Archives For January 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.


The BriefingInterVarsity backs #BlackLivesMatter at Urbana 15
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (InterVarsity) devoted an evening at its Urbana missions conference to the group Black Lives Matter and called on the 16,000 students present to support the movement. InterVarsity’s support for the group caused controversy in part because of the  speaker’s anti-police rhetoric and comments which were seen as critical of the pro-life movement. InterVarsity has since issued a clarification.

Scalia: Presidents Honoring God Is Constitutional
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said the U.S. Constitution doesn’t prohibit presidents from honoring God or the government from placing religion above secularism, though added that one denomination cannot be favored over another. Scalia, told the audience at Archbishop Rummel High School in New Orleans that there is no reason to believe the Constitution dictates state neutrality between religion and its absence.

Catholic school ordered to hire gay employees
A Massachusetts state court ruled in mid-December that a Catholic school may not deny employment to a homosexual. Fontbonne Academy offered Matthew Barrett a job as a food service director in 2013. But when Barrett filled out a new employee form and listed his “husband” as an emergency contact, school administrators rescinded the offer, citing Catholic belief that marriage is between a man and woman.

NC pastor disarms man during service
A man carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle walked into the New Year Year’s Eve service at Heal the Land Outreach Ministries in Fayetteville, NC. “I asked him, ‘Can I help you?'” Bishop Larry Wright shared. “He said, ‘Can you pray for me?'” Wright disarmed the man and began to pray.

Billy Graham makes ‘Most Admired’ list for 59th time
Gallup released it list of most admired people in 2015 with Billy Graham rounding out the top ten. It is the 59th year Graham has been named to the top ten list.  According to Gallup, “Graham has been among the top 10 most admired men every year since 1955 except for 1962, in addition to 1976 when Gallup did not ask the question.”

Sources: Baptist Press, Billy Graham Evangelical Association, Christian Post, Christianity Today, Gallup, NBC News, and Religious News Service.

Disaster_Relief_logo_ILBy Meredith Flynn

Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers began working today to assist homeowners in the wake of flooding across the state and the Midwest.

Capital City Baptist Association, headquartered in Springfield, mobilized a team of volunteers to serve in Kincaid, where 35 homes were directly affected by flooding and others needed assistance following heavy rainfall, reported Director of Missions David Howard.

The team will work is expected to work in Kincaid through the week and possibly next, said IBSA Disaster Relief Coordinator Rex Alexander.

“We have assessors today working in Alexander County near Olive Branch, Illinois,” Alexander continued. “Williamson Association is preparing to go to that location on Wednesday of this week. But if we find out today that the water has not receded enough, then they will have to wait.”

In addition, a team from First Baptist Church, Galatia, is scheduled to leave Thursday to help in Alexander County or the St. Louis area. Volunteers from First Baptist Church, Harrisburg, and Metro East Association are scheduled to serve next week, likely in Alexander County, he said.

“We will learn this week more about the work needed in Alexander County and possibly other places in the state.”

Illinois Baptists have 1,600 trained disaster relief volunteers belonging to 37 teams based around the state. The teams include kitchen, childcare, chaplaincy, chainsaw, flood recovery, laundry and shower units along with a disaster relief command and communications trailer, and a search and rescue unit. To learn more about IBSA Disaster Relief, visit

Leadership Summit 2016 logoAbout 250 leaders from IBSA churches will gather in Springfield January 26-27 for the Illinois Leadership Summit. As a follow-up to the Midwest Leadership Summit last January, which brings together leaders from 10 state conventions every three years, this Illinois-focused conference is expected to build on the momentum of the large regional event.

“I believe this is the first of its kind training that we have designed specifically for individual leaders,” said Mark Emerson, associate executive director of IBSA’s Church Resources team. “IBSA often holds training that focuses on church positions or ministry skills, but this training is unique in that it focuses on the individual leader.”

The Illinois Leadership Summit is part of IBSA’s ongoing leadership development plan. The conference will feature 27 speakers in 32 breakout sessions, including some Illinois pastors who will share experiences from their churches. Among the speakers are Heath Tibbetts of First Baptist Church of Machesney Park, Michael Nave of Cornerstone Church in Marion, Sammy Simmons of Immanuel Baptist Church of Benton, Adron Robinson of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills (metro Chicago), and Doug Munton of FBC O’Fallon. (The full list is here.)

Keynote speaker for the event is Bob Bumgarner, executive pastor of Chets Creek Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. He is a leadership expert who formerly served with the Florida Baptist Convention.

Bumgarner will teach IBSA’s four-phase leadership development process: leading self, leading followers, leading leaders, and leading the organization.

“This training is important for pastors because it is common in the ministry to reach a leadership lid,” Emerson said.

“Some of us are dealing with barriers to growth in our church that are out of our control—buildings, parking, location. But growing as leaders is something that all of us can do this year. If we grow as leaders, the church also grows.”

Seating is limited. Register online at


Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Steeples-squareBy Meredith Flynn| In late 2015, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd wrote a blog post titled “Why we are where we are.”

It could well have been the slogan so far for Floyd’s year-and-a-half as SBC president. The Arkansas pastor has used his platform and his online presence to paint a picture for Southern Baptists of the state of things, and how to move forward together.

Throughout his presidency, Floyd has identified pressing issues for Baptists. He has written about how to think and pray on global issues like immigration and terrorism. Within the Convention, he has highlighted the need to pray for spiritual awakening, culminating in a corporate prayer meeting last summer in Columbus, facilitated by Floyd.

He also has championed the Cooperative Program, calling for it to be “the financial priority of each of our churches” after the International Mission Board announced a plan to cut personnel in light of budgetary shortfalls.

“If you are concerned about some of our missionaries having to come home and the decrease of our missionary forces,” Floyd wrote, “the greatest thing your church can do to help turn it around is increase your giving through the Cooperative Program. It helps build our base of support financially, which in turn will increase our ability to reach the world.”

Looking ahead: Giving through the Cooperative Program was up 1.39% for the 2014-15 fiscal year, an encouraging increase following several years of calls from SBC leaders for churches to increase their giving. In 2016, look for more information about “Great Commission Advance,” an initiative introduced at the Convention in Columbus. It’s set to run through 2025, the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Program.

When Southern Baptists elect a new president in St. Louis this summer, the “Floyd factor” likely will be in play, as the denomination looks for another leader able to bring Baptists together around key issues inside and outside the Convention.

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Missionaries-squareBy Meredith Flynn | The tone was set at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention: If we’re going to continue sending missionaries to people groups who haven’t heard the gospel, the missions paradigm has to change.

“Churches almost unknowingly begin to farm out missions to missions organizations,” International Mission Board President David Platt said during the missionary commissioning service that coincided with the Convention.

“But this is not how God designed it.”

Instead, said the leader of the world’s largest evangelical missions organization, local churches must play a greater role in sending missionaries to the ends of the earth, like the first-century church at Antioch did.

Two months later, Platt announced 600-800 missionaries and staff would end their service with the IMB through a voluntary retirement incentive and subsequent hand-raising opportunity. And the local church was still central to the conversation.

IMB released a list of ways churches can support returning missions personnel. Many, including Illinois pastor Doug Munton, publicly encouraged local congregations to consider hiring returning missionaries to fill vacant staff positions.

At their September meeting, the SBC Executive Committee adopting a resolution encouraging churches to give to the Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists’ main method of funding missions—“more than ever before” in light of the IMB cuts.

Since Platt was named president in 2014, he has prioritized the responsibility of local churches and everyday Christians to leverage what they have so that more people around the world might hear and respond to the gospel. And not just through monetary gifts.

“Even if our income from churches were to double over the next year…we would still have a cap on our ability to send a certain number of full-time, fully supported church planters,” Platt said when he announced the personnel plan in August. The solution: “Consider all of the different avenues that God created in His sovereign grace for multitudes more people to go.”

What it means for churches: Those avenues may find business people, college students and retirees in your church leaving their lives in the U.S. to take the gospel to people who have never heard it. Local congregations have an opportunity to expand the ways they think about missions, and encourage “regular” people in the pews to do the same.