Archives For October 2013

plateCOMMENTARY | Michael Allen

Editor’s note: Check with your doctor before beginning any kind of fast.

Forty days without food sounds extraordinary to most of us. Who can live without food for that long? You might hurt yourself; you might even die.

But after 40 days without food, I’m sure the discipline of fasting is part of God’s design for those who know Him. And it’s necessary if we’re going to see revival in our churches, our state, our country, and our world.

Last fall, I sensed God moving me toward fasting. Our church was in the middle of a capital campaign – Project Elevate – to make the building accessible for the 3,000 wheelchair-bound people in our immediate vicinity. We had a clear vision: Enabling the disabled to see and hear Jesus at Uptown Baptist Church. But we only had about 20% of what we needed to add an elevator to the building, and I was very discouraged.

But I began to sense God saying, “Michael, if you want something you’ve never had before, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done before.” I felt like God wanted me to do a 40-day fast and trust Him with the results. I told my congregation so they could fast and pray along with me.

Around that same time, the nationwide crime statistics were released, and Chicago was named the “murder capital of the U.S.” after a particularly violent year. Our city became another focus of the fast, and some sister churches in our neighborhood joined in.

On January 2, 2013, I stepped out to do something I’d never done.

I engaged in a complete food fast, drinking only liquids – water, juices, coffee and tea. In the evening, I heated up a bowl of V8 and drank it like soup. After day four or five, the light-headedness went away, I stopped feeling the hunger pangs, and I was really able to focus.

What I found is that your body actually feels better when you’re fasting, at least after those initial few days. Your mind is clearer and alert, and you’re calmer. My prayer habits changed too. My normal mode of prayer is to pray silently, but during the fast, I felt the Lord prompting me to pray out loud. Throughout the fast, I had a greater expectation of God answering my prayers, and a greater closeness and communion with Him.

I saw Him work in our church too. A few days after I started the fast, Uptown received an anonymous donation that put us over the halfway mark in our capital campaign.

When the first and second quarter crime statistics were released, we rejoiced that gun crime was down 90% in our community, and had decreased all over the city. The numbers rose in the summer, as they often do, and you may have read recently about a drive-by shooting near our church steps. A few weeks after the Aug. 19 shooting, there was another incidence of violence a block away. Both were too close to home.

But our church has responded.

So far in 2013, we have received more people in membership and baptized more than we have in any of the eight years I’ve been pastor at Uptown. We’re seeing God add to the church in greater numbers than we’ve ever seen before.

Throughout the fast, I found myself personally renewed as well. I noticed I had a hyper-sensitivity to the Word of God and the work of God around me. I tended to listen more carefully to situations that came to my attention, whether it was dealing with my children, my wife, our extended family, or issues that came up in the church.

There was a sense of incredible peace and objectivity to listen, to analyze, to empathize, and to respond with wise counsel or with whatever was appropriate for the moment. There wasn’t the usual anxiety or exhaustion that sometimes comes from dealing with those things. I felt like I was responding in the Spirit and not in the flesh.

Fasting isn’t a magic formula to fix whatever’s ailing you, your church or your city. It doesn’t ensure financial favor or less violence or personal happiness. But it does create more time margin for you to pray and seek God, for who He is and what He would have you do. And He’s faithful to provide.

Michael Allen is pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The North American Mission Board has coordinated a clean-up effort in the Northeast for almost one full year, since the super storm swept through New Jersey and New York. Watch the video below for how Southern Baptist volunteers have helped in the region, and click here for more information about how to help, including Christmas and Spring Break opportunities for college students.

Mohler bridges divide at BYU
Christians and Mormons “inhabit separate and irreconcilable theological worlds,” Al Mohler told an audience at Brigham Young University. But the Southern Seminary president added the two groups should work together to address threats to religious liberty, Baptist Press reports.

“I do not mean to exaggerate, but we are living in the shadow of a great moral revolution that we commonly believe will have grave and devastating human consequences,” Mohler said in his lecture, part of the Mormon university’s “Faith, Family and Society” series. Christians and Mormons must together “push back against this age as hard as it is pressing against us,” Mohler said. “We had better press hard, for this age is pressing ever harder against us.” Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Life is complicated, most say
Two-thirds of all adults say life is getting more complicated, and 71% of evangelicals agree. The findings by Barna may indicate evangelicals and Catholics – 71% of whom also agreed – are recognizing “a growing disparity between the rhythms and values of their faith and the demands of a rapidly changing culture,” the researchers analyzed. Read more about Barna’s “three trends redefining the information age” here.

Conference examines C.S. Lewis’ popularity in America
Author C.S. Lewis was more celebrated here than in his own country, say the organizers of a one-day conference at Wheaton College. To mark the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death, the college is hosting “C.S. Lewis and American Culture,” a one-day seminar featuring speakers on a variety of Lewis-related topics. For more information about the conference, click here. And ChristianityToday.com recently published a really interesting profile of Lewis’ wife marriage to Joy Davidman. Read it here.

HEARTLAND | What an amazing promise God makes to His people who are in exile! In Jeremiah 29, He lays out a plan to rescue them, even though they’ve turned away from Him again and again. His instructions and comfort to them are so specific – look at Jeremiah 29:10-14:

For this is what the Lord says: “When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. For I know the plans I have for you” – this is the Lord’s declaration – “plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you” – this is the Lord’s declaration – “and I will restore your fortunesand gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you” – this is the Lord’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place I deported you from.”

“Oh How I Need You” by All Sons & Daughters says, “Lord, I find You in the seeking. Lord, I find You in the doubt.” God’s people in exile must have experienced intense doubt. But they found Him in the seeking, and even better, He sought them out for the express purpose of comforting them in exile.

Check out All Sons & Daughters “Oh How I Need You.”

NEWS | People voiced their support for a traditional definition of marriage Wednesday at the Illinois Capitol, gathering for a prayer rally in front of the Lincoln statue and later moving inside to lobby their legislators. The Illinois Family Institute (IFI), who sponsored the event, also provided signs that read “Strengthen Marriage, Don’t Redefine It,” and “Marriage. One Man. One Woman. Period.”

The rally came one day after supporters of same-sex marriage gathered in Springfield to express their support for SB10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. The bill, which would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, was approved in the Senate on Valentine’s Day but stalled in the House on lawmakers’ last day in session.

When lawmakers returned this week, some expected marriage to be on the legislative agenda. But the House has cancelled its scheduled session for Thursday, which could signify a “lack of urgency looming over the General Assembly’s fall session,” according to a Tuesday article in the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper reported some representatives may want to wait until after January to vote on same-sex marriage, because by then they’ll know who they are running against in the spring’s primary elections. The House currently is scheduled to be back in session Nov. 5-7.

Outside the Capitol, voices on both sides of the issue have not lost their urgency despite the summer recess. According to the Tribune, police estimate 3,000 people attended the “March on Springfield for Marriage Equality” Tuesday. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin also were in attendance; Quinn has said he will sign the same-sex marriage legislation if it reaches his desk.

At the IFI-sponsored rally Wednesday, church leaders from several denominations faced the crowd and prayed for the legislative struggle and for a small group of counter-protestors across the street. Mike Henderson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springfield, prayed for God’s Word to be upheld. “…Help it, Lord, to be hidden deep within our hearts and within our souls. Help us to stand for it no matter what resistance may try to come up against us, because we know, Lord, that You’ve already won the battle.”

Due to legislative rules, if SB10 is passed this fall, same-sex marriages could begin in June 2014. However, if voted on and passed in January, such marriages could begin in February 2014. Illinois would be the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Photos from Wednesday’s rally

Rally attenders pick up signs in front of the Lincoln statue on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Rally attenders pick up signs in front of the Lincoln statue on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

Lobby_Day_2

Pastor Danny Holliday of Victory Baptist in Alton prays during the rally.

Pastor Danny Holliday of Victory Baptist in Alton prays during the rally.

Pastor Michael Henderson and his wife, Brenna, of FBC Springfield, pray and read Scripture under the gaze of Abraham Lincoln.

Pastor Mike Henderson and his wife, Brenna, of FBC Springfield, pray and read Scripture under the gaze of Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln impersonator Dr. Mark Zumhagen delivered the Gettysburg Address, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

Abraham Lincoln impersonator Dr. Mark Zumhagen delivered the Gettysburg Address, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

Lobby_Day_13

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

GuideStone Financial Resources has joined a long list of organizations suing the federal government over the abortion/contraceptive mandate within President Obama’s healthcare reform package.

GuideStone, the Southern Baptist Convention’s health and benefits entity, filed suit Oct. 11 along with two other organizations – Oklahoma-based Reaching Souls International, and Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga. Baptist Press reports:

The suit contends the religious liberty of the entities and other non-church-related organizations covered by GuideStone’s health plan, is violated by a rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the 2010 health-care law. The HHS regulation requires employers to pay for coverage of workers’ contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortions, but does not provide an exemption for entities like those that filed suit.

“GuideStone plans do not cover drugs or devices that can or do cause abortions,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in a written release from the entity Monday (Oct. 14).

“We reluctantly take this step because we are committed to protecting the unborn and preserving the religious freedom that is guaranteed under the laws of this nation,” he said. “This mandate runs rough-shod over these foundational principles.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing in GuideStone in the suit, which is the 74th such complaint filed against the mandate. Read more at BPNews.net.

Opposing voices in Illinois marriage debate head to the Capitol
People for and against same-sex marriage will rally in Springfield this week in hopes of swaying the votes of lawmakers back in town for the fall veto session. It’s not clear whether sponsors of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act have the votes needed to pass the measure (it stalled in the House last May), but same-sex marriage supporters are planning a rally and march around the Capitol today, October 22. On Wednesday the 23rd, the Illinois Family Institute will host a prayer rally and “Lobby Day” at the Capitol.

Southern Baptist task force addresses baptism decline
A group of leaders assembled by the North American Mission Board will meet over the next few months to discuss the decline in baptisms across the Southern Baptist Convention. “Our baptismal trends are all headed in the wrong direction,” NAMB’s vice president for evangelism, Al Gilbert, told Baptist Press. “With a burden to penetrate lostness in North America, we must pray and think through what we can and should do to turn around this decline.”

According to the 2012 Annual Church Profile, Southern Baptist churches baptized fewer than 315,000 people last year, the first time baptisms dropped below that number since 1948. The 2012 total was 5.5% less than the previous year.

Gilbert and Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, will facilitate meetings for the group, which consists of 15 pastors and leaders from Southern Baptist entities. Baptist Press reports the task force hopes to conclude their work in May 2014. Read more at BPNews.net.

Graham’s ‘My Hope’ event set for Nov. 7-10
Billy Graham’s next evangelistic event could be his largest crusade ever. More than 25,000 churches have signed up to take part in My Hope America, which asks Christians to invite non-believers into their homes and churches to watch Graham preach on the power of the cross. His message will be broadcast Nov. 7-10 on various outlets; go to myhopewithbillygraham.org for a full list and schedule.

Spokesperson Brent Rinehart told The Christian Post, “Woven within Graham’s message are the faith stories of two popular musicians: rapper LeCrae who overcame addiction and the pull of the gang lifestyle to see his life changed by an encounter with Jesus; and former Flyleaf lead singer Lacey Sturm who fought depression, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts only to be rescued by the love of a Heavenly Father and the hope that comes through a relationship with His Son.”

The event’s website also includes additional evangelistic videos and online training materials for those who sign up for the outreach.

From alien to understood
Brant Hansen writes about growing up in church with Apserger’s syndrome on CNN’s Belief blog. The Christian radio host’s experience is specific to his circumstances, but probably will encourage anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. Hansen writes of his earlier church experiences: “I wondered if I was so broken, such a misfit that God simply took a look at me and decided to move on.” But “…Jesus himself finally reached me.” Read more at CNN”s Belief blog.

CELEBRATION YEAR – (From left) Georgia Griffin, Goebel Patton, and Maxine Ferrari, all members of Second Baptist in West Frankfort, turned 100 in 2013.

CELEBRATION YEAR – (From left) Georgia Griffin, Goebel Patton, and Maxine Ferrari, all members of Second Baptist in West Frankfort, turned 100 in 2013.

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

Goebel Patton will turn 100 years old this week. But he’s not the only one in his community, or even his church, to celebrate that milestone this year. Maxine Ferrari and Georgia Griffin, fellow members of Second Baptist in West Frankfort, already celebrated their 100th birthdays in 2013.

The unique situation – three centenarians in one church – attracted the attention of a local newspaper and has given their church cause to celebrate. Together, they represent 238 years of church membership at Second Baptist.

Patton joined the church in 1926 as a 13-year-old. “Back in that day, the only social activities were at church,” he says. Drawn to Second Baptist for the fellowship with other young people his age, he has stayed for 87 years, and still serves as chairman of the finance and properties committees. He also started a men’s prayer group in 1991, and reports they’ve met every single Tuesday morning since then.

Having Patton, Ferrari and Griffin as part of the church “ties us to our history,” says Pastor Brett Beasley. The 100-year-olds help younger people understand the church’s history, and give a perspective of what church life was like and how it’s changed.

Their faithfulness is also a source of encouragement, Beasley says. Two years ago, Ferrari arrived at church on a messy wintry morning when only about half of the church’s regular attenders were there. Beasley remembers good-naturedly teasing his congregation: “Maxine made it today, so really nobody’s got an excuse.”

Each of the centenarians has already received a birthday party this year, but Second Baptist is hoping to celebrate the three of them together some time in the future.

Happy Birthday indeed.

pull quote_adamsCOMMENTARY | Nate Adams

Earlier this summer, I wrote about my desire to worship in every Illinois Baptist church. Even though it would take years and years of attending a new church every week, I can’t think of a better way to invest my Sundays than to meet, and listen to, and worship with, as many Illinois Baptists as possible.

Since writing about that desire, I’ve already been invited to worship in eight new churches for the first time on a Sunday morning. Some have been invitations to come and speak, and some have been invitations to simply join the church for worship, which I enjoy just as much. But I am so grateful for each of these churches that responded to my simple question, “May I come to your church?” with the same gracious answer: “Sure, we’d love to have you.”

It’s made me wonder how many people are asking that same question every week about your church or mine. They probably don’t ask it directly of us. In fact, they probably don’t even ask it out loud. But they drive past, or read about, or perhaps hear someone talking about our church. And they wonder what it would be like to go inside.

Of course, their question is really multiple questions. What exactly happens in there on Sunday mornings? How would I know where to go and when to do what? Would I know anyone, and do they know anything about me? How would I be treated? Would I like it? Would I want to go back? Do I know anyone who would go with me? What about my kids?

I think we would all like to answer the simple question, “May I come to your church?” positively and warmly. Of course we want new people to come to our church! But if we really expect it to happen, we have to realize that these “questions behind the question” reveal potential barriers that may be keeping people from taking the first step.

For example, my sons tell me that most people their age will not seriously consider attending a church that does not have a decent web site. It’s not necessarily that they are looking for a technologically sophisticated church. It’s just that their generation gathers information that way. Whether they’re trying to answer a trivia question or shop for the best price or consider attending a church, they usually go to the web first, to check things out.

An effective church web site can be a wonderful tool for helping people anonymously answer their questions about your church in advance. But some people are going to look to the newspaper, some to the phone book, and some are going to want to call the church on Saturday night. In other words, an effective, inviting church is going to do everything it can to answer the questions behind, “May I come to your church?” before they are ever asked out loud.

Of course, just as important as answering these questions in advance is answering them on site at the church, especially on Sunday. A first time guest to your church needs all kinds of help that your regular attenders don’t need.  That would seem obvious, but I am sometimes surprised at how difficult it is to find a church’s service time, or address, or directions. And even if the church is easy to find, it can be unclear where to park, or what door to enter, or where to go once you’re inside.

Fortunately, almost all of the churches I attend, even for the first time, do a great job of communicating in advance, and welcoming warmly when I arrive. And if I’ve not yet been to your church on a Sunday morning, I would still love to come and join you in worship. But far more important than my asking this question are the many people in your community who may be asking it silently every week: “May I come to your church?”

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