Archives For December 2017

800px-Sangamon_County_Courthouse_2017

Sangamon County Courthouse, Springfield, Ill. Source: Wikicommons

Attorneys for the Thomas More Society are appealing a judge’s decision to grant a motion Dec. 28 by the State of Illinois to dismiss a case to stop the implementation of HB40 on Jan. 1. Associate Judge Jennifer M. Ascher of Sangamon County’s Seventh Judicial Circuit Court in Springfield denied the request for an emergency injunction and temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. HB40 uses taxpayer funds to pay for abortions for through Medicaid and the state employees’ health insurance plan.

Thomas More Society counsel Peter Breen based his arguments on the original date in May when the bill was scheduled for a vote in the Senate, but was recalled only to be held for a vote in September. He also disputed the state’s ability to fund the bill according to the state’s balanced budget law.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling and will seek an immediate appeal,” Breen stated after the ruling. “The Illinois Constitution was clearly violated here.”

Read our previous coverage of the lawsuit

 

Building them up

ib2newseditor —  December 28, 2017
Graffiti2

In September, a group of seven Illinois pastors’ wives navigated the New York subway every day to get to the Graffiti 2 headquarters in the Bronx, where they assisted with behind-the-scenes work needed to facilitate outreach programs for kids and adults. Photos by Andrea Hammond

Subway

Riding in the subway.

For Illinoisans who live outside the Chicago city limits—or don’t often visit—the hustle and bustle of New York City would likely bring on a good dose of culture shock.

For Terry Kenney, a pastor’s wife in Beardstown, her recent mission trip to the Big Apple brought back memories of her childhood in Chicago.

“New Yorkers do not think anything about walking” to get from place to place, said Kenney, whose husband, Brian, pastors First Southern Baptist Church in Beardstown. For the team of seven pastors’ wives from Illinois, navigating the city streets and the subway and taxis was a new, stretching experience. But a positive one.

“I never had a desire to go to New York,” Kenney said, “but now I’m going to take my husband back and let him see it.”

City reachers
The Illinois team was in the city to partner with Graffiti 2, a community ministry based in the South Bronx. Started a decade ago, Graffiti 2 is an offshoot of Graffiti Church, a Southern Baptist church planted in the early 1970s. The Graffiti ministries are grounded in a mission to meet the physical and spiritual needs of New Yorkers.

Toward that end, Graffiti 2 runs an after-school program for kids in the neighborhood, and also has started a jobs program that gives people the skills they need to learn and succeed in a career.

Standing in front of an intricate stained glass window in Graffiti’s new headquarters, the Illinois women watched one of Graffiti’s artisans at work at her sewing machine. The goods produced by Graffiti 2 artisans are sold through WorldCrafts, a fair-trade ministry of Woman’s Missionary Union.

Herself a seamstress, Kenney said it was nice to climb upstairs in the old church building and see where the artisans work, and hear about their needs. The Illinois team also helped Graffiti 2 with some administrative tasks resulting from their recent move to the building.

“We prayer-walked around their neighborhood in the South Bronx before meeting artisans and touring their new location,” said Andrea Hammond, a pastor’s wife from Grace Southern Baptist Church in Virden. “We experienced how they impact their community for Christ by finding out what their needs are, meeting them, then sharing Christ through those needs.”

Calling in common

stainglass

At the Graffiti 2 headquarters in the Bronx, artisans create fair-trade products and learn career skills.

Carmen Halsey came up with the idea for the New York mission trip as she was brainstorming ways to help pastors’ wives connect with one another. Inspired by the concept of “destination weddings,” Halsey, IBSA’s director of women’s missions and ministries, wanted to find a place that would let wives retreat to an attractive location, while also working together to fulfill a mission.

As they worked together on a large mailing project for Graffiti 2, Halsey said, the women had an opportunity to hear each other’s stories, and share their own. That was the special part, she said, watching the multi-generational group support each other and get to know one another.

“It’s a lonely job,” Terry Kenney said of being a pastors’ wife. There aren’t too many people you can confide in, she said, and the New York trip let the women open up to one another. That part of the trip was helpful for Ailee Taylor, who serves with her husband, Derrick, at NET Community Church, the congregation they planted in Staunton last year.

“I have not been a pastor’s wife for very long, and it is a group of women that I have not been around before,” she said. “In addition to learning and serving alongside the team at Graffiti 2, I was able to connect and grow alongside other women that share the role of pastors’ wives.”

The trip also had benefits that are transferable to her own ministry in Illinois.

“Even though New York is an urban environment, I learned things that apply to my rural environment,” Taylor said. “I also learned that we have a lot of things that we easily take for granted in Illinois.”

The mission trip was a renewing experience, she said, using decisive words for how she felt about returning to Illinois: “Filled, challenged, and fired up.”
For more information about upcoming missions opportunities for adults, students, and kids, go to IBSA.org/missions.

God and sinners reconciled

ib2newseditor —  December 25, 2017

Even now God is at work, drawing sinners to himself

Reconciled

Michelangelo lay on his back 17 years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, paint dripping on his face as if it were a drop cloth. The result was a masterpiece, and at its center this moment of reconciliation: God reaching down to Adam. In the Second Adam, we see God reaching down to man, not at his creation, but for his salvation.

“So it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
– (1 Cor. 15:45)

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled

At Christmastime, the familiar refrain echoes in our churches, our stereos, even our shopping malls. It’s so familiar, in fact, that the magnitude of the concepts in Charles Wesley’s hymn may be easy to overlook. Even at Christmas.

God and sinners, reconciled. Listen up, the angels say. Lend an ear. This is big news.

Wesley’s original intent was to set his “Hymn for Christmas Day” to a slower, more solemn tune. He also wrote verses we don’t sing today, including one in particular that is steeped in imagery of dark and light, of sin and holiness, of the differences between us and Christ.

Wesley’s verses aren’t very Christmas-y, at least not in a tinsel and trees, lights and presents kind of way. But it’s easy to imagine it sung in a hushed stable, long after everyone should be asleep, when the import of what’s just happened is becoming ever more clear.

Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

The “mystic union” Wesley describes is at work every time a sinner turns to Jesus. We’re reconciled to him in one sense of the word—a broken relationship is repaired—but there’s more.

Our purposes are also aligned with his. Our very nature is back in step with our Creator’s.

Hark indeed.

Once empty, now full
Matt Mevert and his wife, Andrea, grew up going to church. In fact, they went to the same church. They were married there and raising their family there, until recently, when something shifted.

“I started to realize that there was something missing, but I don’t even think I realized it before,” said Matt, who owns an auto shop in Steeleville.

The Meverts came to a place in their lives where they realized worshiping God and praying to him could be personal and dynamic—that they could have a relationship with him.

They were baptized Dec. 10 at Steeleville Baptist Church in front of their new church family and their three sons.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6, CSB).

“All around us, we are surrounded by people who have a God-sized hole in their hearts,” said Scott Foshie, the Meverts’ pastor. “We are all made to enjoy a relationship with him, but our sin has separated us and we are enslaved by it.”

But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

For Matt and Andrea, a host of factors led to their decision to follow Christ. Their oldest son joined a Bible study and started asking questions about the Scriptures. They attended a summer revival and felt God moving them to make a new commitment to him. And they started studying the Bible.

“At that point, you can’t get enough of it,” Mevert said of the Bible. “You start studying and making opportunities to learn more all the time.”

How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life (Rom. 5:9-10).

“In Matt’s case, while he grew up in church, he realized that even though he knew a lot about God, he didn’t know God personally,” Pastor Foshie said. “He was lacking the experience of being born again and experiencing the saving power of knowing Jesus.

“The Holy Spirit revealed Matt’s need to be born again, and he responded in simple faith.”

And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation (Rom. 5:11).

“Without Jesus, our lives are empty and meaningless,” Foshie said. “Those of us who know him need to use the Christmas season (and every season) to offer the Good News that we can come to Christ and truly be reconciled to him.”

Mild he lays his glory by,

Born that man
no more may die.

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark!

Partners in reconciliation
In her work at Angels’ Cove Maternity Center, Carla Donoho sees people in need of reconciliation. With their families, and with God. But it often doesn’t come easily.

“Accepting the love of a Heavenly Father is foreign and difficult when many have no father in their lives or the ones they have do not represent love,” said Donoho, who directs Angels’ Cove, a ministry of Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.

“For those who have come from difficult circumstances, either from their own doing or acts of someone toward them, seeing the love of God through his people is a miracle.”
Apostle Paul describes that miracle in 2 Corinthians, and gives a clear directive to those who have experienced Christ’s reconciliation.

Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).

“Nothing thrills me more than to see one of ‘ours’ come to know Jesus as the loving Savior who has given himself for them,” Donoho said. “Those who feel so unloved, rejected, and unwanted realize they are a child of the True King. This is true reconciliation.”

Scott Foshie heard the message of reconciliation at nine years old from his grandmother, Lois, when she was suffering from cancer. Even if she lost the battle, she told him, she knew she would be with Jesus because she had given her life to him, and he had forgiven her sin.

“When she told me that she hoped I had that kind of relationship with Jesus too, I began to think,” Foshie recounted. “That was when I realized that while I knew facts about God, I didn’t really know him. I needed to begin a personal relationship with Jesus.”

The ministry of reconciliation is at work whenever a Lois or a Carla Donoho or a Pastor Scott or a Matt Mevert shares the work of Christ in their own lives.

That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us (2 Cor. 5:19).

At the manger, God extended reconciliation through his son, Jesus. On the cross, the offer of reconciliation is completed through Jesus’s death for the world’s sins. Charles Wesley married two holy days—Christmas and Easter—and the reconciliation seen in both with another of his hymns for Advent, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

-Meredith Flynn

Annual conference aims to engage students in helping persecuted people around the world

Awsom

The lights in the room dimmed. Suddenly, there were loud, wailing sirens and the sounds of hovering aircraft and explosions. Shouts could be heard from each corner of the room as the girls yelled out, eagerly looking to find the rest of their lost family members.

The IBSA Building was transformed into a refugee camp Nov. 5 for the annual AWSOM conference for young women (AWSOM stands for “Amazing Women Serving Our Maker”). Through an intensive, simulated overnight experience, this year’s AWSOM focused on helping the 222 students in attendance understand the plight of the refugee, and how they can help. Attenders also heard the stories of Christians who have lived with persecution (see boxes).

Alina Aisina – Central Asia

Aisina was born in a gospel-sensitive country in Central Asia to a Christian mother and an abusive, atheist father.
Aisina, her sister, and her mom eventually fled their city because their lives were threatened for what they believed. Aisina grew up with a lot of fear, she said, “Not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring and being afraid for my life.”
After receiving a shoebox from Operation Christmas Child, however, Aisina described the change in her life. While her physical life didn’t change, she said, her attitude did because she knew she wasn’t alone. She felt a loving Father looking after her by using strangers from another country to demonstrate Christ’s love for her through the shoebox.

After the simulated war broke out, the students, grouped in “families” of five, were instructed to find refuge in a neighboring country. They could only travel with limited items, however, and had to leave the rest of their belongings behind.

When the girls reached their temporary shelter, a setup of makeshift tents representing a refugee camp, they were given minimal supplies. Current and former missionaries dressed as border guards spoke only the language of the countries they served, to represent the foreign atmosphere to which refugees must adapt.

In the end, the family had to make the decision either to return home to their war-torn country, navigating elements such as land mines, or to apply for citizenship in the new country in hopes of building a new life.

Rockie Naser – Jordan

Naser’s devout Muslim family lived in Jordan for several years before moving to Chicago. By the time Naser was 22, her father had arranged for her to return to Jordan and marry her first cousin. When she refused, she was estranged from her family. Her father even threatened her life when he discovered she’d become a Christian.

Naser fled the city where she lived and joined the U.S. military to help ensure her protection. She now serves as a women’s ministry director at First Baptist Church, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

The crisis is real
Prior to the simulation, International Mission Board missionary Christopher Mauger showed a brief aerial video clip documenting the plight of the Rohingya Muslims as they fled from Myanmar, formerly called Burma.

Mauger, who serves in Southeast Asia, described the situation as “desperate” and “unbelievable,” and as a crisis that “needs prayer.” “If they have to go down [to Bangladesh] for refuge, it’s really bad,” he said. “There’s nothing there.”

Mauger explained how “hundreds of thousands” of Rohingya Muslims have been exiting the country as a result of persecution from Myanmar’s government, which is Buddhist.

“For those who have a place to live, they are living in camps with plastic for roofing,” Mauger said. “They are crowded in small areas, food is scarce, and they don’t have any hygienic necessities.”

Mauger described how easy it is to get distracted with a situation like this by blaming the evil in this world. But by changing their perspective, he said, Christians can help. “We can tell these people about God,” he said, “by giving and supporting the Christian organizations that are helping in that area.”

Wendy – China

Wendy lives in China, where she partnered with Ronny and Beverly Carroll while they served as missionaries with the International Mission Board. The Carrollslive in Illinois, and Wendy visited Springfield to speak about the ministry she coordinates to help people long oppressed because of their beliefs.
During the Chinese Revolution in the 1960s, Wendy said, all forms of religion were repressed. While many Chinese Christians fled, others, including a man named Su, were imprisoned. After Su’s release 20 years later, Wendy’s ministry found him and helped him rediscover Christ. This was Su’s first encounter with a Christian in more than two decades.

Becki McNeely, a leader from Lakeland Baptist Church, said AWSOM “opened the students’ eyes to an increased awareness of the state of refugees.”

Several students echoed McNeely. One young woman described how it “must be hard to live in a persecuted country” after hearing the accounts of the speakers. Several more expressed their increased awareness of the refugee crises and were “saddened” at its reality.

Carmen Halsey, director of women’s ministry and missions, said IBSA is securing resources to inform churches about refugee issues. She added that she hoped the experience helped students to be able to “feel the psychological anguish caused by separation and flight” and to “see what forces people into refugee situations,” as well as adopting a more welcoming attitude towards refugees in their own country.

Go to vimeo.com/IBSA to view video from this year’s AWSOM conference.

-Andrew Woodrow

The Briefing

Housing allowance ruling allows 180 days for appeals
A federal district court judge in Wisconsin, as expected, has entered a final order declaring the minister’s housing allowance unconstitutional. The Dec. 13 order, however, has been stayed for 180 days after all appeals are exhausted, meaning it currently does not have any impact. Observers expect the government to appeal the order by Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin, who issued her ruling on Oct. 6 following a 2013 ruling she issued that was overturned.

New HHS abortion/contraception mandate rules blocked
In a Dec. 15 ruling, a federal court in Philadelphia blocked enforcement of the Trump administration’s new rules that exempt from the controversial requirement those employers that object based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The new regulations issued Oct. 6 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided relief from a rule that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions.

Johnson Amendment repeal removed from final tax bill
President Donald Trump’s biggest religious freedom policy promise to evangelicals—repealing the Johnson Amendment—will no longer take place via Republican tax reform. Senator Ron Wyden (D) announced Dec. 14 that the repeal included in the House version of the tax bill, which would allow churches and other nonprofits to endorse candidates without losing their tax-exempt status, was removed during the reconciliation process with the Senate version, which did not include a repeal.

Transgender teen suing Palatine school
Eighteen-year-old Nova Maday filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court Nov. 30, claiming that Township High School District 211 in Palatine has in the past denied the transgender teen use of the girls’ locker room during physical education class and more recently restricted Maday to an “unspecified private changing area within the locker room,” where no one else is required to dress.

Chick-fil-A performs works of necessity for stranded travelers
Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A answered the call from the city’s mayor and came to the rescue Sunday night to help feed thousands of stranded travelers at powerless Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The Christian-owned fast-food chain is known for observing the Sabbath by closing its restaurants on Sunday, but it also recognizes that sometimes it is called to perform “works of necessity and mercy” on the Lord’s Day.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Christianity Today, Chicago Tribune, World Magazine

Not waiting to worship

ib2newseditor —  December 18, 2017

jail cell

A worship service I attended recently was like no other I’ve ever seen. And I have seen quite a few.

When I arrived with the pastor and three other leaders, 10 minutes before the service was scheduled to begin, no one else was there. Then, precisely on time, about 70 worshipers arrived.

The first 10 minutes or so were “fellowship time,” as each and every worshiper joyfully entered, hugging the neck or shaking the hand of the pastor and leaders, including me as their guest.

As they did so, many of them volunteered to serve or lead during the service. The pastor noted each of their offers, and told some of them they would have to wait until next time, because we only had two hours to worship.

The good news has arrived, and those who have received it are free to celebrate.

Those who did join us in leading the service shared special music, or recited passages of Scripture they had memorized, or gave brief testimonies of God’s grace and goodness in their lives. One especially memorable man apologized for taking so long to slowly walk to the front, assisted by his cane. He said he was 71 years old, but more alive today than when he was 18, because of the Lord’s work in his life. He then sang a moving and joyful spiritual that had all of us clapping and joining in.

The open prayer time was passionate. One man transparently thanked God for recent victory over a temptation in his life, while another prayed through tears, thanking God for a healing contact from his ex-wife, the first one in 34 years.

When the pastor gave me an opportunity to speak, I found myself citing a passage from my own devotional time that week, rather than a more carefully rehearsed message. As I spoke from my heart and sought to apply that passage to their lives, the worshipers gave me their eager attention, and encouraged me with their amens and other signs of agreement.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing to me about that worship service, however, was that I was told there is a “waiting list” to enter it that is about four times larger than the room can hold. You see, that unusual worship service was within the walls of one of our Illinois prisons on a Saturday night, and those worshipers were its residents. The leaders were from one of our Baptist churches that has led a ministry there for over 20 years.

As Christmas now approaches, I am reminded that the good news of Jesus’ birth came first to a humble group of shepherds. They were in many ways “confined” themselves, in poverty, in low social status, with limited freedom or opportunity, and with little hope of a brighter future. Yet the Bible tells us they were also men who were “abiding” and “keeping watch.” When the good news about Jesus invaded their darkness one night, they eagerly received the news and ran to meet him.

That’s what I felt in prison that Saturday night. There was certainly a darkness, a sense of oppression as I walked through multiple security checkpoints. But inside, the good news had arrived, and those who had received it now enjoyed a freedom to worship and celebrate that is all too rare outside the prison walls.

As we encouraged those worshipers to share the good news about Jesus with others, as did the shepherds, their enthusiastic responses told me they already were. I guess that’s why there is a waiting list for the Saturday night worship service. And I guess it’s why we should all receive the good news humbly this Christmas, grateful that we do not have to wait to worship him.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Volunteers aid homeowners after year of historic storms

ILDR Feeding Unit

 Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers prepare a meal for Hurricane Harvey victims in Vidor, Texas. The Illinois volunteers prepared over 40,000 meals during their callout. Facebook photo

A difficult year for many people in the U.S. meant Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief (IBDR) volunteers were hard at work in 2017.

The most extensive callout was to Texas, where Hurricane Harvey left many homeowners displaced in August. Two childcare teams were the first Illinois units to deploy. They were stationed at the Dallas Convention Center, where they attended to children while their parents—refugees from flooding in Houston—stood in lines to meet with insurance companies and government agencies.

All other ILDR teams were sent to serve in the Vidor, Texas area. Two shower and laundry trailers from Franklin and Macoupin Associations were deployed. They provided 8,700 showers, and volunteers completed approximately 2,320 loads of laundry. Glenn and Sharon Carty spent three weeks in Vidor working with a laundry/shower trailer team. “You feel for the people and all they’re going through,” said Sharon. “But it’s the children who break your heart.”

IBDR: In 3 states and Puerto Rico

  • 14,401 man hours worked
  • 166 gospel presentations
  • 326 gospel tracts distributed
  • 161 Bibles given
  • 16 salvations recorded

Also in Texas, a 26-person mobile kitchen team based out of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman was staffed by volunteers from around the state and used to prepare over 40,000 meals.

As the callout continued, IBDR was asked by national Send Relief to take on a greater role. Dwayne Doyle, IBDR state coordinator, said, “IBDR incident command led the First Baptist Church, Vidor, Texas, joint ministry site between the new Send Relief program of the North American Mission Board and Southern Baptist Texas Convention Disaster Relief. During this time, our volunteers gave leadership to more than over 500 students from churches and universities across the nation.”

Illinois teams are continuing the work in Vidor, with more workers scheduled to return in January.

Earlier in the summer, heavy rains led to record flooding in Lake County, near the Illinois-Wisconsin border. Volunteers worked on nearly 150 homes, doing mold remediation in an effort to help homeowners get ready to rebuild. Their efforts have resulted in a church plant in Round Lake, as local Disaster Relief volunteers have followed-up with homeowners.

Disaster Relief volunteers also served in Illinois after early spring tornadoes in northern and southern parts of the state. Volunteer Don Kragness worked in the southern Illinois town of Vergennes. He summed up the motivation of many Disaster Relief volunteers when he told local television station WSIL, “We are here, basically, because we love Jesus and we want to serve him, and the best way we know how to serve him is to help people when they’re in need.”

Illinois has nearly 1,600 trained Disaster Relief volunteers. Their ministry is made possible through the generosity of churches and individual donors, and the volunteers themselves, who help provide equipment, supplies, and fuel for travel. To learn more about the callouts, training, and how to donate, visit IBSA.org/dr.

We had to terminate a deacon in a church I once pastored. No one wanted to do it, because he had served for forty years, and because his wife was one of the kindest, godliest women any of us knew. They were pillars in our church. But it had to be done.

The man would approach young women at church, hug them close, and ask if they wanted to go for a ride. “Would you like to go to the coast?” was code for who-knows-what, because no one took him up on the offer, so far as we knew. But the implication was uncomfortable and the hands-y hugging very inappropriate.

Even then, twenty years ago, we knew what we had to do. After meeting with his accusers, then him and his wife, we removed him from office. What would Jesus do about sexual harassment? Put a stop to it.

It’s surprising how little comment there has been recently from church leaders on the subject of harassment and the Christian’s responsibility. Perhaps because it’s patently obvious that sex belongs within marriage, and no one should harass anyone about anything. But given the proliferation of accusations, from Hollywood to the halls of Congress, perhaps we should review the subject—for ourselves and for our children.

What are we teaching young men about their behavior, and young women about their value? Jesus has a few lessons:

Jesus was respectful of women. Some of his last words from the cross concerned the salvation of lost men and the future care of his mother. Some of his most tender sayings were to women, “Little girl, arise,” “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” And in the presence of Lazarus’s grieving sisters, Jesus wept.

Jesus was honest with women. The woman at the well in Samaria is a good example of this.  Pointing out the woman’s sexual past would be uncomfortable for most men, but in the context of ministry—especially as it related to her salvation—it was necessary. But we note that Jesus conducted a challenging conversation in a public place. And only as it related to sin, repentance, and forgiveness.

Jesus stood up for women. Jesus was willing to confront the accusers of the woman caught in adultery. As they took up stones to kill her, Jesus issued the warning that caused them to drop the rocks and walk away. The law said stone her, mercy said forgive her. And the truth was that no one in that circle was sinless—except Jesus. In this instance, the boys club was closed. The boys went home mulling their own complicity, and the woman was spared.

Jesus did not exclude women because of controversy. Here is the difficult part for men in leadership today: how to include women fully in the workplace without being overly familiar. Jesus’ entourage at times included his mother, Mary Magdalene, and several other women. Whether their traveling together was unusual for the time, I don’t know. But I do know that if not for the women, Jesus would have died with almost no one in attendance and there would have been no plans to prepare his body for burial. It was women who anointed his hair, washed his feet, ran to the tomb, and cried out his name upon recognizing him, resurrected, in the garden.

The easy answer for men fearful of accusations would be to isolate themselves from women in the workplace. And there is wisdom in the usual precautions: have glass installed in the office door, don’t spend time alone unnecessarily, don’t dine privately with women. Billy Graham’s “Modesto Manifesto” is a good guideline for men today; but it’s not an excuse to exclude women from ministry or leadership.

At the highest levels, with Vice President Mike Pence being a recent example, leaders who exercise caution are as likely to be criticized as those who exercise none. But, with the right motivations, standing up for women means being as concerned for their reputations as we are for our own.

My mother quit a job once after only a month. That was very unlike her. She was excited about the new post at the beginning, but quickly soured on it. “It wasn’t a nice place to work” was the only explanation she would offer to me as a pre-teen. Years later she gave an account that sounds much like the news stories we hear today. No one in management would listen: resignation was her only choice. What followed was months of unemployment and the beginning of a long rough patch for us as a family.

Actions have consequences far beyond the few people most closely involved. How differently it might all have turned out if someone in that scenario had stood up for the woman, and put a stop to the harassment.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

The Briefing

Christians divided on Jerusalem decision
President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was met with strong reactions from Christians on both sides of the issue. While some applauded the Dec. 6 announcement, others worried it could increase hostilities in the Middle East. Trump also announced the U.S. will being the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Generation gap on support for Israel
While a majority of Americans with evangelical beliefs express at least some measure of positivity about Israel, many younger evangelicals are indifferent in their support for the country. According to a new survey by LifeWay Research, 77% of evangelicals 65 and older say they support the existence, security, and prosperity of Israel, but the number drops to 58% among those 18 to 34. And 41% have no strong views about Israel.

Baker gets High Court hearing
The Supreme Court will likely rule next year in the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. During oral arguments Dec. 5, comments and questions from Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy were encouraging to lawyers supporting Phillips, Baptist Press reported.

Texas churches turned down for FEMA assistance
A judge ruled against three churches seeking federal aid after Hurricane Harvey, citing a policy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that denies grants to facilities primarily used for religious activities. The Texas churches, who argue that FEMA’s policy is unconstitutional, have filed an appeal.

What we say vs. who we are
LifeWay Research found 24% of Americans self-identify as evangelicals, but only 15% are evangelical by belief. The survey also measured the percentage of people in each U.S. region who fall into the two categories.

Pastor Curtis Gilbert

“If they (your church) keep putting a cape on you, and you keep letting them, then you need to be rebuked. Because you are nobody’s Superman.”
– Pastor Curtis Gilbert on how a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Ministry can be chaotic, said Belleville pastor Curtis Gilbert. In fact, it definitely will be. What pastors are called to is not a calling of ease or of superficial comfort, Gilbert told leaders at the 2017 IBSA Pastors’ Conference, but one that will call everything out of you.

The pastor of The Journey’s Metro East campus opened the conference with an encouragement to pastors to acknowledge the chaos, and to assess their lives and ministries in four key ways described by the apostle Paul in Titus 1:5-9. The Scripture passage was the foundation for the conference and its theme, “Time for a Check-Up.”

Gilbert urged pastors to evaluate their own love for Jesus, for the gospel, for their family, and for God’s people.

“Even the sheep that bite you are precious souls,” Gilbert said, adding that pastors can become arrogant and impatient when they stop viewing church members as God’s children, and when they forget that they themselves are every bit as much a sinner as their people. Don’t delegate all the shepherding to other people, Gilbert told pastors.

“Be with the sheep; it gives your preaching credibility,” he said, emphasizing that a pastor needs his people as much as they need him.

Joe Valenti spoke after Gilbert and smilingly accused him of stealing his message. “What he preached to you is what I’m going to preach,” said the student and missions pastor from Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio. “Namely, that if you would fall in love with the God of the gospel, if he would be your everything, then everything else comes out of that.”

Valenti, whose church is engaged in reaching unreached people groups with the gospel, quoted pastor and author John Piper, who has said, “You cannot commend what you do not cherish.” When pastors treasure the God of the gospel, Valenti said, relying on him for everything and never forgetting the first day they experienced his grace, “missions comes out.”

There are more than 11,000 people groups in the world, Valenti said, and more than 7,000 are still unreached with the gospel. That’s not a problem for the International Mission Board or for missionaries or for the Cooperative Program, he said. Rather, “We need to see the completion of the Great Commission as a personal problem.”

Pastor Brad Pittman

Brad Pittman (center), pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Davis Junction, accepted this year’s IBSA Bivocational Pastor of the Year award this morning at the Pastors’ Conference in Decatur. 

In light of eternity
The mass shooting at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, just two days before the conference began lent a heightened urgency to the meeting and the messages. Randy Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, preached on how to share the gospel as if it’s going to be your last opportunity, while Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, told pastors the world they minister in is only getting darker.

The Christian worldview decreases a few percentage points every year, said Stetzer, former executive director of LifeWay Research and a long-time analyst of church and religion trends. And it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better, he added.

“I’m convinced that one of the reasons Southern Baptists are declining is that we have hidden our light under a bushel,” Stetzer said. But as aliens and strangers in the culture—as exiles—can we love people in the midst of cultural change, he asked. “If we can’t, we have a lot of explaining to do to Christians who have—for 2,000 years—done that.”

The 2018 IBSA Pastors’ Conference is Nov. 6-7 at First Baptist Church, Maryville. Officers are Bob Stilwell, president; Ben Towell, vice president; and Rayden Hollis, treasurer.