Archives For December 2013

calendar_blog copyThe web is bursting today with lists that highlight the year’s biggest stories, like this one compiled by the Religion Newswriters Association. The group chose the selection of Pope Francis as the top religion news story of 2013, followed by Pope Benedict’s resignation as #2.

Also on the list: The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (#3), the death of Nelson Mandela (#6), and controversial action taken by the Boy Scouts of America (#9). Rounding out the top 10: Muslims and other people of faith react to the Boston Marathon bombings.

And check out these lists:


  • The staff of the Illinois Baptist has published our list of the year’s biggest stories, led by the debate over same-sex marriage in Illinois. For the full list, go to, click on Archives and search for December 16.
  • The Christian Post introduced its list of most-read stories with a sad disclaimer: “A year of heartbreaking personal tragedies suffered by Christian leaders appeared all too often as the main news at The Christian Post and the Church & Ministry section in 2013.” The website’s most read story was about the suicide of Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren.



What are your favorite year-end lists so far? What stories and trends would you add to these?

Christmas_bannerWeek 5: Home to obscurity

Read Matthew 2:19-25

Once again Joseph is the unsung hero. He is sensitive to God’s leading as he takes his stepson Jesus home. Joseph dreams, angels speak, God warns, Joseph turns. If anyone can say “wherever He leads, I’ll go,” it’s Joseph.

The carpenter sets up shop in Nazareth. He makes a home there with his young wife and “their” boy. And the Son of God lives in obscurity for the next 30 years.

“What good can come of Nazareth?” one disciple would ask later as Jesus emerged into public ministry. Well, to answer the question, the Messiah.

God chooses “the sticks” as the place to bring up the Savior of the World. And he chooses a rough-hewn woodworker to serve as His Son’s stepdad. And He chooses as his mother a little-known young woman whose only qualification is to say “whatever you want is fine with me” when an angel announces God’s wonderous plan.

In this obscurity, God quietly works to rescue remote, undeserving people. The King of Kings is willing to move to our neck of the woods, to endure obscurity, embrace humanity, and suffer ignominy on Calvary for our redemption.

Pray Lord, take your rightful place over all Your creation. Reign over my life this Christmas and always. Amen.

Christmas_bannerWeek 4: Sad prophecy fulfilled

Read Matthew 2:16-18

This is the saddest part of the Christmas story. And for many people, it’s also the most uncomfortable. Some Bibles use as a heading for this passage “slaughter of the innocents.” Why would God allow such a horrible event to follow such a joyful one?

Herod is angered because the Wise Men do not return. He exacts his revenge on Bethlehem. Fearful of being deposed, he seeks to eliminate his replacement. Scholars debate the number of boy babies slain, but given the size of Bethlehem, it is probably between 20 and 40.

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows the anguish of even one death. Multiply that by dozens, and we can only imagine the grief in Bethlehem.
What is God’s point? Look at the tragedy in Bethlehem as a great and pitiful word picture.

God wants us to know that sending His Son into the world is exceedingly joyful and deeply sorrowful. Contrast Christmas morning and Good Friday night: Angels sing as they welcomed his birth; sinners weep at their Savior’s sacrifice.

The joy of our salvation has a high price.

Pray Lord, thank you for sending Jesus. I begin now to understand what it cost him – and You.

Disaster Relief volunteers served across the state after several tornadoes Nov. 17, including one in Brookport in southern Illinois.

Disaster Relief volunteers served across the state after several tornadoes Nov. 17, including one in Brookport in southern Illinois.


When Time magazine announced the new pope as its person of the year, we were reminded that sometimes the publication has not chosen an individual, or even a person.

Time named “the computer” as its entity of the year in 1982, and in 2011, following the Occupy movement and the “Arab spring” uprisings in the Middle East, the “honor” went to “the protester.”

So it’s not surprising that the village of Sturgis, South Dakota, chose not a single person to receive its annual Volunteer of the Year award, but a group. And that group is Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Volunteers.

When Sturgis was hit with a winter storm in October, SBDR sent 110 relief workers in five teams to help them dig out. About 50 of those volunteers were from Illinois.

The town council noted in their announcement last week that many of the people receiving assistance were elderly or disabled, and the time given amounted to 576 days of work. Sturgis is grateful.

So are many others.

“Thank God for you all showing up to Mary Lou’s house in Rapid City, SD, to help with all the trees and branches due to the snow storm,” one couple who look after their elderly neighbor wrote to the Illinois team that aided them. “We are praising God and thanking Him for each one of you who made it all possible to come out to South Dakota and serve God.”

And when Rex Alexander, IBSA’s DR mobilization director, summed up the recent response to tornadoes in Illinois, he said there were more volunteers and offers of assistance than he had ever seen. Just before Christmas, 250 relief workers finished up their service in Washington and other communities laid waste by twisters in mid-November.

A new NAMB video shows Illinois residents picking through the remnants of their homes, weeping not so much at their loss, but in gratitude for the aid of strangers in yellow shirts.

“It’s raining, it’s cold, it’s nasty,” said a tearful Melissa Helfin outside her home. “And all these people – they’re here with chainsaws and pulling limbs and – it’s amazing…. I don’t know what we would have done, honestly. And it’s such a blessing.”

If we offered a “Person of the Year” award, it would be to the whole group who share Jesus Christ with a Bible in one hand and a spatula, mop, or chainsaw in the other.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The images in a new video produced by the North American Mission Board serve as reminders of how devastating were the tornadoes that ripped through Illinois, Indiana, and other Midwest states Nov. 17.The two-and-a-half minute clip also tells how Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and local churches, like FBC Washington, helped residents begin to pick up the pieces.

“I don’t know what we would have done, honestly,” says one storm victim helped by DR volunteers. “And it’s such a blessing.” Read more about tornado relief efforts in the Dec. 16 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Other stories:

Race, religion and Santa Claus
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly stirred up controversy when she said on air that Santa Claus is white – and Jesus is too. Her comments, made in response to a story on, have revived a national conversation on the intersection of faith and race. Kelly’s reference to Santa got plenty of press, probably more than her statement about Jesus’ race. But culture writer Jonathan Merritt says it’s important to remember the Bible is mostly mum on the Messiah’s appearance.

“As some historians and theologians have posited, the silence of the Scriptures on the issue of Jesus’ skin color is critical to Christianity’s broad appeal with people of various ethnicities,” Merritt wrote for The Atlantic. “In a world where race often divides communities and even churches, the Biblical depictions of God’s son positions him as one who can bridge those divides.”

View Kelly’s response to the controversy on

Bible reading tips for everyone
“Stress the simplicity of the Bible, and the people you are hoping will read the Bible next year may begin to wonder if they’re just too dumb to understand it,” says LifeWay’s Trevin Wax. On his blog, he offers advice on “How to get people to read the Bible without making them feel dumb.”

Thousands leave jobs for restaurant gigs
Not really, but @tipsforjesus probably has some considering a change of vocation. Across the country, people are leaving huge tips for restaurant servers under that tag line. The gratuities – some for thousands of dollars – haven’t yet been linked to a specific group or organization, but some believe former Pay Pal executive Jack Selby is behind the generous tips. Read the full story at

Jesus is most successful meme ever
Two researchers have named Jesus the most successful meme in history, based on an analysis of Wikipedia entries about Him. Wondering exactly what a meme is? We were too. Merriam-Webster (via Wikipedia) defines is as “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”

Steven Skiena and Charles Ward have compiled their findings in a book, “Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank.” Following Jesus on their top 10 list: Napolean, William Shakespeare, Mohammad, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Adolf Hitler, Aristotle, Alexander the Great and Thomas Jefferson.

Read the full story at

Christmas_bannerWeek 3: Conspiracy threatens monarch

Read Matthew 2:12-15

The Magi give the infant Jesus gifts fit for a king–and for a dead man. Like giving a life insurance policy to a newborn, these men who studied the prophecy present oils and spices used in embalming. At his birth, their gifts predict his death. How strange.

The gold will surely be helpful when Joseph scoops up his young family and flees in order to save their lives. They will need cash for the journey – food for themselves and the donkey. And they will need living expenses while in Egypt. God knew that and made arrangements ahead of time. But why equip them with frankincense and myrrh?

Joseph probably regifted the unusual gifts, or sold them, because they were very valuable. Even after the funeral gifts are gone, they remind Mary and Joseph that this Child has a special purpose in the world. Somehow, it is connected to life and death.

Mary ponders these things in her heart: Angels, shepherds, star, royalty, gifts fit for a funeral.

Pray Lord, as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, remind us also of his death, because the Christmas cradle is pointless without the Cross.

We’ll post a new devotional here every Monday; read them all in the Nov. 25 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Michael_AllenChicago connections key in pastor’s new role

NEWS | Uptown Baptist Church pastor Michael Allen has been named Send City coordinator for Chicago by the North American Mission Board (NAMB). He succeeds IBSA’s Tim Cotler, who moved from the local coordinator position to a Midwest regional role in NAMB’s church planting strategy that targets 32 major metropolitan areas in North America.

The local “Send” strategy committee identified 184 areas and people groups in Chicagoland that need churches. The city itself has 77 neighborhoods. Allen says his goal is to plant 77 new churches, one in each of those neighborhoods, in the next five years.

Allen has a big job ahead of him, helping coordinate the work of churches and church planting partners, including IBSA.

“Just as Allen has adopted Chicago as his hometown, his heart is to invite a new generation of Southern Baptists to adopt Chicagoland as their mission field,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for church planting.

“It’s like what politicians say about Iowa,” Allen said. “All roads to the White House go through Iowa. Chicago is like that when it comes to church planting. We’re such a key crossroads of our country and the world. Just about any ethnic group you want to reach with the gospel, you name it, they’re here.”

Allen has served as pastor of Uptown Baptist Church since 2005. He will continue as senior pastor at the church, whose work among an eclectic population includes weekly outreach to homeless and hungry people, as well as those living in high-rise condominiums on Lake Michigan.

“Our neighborhood is the most diverse in Chicago,” Allen said, “in any way you want to measure diversity, whether it’s educated and uneducated, rich and poor and then the various ethnic groups—those who are living in multi-million dollar homes and those living on the streets. [Uptown Church is] right in the middle of all of that, and it gives me a great learning perspective.”

Allen was born in Jamaica but moved to Florida with his family when he was 9. He first moved to Chicago to attend Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He also became the first African-American staff member of Chicago’s famous Moody Church, pastored by Erwin Lutzer.

After three years on staff at Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston, Allen returned to Chicago. He was also a NAMB missionary there while serving as pastor at Uptown.

Chicagoland is the third-largest metro area among NAMB’s 32 Send cities, topped only by New York and Los Angeles. With 308 Southern Baptist churches in the metro’s four associations, Chicagoland has only one SBC congregation for every 32,000 residents.

-Reporting by Illinois Baptist and NAMB

Red and green and blue

Meredith Flynn —  December 12, 2013

200371625-001For many at Christmas, ‘merry and bright’ doesn’t come easy

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Charlie Brown is in a holiday funk. By the end of his half-hour special, his spirit is lifted by a spindly tree
and a retelling of the Christmas story by his friend Linus, with blue blanket in tow of course.

It’s not always that easy, or that quick. For millions struggling with the holiday blues, Christmas joy is hard to find. But there is hope, David Jeremiah wrote in a column titled “Wonderful Counselor.”

“Our Lord Jesus is the Christ of Christmas present, and He wants to deliver you from the Christmas blues, too.”

Thanksgiving at Christmas
Holidays are difficult for people for a number of reasons, Christian counselor Molly Ondrey said. Some may be overwhelmed by busyness or the financial pressure of the season. Others who have lost loved ones face a “new normal” at Christmas. Unmet expectations of what the holidays should look like can bring on the blues.

“They think back to a happier, merrier time,” said Ondrey, who works at Pathways Counseling in central Illinois. If the usual traditions of gathering around the Christmas tree or opening gifts together have changed, she added, people ask, “Now what?”

And it may not be obvious that someone is struggling.

“A lot of times, what people do is isolate when they’re depressed,” Ondrey said. They might need a
friend to reach out. A church family can help with the loneliness of the holidays by creating new
memories. Offer to be a listening ear, or to help someone put up a Christmas tree, or invite someone to
be part of your Christmas celebration, she advised.

Some churches plan a “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” service as a time to remember loved ones they’ve lost, and to focus on the hope Jesus brought into the world.

Finding a new focus is important in combating holiday depression, Ondrey said. Falling into “automatic
negative thinking” happens frequently when people are feeling down. Focusing on the blessings God has given, new memories that can be made, and the birth and hope of Christ might help improve a perspective.

I’m just stressed
Charlie Brown’s complaint – “I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel” – can result from holiday busyness too. The American Psychological Association reported in 2011 that up to 69% of people feel strapped for time and money during the holidays, and 51% feel pressure about the gifts they give and receive.

Create memories that are cost-effective, Ondrey advised. Watch a Christmas movie, go caroling, read
the Christmas story in Luke 2, go on a drive to check out holiday lights, or attend a special church service.

She also gave some practical tips for fighting off the holiday blahs. For example, eat healthy and stay active. And take charge of your schedule by saying no when needed.

Consider reaching out for extra help if holiday depression is interfering with your normal, everyday functioning at work or home, Ondrey said, if your depression occurs for an extended period of time, if you have thoughts of self-harm, or if your support system is limited.

For more information about Pathways, a ministry of Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services, call:
• (618) 624-4060 | Metro East
• (217) 483-2222 | Central Illinois
• (618) 382-3907 | Southeastern Illinois

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Ronnie SmithAn American killed in Libya Dec. 5 once served on staff at a Southern Baptist church, Baptist Press reports. Ronnie Smith, who was shot while on a morning run in Benghazi, worked from 2009 to 2011 as director of equipping and resources at The Austin Stone Community Church, affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Smith, 33, moved to Libya 18 months ago with his wife, Anita, and their young son to teach high school chemistry at the International School Benghazi. It’s still unknown why Smith was killed and who is responsible.

“Ronnie was a brother in Christ and a faithful servant of this church for many years,” reads a statement on Austin Stone’s website. “Although we grieve because we have lost a friend, a husband, and a father, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has a greater purpose than we can imagine right now.”

Go to for more information, or to order a copy of Smith’s book “The History of Redemption.” Proceeds will support his family.

Warren stands firm on marriage
Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren told CNN’s Piers Morgan that he doesn’t see a day in the future when he will espouse same-sex marriage.

“I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society,” Warren said in front of a studio audience, a few of whom applauded.

The pastor of Saddleback Church also talked about tolerance in the Dec. 6 interview, saying the word “used to mean we treat each other with mutual respect even if we have major disagreements.

“Today, tolerance has been changed to mean all ideas are equally valid. Well, that’s nonsense.”

Morgan told Warren they would keep talking about the topic for years to come and, “eventually, I’ll beat you down,” the host said with a smile.

Warren laughed and replied, “Oh, ye of little faith.”

Watch the video at

Satanists want capitol statue
An ongoing dispute over a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma state capitol got a new wrinkle this month, when a group called the Temple of Satan lobbied to get their own statue. “We feel like the Satanic Temple has a very strong argument to say that, if the state allows one religious monument, you have to allow others,” Brady Henderson of the American Civil Liberty Union told CNN. The ACLU currently is fighting for the removal of the Ten Commandments monument approved by Oklahoma lawmakers in 2009. Read more on CNN’s Belief blog.

Rice to keynote Judson forum
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will speak at Judson University’s 2014 World Leaders Forum. The event March 19 is the fourth in a series that has featured George W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Tony Blair. Read more at

Christmas_bannerWeek 2: Caravan heads to ‘nowhere’

Read Matthew 2:7-11

How hollow is Herod’s declaration that he wants to worship the new king, especially knowing the murder he harbored in his heart. His whole lifestyle is threatened by a mewling babe. Herod is only a half-Jew, an Edomite, and his reign on the throne of David is
illegitimate in the eyes of his subjects.

So when Herod says he wants to come see the newborn monarch, we know he has no intention to bow before his replacement.

In stark contrast, the royal advisors from the East worship even before they see him. They are like Abraham and Moses and others who believed in God’s Promise, even without seeing the Christ. The Magi rejoice when the star appears over Jesus’ birthplace, even before they set eyes on the Child. They rejoice “with exceeding great joy.”

The Magi celebrate the promise; then they bow before its fulfillment. They give him gifts fit for a king.

Pray Lord, help me to be a true worshiper this Christmas, setting nothing above You. Let me celebrate the Promise of God, even before I see its fulfillment.

We’ll post a new devotional here every Monday; read them all in the Nov. 25 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.