Archives For December 2012

Editor’s note: The following article is adapted from a bulletin insert available at The author is former Illinois Baptist pastor Don Whitney.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

For more questions to ask at the beginning of 2013, go to

The Youth Encounter student event begins tomorrow, December 28, in Springfield. Tim Sadler, IBSA’s evangelism director and organizer of the two-day conference, asks you to pray for these three things:

1. That even now, God would be working in the hearts of students who will attend Youth Encounter, and that those who don’t know yet Him will have open ears and hearts to the Gospel.

2. That the Gospel would be clearly preached.

3. That students would hear and respond, and that many would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Meredith Flynn —  December 25, 2012

And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,Who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

(“O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” original author unknown)

(All Sons & Daughters, “Come to Save Us”)

A prayer for Newtown

Meredith Flynn —  December 20, 2012

COMMENTARY | Matt Tullos

At Christmastime we read the prophecies of a soon coming King. Coming to give us hope. Coming to give us comfort.

“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to her and proclaim to her.”

During this holy season we’ve encountered a world filled with terror and mourning. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

That was the world in which Christ was born. This is the world where He still lives. We are His hands and feet. We are His voice of tenderness. Hands that serve those whose burden defy description. Feet that walk toward the mess and give grace. And a voice to pray.


Father of comfort, Lord of life

Once again, we’ve witnessed the fallen-ness of our world.
The evil that sends kids to coffins and parents into dark tunnels of hopelessness. May we rise up to give hope and peace.

We must confess through tears and moments of disbelief that the battle is not over.
The enemy is not simply a villain of bones and flesh.
It’s the spirit that turns us from joy to hopelessness.
It is a serpent in a garden.
It is a sneering giant.
It is an evil that caused nations to crumble and hearts to grow cold.
It’s the fear of the chaos and heartache untold.

May the brokenness of the world break us.
May the grace of the Lord remake us.

Comfort the community of Sandy Hook Elementary.
We ask your spirit to reside in their homes of unfathomable agony.

Kindle our spirits.
Compel us to pray.
Sing over this weary world.
And may we join in with comfort.
Comfort, comfort your people
In the Name of the Savior who was acquainted with grief.

(Scriptures from Matthew 2:19 and Isaiah 40:1)


Matt Tullos is pastor of Bluegrass Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. This article first appeared on

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The news out of Newtown, Connecticut, is heartbreaking. Families suffering and broken over the senseless shooting that took the lives of 27 people at an elementary school, including 20 children between the ages of six and seven.

It’s impossible to answer the “why” questions that arise out of such a violent, evil act. But Christians can and should respond, said missiologist and author Ed Stetzer.

“First, pray,” Stetzer wrote on his blog, “Pray for hurting families and broken communities that have had their children ripped from them. Pray for churches to minister to the hurting. Pray for people not to lose heart. And, yes, pray for Jesus to come back and set this broken world right.”

The second response: “Don’t be afraid to say that the world is horribly broken. Speak about its broken condition. This brokenness is all around us. Evil is real – bad people are doing horrible things. The world really is broken…

“The brokenness of the world is on full display this day. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. All the silly “positive thinking religion” collapses on days like this. This world is broken and only God has the ultimate fix.”

And finally, “Do something,” Stetzer urged Christians. “Yes, hug your kids, but find a way to serve the others and be an agent of the Kingdom of God– an ambassador of Jesus in a world that does not follow him and His ways. Respond to this evil by doing good. Join Jesus on his mission.”

Read his full post here.

No to pro-life tags
“Choose Life” license plates may never hit the streets in North Carolina. Federal Judge James Fox ruled the plates are unconstitutional because there is no alternative pro-choice option. Lawmakers last year voted down an additional plate that would read “Trust Women. Respect Choice.” State Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who sponsored the bill that created the plates, told WRAL-TV he’ll try again when the General Assembly reconvenes, but won’t budge on a pro-choice plate. “I’d be willing to sacrifice this [the pro-choice plate] before I’d be willing to vote for that. Read more

Most approve birth control mandate
Two-thirds of American adults agree with the healthcare mandate requiring employers to cover contraception in their benefits package, even if it runs counter to the business owners’ religious principles, according to a LifeWay Research survey. Fewer respondents, 53%, favor applying the mandate to Catholic and other religious schools, hospitals and charities. LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer said the study shows the public “appears unaware or unconcerned” that some business owners are fearful of losing their religious liberty under the new regulations. Read more

Hindu text used at swearing-in
Representative Tulsi Gabbard will make a very public expression of her faith at her swearing-in ceremony this month. Gabbard, a Hawaiian and the first-ever Hindu member of the U.S. House of Representatives, will use the Bhagavad Gita during the ceremony, instead of a Bible. “For Hindu Americans, it is a historic moment,” said Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, in a Huffington Post report. Read more

Faith keeps gymnast balanced
Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas is only 16, but life has given her a book-full of lessons so far. She shares some in “Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith,” co-written with Michelle Burford and published by Zondervan. Douglas told Christianity Today, “I always pray at every competition, when the judge’s hand goes up I am praying, and there are little Scriptures I like to quote. That keeps me motivated when I am about to go out on the competition floor.” Read more

-With info from WRAL-TV,, Huffington Post, Christianity Today

HEARTLAND | Donald S. Whitney
Christmas_partyEditor’s note: The following article is adapted from a bulletin insert available at The author is former Illinois Baptist pastor Don Whitney,

Many of us struggle to make conversation at Christmas gatherings, whether church events, work-related parties, neighborhood drop-ins, or annual family occasions. Sometimes our difficulty lies in having to chat with people we rarely see or have never met. At other times we simply don’t know what to say to those with whom we feel little in common.

As Christians we want to take advantage of the special opportunities provided by the Christmas season to share our faith, but are often unsure how to begin. Here’s a list of questions designed not only to kindle a conversation in almost any Christmas situation, but also to take the dialogue gradually to a deeper level:

1. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since last Christmas?2. What was your best Christmas ever? Why?
3. What’s the most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
4. What was the most appreciated Christmas gift you’ve ever given?
5. What was your favorite Christmas tradition as a child?
6. What is your favorite Christmas tradition now?
7. What do you do to try to keep Christ in Christmas?
8. Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?
9. Do you think the birth of Jesus deserves such a nearly worldwide celebration?
10. Why do you think Jesus came to earth?

Of course, remember to pray before your Christmas gatherings. Ask the Lord to grant you “divine appointments,” to guide your conversations, and to open doors for the gospel. May He use you to bring glory to Christ this Christmas.

Don Whitney is Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Senior Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

FRIENDLY INVASION – “Invade your city strategically,” advises Ronnie Floyd. The Arkansas pastor and SBC leader urged Illinois pastors to identify local people groups and customize ministry to share the Gospel with them.

“Invade your city strategically,” advises Ronnie Floyd. He urged Illinois pastors to identify local people groups and customize ministry to share the Gospel with them.


Many pastors and church leaders may wonder if they could be more effective in a different community or congregation. But Ronnie Floyd, who has served his Arkansas church for more than 25 years, warned against longing for a better location.

“Some of you wonder if He forgot your e-mail address and your cell number, but He’s got you fixed where you are,” said Floyd, who spoke to Illinois leaders during the IBSA Pastors’ Conference November 13.

He told a story about his community of Springdale, Arkansas, which is home to up to 8,000 people from the Marshall Islands. It’s a long way from Arkansas to the tiny collection of atolls in the North Pacific Ocean. In fact, fly out of Little Rock to Honolulu, and you’re still only about halfway there.

These thousands of Marshallese have journeyed to the middle of America in search of jobs, mostly in the poultry industry. They found jobs. But more important, they found the Gospel.

“They thought they were coming for chicken,” Floyd said of the Marshallese immigrants, “but they were groping for Jesus.” Today, Floyd’s congregation hosts the first Southern Baptist congregation for Marshallese in North America.

God’s placement of people – whether it’s a pastor or someone who needs to hear the Gospel – is providential and purposeful.

“God had brought everyone of those people to town for a purpose, that they might seek and go after God,” Floyd said. “His sovereign plan has brought lost people to your town, too, so you can see them as he sees them and can strategize and reach them.”

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Families looking for a break from the holiday hustle and bustle might escape to movie theaters for two faith-themed films, one out now and the other set for a Christmas Day release.

“The Life of Pi,” [PG] is about a shipwrecked Indian boy left with only one friend – a similarly shipwrecked tiger. Critic Phil Boatwright calls it “the most visually stunning film of the year,” and also commends the film’s director, Ang Lee, for making a movie that deals with faith. The movie “doesn’t promote one religion over another,” Boatwright said. “It does, however, what so few films do: It suggests that we become aware of spiritual matters and rely on our faith when the conundrums of the day overwhelm.”

Overwhelming circumstances are also the subject of another, perhaps more clearly Christian, story set for cinemas on Christmas Day. The highly anticipated movie musical “Les Miserables” has A-list stars and a trailer that’s already gotten serious buzz. And the story is a classic redemptive tale: Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread to feed his family, spends several heart-hardening years in prison, gets out, and spends the rest of his life trying to live up to the kindness shown him by a forgiving minister.

“Les Miserables” is rated PG-13 for grown-up themes and some language, and is likely unsuitable for younger kids. But for adults who choose to see it, the themes of forgiveness, generosity and sacrifice will likely spark many conversations this Christmas season.

Your turn: What movies are you excited to see this Christmas?

Other news:

Economy could make adoption harder for some
From Baptist Press | With Congress embroiled in debate over the so-called fiscal cliff, many in the adoption community are concerned the adoption tax credit set to expire at year’s end could be forgotten, even though immediate action is needed. The tax credit that provided last year a maximum of $13,360 to each adoptive family has helped countless low- and middle-income families afford the costly endeavor. Read more.

How honest is your job?
From | Nurses have the highest ethical standards of any profession, according to Americans surveyed in Gallup’s annual study on the honesty and ethics of various vocations. 85% percent of those surveyed ranked nurses as “high” or “very high” on the ethics scale. “Clergy” ranked 8th on the list, with 52%; journalists were ranked highly by 24% of respondents; and car salespeople were last on the list, with 8%. Full list.

Sending a son

Meredith Flynn —  December 10, 2012

ADAMS_Dec10 copyHEARTLAND | Nate Adams

It’s been several years since we sent our first son off to school. But it was a fairly traumatic event in our family, so I remember it clearly.

The trauma actually began the night before when we were reviewing with little Caleb the details of what would go in his school bag, when the bus would pick him up, what his teacher’s name was, etc. His mom was reassuring him, and herself, that everything would be OK and that he was ready for this important new adventure.

She had just told him about the wonderful, mid-morning fruit snack he would enjoy, when he looked up with helpless, pre-kindergarten eyes and asked, “But Mom, who will peel my banana for me?”

This of course sent Beth into a frenzy of self-doubt. How could we send our little boy off into the world without banana-peeling skills? How many other parenting deficiencies had we overlooked?

The next morning, things only got worse. Caleb insisted on wearing his favorite, familiar, but tattered T-shirt, and Beth and I disagreed on how well that would represent the family. His younger brother Noah started whining and then crying that he didn’t want Caleb to go off to school. When it came time to go out and meet the bus, Caleb literally held on to the front doorknob and starting crying. That triggered his mom’s tears.

Fortunately a young lady that I now refer to as the best bus driver in the world rescued us. She pulled up, swung open the doors of the big yellow bus, and cheerfully called out, “Hi Caleb, ready for your first day of school?” It turns out she had driven the route the previous day, and learned all the names of the new kindergarteners. She directed Caleb to a special seat in the front row, and said some reassuring words to Beth and me. Like I said, best bus driver in the world.

So before I knew it, Caleb was on the bus and I was in my car on the way to work. And it was there that I found myself asking, “What just happened here?  Why was this so hard?”

I began to pray. And it was then I found myself asking some different questions. In eternity past, had there been an event like this for God? Was there some kind of moment when he looked upon His own dear Son, and instead of majestic robes saw swaddling clothes? Doesn’t Philippians 2 tell us that God more or less watched from heaven’s front step as Jesus left home to do what had to be done, and what only Jesus could do?

I realized then why this first day of school had been so heart wrenching. I had just experienced a faint reflection of what God experienced in His own heart that first Christmas, as He sent His own dear Son for the ultimate good of the world and the people He created.

There was a very happy ending to that traumatic first day of school for us. Caleb returned home bubbling with joy at the new friends he’d made, and how much he liked his teacher, and how the banana peeled just fine. He went on through many years of grade school, high school, and college, and made many new friends. Next month we will send that same little boy off, not to kindergarten, but to marriage.

And the story of Christmas has a happy ending too. God released His omnipotent, heroic Son to become a frail human baby because He knew that in doing so Jesus would also return home, having completed His mission at the cross, and having gathered many friends around Him as well. Sending a son is not easy. But it sure can have a happy ending.

Merry Christmas.

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