Archives For September 2012

COMMENTARY | Thom Rainer

Editor’s note: In a column posted on Baptist Press, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer listed 10 factors that threaten the church’s effectiveness. See his list below, and add your own in the comments section. And go to to read the full column.

1. Spiritual lethargy.
2. Growing inclusivism.
3. Growing disbelief in hell.
4. Busyness.
5. Fear of rejection.
6. A desire to be tolerant.
7. Losing the habit of witnessing.
8. Lack of accountability.
9. Failure to invite.
10. We go to churches that do not reach the unchurched.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The national fast food chain landed back in the frying pan in mid-September, when a Chicago alderman announced he had succeeded in changing the company’s mind concerning its support of same-sex marriage.

Joe Moreno, who sparked a national debate this summer when he threatened to block Chick-Fil-A from opening restaurants in his ward because of the company’s views, claimed the chain had promised to no longer give money to groups against same-sex marriage.

But others are calling foul on the alderman’s supposed victory.

“There continues to be erroneous implications in the media that Chick-Fil-A changed our practices and priorities in order to obtain permission for a new restaurant in Chicago. That is incorrect,” said Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, via former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s website.

“Chick-Fil-A made no such concessions, and we remain true to who we are and who we have been.”

Two things seem to be Moreno’s main issues with Chick-Fil-A: The company’s contributions to organizations that support traditional marriage, like Focus on the Family; and an anti-discrimination policy that Moreno claims Chick-Fil-A has introduced in the aftermath of the summer controversy.

The alderman said Chick-Fil-A agreed to add language “opposing discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to the company’s employee handbook,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

But Chick-Fil-A’s “Who We Are” document, to which Moreno said the new language would be added, repeats the wording the company used this summer when defending its beliefs and practices. According to a Baptist Press report, Chick-Fil-A’s tradition is to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

The Who We Are document also says Chick-fil-A “supports programs and marriage retreats to help strengthen and enrich marriages,” which more than 4,000 couples attend annually.

According to CNN, Moreno said Cathy”s statement “at the least, muddied the progress we had made with Chick-fil-A and, at the worst, contradicted the documents and promises Chick-fil-A made to me and the community earlier this month.”

The public continues to weigh in on Chick-Fil-A’s Facebook page, posting thousands of comments. Now, it’s your turn:

In your opinion, has Chick-Fil-A done a good job of navigating this summer’s debates over its leader’s views?

Other news:

Supreme Court justice predicts DOMA will appear before Court
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
a Supreme Court justice since 1993, said in an address at the University of Colorado Law School that the Defense of Marriage Act is likely to go before the nation’s highest court by next year. “I think it’s most likely that we will have that issue before the court toward the end of the current term,” said Ginsburg, according to the Christian Post. Earlier this year, the First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned DOMA Section 3, which defines marriage in federal law in the traditional sense. Read more at

WMU announces young women’s outreach
(From Baptist Press) National Woman’s Missionary Union is stepping up its ministry to younger women through myMISSION, a new, primarily web-based organization for young adult women engaging in missions. The new organization builds on the website that WMU created in 2007 to provide missions discipleship resources to the next generation of young women. The site features missional Bible studies and products, interactive blogs from six young adult women in different stages of life, and articles on such topics as prayer, social justice, time management, money and relationships. Read more at

LifeWay surveys churches’ Lord’s Supper practices
(From LifeWay Christian Resources) The majority of Southern Baptist churches permit anyone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ to participate in the Lord’s Supper, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. The survey of 1,066 SBC pastors found 96 percent of their churches allow individuals who are not members of that local church to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Only 4 percent restrict participation to local church members. The survey also revealed that 57 percent of SBC churches observe the Lord’s Supper quarterly. For more findings, go to

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

My dad is a big fan of Southern Gospel music. We grew up listening to quartets like The Cathedrals on the way to school, and every single Christmas was highlighted by a viewing of the Gaithers’ Christmas Homecoming Celebration. (Just try to listen to “Come and see what’s happenin’ in the barn” without getting into the Christmas spirit. Dare ya.)

Gospel music tells great stories, and often lends itself to real-life stories of redemption. My dad’s favorite example of this has to do with a Gospel music queen, a fallen country superstar, and the song “Angel Band.” Here’s what happened, according to country music broadcaster Ralph Emery:

Singer George Jones had a serious, alcohol-related car accident in 1999. A long-time drinker, Jones was severely depressed in the days following his accident. As he struggled to recuperate from his injuries, no one could make him feel any better about anything, and he became more and more isolated. But he said he’d be willing to visit with his friend Vestal Goodman, the centerpiece of a group called The Happy Goodman Family, and owner of the most ground-shaking alto voice you’ve ever heard.

Emery helped connect Jones and Goodman, and sure enough, Jones started to take a turn for the better. In an interview about the meeting, Emery said, “As Vestal said, ‘I went out to George’s and ran the devil off.'” They later had a hit duet with the song “Angel Band” (Here’s a link to their performance of the song, but you have to promise me that you won’t make fun of anything when you watch it. Remember, country and Gospel music have their own rules when it comes to sound and fashion, and we need to let them have that.)

Here’s the lesson: Vestal didn’t have much to gain from a visit with George. He was down and out, and probably a pariah in the relatively straight-laced world of country music. And I’m certain he wasn’t any fun to talk to. But she went anyway, to “run the devil off” and remind him of God’s goodness, mercy, grace and forgiveness, and to bring him some hope. The fog of his depression lifted, and Jones was able to sing again. And I know you can’t read too much into the songs a singer sings, but check out these lyrics from “Angel Band”:

My latest sun is sinking fast,
My race is nearly won.
My strongest trails now have are passed,
And my triumph is begun

Oh come, angel band.
Come and around me stand.
Bear me away on your snow white wings,
To my immortal home.

It appears, at least in the song, that Vestal’s words hit their mark. Who has shared that kind of hope with you? And who in your life needs to hear of the lasting hope only Jesus can provide?




A couple of days after the recent IBSA Board of Directors meeting, I traveled to Texas for a meeting with other State Executive Directors and leaders from the North American Mission Board. Our special speaker during that meeting was Dr. Jimmy Draper, past president of LifeWay Christian Resources and respected Baptist pastor and statesman for many decades.

Speaking primarily from John 17, Dr. Draper focused our thoughts on Jesus’ prayer for unity, and invited us to consider what might happen if we as Baptist leaders enjoyed the type of unity for which Jesus was praying. To be frank, relationships between many state conventions and NAMB have been strained for the past couple of years, as NAMB’s new strategies have reduced funding through state conventions.

During that same meeting, however, a committee of State Executive Directors that has been studying NAMB’s new direction and its impact on state conventions presented a very encouraging report. The committee and NAMB President Kevin Ezell then presented a new plan for state conventions and NAMB to move forward together that met with unanimous approval.

More important than the consensus being unanimous, however, was the fact that it was unifying. And there is a difference. As Dr. Draper shared with us later that evening, Jesus did not ask that everyone agree on everything (unanimity), or that everyone be the same (uniformity), or that everyone express themselves the same way (unison). In praying for our unity, Jesus was asking that our deep and resilient love for Him and for one another keep us together in spite of our differences, harmoniously moving toward a lost world in His name.

Listening to this teaching on unity, and watching it unfold in our Texas meeting, my mind returned to Illinois, and the IBSA board’s recent consideration of acquiring property for a leadership center in Springfield. You can read about that decision in the September 24 issue of the Illinois Baptist (online here), so I won’t recount the details in this post. But what pleased me most about the board’s action was that it also placed a high value on unity.

It’s challenging to know, sometimes, the common direction in which a thousand diverse Baptist churches from all over the state should go. Though most of the IBSA board and staff felt positively about the value and strategy of a Springfield leadership center, we decided to write a letter outlining the opportunity to all IBSA churches, in addition to the information provided in the Illinois Baptist and the IBSA website.

For the next two weeks, about 50 e-mails, phone calls, and personal conversations helped me “take the pulse” of Illinois Baptists on the subject. A majority of the feedback was positive toward the opportunity, but a significant minority expressed concerns or opposition.

The IBSA Advisory Committee and I, who had been studying the opportunity most closely, then faced a challenge. It appeared that both the decision to move forward with the acquisition and the decision to back away from it would be met with some disappointment. We prayed and discussed, and in the end we proposed an amended motion that we believed was a vote for unity, rather than for or against property.

The amended motion, adopted overwhelmingly by the full IBSA board, backs away from the property at the current price, and backs away from borrowing money. At the same time, it leaves the door slightly open for donors to step up with contributions, or for the seller to step down in price, though both of those scenarios are unlikely.

As I wrote earlier, it’s challenging to know, sometimes, the common direction in which a thousand diverse Baptist churches from all over the state should go. We can’t always count on unanimity, or uniformity, or unison. But we can explore new ideas, listen to one another, and make decisions that place a high value on unity, trusting God to keep moving us forward, together.

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

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Survey shines light on Scripture habits
A recent LifeWay Research study found few churchgoers are daily engaging in personal reading and study of Scripture. When asked how often they personally (not as part of a worship service) read the Bible, 19% of those surveyed said every day; 26% said a few times a week, 14% said once a week, 22% said once a month or a few times a month, and 18% said rarely/never.

“Bible engagement has an impact in just about every area of spiritual growth,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “You can follow Christ and see Christianity as your source of truth, but if that truth does not permeate your thoughts, aspirations and actions, you are not fully engaging the truth.

“God’s Word is truth, so it should come as no surprise that reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most impact on growth in this attribute of spiritual maturity,” Stetzer said. “As basic as that is, there are still numerous churchgoers who are not reading the Bible regularly. You simply won’t grow if you don’t know God and spend time in God’s Word.”

Read more survey findings at

Texas Baptists affirm marriage
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) is promoting a petition that affirms the biblical definition of marriage and asks President Barack Obama to reconsider his support of gay marriage. In a recent chapel service at Southwestern Seminary, SBTC President Terry Turner urged professors and students to sign the petition, online at Turner, an African American pastor, also rejected the notion that homosexuality is a civil rights issue.

“I saw what my ancestors went through, how they fought against the Jim Crow laws because of the color of their skin,” Turner said. “I saw how they fought to become citizens as black Americans through the civil rights movement. And it was about the color of the skin. It was about the way a person was really born. But I have got news for you today. God made us all male or female, regardless of the color of our skin. And when homosexuals try to jump on the civil rights movement, they are missing it. And it just burns me up, because sexual preference has never been a civil rights issue.” Read the Baptist Press story here.

Retailer files suit against mandate
Evangelical-owned Hobby Lobby has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s contraceptive/abortion mandate, becoming the largest business yet to take action against the rule. Although Hobby Lobby’s insurance plans cover contraceptives that are preventative in nature, the company won’t cover anything that causes a chemical abortion, said founder and CEO David Green. “… We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.” Read the full story at Baptist Press.

Athletes share faith at
NFL quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy speak candidly about their faith in Jesus Christ at, a website that gives athletes, actors, musicians and non-celebrities a chance to say why they’re “second” in their lives (and why Christ is first). “The minute that you start to think that you’re first, and He’s second, and that what you think, and what you have planned in your mind, is more important than what He has planned for your life, that’s the minute your life starts to go the wrong way.” Watch more videos at

The nations at our doorstep

Meredith Flynn —  September 17, 2012

HEARTLAND | Illinois Mission Offering

Editor’s note: The devotional below is Day 2 of the Illinois Mission Offering and Season of Prayer, which many churches across Illinois will focus on Sept. 16-23. Sign up to receive more devotionals like the one below at, and watch the video below for the full story.

There are two million international people who now call Illinois home. That’s 14% of our population, making the state sixth in the nation in the number of foreign-born residents. IBSA outreach to immigrants includes ministries on college campuses, where 34,000 students have come to the U.S. to study, many from countries where Christian faith is not openly practiced.

Feng Yu, a Ph.D student at Southern Illinois University, came to faith through Baptist Campus Ministry and a local congregation in Carbondale. And many of IBSA’s church plants are especially for unreached ethnic peoples who have gathered in our cities. In Chicago alone, Baptist congregations worship in more than 20 languages.

We can reach the world as these new believers in turn share their newfound faith with their families back home. As pastor Phil Nelson said, “God is bringing the nations to our doorstep; if we’re going to reach the nations, we’ve got great opportunity right here.”

Read: Ephesians 2:12-22

Pray for changed lives of international people through IBSA’s campus ministries, church planters, and churches hosting English as Second Language (ESL) classes.

COMMENTARY | Mark Coppenger

A number of years ago, I got a Sunday night call from a pastor who was facing backlash from a prominent deacon in his church. The critic was taking exception to his statement that Proverbs 22:6 wasn’t a guarantee – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

The layman was “claiming the promise” that his wayward son, having been brought up in a seriously Christian home and church, would eventually straighten up and fly right. When the pastor ventured to suggest the verse wasn’t an ironclad warranty, the distraught, indignant dad said he was denying the truth of Scripture, and was threatening to take his complaint to others in the church.

What can one say to this?

Well, a not-so-impressive approach is to suggest that it might well be the case that the man and his wife hadn’t “trained him up in the way he should go” after all. If they had, the boy wouldn’t be on the wrong path. In other words, the proof was in the pudding.

Or, we could say, “Just wait. It’ll all work out, just as the Bible promises.” But we can all think of Christian families where all but one of the kids turned out well, and where it is hard to say how the one child was trained significantly more poorly than the others.

A much better approach is to see Proverbs as a divine book of moral generalities, of rules of thumb, rather than a book of pointed prophecies, physical laws or contractual obligations. That’s just what proverbs or aphorisms are meant to be, whether we’re talking about such secular versions as “a stitch in time saves nine” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or the inspired, biblical counterparts, “A gracious woman gains honor” (Proverbs 11:16) or “wealth obtained by fraud will dwindle” (Proverbs 13:11). Though we can think of exceptions to these rules, there is deep and life-important truth in them.

Proverbs 22:16, the verse in question, teaches us that sound religious and moral upbringing is a wise investment of time and energy. It’s the sort of thing that pays off in a big way. And to neglect it is to flirt with disaster.

With this view of Proverbs, you don’t lose trust in Scripture when the skeptic says, “Aha, I know a lazy man who lived like a king all his life on his inheritance” as a way to refute Proverbs 24:33-34 (“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”) The problem would arise if, in general, laziness proved to be a better path to success than hard work. Which it won’t. And neither will laissez-faire parenting, where the kids are allowed to run wild and ignorant.

Mark Coppenger, former pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church, is professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

-Excerpted from Baptist Press

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently called North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell to thank him for the work Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers have done in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.

“She called to say how much she appreciates everything Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are doing and to acknowledge that our efforts are a key part of the response,” Ezell said. “The investment Southern Baptists have made in disaster relief over the years has helped us become a key partner in times of crisis.”

Baptist Press reports that in the days since Isaac hit, Disaster Relief feeding teams have cooked and delivered more than 130,500 meals at field kitchens in Louisiana and Mississippi. Volunteers have also recorded 78 chainsaw, 54 mud-out and 8 roofing jobs; provided almost 2,200 showers and laundry loads for victims and volunteers; provided childcare for 41 children; and made 2,231 ministry contacts and 47 Gospel presentations.

Isaac-related outreach has led to at least five professions of faith and nine other faith-related decisions. Read more, including New Orleans pastor and SBC President Fred Luter’s response, here.

Other news:

Democrats wrestle with God language at national convention
God is back in the official platform of the Democratic party, but some evangelical and minority leaders are wondering if they still belong in their party.

The Christian Post reports that the flap over leaving God out of the platform at the Democratic National Convention (and then voting to put Him back in) has left some African American and Hispanic Christian Democrats worried their party will be labeled “the party that booed God.” (After a motion was approved to put “God” language back in the party’s platform, some delegates booed audibly.)

The news site posted a column by Libertarian party leader Wayne Allen Root questioning whether the party can recover from the moment. “There is room for thousands of delegates at the Democratic Convention. Tens of thousands including the media. On Wednesday, the radical forces in the Democratic Party made it clear there is no room for God,” Root wrote.

Leaders also are concerned about other planks of the party’s platform, including abortion and same-sex marriage, and how they might affect the Democrats’ ability to connect with evangelicals this November. Read more at

Iranian pastor freed after years in jail
Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor who spent more than 1,000 days in jail, was acquitted of the apostasy charges against him and released Sept. 8. Nadarkhani was sentenced to death in Iran in 2010 for converting from Islam to Christianity, and was given several opportunities to recant his faith in court. He refused each time, and says he was never a Muslim. Although he was cleared of the apostasy charges, he was found guilty of converting Muslims to Christianity, which would have carried a three-year jail sentence. But Nadarkhani was released on time served. Read the full story at

Death of IMB worker in Jordan ruled foul play
Cheryll Harvey, who had served 24 years with the International Mission Board in Jordan, was killed during a robbery attempt at her apartment in Irbid, Jordan’s second largest city. Police have arrested a suspect. Harvey, 55, originally from Texas, established the ESL language center in Jordan, where 300-400 college students study each semester.

“Cheryll was greatly loved by both our personnel in the Middle East and by her many students,” IMB President Tom Elliff said. “We are faced once again with a sobering reminder of the brevity of life and the importance of faithfully serving the Lord to the very end of our time on earth. Cheryll has left for us a great example that we should follow.” Read more about Harvey’s life at

Professor and statesman Roy Fish dies at 82
Dr. Roy Fish
, who served Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for nearly 50 years, passed away Sept. 10 at the age of 82. News of Fish’s death prompted words of admiration and memorial from many SBC leaders. “Dr. Roy Fish was at once a fabulous lecturer and the most consistent soul winner I know,” said Southwestern President Paige Patterson. “He lit a fire under thousands of students.” Read more here.


A lamp in the dark

Meredith Flynn —  September 10, 2012

HEARTLAND | Esther Eggley

You are my lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light. (2 Samuel 22:29, NIV)

One year, my parents, sister and I took a camping trip traveling through the Southwest. Our first night in the Rocky Mountains, we pitched our tent in a small campground. The restrooms were on the other side of a small wooded area. And the cloud cover made for an extremely dark night.

Some time late in the night, my Dad and I decided to make a trip to the restrooms. We carried a flashlight, taking the longer route on the paved road to avoid meeting up with any unknown critters in the woods.

On our return trip, I heard a voice speaking in a loud whisper coming from the woods. It was calling my name. I couldn’t see anyone, and I didn’t recognize the voice. My heart started beating fast. I knew my dad was startled too, because he stopped suddenly and aimed the light into the woods. As the light came around, we saw a figure robed in white, beckoning me. When the light revealed the whole being, there stood my mother in her white housecoat. She had decided to meet us at the restrooms but didn’t want to wake the camp by calling my name too loudly. My father was quick to point out how unwise it was to be traipsing through the woods in the mountains in the middle of the night with a flashlight, but even worse, without one.

Life sometimes makes my heart race. Confronting unknown voices, obstacles and situations is frightening. When I remember that as I study God’s Word, He turns my darkness into light through understanding.

Let this be our prayer: Thank you God, that you have not hidden yourself from us. You sent your son so we could see you. You gave us the Bible to reveal the things we need in our walk with You.

Esther Eggley serves on IBSA’s Church Planting team.

COMMENTARY | Stephen Nyberg

Today, we find ourselves in a great conflict to determine whether this nation shall continue to be “One Nation Under God” or, as President Ronald Reagan so aptly said, “If we ever stop being one nation under God, we will be a nation gone under.”

God has given us the privilege of determining the direction of our country by exercising our right to vote. But in the 2006 non-presidential election, 20 million evangelical Christians did not vote even though they were registered, according to voter records from Tufts University. And 10 million evangelicals weren’t even registered to vote.

The numbers didn’t change in 2010, and just two years prior to that, the presidential election was decided by 10 million votes!

Our Creator has blessed us with this precious way of life called America. And the Bible teaches that we are to be good stewards of our gifts.

God birthed this great nation as surely as He wrote the Bible. He used faithful, godly men who came of age during “The Great Awakening” to implant the ideas and create the documents to form a government and a freedom that would cause His Gospel to flourish. And it has, at least until recently.

John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and author of “The Federalist Papers” said, “We have as our duty and privilege in this Christian Nation, to prefer and select Christians as our leaders.”

In his “History of the United States,” Noah Webster (of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary) expounded on Jay’s words:

“The preservation of [our] government depends on the faithful discharge of this Duty; if the citizens neglect their Duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the Laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizen will be violated or disregarded.”

We must prayerfully consider each candidate – local, state and national – and the record of each, to determine whether their actions and decisions are consistent with the teachings of Holy Scripture, for these people will determine our future culture. It is our Christian duty to choose for leaders those who will make policies that will invite God’s blessing, as opposed to His judgment.

Make sure you’re registered to vote in the presidential election Nov. 6. And vote for those who support God’s commandments and Jesus teachings.

Your turn: In five words or less, describe how you feel about voting in this fall’s election.