Archives For March 2019

It’s been 10 years since the murder of Maryville First Baptist’s Pastor Fred Winters. Illinois Baptists were shocked when the beloved pastor was gunned down while preaching the Sunday morning message from the pulpit.

Serving on the IBSA staff, I first got to know Pastor Fred when he served two terms as IBSA vice president and then another two as president. He was always easy going and willing to answer questions for articles in the Illinois Baptist. I remember running into him and his wife, Cindy, one year at the Southern Baptist Convention where they were planning to hand out water to gay rights supporters protesting the convention. He talked about how it would be a good way to show Christ’s love.

First Baptist Maryville recently held a memorial service to mark the anniversary of his death. I was among the hundreds who attended the service, looking on as old friends came together to remember the pastor who grew the church from 35 to over 1,200. Illinois pastors have often said how Pastor Fred’s teaching from his experience “breaking the barriers” enabled them to grow stronger churches. Fred was always willing to share of his experience and himself.

In video testimonies, friends, church members, and former staff bore witness to the difference Pastor Fred had made in their lives, how his burden for the lost became their burden for the lost, how his vision became their vision.

The most poignant moment of the evening came when Cindy addressed the assembly. She shared how she and her daughters, with God’s help, journeyed through their grief and continue to do so. Their faith has been made stronger having learned not to give up.

Still, she likened the evening to biting into a chocolate tomato—“sweet at first on the outside and kind of sour and bitter on the inside.” Such a strange comparison and yet, such a truism. Isn’t that how we all feel in some way? Not only about Pastor Fred, but our own lost loved ones remembered? Whether through death, divorce, separation, or other kinds of loss, what a taste remembrance can leave in your mouth.

Winters’s life and legacy of faith was worthy of celebration. At the end of the service, it was easy to imagine Pastor Fred among the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12, cheering Illinois Baptists on as they run the race sharing Christ with their friends and neighbors just like he did.

Unaffiliated now numerically on par with America’s largest religious groups
People who aren’t affiliated with any religion now make up just over 23% of the U.S. population, matching evangelicals and Catholics for the first time. (The groups are separated by less than one percentage point.) Information from the General Social Survey shows a steady climb for ‘nones,’ who in 1972 accounted for just 5.1% of the population.

In 2012, ‘nones’ hit the national radar when Pew reported on the group’s rapid growth.

Trump signs executive order to protect speech on campus
Charging some universities with trying to “shut down the voices of great young Americans,” President Donald Trump signed an executive order March 21 directing federal agencies to deny research and education grants to institutions that restrict free speech.

U.S. indicates policy shift on embattled Golan Heights
President Trump recognized March 25 Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an Israeli-occupied area in Syria. Read more about the region’s significance, and history of conflict, here.

Violence in Nigeria has reportedly claimed hundreds of lives this year
The conflict in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims was deadlier in 2018 than in previous years, and has continued into this year, with one agency reporting 400 Christians died in the first three months of 2019. The Christian Post offered this explainer of the conflict, made even more complicated by competing narratives, the outlet reported.

City council grounds airport Chick-Fil-A
Officials in San Antonio have excluded Chick-Fil-A from restaurants to be added to the city’s airport, citing the chicken chain’s “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.” The Atlanta-based company replied it “would welcome the opportunity to have a thoughtful dialogue with the city council and we invite all of them into our local stores to interact with the more than 2,000 team members who are serving the people of San Antonio.”

-Facts and Trends, Pew Research, Baptist Press, BBC News, Reuters, The Christian Post, USA Today

 

 

Final walks

Lisa Misner —  March 25, 2019

Beth and WillyBy Nate Adams

We adopted our dog Willy as a scraggly shelter puppy eight years ago. Our veterinarian looked him over during his first visit and said, “This little guy looks like he was made out of spare parts.” Willy was never very coordinated, and one eye didn’t work very well, if at all. At 17 months, when his other eye suffered a detached retina, he became completely blind.

I’ve admitted many times since then that my first thought was to look for a money-back guarantee from the shelter. I wasn’t sure we wanted a dog that couldn’t see a ball, much less catch one.

But I married a tender-hearted, compassionate wife who immediately declared that Willy needed us. Her grace gave him value, and he has continued to be a sweet and obedient companion to our family since that day. He is my wife’s prayer walking partner. He’s her conversation starter and relationship builder with our neighbors. And occasionally, he’s even a sermon illustration for me.

Now, six and a half years later, the vet tells us that Willy is in his last days. Each time Beth or I head out the door with him, we know it is one of our final walks.

But Willy doesn’t seem to have a clue about his mortality. Though his appetite and energy are fading, he slowly rises and follows us wherever we are in the house. He walks as well as he can when we take him outside. He asks for attention with his paw when he needs something. And he seems completely content just to be with us.

Nearing death is a sobering thing to think about, at least for those who don’t feel they’re nearing it yet. I remember as a young boy accompanying my dad to a nursing home each Sunday afternoon. I was learning to play the piano, and our church had a portable keyboard that I thought was cool. So I would play songs for the residents to sing, and then my dad would share a brief devotional.

At the time, I guess I wondered why we bothered to go, or why the people there bothered to come and listen. Some of them didn’t sing. Some didn’t seem to be able to walk, or even to talk. They just smiled at me while I played, or closed their eyes and nodded their heads. Many were eager to speak to me before we left each week, and to thank me for coming, maybe even more than they thanked my dad. But he didn’t seem to mind. He told me most of them didn’t have little boys that could visit very often.

Willy has taught or reminded me of many spiritual truths during his brief life. Though he is extremely limited in what he can offer in return for our care, he loves us and wants to be near us. He’s obedient, and sweet-spirited. He follows very close to us, wherever we go and whatever we ask him to do.

And now, as we go on our final walks with Willy, he has caused me to remember some anonymous, sweet, devoted saints from my boyhood. Though they too were very limited physically, they still lived each day knowing and loving their Master, wanting to be near him and to obey him, and smiling at the little boys he sent, who were learning to play the piano.

I hope that during my own final, frail walks with my Master I will be able to love and serve him with the devotion of the faithful, elderly saints I have now known throughout my life. I will be grateful if I can simply imitate the devotion of a blind dog named Willy, who somehow understood he was rescued by grace, and therefore walked faithfully with his Master.

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

Divine disobedience

Lisa Misner —  March 21, 2019

By Adron Robinson

Read: Acts 4:13-22

What do you do when obeying the Word of God means disobeying human governments and authorities? That is the question Peter and John faced. When commanded by the Sanhedrin, the religious and cultural leaders of their day, to disobey the Word of God, they responded with divine disobedience. “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20 ESV).

Like Peter and John, the church is called to follow in the footsteps of our Lord, to stand up and speak truth to a culture that seeks to quiet the voice of God and impede the Kingdom of God. We must follow in the countercultural footsteps of Jesus and transform our culture for the glory of God. When the world commands us to keep quiet, we are to stand on the Word of God and be a witness to a watching world.

This divine disobedience is not a 21st- century idea or a first-century idea. It is part of the character and calling of the children of God. When the Hebrew midwives defied Pharaoh’s order to abort the Hebrew babies, that was divine disobedience. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol and were tossed into the fiery furnace, that was divine disobedience.

There are recent examples. When Harriet Tubman launched the Underground Railroad to free slaves, that was divine disobedience. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, that was divine disobedience.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Throughout history, the people of God have practiced divine disobedience, because we are called to obey the laws of God, even if it means disobeying the laws of man.

Prayer Prompt: Father God, you have called the church to be your witness to the world. Give us holy boldness to stand on your Word, when the world tries to pressure us into disobedience. Help us Father to fight against abortion, racism, injustice, and every evil of this culture by living out the gospel to a dying world that needs the good news of Jesus Christ.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

Pro-life organizations urge advocates to visit lawmakers this week
As Illinois lawmakers consider abortion legislation one lobbyist called “more extreme than New York’s,” pro-life advocates will be in Springfield Wednesday, March 20, for a “Lobby Day” and rally outside the Capitol.

Court finds in favor of ministers’ housing allowance
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed an earlier lower court ruling that found the ministers’ housing allowance unconstitutional. The tax exemption permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The Seventh Circuit’s decision rejected claims by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the tax law grants a government benefit to a religious group.

Seminary answers Facebook’s questions
Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to inquiries from Facebook about a post the school tried to boost on the social media site (Facebook refused). The post included this quote from President Jeff Iorg: “Holding the line on positions based on timeless biblical standards as an ultimate authority has been and always will be important.” Facebook asked questions about the seminary and Iorg, the president wrote later, “to establish we are a valid company, not a hate group or a foreign entity.”

Texas bill would protect churches that report sexual abuse
Southern Baptist pastors have proposed legislation in Texas that would allow churches to disclose allegations of sexual abuse without fear of civil liability. “I don’t think that it solves all of the problems related to abuse and sexual misconduct,” said Pastor Ben Wright, who helped initiate the bill. “But it does help churches and organizations know that if they pass on information that they believe to be true, that they have good reason to believe is true, it helps them know that they will be shielded from potential lawsuits.”

Most churches report little growth, few conversions
A new study by LifeWay Research found 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.

-Illinois Baptist media, FactsandTrends.net, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research

 

 

 

 

 

 

A month for baptisms

Lisa Misner —  March 18, 2019

The countdown is on for spring evangelism emphasis

A time to pray 2

Churches across Illinois and the SBC will focus this spring on praying for people who don’t know Christ. Last year, IBSA churches (including Staunton’s Net Community Church, seen in this file photo) baptized more than 650 people during a statewide emphasis.

March signals a new season, and in many IBSA churches, a new opportunity to focus on evangelism leading up to Easter.

Last year, One GRAND Sunday resulted in more than 650 baptisms during the Easter season. This year, IBSA’s Pat Pajak is asking churches to celebrate One GRAND Month in April, preceded by 30 days of prayer for people who don’t know Christ.

“Eight out of 10 unsaved people say they are open to a gospel conversation,” said Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism. “And research tells us that four out of five will come to an Easter service if someone will invite them.”

Pajak is urging Illinois Baptists to spend March praying for one person who doesn’t know Christ, and to begin thinking about how to invite them to an Easter service. The singular prayer emphasis is part of “Who’s Your One?” an emphasis across the Southern Baptist Convention urging every Christian to share the gospel with one person this year.

“While almost every believer knows that the Great Commission instructs us to make disciples, and we are willing to obey the teachings and instructions found in God’s Word, far too many Christians have forsaken the responsibility of witnessing and left it to be done by others,” Pajak said.

“Who’s Your One?” employs what Pajak has called an “each one reach one” strategy. “It can be done anywhere, anytime, with anyone,” he said. “The idea is listening and looking for the right opportunity to turn an everyday conversation into a gospel presentation.”

At WhosYourOne.com, pastors and church members can access free resources, including a guide to 30 days of prayer for people who need to hear the gospel.

For April, Pajak suggested a week by week schedule to maximize Easter impact:

April 7: Invite church members to write the name of one person they plan to invite to an Easter service on a 3×5 card (passed out with the bulletins). At the end of the service, invite the entire church to come forward and place their cards on the altar and join together in a time of corporate prayer—asking the Lord to move the people on the cards to respond to an Easter invitation. Leave the cards. The pastor or staff can gather them and pray for the people for the remainder of that week.

April 14: Write out a personal invitation and include an Easter service promo flyer or card. Mail it to the person you’ve been praying for and planning to invite. If you are going to provide a ride or an after-church meal, tell them in the invitation and ask for an RSVP.

April 21: Get ready for a great Easter Sunday! If the person you invited doesn’t have a Bible, surprise them with one as a gift and perhaps deliver it on Saturday, so they will be able to bring it to church with them on Easter Sunday.

April 28: If the person you invited made a decision to follow the Lord, encourage them to be baptized along with others on the Sunday following Easter (churches can also consider offering baptism all four Sundays in April). Make it a real celebration! Invite them out to lunch after the service and let them know you are available to walk with them in their new faith. Be sure to help them get enrolled in a Sunday school class or small group.

For more information about One GRAND Month, go to IBSA.org/Evangelism.

By Mike Keppler

Open Bible

Growing Christians often make commitments to read the Word of God more faithfully each day. Some of that reading is done by reading the “whole of the Word” through a systematic read-the-Bible-through plan. Another way to read the Bible is in “small bites,” using a devotional booklet or app like Our Daily Bread.

Both reading plans are good and balanced. They give us daily exposure to the inspiration and instruction from God’s holy Word.

May I suggest another, less common way to read the Bible? When was the last time you read God’s Word aloud? We know the Bible itself instructs us to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). Worshippers know the value of the public reading of the Bible in responsive readings and liturgies. But the value of using our voices in Bible-reading goes well beyond merely enhancing our participation in corporate worship.

By reading Scripture aloud, I have experienced a deeper blessing personally and corporately for some years now. Privately, I have made a practice of reading my weekly message and Sunday school lessons out loud. At first, I was embarrassed to have anyone hearing me read to myself. I would review the selected text for the week in hushed tones and whispers so as not to invite questions from family members at home or staff members at church.

An ancient practice is changing our Bible study groups for the better.

I soon got over being self-conscious, because I have found a specific benefit to reading the Bible with my voice: I “hear” truths that I miss when I only read a passage silently.

At first, I was surprised by these insights and mistakenly thought that maybe I was just being too careless in hurriedly reviewing the text. However, as I continued this exercise, I saw something deeper in the practice. It was as if God was speaking to me at another level…audibly.

Now, in truth, I have never had God speak to me through his mighty, audible voice, like he must have spoken when the world was created or when he would speak to the prophets of old. But, as I read the Bible to myself, audibly, I hear him “speaking” in new ways. Words that I would have just passed over before come to life with meaning I would not have “heard” in my silent reading. This was both refreshing and insightful as I began to practice reading aloud God’s Word during my private study.

With growing curiosity, I read online about the practice of reading the Bible out loud. There has been considerable research conducted on communal reading. Dr. Brian J. Wright, an author, popular speaker, and blogger who serves as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, has written extensively on how the practice of communal reading dates back to the first century. Dr. Wright says that Justin Martyr, an early church leader, instructed believers during that period to engage in the communal reading of the apostle’s memoirs and prophetic writings on the Lord’s Day.

History tells us the Torah was passed down audibly from generation to generation, preserving Jewish traditions and teachings. Even Scripture itself speaks to the power of hearing the Word of God aloud:

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

I started practicing communal reading during my Wednesday night Bible studies at our church a couple of years back. Our regular attenders seemed to readily take to the exercise and enjoyed it. In recent months, I have been leading our auditorium Sunday school class in the same practice. Not everyone chooses to participate, but those that do have sat up straighter and spoken out louder with more authority and respect as they have joined in the reading.

I am now convinced more than ever that this simple engagement through communal reading of the Word is blessing both study groups. It involves us and inspires us to hear the Bible passage read with our own voices.

I encourage you to make a renewed commitment to read the Bible aloud and try to involve your friends in this practice as well. This refreshing approach to the Word will bless your personal worship and study and enrich your disciple-making ministries. I am convinced that as you read the Word aloud you will discover hidden truths and insights you haven’t “heard” before.

Mike Keppler pastored Springfield Southern Baptist Church for 26 years before
retiring in 2018. You can read his blog at mjkministries.com.