Archives For April 2015


Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers worked over the weekend at three homes in Rochelle, Ill., one of the northern Illinois communities hit by a tornado April 9.

By Lisa Sergent

Rochelle, Ill. | Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were busy Saturday removing trees and limbs downed by last week’s tornadoes in northern Illinois.

Chainsaw teams from four associations of churches—Fox Valley, Quad Cities, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers—worked at three homes in the town of Rochelle, where 45-50 homes were damaged April 9.

Rex Alexander, Disaster Relief Coordinator for the Illinois Baptist State Association, said the response to the disaster was “almost overwhelming.”

“Streets were clogged with the cars of volunteers and the owners of damaged homes were inundated with volunteers and disaster relief teams from all over the state, as well as from other states. One home across the street from our team had over 50 volunteers working with them,” he noted.

Alexander said the town of Fairdale has not yet been opened to volunteers, but he is continuing to monitor the situation for future opportunities. However, he doesn’t expect there to be much work for IBSA volunteers to do. “If your house has been downed and is gone, you don’t go cut up trees.” The EF-4 tornado that hit Fairdale reportedly affected every home or structure in the unincorporated community—40 to 50 buildings. Two people were killed during the storm.

Rochelle_recovery_2For the response in Rochelle, Alexander wanted to publicly acknowledge the assistance of Brad Pittman, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Davis Junction. “He gave us most of his day on Friday and introduced us to homeowners he knows in the area that we were able to go in and help.”

Many recent disaster relief callouts have been in the southern part of the state. Alexander said this callout “was a good opportunity for northern teams to work in their own backyard.”

The Illinois teams finished their work Saturday afternoon.

A disaster relief training weekend is scheduled this Friday and Saturday, April 17-18, at Streator Baptist Camp. Online registration is closed, but anyone interested in participating can call Alexander’s ministry assistant, Alexis Dumire, to register over at (217) 391-3142.

The Illinois Baptist State Association has nearly 1,000 Southern Baptist member churches and missions in Illinois. IBSA’s main office is in Springfield and it was established in 1907. Southern Baptists operate the nation’s third-largest disaster relief organization, behind only the Red Cross and Salvation Army. To learn more about IBSA Disaster Relief, visit


Diana_Davis_blog_calloutEditor’s note: Diana Davis is an author, columnist and minister’s wife. This column appeared in the April 6 Illinois Baptist. Visit Diana’s website at

HEARTLAND | Diana Davis

When a first-time guest completes a guest registration card at your church, what happens next? The most common answer to that question: absolutely nothing. No, it’s not an intentional oversight, but without an ongoing, immediate follow-up plan, your church may miss the opportunity to reach guests for Christ and include them in your church family.

Need fresh ideas? Tweak some of these to fit your unique church:

First-time guest online survey. People love to give an opinion! Create a brief survey on your church’s website. (See a sample survey at Carefully study survey responses.

Same-day contact. A specially trained volunteer makes a brief phone call to each guest on Sunday afternoon after they visit your church.

E-mail and/or snail mail. Assign volunteers to send a swift, personal email or card to each first-time guest.

Small group personal invitation. Provide contact info to an appropriate small group or Sunday School class for each family member. A member of that small group may offer to meet the guest at a specific door to escort them to class the next time they visit.

Coffee, anyone? An Indiana church delivers three coupons for a free drink in their coffee area, encouraging the guest to return for three consecutive Sundays. In a different church, volunteers deliver a church coffee mug to the guest’s door before they get home from church.

Pastor’s letter. Many pastors prepare a warm letter or e-mail to welcome first-time guests; some even jot a handwritten note. Pastor Ted Traylor at Olive Baptist, Pensacola, often texts or phones first-time guests on Saturdays, inviting them to come back on Sunday.

Notice that church members—not just ministry staff—accomplish the majority of follow-up. Newcomers want to hear what you love about your church. They desire relationships, and relationships provide evangelistic opportunities.

When God brings a first-time guest to your church this Sunday and they complete a guest registration card, what will happen next?

“The harvest is abundant…pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).

IBSA Disaster ReliefSpringfield, Ill.  | IBSA Disaster Relief Coordinator Rex Alexander and other disaster relief leaders are in the Fairdale, IL area this morning assessing tornado damage. A deadly tornado hit the small town in northwestern Illinois at sunset Thursday night. Two people were killed and several others were injured. Tornadoes and severe storms also caused major damage in the nearby towns of Ashton, Belvidere, Kirkland, and Rochelle.

The Illinois Baptist State Association has nine churches and 15 missions and church plants in the storm damaged areas. None have reported any damage at this time.

Chainsaw teams from Metro Peoria, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers Baptist Associations have been put on alert. “As soon as we are able to respond to the needs in the damaged areas, these three teams and available disaster relief volunteers from Region 1 (northern Illinois) will be the first ‘wave of response,’” Alexander stated.

Brad Pittman, pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Ashton, is guiding Alexander and his team through the area to assess the initial damage.  “We will determine how accessible the damaged areas are which helps us to determine how quickly our volunteer teams will be able to respond,” shared Alexander. “If law enforcement agencies are keeping everyone out of the damaged areas, then we must wait until the areas are open to volunteers.”

Alexander asked Illinois Baptists to, “Pray for the people who have been impacted by the storms and that God will open doors for ministry and sharing help, healing, and hope in Jesus name.”

The Illinois Baptist State Association has nearly 1,000 Southern Baptist member churches and missions in Illinois. IBSA’s main office is in Springfield and it was established in 1907. Southern Baptists operate the nation’s third-largest disaster relief organization, behind only the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

COMMENTARY | Mark Coppenger

Mark_CoppengerIn late February, I was in St. Louis for a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, a trip connected with my work as an apologetics prof at Southern Seminary. I figured that since I was in the area, I would visit the suburb of Ferguson, recently aflame on international news.

I was surprised at a number of things: that the city had not been reduced to Beirut, but that the vast majority of buildings were unscathed, and business alive; that the Indians who ran the store Michael Brown robbed would speak freely of the incident; that a chain fence with hundreds of inscribed streamers spoke promise more than anger, e.g., “The sky’s the limit.”

But my big Ferguson moment came at the downtown meeting, where the philosophers devoted a three-hour session to the riots. After attending presentations of other papers, I was able to make the last hour of the panel discussion. There I heard unrelenting disdain for the city and police and an unbroken strain of lament for the victimhood of Brown. And the moderator was fielding audience jeremiads without rebuttal.

When one of the panelists asked what philosophers might bring to the table, I raised my hand to suggest that we could use more Socratic give-and-take instead of the “groupthink” I was hearing. I also said that I could tell my grandson (who is white) in an affluent suburb of Nashville to expect very bad things to happen to him if he ever shoplifted, manhandled the clerk, or menaced a policeman who confronted him. My comments were not well received.

Look, anybody whose been the victim of a speed trap or addressed with gratuitous surliness by a cop has had at least a small taste of what blacks were protesting in Ferguson. The Department of Justice report pictured a sorry system of fine-doubling and a virtual debtor’s prison for some, policies that fell particularly hard upon poor blacks.

Of course, there’s a school of thought that says I have no right to speak a word of judgment on Brown or the rioters since I’ve not suffered the indignities of systemic racism, etc. But we face that sort of argument all the time in ethics. During the Vietnam War, they told us we had no right to judge Lt. Calley for the My Lai massacre since we hadn’t shared the horrors of infantry combat in Quang Ngai Province.

Similarly, we’re told we guys have no business telling a woman she has to carry a child to term since we never have to endure unwanted pregnancy. On it goes, whether you’re trying to bring a biblical word to bear on divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, or tithing. Of course, this makes ethics a joke, since feelings and testimonies of victimhood can trump standards at every turn.

One side says you really can’t make the call until you’re in their shoes. The other side says that “in their shoes” is often a bad place to make the call, since you may well be addled by the hurly burley of trials and emotions. This turns into a game of self-serving story telling, a war of anecdotes, when what we need is dispassionate moral clarity.

It is far better to sort things out, Bible in hand in your armchair or prayer closet, before descending into the chaos.

Reflecting on Ferguson, I’ve returned to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is essentially a salvation passage, one that feminists have tried to press into service against male leadership in the church and home. I hope I’m not joining the ranks of Scripture twisters in quoting it to stand up for universal standards of Christian morality, where all are subject to biblical guidelines, no matter how exalted or degraded their circumstances may be.

In Amos 7, God hangs moral plumb line beside the culture, and I think that color-blind Galatians 3:28 does the same thing.

Mark Coppenger is professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was formerly president of Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, and founding pastor of Evanston (IL) Baptist Church.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The uproar over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act continued as lawmakers introduced changes to the bill that opponents say put business owners at risk to be forced to compromise their beliefs.

The original RFRA, signed into law March 26 by Gov. Mike Pence, came under national fire from corporations, celebrities, and others who said it would allow discrimination against gay people. Supporters of the law said it would protect the religious liberty of business owners by shielding them from government action if they refused to provide services for same-sex weddings.

The_BriefingThe changes to the law, signed by Pence one week after he approved the original RFRA, say “no member of the public may be refused services by a private business based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Baptist Press reports.

The controversy, wrote Philip Bethancourt of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has served to make religious liberty “a new culture war wedge issue.”

“One indication of this change is the frequent use of ‘religious freedom’ in scare quotes, suggesting that it is merely a cover for something more malicious,” Bethancourt wrote on “Danger arises when our first freedom becomes a second-class culture war issue.”

Christians in Kenya grieved on Easter Sunday for 148 people killed at a university last week by terror group al-Shabaab. The Associated Press reported on the Easter service at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Garissa, where Bishop Joseph Allessandro said, “We join the sufferings of the relatives and the victims with the sufferings of Jesus. The victims will rise again with Christ.”

During the April 2 terror attack at Garissa University College, the shooters separated Christian students from Muslims and killed the Christians, AP reported.

What do Americans believe about Jesus? According to new research by Barna, most say he was a real person, a little over half believe he was God, and 62% say they have made a personal commitment to him that is still important in their life today.

And what about the church? LifeWay Research found that while 55% of Americans say the church in America is declining, 65% believe attendance is admirable.

More interesting research: Pew says current trends forecast that Muslims will almost equal Christians in number by 2050, and the global percentage of “nones” who have no religious affiliation will actually decrease.

“We’ve got a long way to go” on race relations, said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore at a March summit on racial reconciliation and the gospel. “Our sin keeps wanting us to divide up. But to the faithful, Jesus promises, ‘You will be called overcomers.’” Read the Illinois Baptist‘s coverage of the summit here at

Did you catch the premiere episode of “A.D.: The Bible Continues” on Sunday? Christianity Today is recapping each installment of the new miniseries produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, which details the history of the early church following Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of the Illinois Baptist’s coverage of a recent summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on racial reconciliation and the gospel. Read part 1 here.

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Read the April 6 edition of the Illinois Baptist at

NEWS | If Southern Baptists are to be serious about Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all peoples, said historian Matt Hall, they need to honestly think through where they’ve come from. Hall, Southern Seminary’s vice president for academic services, spoke in a video message about the SBC’s history with slavery, racism, and segregation during a March summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on racial reconciliation and the gospel. (The Convention was formed over a divide between Baptists in the North and those in the South who wanted to continue owning slaves.)

Hall also led one of the summit’s panel discussions, joined onstage by Moore, Philadelphia pastor K. Marshall Williams, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, and past SBC President Fred Luter.

Understanding the SBC’s past ought to inform how we address racial issues now, Moore said. The divide over slavery “really was a justification for evil and for wickedness,” he said.

“Which, to me, ought to cause us not so much to look back and say, ‘Weren’t they evil and weren’t they wrong?’ as much as it ought to cause us to look back and to say, ‘Look at these people who knew their Bibles, and who were preaching their Bibles, and who were trying to gather up money for world missions, and yet were not able to see this glaring and wicked sin and unrighteousness and injustice that they were part of.’

“That ought to not give us a sense of our superiority to them; it ought to give us a sense of humility to say, ‘If these people who knew their Bibles like this, could get this that wrong on an issue that is so basic to what Scripture is teaching, then we need the mercy and the power of God.’”

IBSA African American Church Planting Strategist Ed Jones has faced the obstacle of the SBC’s history, he said. Some African Americans have told him, “I don’t necessarily want to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention because of its past,” he told the Illinois Baptist during the summit. The Nashville meeting was an opportunity to tackle those issues head-on and bring things into the open.

Luter said the Convention’s history resulted in one question asked by every person who interviewed him in the months before his election: Why would a black man want to be president of the SBC? Frankly, he didn’t know much about the Convention’s history when he went from street preacher to pastoring New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church almost 30 years ago. A couple of years into his pastorate, several of his older church members suggested Franklin Avenue leave the SBC.

“…There’s nothing we can do about our past,” was Luter’s response. “But there’s a whole lot we can do about our future.”

Luter was on the SBC Resolutions Committee that in 1995 proposed a resolution adopted by Convention messengers apologizing “to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime,” and repenting “of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The applause and tears that accompanied his election as SBC president made June 19, 2012, “one of the greatest hours in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Luter said as people in the Nashville auditorium clapped too. “My only concern is that hopefully it’s not the last time.”

“That’s where the real test is,” said Moore. “We’ve got the pictures of the presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention over there. Let’s come back in 20 years and if Fred Luter is an island in a sea of middle-aged white guys, that’s means that we have not been where we need to be.”

Can we keep the ‘beast feast’?
H.B. Charles was in the middle of a potential church merger when he was asked that question about a long-held tradition. Charles’ largely African-American church, Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist in Jacksonville, Fla., was considering combining with largely Anglo church across town. One member of that congregation was most concerned with whether Charles as pastor would let them keep their annual wild game dinner and evangelistic outreach, known as the “beast feast.”

“He looked at me and said, ‘Pastor, I know you’ll agree with me, that if one redneck comes to Jesus, it’s worth it all.’ And in that moment,” Charles said, “I just had a feeling everything was going to be all right.”

The summit’s lightest and most practical moments came when practitioners like Charles explained what racial reconciliation looks like in a church setting. Josh Smith, pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Tex., experienced a similar would-be culture clash when a woman at his increasingly diverse church brought a tambourine to play during worship, and during his sermon.

Smith and his team decided the next day they would allow the tambourine playing during the worship, but not during the message. He explained their thoughts to the woman, who’s still at the church six years later. “It was a lot of those hard conversations,” Smith said of the church’s transition to be more diverse, “and I just felt like it was not as much from the pulpit as interpersonal conversations.”

Sometimes, unity is a matter to preach about, as Adron Robinson found when he became pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills. Robinson, who attended the ERLC summit, said his first sermon series was on forgiveness, because the church had recently experienced a difficult time in its history when he arrived almost six years ago.

Hillcrest’s community is largely African American, Robinson said, and his church currently reflects their neighborhood. But during the summit, he said he was wrestling with one of the conversations happening onstage: Is it best for churches to reflect their communities, even if those communities are predominantly one ethnicity?

“I’m good with the fact that our church reflects our community, but I’m also wondering, Is that enough? Does a church need to look more like heaven?

“There’s some ease…some accomplishment in the fact that we look like our community, but I also think that there’s more for us to do, that the church needs to be more multi-cultural, more multi-ethnic,” Robinson said. He also sees a need for more unity between churches.

“We’re cordial and we speak, but there’s not really true fellowship,” Robinson said of some African-American and Anglo Southern Baptist congregations. “So, that’s been an issue, and I think it’s an issue on both sides. [I don’t think] that I’ve done everything that I can do to encourage that either.

“This conference has helped me see the need for communication, for us to sit down, share a meal, and actually build a better relationship, so that we can be the family that God has called us to be.”

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

As Easter approaches each year, I frequently find myself returning to the music of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Perhaps it’s because I was a teenager in the 1970’s, when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s groundbreaking rock opera was immensely popular. They say the music of our teen years can shape us for the rest of our lives, and certainly hearing these songs again brings back many memories and emotions.

Nate_Adams_April6But really more than the music, it has been Tim Rice’s lyrics that have stuck with me. To this day I can recite most of the words Rice penned over 40 years ago, including the powerful dialogue where Pilate angrily demands of Jesus, “Why do you not speak when I have your life in my hands? Why do you stay quiet? I don’t believe you understand!”

Jesus’ reply in the rock opera, though imaginary, is consistent with the Bible’s message. “You have nothing in your hands,” Jesus meekly replies. “Any power you have comes to you from far beyond. Everything is fixed, and you can’t change it.”

Those simple words powerfully convey the confidence and courage of Jesus as he went to the cross for us, and also the providence and sovereignty of God in securing our salvation. Each time I hear them, they make me want to cheer for God and His great victory on our behalf.

To their credit, Webber and Rice took moments like that from the passion week of Christ and, with some admitted license and imagination, placed them in the contemporary music and language of their day. The result was memorable, and therefore enduring.

And yet, as critics and Christians alike noted even during the height of its popularity, Jesus Christ Superstar has one obvious and major shortcoming. It concludes with the crucifixion.

Apologists for the rock opera observed that the ending was deliberately left to the faith or skepticism of the observer. Even Christians noted with appreciation that it at least served to place the name of Jesus on peoples’ lips, and the story of his life in their minds and hearts, in many cases for the first time.

But there was no resurrection. No Easter. No delivering the good news that death was not the end for Jesus and that it need not be the end for those who believe in him.

Yes, ultimately Jesus Christ Superstar sadly reminds us that it’s possible to stop the story too soon. It’s possible to focus so much on the various overtures to Easter that we don’t truly celebrate the finale.

It happens all around us. Immediately after Valentine’s Day, the candy and toy aisles at every store in town switch their ruby red treats and treasures over to the pastel, Easter versions. Clothing catalogs tell us that we need something new to wear. And florists and garden centers remind us that a properly decorated Easter requires lilies. All these traditions paint the days before Easter with an elaborate pageantry. Then the big day comes, and we are left to wonder whether all the preparation overshadowed Easter itself.

We can even do it in our churches. For weeks we can invest in preparing musicals, programs, decorations, and children’s activities designed to help us celebrate Easter. All these things are good. But they are not the finale. They are not the really big part of the story that must be celebrated and that must be told.

The title song from Jesus Christ Superstar is sung by, of all people, Judas, near the end of the rock opera. In it he asks Jesus, “Who are you? What have you sacrificed?” In our churches and in our conversations with others, we need to make sure to get to the part of the story that answers those questions with truth and faith and confidence. As important as what happened before Easter is, it’s what happens after Easter that makes all the difference.

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