The BriefingBaptists mobilize after weekend storms in Southeast
Southern Baptists throughout the Southeast have started responding to a deadly storm system that reportedly claimed the lives of at least 19 people from Georgia to Mississippi over a two-day period this past weekend. According to the Associated Press, 39 possible tornadoes were reported in the Southeast.

Ban reinstated on U.S. funds promoting abortion overseas
President Trump signed an executive order blocking foreign aid or federal funding for international nongovernmental organizations that provide or “promote” abortions. The order came Jan. 23, one day after the 44th anniversary of the Roe V. Wade Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal, and days before the annual “March for Life” in Washington on Jan. 27.

U.S. abortion rate hits all-time low
The abortion rate in the United States declined to an all-time low, while the number of lethal procedures dropped below a million for the first time since 1975, according to a new report. The Guttmacher Institute reported the rate fell to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women 15 to 44 years old in 2014, which is a decline of 14 percent since its most recent survey in 2011.

Divinity schools: Stop using ‘he’ or ‘him’ to refer to God
Guidelines at two top U.S. divinity schools have recommended professors use “inclusive” gender-neutral language—including for God, according to documents from both Duke and Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt’s 2016-2017 catalog says the divinity school “commits continuously and explicitly to include gender as an analyzed category and to mitigate sexism” in its teachings.

Vatican to issue stamp featuring Martin Luther
The Vatican office charged with issuing stamps confirmed that Martin Luther, who broke away from the Catholic Church in a schism 500 years ago, will be celebrated with a postage stamp in 2017. Honoring Luther and the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is an unlikely choice for the Church. Luther, an Augustinian monk, was excommunicated in 1521.

Sources: Baptist Press, The Hill, Life Site News, Heat Street, Christianity Today

Floyd calls Trump prexy ‘our moment’

National Prayer Service in Washington DC

SBC Pastors Ronnie Floyd (center left) and David Jeremiah (center right) exit the platform and prepare to greet President Trump at the conclusion of the National Prayer Service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Fox Phoenix screen capture

“Right now we’ve got a shot to really make a difference,” Ronnie Floyd told his congregation on Sunday. “God has given us a moment. It’s time to pray more than we’ve ever prayed in our country…to pray more with stronger conviction that every life matters to God.”

Floyd was just one of the notable Southern Baptist pastors participating in inaugural ceremonies for incoming President, Donald Trump. The pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas was one of the evangelical advisors to Trump.

Noting the current discord in the nation, Floyd said, “This is not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about spiritual warfare; right and wrong. It’s not about what it appears to be about, it’s not about flesh and blood.

“You don’t announce you’re going to put pro-life judges on the Supreme Court and expect the world to receive it,” Floyd said in a video posted at his website.

Southern Baptists were prominent at the National Prayer gathering on Saturday following the inauguration, both in their placement in the program and on the platform among the 26 religious leaders invited to participate in the event.

Floyd and David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., sat on the dais of the National Cathedral, just behind the Episcopal celebrants who were leading the service and in front of the choir loft. Jeremiah read from Romans 5, the passage about character, endurance, patience, and hope. And Floyd read Psalm 23 from the King James Version.

Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham was one of the speakers in the “prayers of the people,” reading a scripted prayer on behalf of “those who serve.” And a granddaughter of Billy Graham, Franklin’s daughter Cissie Graham Lynch, read a similar prayer in a procession that included a rabbi, representatives of several Protestant denominations, and several Eastern religions.

Ramiro Peña, pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, wrapped up the litany of prayers with The Lord’s Prayer. In an unofficial count, Southern Baptists outnumbered other faiths among clergy participating in the inauguration and prayer service. The interfaith service held an an Anglical cathedral had distinctly evangelical touches. Melania Trump led a standing ovation for the solo singer of “How Great Thou Art,” and the service concluded with “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, sang from memory.

On Inauguration Day, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, delivered the sermon at the private prayer service prior to the swearing-in ceremony. He titled the sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader,” taking the message from Nehemiah 1:11.

“When I think of you,” Jeffress said to Trump, “I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.”

He noted the first step God instructed Nehemiah to take in rebuilding the nation was building a wall around Jerusalem to protect is citizens. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress shared. Jeffress recalled sitting with Trump on a jet, eating Wendy’s cheeseburgers, and talking about the challenges facing the USA. Jeffress was an early supporter of Trump.

He told the incoming President and Vice President to look to God for strength and guidance: “…the challenges facing our nation are so great that it will take more than natural ability to meet them. We need God’s supernatural power.

“The good news is that the same God who empowered Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago is available to every one of us today who is willing to humble himself and ask for His help.”

He instructed them, “God says in Psalm 50:15 ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble I shall rescue you and you will honor Me.’”

– Staff Report, with info from Baptist Press, RonnieFloyd.com, FirstDallas.org, and C-SPAN.

My wife, Beth, is definitely the gift-giving genius in our family. She has, I believe, the spiritual gift of giving, and so she is not only generous, but also has a knack for choosing gifts that are personal, useful, meaningful, and often even frugal. But this year, it seems, I got lucky, and thought of a pretty neat gift for her.

Just a couple of days before Christmas, I was scrambling to put together our annual family Christmas letter. For 24 years now, since our youngest son Ethan was born, we have produced a two-page letter with an overall family update on the front page, and individual updates on the back page.

Beth provides the raw content for the letter, and then I work at making it humorous or at least interesting. Unfortunately, multiple moves and computer changes over the years had left us without copies of many of the older letters, the ones that described little boys and grade schoolers rather than college students and young men.

There’s a sense in which our churches today, now walking in the light of fully revealed Scripture, continue to add their own pages to the story of God’s faithfulness to his people, his family.

So I set out to find all the old computer files, to update and repair the documents the best I could, to recreate the pieces that were missing, and to print them out fresh, or photocopy the originals I could find. On Christmas morning, I presented Beth with a complete notebook of those letters, all carefully protected in clear plastic sleeves, and with front and back covers decorated with photos of our growing family across the years.

I kind of hoped that Beth would like the gift, and I thought our kids might eventually like copies too. So I made extra copies while I was at it, but only wrapped one to place under the tree. As soon Beth opened it, not only did she love it, but it became the conversation piece of Christmas.

Our sons and daughters-in-law quickly asked for turns reading it, and asked if they could get their own copies some time. That’s when I had the fun of retrieving books for each of them from the next room. To my surprise, all other gift opening came to a halt, as we all sat and paged through our family’s journey from little boys to big boys, from Illinois to Georgia and back to Illinois, from trips in America to trips abroad, and from one year of God’s faithfulness to another.

I’ve been reflecting since then on how surprisingly valuable and precious this last-minute gift was, and why it has continued to captivate our family’s attention. As a gift, it was much more than a flurry of searching, typing, printing, and inserting. It was an unintended family history, a series of annual mileposts that traced our journey as a family for a quarter century.

My thoughts turned from our family’s story, to the Christmas story, to the stories of the Bible, and ultimately to the fact that the Bible itself is essentially a family history of God and his people. None of its authors, though divinely inspired, could see very clearly beyond their own time in history and their own chapter of faithfulness. But once Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s revelation, early church fathers could compile and preserve all those chapters into one wonderful notebook that we now rightly call the Holy Bible.

There’s a sense in which our churches today, now walking in the light of fully revealed Scripture, continue to add their own pages to the story of God’s faithfulness to his people, his family. As I discovered this Christmas, we may not fully realize the history we are writing until we have an opportunity to look back. But looking back should make us want to write this year’s chapter with great care.

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

small American flags in the background

Time: Trump held a very Godly inauguration
Christianity has been a part of the presidential inauguration since George Washington laid his hand on a Bible for the very first swearing-in. So, it was not unusual that Donald Trump sought to involve faith in his inauguration. But the ways in which the 45th President invoked God in unusually blunt ways in his inaugural address were. He quoted a Psalm of David from the Bible to buttress his policy. “The Bible tells us, ‘how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.’”

S. Baptist involvement in the inauguration
The participation of at least five Southern Baptist pastors in inaugural activities for President Donald Trump continues a tradition of prayer, Scripture, and references to God surrounding presidential inaugurations dating back to George Washington. In addition to Friday’s activities, a Saturday, Jan. 21 National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington will feature Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, Texas pastors Jack Graham and Ramiro Peña and California pastor David Jeremiah.

Muslims angry imam to participate in prayer service
A popular Washington-area imam’s decision to issue the Muslim call to prayer at Trump’s inaugural prayer service has sparked a heated debate among American Muslim community leaders and activists over the appropriate ways to engage with a president, who they say has repeatedly disparaged Islam. Mohamed Magid, a Sudanese-American imam, is the only Muslim leader listed on a lineup packed with Evangelicals and other faith leaders who are scheduled to participate in the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral.

SBC Pres. Gaines pens Christian response to inauguration
Today Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States. As you know, Mr. Trump won a highly volatile election last November. Some see him as a candidate of much-needed change, readily resonating with his Reaganish slogan, “Make America Great Again!” Others see Mr. Trump as a less than desirable candidate for the highest office in the land. What are Southern Baptists to do?

Three S. Baptists nominated for cabinet positions
Three Southern Baptists — Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, and Sonny Perdue – have been nominated to serve in cabinet positions for the Trump administration. Price, a regular attendee at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., has been nominated as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Pruitt, a member of Tulsa-area First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Okla., has been nominated as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, was announced Jan. 18 as Trump’s choice for agriculture secretary.

Presidents who mentioned God in inaugural address
Every U.S. President has mentioned God in their inaugural address, even if speaking of the Lord in their own way, fitting with the times. With thanks to Bill Federer in America’s God and Country, consider this sampling of mentions.

Sources: Time, Baptist Press Washington Post, Baptist Press (2), Christian Post

Trump to be sworn in on Lincoln, family Bibles
When President-elect Donald Trump takes his oath of office on Inauguration Day, his hand will rest on his family Bible and the President Abraham Lincoln Bible, used most recently as part of President Barack Obama’s first and second inauguration ceremonies. Trump’s Bible, a revised standard version, was presented to him in 1955 by his mother upon graduation from Sunday Church Primary School in New York.

Pence to be sworn in with Reagan Bible, hand on 2 Chronicles
The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Vice President Elect Mike Pence will be the first public office holder since the 40th president to be sworn into office using the Reagan Family Bible.During the oath, the Bible will be opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is the same passage that was used during Reagan’s inaugurations. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will deliver the oath to Pence during the ceremony.

FBC Dallas’ Jeffress preaching prayer service
First Baptist Dallas, Robert Jeffress, will preach at a private service held at St. John’s Episcopal Church before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. About 300 people, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, are expected to attend. Jeffress noted the title of his sermon in a tweet: “When God Chooses a Leader.”

The religious leaders praying at the inauguration
Six religious leaders — including a rabbi, a cardinal, and a diverse group of Protestant preachers — will participate, more than for any previous president, said Jim Bendat, an author and historian of inaugural ceremonies. Each will have 60 to 90 seconds to offer a reading or lead a prayer.

Moore: Pray for Trump no matter how you voted
With the inauguration of a new president of the United States, now is a time to pray for President Trump and to remember our obligation as Christians to pray for all those who are in civil authority. The Apostle Paul charges us to offer prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for “all people,” and includes in that list “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:2). This very act of praying is itself a counter-cultural act.

Sources: The Tennessean, Christian Post, Dallas News, Washington Post, NY Times, Washington Post

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Who will help the elderly live abundantly and finish faithfully?

Editor’s note: On January 22, many Southern Baptist churches will mark “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday,” a day for considering the sacred nature of God-given life.

Springfield | For Ruth McGlennon, one of the most challenging parts about her new life in a nursing home was getting used to the sound of her roommate crying. Although the woman wasn’t physically able to speak, McGlennon was able to guess right away the source of her sorrow.

“Her family never came to see her,” said McGlennon, a former kindergarten teacher and the eldest of 10 siblings. “She had sons, and I used to be very mad at them. She could have been the worst mother in the world, but she was still their mother, and they should have been there to see her.”

The story McGlennon shared is sadly common, said Joyce Mancke, leader of SonShine Ministries, which she and her husband started 12 years ago when they lived in Joliet. The ministry, which sends teams to visit local nursing homes, now has local expressions in communities across Illinois. The Manckes are members of Eastview Baptist Church in Springfield.

“Many times, we have the elderly who never get any attention at all, or family visits. Sometimes we are all they have,” said Mancke. “Too many times, they’re just put away. Viewed as a burden.”

In Illinois, 1.8 million people are over the age of 60, according to the U.S. Census Bureau projections for 2015. That means one in seven people in this state are seniors. And about 100,000 people live in nursing homes, according to the Department of Health. Mancke said the hardest thing for many of them is the loneliness, “feeling that nobody cares.”

But the church can help, said Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It’s vital for the church to be “at the vanguard of witnessing to the sacredness of life at all stages—from womb to tomb,” Walker said.

“The Scriptures speak clearly of the wisdom that comes with age, and younger generations should actively seek out wisdom.”

“We need to see seniors as important contributors within the life of the church. The Scriptures speak clearly of the wisdom that comes with age, and younger generations should actively seek out wisdom.”

Place of honor
Scott Foshie, pastor at Steeleville Baptist Church, said many seniors—whether they are in nursing homes, assisted living or homebound situations—feel as though “life’s passing them by.”

“It’s tragic, but sometimes people are so career-oriented—and people can be caught up in their own plans—that there’s that temptation to kind of neglect [seniors] and maybe kind of pretend that they’re not there,” he said.

Foshie said that kind of attitude undervalues the gift they bring to the body of believers. “None of us ever retire from ministry,” said Foshie, who mentioned many seniors in his church are phenomenal prayer warriors. “They should have a place of honor in our church. We should cherish their wisdom and honor their faithfulness. I think God blesses churches when we take the time to do that and give them that special place.”

One way Christians can honor older people actually hits very close to home, Walker said. “One of the most important things the church can do to witness to its pro-life convictions at all stages is to invite elderly parents, where it is medically possible, into the home to live with adult children.

“I am concerned that the default assumption in America and within the church is to offload care of parents to outside institutions.”

While Walker said nothing is inherently wrong with nursing homes or other similar institutions, he disagrees with the attitude society has about the elderly.

“They are not society’s burden,” said Walker, who plans to take in his parents someday. “They aren’t my burden. They are my parents and I owe them this honor.”

“They aren’t my burden. They are my parents and I owe them this honor.”

Joyce Mancke’s team of 8-10 people from Springfield churches, including Eastview Baptist, visits local nursing homes weekly. “I personally think you should have a [seniors’] ministry team for the church,” she said, adding that the size of the team isn’t important; it’s a person’s heart for the elderly that counts.

“If you’ve got two or three with the heart, God will multiply that,” she said. “It’s like the bread and the fishes. When you see the heartbeat and when you see the Lord directing their life, people want that. You’ve got to be willing to commit, and it’s a big commitment, but you’ve got to be willing to say, ‘Yes, Lord. I’ll go.’ And that’s contagious.”

Although it’s tempting to place all the responsibility of starting a seniors’ ministry onto the pastor, Foshie said the key is actually to mobilize members of the church.

“If I tried to do it all, it would actually limit what God wants to do,” the pastor said. “I think God is a God of relationships, and I think the relationships we enjoy between our generations in the church is a reflection of God’s unconditional love for us.

“If we do not do this, if we do not get involved in ministry on a cross-generational level, then we are really missing out on God’s plan for us.”

Elise Dismer is a freelance writer living in Springfield.

6 ideas for nursing home outreach

1. Sing hymns. Joyce Mancke of SonShine Ministries enlisted the aid of her husband’s quartet when she first started visiting nursing homes. She said that music, especially hymns, seemed to touch the seniors there in a powerful way.

Pastor Scott Foshie of Steeleville Baptist Church agrees that music is “absolutely effective” in seniors’ ministry and draws in a crowd at a nursing home quite quickly, even if it’s just two people singing.

2. Make phone calls and regular visits. Connecting and spending time with seniors is important, especially in cases where a senior can no longer drive. Foshie took his youth group to the nursing home every month or so to mingle and play games with seniors there. “They love it when teenagers come, and young people,” he said. “They love the energy and to interact with them, and I think the teenagers grew to love it. They would tell me if it had been a bit too long since we’d gone to see them.”

3. Study the Bible. Digging into the Word will not only encourage believers, it also acts as an outreach to those who may not know the Lord, Mancke said. She shared that while holding a Bible study with one man, his roommate, who overheard the studies, came to know the Lord.

4. Celebrate birthdays. Whether it’s with birthday cards, flowers, and balloons, Foshie said the gesture of celebrating a person’s life can go a long way in showing that you care.

Likewise, Mancke makes a point to ask if anyone has had a birthday on her visits to nursing homes so that the whole choir—and consequently the whole room—can sing “Happy Birthday” to him or her.

5. Give hugs. Mancke hugs everyone at the nursing homes she visits. She said it’s a good way to combat the feeling of loneliness that many people experience there. “The challenge is just knowing that people care about them,” she said. “You’ve got to make them feel like they’re part of the family.”

6. Make donations. Nursing homes often have a need for clothing like socks, underwear, T-shirts, and sweaters, Mancke said, as well as practical items like lotions, shampoos, combs, hair curlers, blankets, and stationery. Since each nursing home has its own policy on donations, it’s best to call the one near you to find out the most in-demand items or any restrictions that are in place.

In whatever way you reach out to seniors, Mancke said, the impact of the outreach is often surprising. “We go to be a blessing to these people,” she said, “but the funny thing is, we’re the ones who always come back on a mountaintop.”

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We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

SBC candidates: Unity matters

What the U.S. presidential election may have lacked in civility, the 2016 election for Southern Baptist Convention President more than made up for in grace. When a close vote forced a run-off between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear, the election seemed poised to divide Baptists over matters of theology and generation.

Instead, the candidates talked the night before the third vote was to be taken, and one bowed out, urging his supporters to vote for his opponent.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us,” North Carolina pastor Greear posted in support of Tennessee pastor Gaines. “It’s time to look at what unites us.”

On paper, this decade’s SBC presidents are a diverse bunch, not united by much in terms of their backgrounds and interests:

  • Atlanta-area pastor Bryant Wright (2010-2012), who recently spoke out in favor of ministering to refugees
  • Dynamic New Orleans preacher Fred Luter (2012-2014), elected as the SBC’s first ever African American president
  • Ronnie Floyd (2014-2016), pastor of a multi-site church in Arkansas and a prolific blogger who led the denomination toward a laser-like focus on prayer
  • And Gaines, elected in 2016, who has espoused traditional Baptist theology and his own intense focus on evangelism.

What does unite them is a logical progression in the things they have called Baptists toward: For Wright, it was a return to Great Commission principles. Luter’s presidency was marked by impassioned pleas for spiritual awakening and revival. And Floyd called Southern Baptists to their knees—for themselves, their churches, the denomination, the nation, and the world.

Gaines announced he will continue the emphasis on prayer at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix. It may be a sign that the desire for unity, despite differences in age, theological perspective, and communication style, is actually, in Greear’s words, “what unites us.”

A new missions paradigm

After a season in which budget shortfalls and personnel cuts seemed to limit the future potential for Baptist missions engagement around the world, International Mission Board President David Platt continued to preach a message to the contrary.

“Limitless” is the word Platt has used to describe the mission force needed to take the gospel to places without it. To achieve that goal, he has said, the SBC has to think differently about missions and missionaries than we have in the past.

“Let me be crystal clear: the IMB is still going to send full-time, fully-funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent,” Platt said during his report at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “They are the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force.”

But the IMB’s emerging strategy is to put around those missionaries a “limitless” force of students, retirees, and professionals—people who, to borrow Platt’s words, are willing to leverage their jobs and lives so that more might hear and respond to the gospel.

The newly redesigned IMB website reflects the strategy, with buttons for people in a variety of categories to search for opportunities overseas. There are needs for business consultants, healthcare professionals, construction engineers, and more. The IMB also offers training resources for churches to equip and mobilize members for missions, both short-term and longer.

Global mission “is not just for a select few people in the church, but for multitudes of Spirit-filled men and women across the church,” Platt said in St. Louis.

A year ago, when hundreds of IMB missionaries moved back home, the chances of getting the gospel to some of the world’s darkest places seemed dimmer. Now, with a strategy focused on everyday people like the ones who sparked a gospel fire in the New Testament, the opportunities seem endless. Or, limitless.

If I had a hammer

We’ll hear it a lot in the new year. On Halloween night in 1517, disgruntled priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 complaints on the church door in Wittenberg and started an ecclesial revolution. We’re likely to hear about it from all corners, including events at our seminaries, panels at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, and bus tours of Germany. And we may have a few serious discussions about the theological direction of the SBC. Look for Reformation@500 in the pages of the Illinois Baptist throughout 2017.

Read Cloudy with a chance of surprises, pt. 1