook.com, will drop the initials “CBD” from its logo, Christianity Today reports. CBD is commonly used to refer to cannabidiol, a compound found in marijuana and used increasingly to treat a variety of ailments.

The cost of closing on Sunday
Chick-Fil-A may lose more than $1 billion in annual revenue by its company-wide policy of closing on Sunday, 24/7 Wall Street reports. The chicken chain has been closed on Sundays since founder Truett Cathy opened his first restaurant in 1946. “It’s not about being closed,” Chick-Fil-A says on its website. “It’s about how we use that time.”

Baptists aid border ministry
The Catholic Church has traditionally dominated border outreach in Texas, Religion News Service reports, but Baptists and other evangelicals are stepping up their efforts to help migrants from Central America.

Christian Post (2), Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Christianity Today, 24/7 Wall Street, Chick-Fil-A, Religion News Service

By Nate Adams

You deserve a breakSummer can be a very busy time for churches, and therefore for many devoted church leaders and members. Vacation Bible School, camps, mission trips, construction projects, and more can quickly fill the warm-weather months.

But summer also provides most of us with a few days of vacation, or at least staycation. If we’re wise, those days can be just as important as the ones we spend in ministry.
All of us need breaks in our routines and the daily patterns of our lives. We are often creatures of habit, whether those habits are daily, weekly, or monthly.

For example, when I am teaching or preaching about worship on a Sunday morning, I sometimes ask the congregation, “How many of you are sitting in about the same place that you sit every Sunday?” Usually at least three-quarters of the room raises their hands, and then looks sheepishly at their familiar, nearby neighbors.

Then I ask, “How many of you parked in about the same place that you park every Sunday morning?” Again, most hands go up, and people quickly understand my point. Routine or ritual can become very poor substitutes for true, spiritual worship.

Likewise, the weekly or monthly patterns of our work, our down time, our relationships, and even our church commitments can too easily fall into almost thoughtless repetition. That’s why we need not only nights to pull away from our days, and sabbaths to pull away from our weeks, but also vacations to pull away from the sameness of our years.
Especially if your vacation is still ahead of you this year, let me encourage you to invest at least part of that time in three key “re’s”—refresh, reflect, and refocus.

Refresh. Giving yourself time to refresh physically is important, but so are spiritual and emotional refreshment. In addition to getting extra rest on your vacation, make some time for the replenishing things that really restore your soul. Take a long walk, or go fishing, or get alone with a great book. Have a long talk with your best friend. Take a drive to a solitary place and just decompress. You know better than anyone else what refreshes you. Make it happen!

Reflect. Once you’re starting to feel refreshed, take time to do some honest soul-searching. Are you happy with the pattern into which your life has settled? How do you feel about your job, your relationships, your life goals? Is your spiritual life healthy? Are you finding ways to serve and use your gifts? Does your life feel “on track,” and if not, what would it take to get back there? If you don’t have some serious time for reflection on your vacation, you are likely to return to the same habits and patterns from which you needed a break.

Refocus. And finally, allow your refreshed spirit and thoughtful reflection to lead you to a time of intentional refocus. When you return from vacation, how can you reorder your life to prioritize what’s truly important, and pull back from the things that are distracting you from your life’s true purposes? It’s sometimes hard to see changes that are needed when you are in the midst of your life’s routines. Let your vacation time show you what needs to be refocused.

When it comes to making your vacation time meaningful, “to re, or not to re, that is the question.” Just as a bad day can look much better after a good night’s rest, and a trying week can look much better once you reach the weekend, a vacation can provide a much-needed break to refresh, reflect, and refocus. May you find that time this summer.

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

By Adam Cruse

As I was reading through Romans recently, I came across a verse I’ve seen several times. This time, however, it caused me to pause. The Apostle Paul wraps up the letter by sending his greetings to people who were special to him personally. One of those individuals was a man named Apelles. “Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test” (Romans 16:10).

I’ve never heard of Apelles. He’s not to be confused with Apollos. He wasn’t as well-known as Paul or Peter. He did not possess the notoriety of Barnabas or Timothy. Yet, as I thought about it, the one thing he is forever remembered by from this account in Scripture, is his faithfulness to Christ.

I began to think through how, if I could be remembered by one line, what impression I wanted to leave. I couldn’t think of anything better than the legacy Apelles lived and left.

So, how do we develop a faith that stands the test? In my personal observation, it’s not by constantly looking back at past failures or successes, or by constantly looking around at current problems and struggles. Standing the test comes by looking forward to the time we stand before Jesus and our potential reception of eternal rewards.

Randy Alcorn writes, “Five minutes after we die, we’ll know exactly how we should have lived. But God has given us his Word so that we don’t have to wait to die to find out. And he’s given us his Spirit to empower us to live that way now.”

A list of faithful people in Romans made me consider my own actions.

Missionary and martyr Jim Elliott wrote prior to his death in an Ecuadoran jungle, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose.” Then he proved it.

And pastor and evangelist Johnny Hunt puts it succinctly: “I wish to live in a way that I would have hoped I had, once I get to heaven.” When we live in light of eternity, recognizing that we will stand before Jesus at his judgment seat, we are reminded that everything matters now.

Paul describes the moment: “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

What Paul describes in these verses is the bema judgment seat of Christ. It is reserved exclusively for believers. Heaven and hell are not at stake; the rewards for our service are. In New Testament days, a bema seat resembled a stair step. It was used as the official seat of a judge in a sort of tribunal. It resembled a throne that Herod built in the theater of Caesarea by the Sea, from which he watched the games and made speeches.

It was at a bema that Paul stood before Felix and later Agrippa in Acts 24 and 24. Festus was “sitting on the judgment seat” (Acts 25:6). And there Paul desired to make his appeal in Rome: “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat” (Acts 25:10).

Every believer will give an account of himself and the Lord will judge those decisions believers made. Paul, knowing and believing this, wrote, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Understanding how Jesus will judge believers does two things. It challenges us to focus intently on those areas we know will be reviewed, clarifying what is ultimately and eternally important. And it reminds us that while the Christian race is difficult at times, in the end it all will be worth it.

Adam Cruse is pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman. He is concluding his term as IBSA vice president.

Jesus is watching

How we treat other believers, Heb. 6:10

How we employ our spiritual gifts, 1 Peter 4:10-11, 2 Tim. 1:6

How we use our financial resources, 1 Tim. 6:17-19

How much we suffer for Christ, Matt. 5:11-12

How we spend our time, Eph. 5:16, 1 Peter 1:17, Psalm 90:12

How we run the race God has assigned to us, 1 Cor. 9:24-27

How many souls did we win to Christ, Dan. 12:3

How do we react to trials and temptations, James 1:2-3, 12

How much the doctrine of the Second Coming matters to us, 2 Tim. 4:8

How we use our words and guard our mouth, Matt. 12:36

How faithful we, as pastors, are to the calling of God and the people of God, 1 Peter 5:2-4

How we, as leaders, exercise our authority over others, Heb. 13:17

Only about a third read the Word daily, according to a new survey by Lifeway Research.

Former IMB missionary pleads guilty to assault
Mark Aderholt, a former missionary with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and staff member of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, pleaded guilty July 2 in a plea deal related to the sexual assault of a minor two decades ago. Aderholt’s case was one of several allegations of sexual abuse uncovered in Southern Baptist life prior to February’s extensive report in the Houston Chronicle.

Meeting in Birmingham in June, the SBC condemned sexual abuse and previous lack of care for survivors.

Restriction on wedding officiants blocked by judge—for now
A new law in Tennessee that forbids people ordained online from performing wedding ceremonies was challenged July 3 by a judge who questioned its constitutionality. Federal Judge Waverly Crenshaw said the state’s law, which was set to go into effect July 1, has “serious constitutional issues” and should be considered at a trial before the end of 2019. For now, wedding officiants ordained online can continue to help couples say “I do” in Tennessee.

Liberty professors’ new book presents perspectives on 9 contemporary issues
A book released today presents differing views on topics ranging from sexuality and gender roles to politics and war. “Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues” was edited by Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Chatraw, both professors at evangelical Liberty University. Prior spoke to The Christian Post about why it was important to present varying viewpoints (all by people who profess to be Christians), and which of the essays she disagrees with.

Christians weigh in on slavery’s ongoing impact
Barna found half of practicing Christians say the effects of slavery continue to be felt today. That’s slightly higher than the percentage of all U.S. adults—46%—who agree.

Sources: LifeWay Research, Baptist Press, Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, The Tennessean, The Christian Post, Barna Research