Archives For January 2016

The Briefing‘Saeed Is Free:’ wife offers thanks
Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of released Pastor Saeed Abedini, has thanked President Barack Obama, the Rev. Franklin Graham, the various groups that campaigned for her husband’s release, and the millions of people around the world who signed petitions for the cause. “I wanted to say thank you to all of you for having prayed and have wept with us, have signed petitions and have called your government officials. Thank you for having stood with our family during this difficult journey,” Abedini wrote on Facebook.

LGBT activist group targets Baptist schools
The homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign has targeted 23 institutions of higher learning with Southern Baptist ties in a report that also names 35 other colleges and universities with distinct Christian identities. The report, “Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk,” asks education officials to increase reporting requirements for these 58 schools because each was granted “exemptions of interest” relating to either “gender identity” or “sexual orientation” or both.

SBC entities: Mandate violates religious liberty
The Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate forces Christians to violate either their religious beliefs or the government’s rules, Southern Baptist entities have told the U.S. Supreme Court. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Jan. 11, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the International Mission Board (IMB) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — as well as Southern’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. — urged the high court to rule the controversial, federal regulation infringes religious freedom.

Boy and girl locker rooms going extinct on U.S. coasts
At the end of 2015, two human rights commissions over 2,800 miles apart enacted new rules that could be precedent-setting for the gender battle across the nation, including giving people the right to use whichever locker rooms and bathrooms they choose. Now, concerns abound in Washington State and New York City over bathroom safety and privacy in wake of the transgender policies enacted last month by unelected officials.

Catholic hospital can’t be forced to do sterilizations
A California judge declined Thursday to force a Catholic hospital to facilitate a sterilization procedure for a woman who’s having a scheduled C-section at the facility later this month. “Religious-based hospitals have an enshrined place in American history and its communities, and the religious beliefs reflected in their operation are not to be interfered with by courts at this moment in history,” Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith said.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, World Magazine

Praying for revival

Lisa Misner —  January 18, 2016

College students focus of Jan. 22 meeting

A pastor in Southern Illinois is calling Christians across the state to meet together this month to pray and fast for spiritual awakening among the more than 850,000 college students in Illinois.

Phil Nelson, pastor of Lakeland Baptist Church in Carbondale, sent a letter to Illinois Baptist churches late last year, urging churches toward increased prayer for and involvement on college campuses.

“In 1985 when I came as a campus pastor to Southern Illinois University, we had over 1,000 students that claimed to be associated with a Baptist church in Illinois, but just four years ago our list from the university of students who claimed an association with a Baptist church was less than 50,” Nelson wrote.

“In a state where over 850,000 are enrolled in college work we have very few viable ministries to our American students. This cannot be our position any longer for the sake of the Gospel in the lives of our children and young adults.”

Nelson said the idea for the prayer meetings began to take shape at the 2015 IBSA Annual Meeting, where he connected with potential host pastors. Four churches so far have committed to host a prayer meeting on January 22, and there is still time for more to sign on, Nelson said. The four sites currently are:

• Evanston Baptist Church, Evanston

• College Avenue Baptist Church, Normal

• First Baptist Church, Bethalto

• Stonefort Missionary Baptist Church, Stonefort

Each meeting will begin at 9 p.m. and end at 6 the next morning. Each hour of prayer is divided into several segments and will include times of group prayer, worship and fellowship. Pray-ers are invited to come and go, Nelson said.

The format is based on a prayer gathering he attended in 1976, shortly after he became a Christian as a college student at Southern Illinois University. That meeting “changed the campus make-up at Carbondale,” Nelson told the Illinois Baptist. He shared more about the experience in his letter to churches:

“I participated in an all-night prayer meeting where many evangelical campus ministries came together to pray and fast throughout the night and ask God to bring an awakening on our campus,” Nelson wrote.

“That spring we saw many students in every ministry come to trust Christ and many of those who trusted Christ are now still spread across this globe in active evangelical ministries to this day.”

For more information about the January 22 prayer meetings, contact Nelson at or (618) 529-4906.


The weekend weatherman surprised us, not with his forecast but with an off-hand remark. Following a news story about the mounting Powerball jackpot that promised to make someone a billionaire, the anchor cheerleading for Lotto asked him, “What would you do if you won? Where would you be the next day?”

“I’d be right here,” he responded, “because I don’t play the lottery.”

Good for you, weather guy. You’d expect Russell Moore and Al Mohler to sound off on the folly of the lottery. And Baptist pastors were certain to preach and blog on the sinfulness of gambling. But the TV meteorologist? And what about the law professor at a secular university who declared this massive state-run lottery “our national disgrace.”

Ultimately three winners split almost $1.6-Billion in what a radio reporter called “a shot at the American dream.”

Really? The American dream once was owning your own home and being able to send your kids to college. But as that dream moves farther out of reach for many people, a new concept of the “dream” has been blown out of proportion by greed. Perhaps it’s greed that’s our national disgrace.

Many would nominate abortion as chief of our national sins, and it certainly qualifies. Or moral decline or child abuse or drug use or racism or gun violence or failing education or our inability to shut down terrorists. But what prompted Colorado attorney and Salon writer Paul Campos to cite Powerball as such a disgrace is the impact it has on those who can least afford to play the “game.”

Americans spent $70-Billion on state lotteries in 2014. That’s an average of $285 per U.S. adult. But only half of the adult population buys tickets, so the average amount spent by actual players is about $570. And, as Campos points out, 20% of the players buy 70% of the tickets. One in eight U.S. adults spends $1,800 per year on the lottery, including in equal proportions households making less that $15,000 per year.

Campos contends “what drives much of the spending on lottery tickets, and especially the spending by poor people, is not some lighthearted search for a cheap thrill, but genuine despair….The eagerness with which almost every state government exploits the desperation of its most hopeless citizens is a national disgrace.”

Quotable: The lottery’s real losers

“…The reality is that, regardless of who wins the Powerball, it is the poorest in our communities that are guaranteed to lose.

Casinos and lotteries are marketed directly to those people who most feel compelled to get more money quickly, and therefore, have less hesitancy to spending part—or all—of their income trying to do so.

It’s not hard to see that gambling is a form of economic predation. Gambling grinds the faces of the poor into the ground.”

– Russell Moore (from

“Many economists have noted… that most lottery sales, and most lottery sales outlets, are actually in the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in American cities.

Governments are targeting the most economically disadvantaged, knowing that they are most likely to buy lottery tickets because they feel they have very little to lose and because they are easily persuaded that there is at least a possibility, albeit a very small possibility, that they will all of the sudden strike it rich.

We need to understand that the state is putting itself in the position of economically exploiting its own citizens. As one major economist famously remarked, a lottery is basically a tax on the stupid.”

– Al Mohler  (from The Briefing, 1/11/2016)


The year of orange

Lisa Misner —  January 14, 2016

Larycia Hawkins, a Wheaton College professor, announced she would wear a Muslim headscarf throughout Advent as a way of showing solidarity with Muslims. In a Facebook post, the professor explained she’d wear a hijab to work, class, and church.

In particular, Hawkins, a Christian, said she wishes to express support for Muslim women. “I don’t love my Muslim neighbor because s/he is American. I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity,” Hawkins wrote. “I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor because we are formed of the same primordial clay.”

For some observers, her demonstration missed the mark. In 2015 we saw many Christians trying to identify with people in need: Some identified with Muslims in general as the American political rhetoric turned against them. Some identified with Syrian refugees, including Muslims and Christians, fleeing persecution. And for some American evangelicals, the fashion statement of the year was not a headscarf, but a jumpsuit.

As the Illinois Baptist editors discussed the images that characterized 2015, there was a strong case to be made for that grainy video freeze-frame we saw in February: 21 Coptic Christians in orange jumpsuits, kneeling on a Libyan beach with knives held to their throats by ISIS-rebel captors. Gratefully, the image from just seconds later was not widely distributed by news services: 21 Christians beheaded.

This may have been the most horrific image any of us have ever seen.

It proved what we have heard all our lives. Christians will face persecution for our faith and some may be martyred. But not in our lifetimes has martyrdom seemed so possible, or even probable. No longer is it that Christians may be martyred. Christians will be martyred. The mass shooting in San Bernardino by a radicalized Islamic couple proves it can happen even here in the United States.

If we’re looking for someone to identify with, let’s consider again those men in orange jumpsuits. Their lives—and deaths—force us to confront the strength of our own faith. Jesus told us to lay down our lives and take up the cross.

In contemporary terms, are we ready to wear orange?

Editor’s note: Hawkins is on paid leave after her comments on social media about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God.  Wheaton administrators have recommended her termination from the college.



The BriefingWho’s next for National WMU?
Wanda Lee, National WMU Executive Director, announced her retirement Monday (Jan. 11) at the annual January Board Meeting of the Woman’s Missionary Union. Lee has been at the helm of the National WMU since 2000 when she replaced Dellana O’Brien. Among those speculated on as her possible replacement is Sandy Wisdom-Martin, former Illinois WMU Executive Director and current Executive Director of Texas WMU.

SBC President on the ‘spiritual’ state of the union
As President Obama prepares to give his final State of the Union address tonight (Jan. 12), the President of the Southern Baptist Convention issued his own spiritual state of our union. Floyd shared on his blog, “What’s especially alarming to me, serving as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, is that we fail to realize how the spiritual health of our nation affects the state of our union. As our spiritual lives go, so goes the nation.”

Over 5,000 to join Chicago’s March for Life
Pro-lifers in Illinois are expecting over 5,000 people to join the annual Chicago March for Life event ahead of the national march in Washington D.C. A local version of the march held every year in the nation’s capital on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, the Chicago march on Jan. 17 is expected to be the largest held in the entire Midwest.

Process begins to remove prof over ‘same God’ comments
A panel of Wheaton College faculty will meet within the next 30 days to consider whether to recommend termination for political science professor Larycia Hawkins. Administrators placed Hawkins on paid leave in December after she made comments on social media about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God.

Churches see need to screen volunteers
Almost half of the background checks requested by churches through LifeWay’s program with reveal some type of criminal offense. Most of those are minor incidents such as speeding tickets, but 21 percent of inquiries discovered misdemeanors or more serious crimes.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, Facts and Trends,, SBC this Week

January 17 is Sanctity of Life Sunday


At just over one-and-a  half pounds. baby Grace was born a micro-preemie.

When Grace Schumacher turned one last October, it was a milestone that once seemed impossible. Her story of survival against the odds has reminded a church and a community about the sanctity of human life.

When Grace’s mom, Mindy, was pregnant, a blood-screening test indicated possible problems. More testing revealed a high likelihood of Down Syndrome. At only 29 weeks, Mindy’s doctor wanted to monitor her because baby Grace was “off-the-charts too small,” said Grace’s grandmother, Charmel Jacobs.

This routine procedure became a two-day hospital stay, which then became an emergency C-section as Grace’s heart rate continued to drop much too frequently. The baby needed to be delivered, despite the chance she might not survive. Charmel’s husband, Jerry, started praying out loud as this decision was made.

He said, “Lord, we just need your grace.”

And Grace the Lord gave, literally. Born October 24 at 5:44 a.m., weighing only 1 lb. 9 oz., she was considered a micro-preemie. The family was warned she probably wouldn’t cry. But she gave a little squeak, and then started wailing away.

Grace was in the hospital for three months after that, “an emotional roller coaster for everyone,” her grandmother said. She faced a host of medical complications, and family and friends weren’t even allowed to visit. But finally, one week after her original due date, Grace’s parents took their daughter home.

Charmel wanted to thank Rockford Memorial Hospital for everything they did for their family during that difficult time. So she got the idea (which she credits to the Lord) to write a letter to the editor in their local paper. This was also around the time that she was wrestling with how to influence the culture and put a positive pro-life message into the community.

She enlisted prayer from her pastor that the Lord would give her the ability to construct this letter concisely and positively. Jacobs awoke one morning at five o’clock and started writing. “It was done within an hour,” she said.

In the editorial she expressed her gratitude to everyone in the neo-natal intensive care unit that had been Grace’s first home. She concluded by giving ultimate thanks to her Heavenly Father, praising him for gifting the family with the care the hospital gave them and their vulnerable, yet extremely valuable treasure, Grace. She then wrote, “I wish everyone could peek inside those cribs and understand that each one is a precious soul created by God—no matter how tiny.”

Within days, the letter was in print and on Facebook. It was taped to every monitor at the hospital, and the newspaper later published an article celebrating Grace and the hospital’s acclaimed NICU department. “Over and over, God has confirmed that he wants this story told,” the grateful grandmother said.

‘It’s not up to us’

In the same church in Machesney Park, another young girl’s life—once in question—now stands as a testimony to the goodness of God.

Michael and Jessica Miller were encouraged to terminate a pregnancy because of complications, but they chose not to. Now nine years later, Machesney Park’s former associate pastor, Larry Wells, says, “Riley is an inspiration to all of us.”

At 20 weeks into the pregnancy, the Millers were asked if they wanted to find out the baby’s gender. From the images, they could tell they were having a girl, but also that something was definitely not right. “She had a tumor at the base of her tailbone,” Jessica said. A specialist came in soon after they got the news and told them the child had almost no chance of survival and would need to be monitored very closely.

“That same day, they sent us to a genetic counselor who said we should have an abortion,” Jessica said. The baby would have a host of mental, physical, and developmental problems, and in the eyes of the doctors, the cost of the complications outweighed the value of her life.

The Millers made it very clear that wasn’t an option and never would be. “We told them that doesn’t need to be suggested again. It’s not happening,” Jessica recalled.

But the tumor continued to grow, quickly. By 27½ weeks, it was affecting everything and causing Riley’s heart to fail. It was also starting to affect Jessica. The doctor said they would perform one last ultrasound, and if Riley’s heart was still beating, they would deliver her. The Millers were warned, though, that even then she would have only a 50% chance of survival.

“But I had confidence,” said Jessica. “We had been praying about it.”

The test revealed that somehow, against all medical odds, her heart was beating. So they delivered Riley—not breathing at first, blue and swollen, but alive.

She initially weighed just over four pounds. Riley immediately underwent surgery to remove the tumor, a genetic anomaly that affects only one in 40,000 babies. After the procedure, she weighed 1 lb. 5 oz. She remained in intensive care for two months.

Although Riley is small for her age and some scars remain from her multiple surgeries, her mother says, “She’s nine years old now. She has no learning disabilities. Looking at her you would never know!”

When questioned how her daughter’s story has impacted other people over the years, Jessica talked about how opening up about their experiences has been a real encouragement to the people in her church, bolstering their faith as they hear about and witness what amazing things God can do.

About two years ago, she was also able to talk to another mother who was faced with the decision either to terminate the pregnancy or trust their baby into God’s hands. Although they lost their child, they chose the latter.

“The main thing I’ve learned,” Jessica said, “is that you never know what’s going to happen. It’s not up to us to make that choice.”

– Morgan Jackson is a freelance writer living in Bloomington, Illinois.

Learning how to learn

Lisa Misner —  January 7, 2016

LeadershipIf you have been in a leadership role for very long, you have experienced organizational insanity! It can be described as doing what you have always done, the way you have always done it and expecting different results. We chuckle when we hear that because we know how easily it can happen.

It would be nice if annually articulating a clear vision based on the Great Commission, creating a strategy based on the five functions of the church, and then providing training for our staffs and volunteers were all it took to be effective in ministry. Unfortunately, it is not. In addition to these important leadership activities, we must help the churches we lead become learning organizations to prevent drifting off mission.

A church that is a learning organization will stay responsive to its ministry environment. It will learn better ways to meet the needs of its community and create new on-ramps for the gospel.

We see the principle of being a learning organization in Acts 6:1-7. When the early church had success in reaching Greek people with gospel, the need for reorganization and new staffing to meet the growing ministry needs became evident. These believers learned what needed realignment by looking at the ineffectiveness of their food distribution system and were able to transform their ministry structure, resulting in greater disciple-making capacity.

We live in a time when there is a lot of talk about church revitalization and church planting. I am for both. Let me suggest that when churches need revitalization, often it is because they have quit learning. They no longer know how to make adjustments to their mission efforts because they are not learning from their field efforts. They might not even think that it is necessary to learn from their results in the field. I contend that after we have done our theological homework, the next source for vital organizational learning is the mission field we are trying to reach.

Here are three ways churches can stop the insanity and become learning organizations.

1. Establish a supportive learning environment. Create opportunities for staff or volunteers to express their thoughts about the work they are currently doing without fear of being belittled. Help people become aware of opposing ideas that are present. Help them move beyond fixing problems to creating novel solutions. I have found asking these four questions about how things are going is a helpful place to start:

  • What is right about our methods and results?
  • What is confusing about our methods and results?
  • What is missing from our methods and results?
  • What is wrong about our methods and results?

2. Create helpful learning processes and practices. In order for an organization to learn, helpful facts and information must be gathered, processed, interpreted, shared and acted on. Probably the best known example of this approach is the U.S. Army’s After Action Review. It is a systematic debriefing after every mission:

  • What did we set out to do?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What will we do next time?

3. Model learning at the senior leadership level. Senior leaders who model learning:

  • Invite input from peers and subordinates in critical discussions.
  • Ask probing questions.
  • Listen attentively.
  • Encourage multiple viewpoints.
  • Provide time, resources and venues for reflecting and improving past performance and for identifying challenges.

Remember, you will lead the organization that you allow or the one that you create.

Bob Bumgarner is executive pastor at Chets Creek Church in Jacksonville, Fla. He will be the featured speaker at the Illinois Leadership Summit, January 26-27, 2016. Reprinted by permission from the Florida Baptist Witness.