Archives For August 2019

Christian rocker calls leaders to value truth over feeling
In a post that has since been shared nearly 40,000 times, John Cooper, frontman for Christian rock band Skillet, responded to Christian leaders who have announced they’re walking away from the faith. Author Joshua Harris and Hillsong writer Marty Sampson both made public statements recently, with Harris saying outright “I am no longer a Christian.”

Cooper, who founded the band in 1996, also called Christians—those who lead worship and those who are led in it—to a higher standard than what is relevant or trendy in the moment. Rather than lift up current influencers as ultimate truth-tellers, he posted, rely on the Word of God.  “…we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20-year-old worship singers as our source of truth,” Cooper said. “We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word.”

>Related: Russell Moore on what to do when someone you admire abandons the faith

>Related: The roles endurance and environment play in a Christian’s ability to press on

Illinois parents weigh options ahead of 2020 curriculum change
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature on a bill that will require LGBT history in public schools has sent some Christian parents looking for education alternatives, while others are resolved to keep their kids in the school system.

“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said one Springfield mother of three. “We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”

Methodists mull denominational split
Religion News Service reports a group of conservative United Methodists met this summer to discuss how the denomination can go forward amid growing divisions over its policies toward the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage. One plan under consideration would keep the UMC denomination as a centrist/liberal organization, while creating a new entity for traditionalists.

In February, delegates to the denomination’s General Conference voted narrowly not to lift bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

MacDonald indicates return to ministry
James MacDonald, former pastor of Chicagoland’s Harvest Bible Chapel, posted online last week that he’ll “be back soon with fresh messages from God’s Word.” MacDonald was fired in February amid charges of financial mismanagement and poor leadership.

Trade war won’t affect Bibles
Bibles and other religious literature were initially on a list of items that would be subject to a 10% tax hike on goods imported from China, Baptist Press reported. But Christian leaders were relieved last week when the U.S. Trade Ambassador indicated a “Bible tax” will be avoided.

Sources: Facebook, Christian Post, RussellMoore.com, Christianity Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, USA Today, Baptist Press

Give them the gospel

Lisa Misner —  August 19, 2019 — Leave a comment

A new ministry reignited this church’s passion

By Meredith Flynn

MIO Next Gen

Outside the white wooden First Baptist Church building, Atwood is quiet on Wednesday evening. A few parents stroll babies on the sidewalks, and a group of teen boys walks toward the school gym, basketball in hand. This community of just over 1,000 people is minutes from Illinois’ Amish country.

From the church parking lot, though, the thump, thump, thump of a bass line played over stereo speakers gets louder at the door. Inside the darkened auditorium, children and teens swing their arms and stomp their feet—matching the motions of a worship leader onstage.

This is Ignite, FBC Atwood’s year-old ministry for kids and students. On this Wednesday night, Pastor Lanny Faulkner will baptize 17 young people who came to Christ through Ignite or another of the church’s ministries for kids and teens. (The church baptized 15 people total last year.)

His church understands the statistics, Faulkner said. Most people that come to faith in Christ do so at a young age.

“If we’re going to change the world, we have to change Atwood,” said Faulkner, who has led the church since 2006. “If we’re going to change Atwood, we have to reach children and young families.”

Braving a new world
The generation coming of age now has experienced the world in a completely different way than the adults leading them at church, said Jimmy Hammond, an IBSA associate who facilitates student ministry around the state.

“For us, the challenge is learning how to see things from their perspective, so we can find meaningful ways to connect to them,” Hammond said. Throughout the year, IBSA sponsors camps and conferences for kids of all ages, and training opportunities specifically tailored for children’s and youth leaders.

Those events are possible because of the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer. Collected in September in churches across Illinois, the Offering helps provide missions and ministry that address critical needs in the state. MIO also supports IBSA personnel like Director of Next Generation Ministries Jack Lucas.

As IBSA and church leaders partner together to reach the next generation, they recognize the window is narrow. A 2004 Barna study found that 43% of Americans who profess faith in Jesus do so before they turn 13, and 64% before their 18th birthday.

The next generation presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for church leaders. They see the problems in the world around them, Hammond said, but they’re not content to sit idly. They want to be involved; they want to make a difference. “But they’re just not sure how to do that.

“We know the answer to that: the gospel’s the way to make the biggest, most meaningful change in the world.”

In the world, and in Atwood. Every Wednesday at the beginning of Ignite, attenders read or recite a 30-second gospel summary. Ignite leaders say they’ve heard kids sharing the gospel summary at school. And Faulkner recently baptized an entire family that came to Christ after the children heard the gospel every week. The parents, sitting at the back of the auditorium, heard it too, and responded in faith.

Finding what works
For 25 years, FBC Atwood church hosted a successful Wednesday night children’s ministry that depended on many teachers. When the number of available teachers dwindled, the church had to get a new vision for the ministry. They tweaked the structure so that fewer teachers are required. The church saw an average of 120 young people every Wednesday during Ignite’s first year.

Some things are the same, though. Faulkner still rides the church bus on Wednesday nights as it picks up a dozen or more children from neighboring communities. The pastor serves as bus captain (or monitor); the driver is a deputy sheriff who has been transporting kids to and from the church for 25 years. His wife, who recently passed away, started the original kids’ ministry in Atwood. Together, Faulkner said, the couple is responsible for hundreds of kids coming to know Christ.

On Wednesday nights in Atwood, the message is also the same as it always has been.

“The gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” Faulkner says. “It’s not preaching ability, teaching ability, how exciting the music is. The thing that brings people under conviction, the things that bring them to repentance and faith, is the gospel.”

Meredith Flynn

Parents weigh options ahead of 2020 school year

By Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner

School

Photo composite

Beginning next year, students at public schools in Illinois will study the role of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a controversial measure into law Aug. 9. The new policy, which goes into effect July 1, 2020, affects students of all ages, although the state’s School Code stipulates that the curriculum be taught before the end of 8th grade.

House Bill 246 passed through the Illinois Senate last spring and was quietly approved May 23 by the House amid a flurry of other legislation, including legalization of recreational marijuana and the repeal of several restrictions on abortion. Pritzker’s signature on the curriculum bill dismayed many Christians and conservatives, with talk online quickly turning to education alternatives.

“Reason 157 to home or private school,” one poster wrote on IBSA’s Facebook page. Others expressed resolve to keep their kids in the public school system to shine the light of the gospel there.

“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said Caitlin Konieczka, a Springfield mother of three girls.

“We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”

Competing values
Illinois is one of a handful of states to consider curriculum legislation this year, but California lawmakers approved the FAIR Education Act in 2011. According to a Reuters article from May of this year, that state is still struggling to implement the law, and some parents are still protesting it. The article recounts recent fights over textbooks at school board meetings, where one mother expressed concern that her children would read books about transgender people before she’s ready to discuss gender and sexuality with them. “I should be the first one to educate about those things,” she said.

Candi Campbell and her husband, Charles, sent three daughters through the public school system in Illinois, recognizing their decision at the time as a natural way to be “a witness in the world.” The recent legislation would make the decision more difficult, Campbell said.

“As a parent, I believe it is my job to feed, lead, and protect my children. The law signed in Illinois represents a damaging social agenda to our little ones. And, until they can stand on a personal faith in Christ for truth, it is up to me to stand for them.”

A homeschooling mom in Springfield agreed, while acknowledging that homeschooling isn’t for every family. “No matter how we as Christians choose to educate our children, we must help them develop a biblical worldview,” she said. “Our children need our help in discerning truth and goodness through the lens of Scripture.”

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, has said the new curriculum will help LGBT students feel more accepted and supported in school. Her comments also may sound alarm bells for Christian parents who fear the normalization of sexual values they believe run counter to God’s Word.

“One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints,” Steans said in a news release posted on her website. “An inclusive curriculum will not only teach an accurate version of history but also promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community.”

What now?
Laurie Higgins said the curriculum changes ought to spur Christians to action—and their churches with them. Churches should have been creating affordable Christian schools “yesterday,” said Higgins, a cultural affairs writer for the conservative Illinois Family Institute. While that will indeed take time, she acknowledged, “it doesn’t take time to make funds available.” Higgins urged churches to partner together to create scholarships to Christian schools.

“Parents need to understand if we lose our kids on this [issue], they will think the Bible is wrong on other things,” Higgins said. “We have to start creating affordable alternatives.”

She also encouraged parents to contact school administrators and teachers to ask that their children not be taught about homosexuality or cross-sex identification. Ask them to acknowledge receipt of the e-mail, Higgins added.

While the Konieczka family has made a different decision about school, they’re also planning for future action, Caitlin said. “We are working now to lay a solid foundation before the girls enter school on basic biblical principles and God’s design for creation and life.” Once school starts, she said, they’ll communicate and reinforce biblical truths and establish an environment that welcomes questions.

She acknowledged there could be topics they don’t want presented to their daughters. The couple, both educators, plans to preview textbooks and content and work with teachers and administrators to accommodate their preferences.

“We view this as an opportunity to be a light in the school, and an opening to conversations about our beliefs.”

– Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner

Why Illinois matters

Lisa Misner —  August 16, 2019 — Leave a comment

By IBSA Media

Everyday headlines affirm church influence urgently needed—especially here

Illinois townsSeveral recent news stories have left us surprised, even stunned. The report that, at the stroke of the governor’s pen, LGBT history will be part of the Illinois public school curriculum starting next year leaves some Christian parents wondering how to handle the controversial subject at home, and other parents contemplating alternate education options.

In an opinion column for USA Today, Jay Keck told how his daughter, who later proved to be autistic, was affirmed by the school system in her sudden desire to identify as male, despite the objections of her parents who were trying to get help. The principal of the Chicago-area school even presented her diploma under her assumed male name at her graduation, again ignoring her parents’ request.

And this story hasn’t made the news yet, but it will probably show up on Facebook. In one quaint Illinois burg, a featured children’s book at the public library is about two worms who want to get married, but they can’t decide which of them will wear the bridal gown. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, which seems by the author’s implication to justify some gender-crossing behaviors in humans. It’s a celebration of love “in all its forms,” the book jacket says—for preschoolers.

The stories that alarm us and dismay us are not only about sexuality and gender and identity. They’re also about the multiplicity of gambling parlors for throwing away one’s pension check, abortions through all nine months of pregnancy, and readily available pot in violation of federal law. The moral decline of Illinois has happened so quickly, and most of it at the hand of the government. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t recognize this state. Would he even claim it as his own?

When we look across Illinois today, we see issues that once troubled cities are prevalent everywhere. From the smallest farming community with a school house or a bar, to the toughest neighborhoods in the largest cities, to the marble hallways of our Capitol and courts—the moral rudder is broken. And in those places the work of Illinois Baptist churches is needed like never before.

Usually in this space we would publish a feature article based on one of the
Mission Illinois videos. Three of these stories were told in the special section in the July 29 issue of the Illinois Baptist, and they’re available online. These churches are taking on the responsibility to bring gospel light to dark places. But what we need to say this year is, like those churches, won’t you focus on our state mission field in a greater way?

Because of sacrificial giving by Baptists in Illinois each September, IBSA is able to help churches grow stronger in evangelism, leadership, and ministry impact. And IBSA helps start a dozen or more churches every year in places where there is little gospel witness. About 420 churches give about $350,000 each year. And IBSA is grateful for the partnership that supports camps and campus and next-gen ministry, church planting and leader development, and more.

But some potential impact of our work is lost, because fewer than half of IBSA churches support the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer. This annual offering is just as vital to ministry in Illinois as the seasonal offerings for Lottie and Annie are to other SBC missions. And frankly, mission work in Illinois calls for sacrifice on our part.

If your church supports Mission Illinois with giving and prayer, thank you.

If it has been a while since your church had a focus on state missions, please consider the growing need for biblical truth in Illinois. Think about the role stronger churches and more churches would serve in establishing a beachhead against moral decline. A gift to the Mission Illinois Offering is one way to fortify Baptist presence and values in Illinois.

And if you will, please join the Week of Prayer. Illinois needs relentless intercessors right now.

Learn more about the Week of Prayer for the Mission Illinois Offering September 8-15.

The witness of weeds

Lisa Misner —  August 15, 2019 — Leave a comment

By Adron Robinson

Read: Matthew 6:11-12 (ESV)

“Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Dandelions in a gardenIt’s summertime and everyone is looking forward to hot weather, cook outs, and a host of other fun outdoor activities. But one thing no one is looking forward to doing this summer is pulling weeds.

My wife and I were just discussing the fact that we hate weeds. But whether we like them or not, weeds are a part of summer. We were in our backyard pulling weeds the other day and it reminded me of the persistent nature of sin. You can pull a weed, but if you don’t pull the root, it will soon return. And sin is the same way in our lives; if we don’t get to the root of it, it will soon return. And just like weeds, if you leave your sins unattended, they will soon multiply and take over your heart.

That’s why Jesus taught the disciples to pray for forgiveness daily. Christians need daily forgiveness, because even Christians sin daily. We need to search our hearts and uproot sin on a daily basis in order to maintain fellowship with God. But if we are negligent and allow sin time to grow in our hearts, we will soon find our hearts growing cold to the things of God and cold toward the love of God. The Lord knows that our hearts need daily maintenance.

So, the next time you’re out in the yard pulling weeds, take a moment to thank God for the witness of weeds. They remind us to cultivate our hearts daily and uproot sin at the source.

Prayer Prompt: Omniscient God, you knew I would need daily sanctification. Thank you for teaching me in the model prayer to cleanse my heart as often as I fill my stomach. Sanctify me, O Lord, that I may be an instrument suitable for your use. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

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

Pritzker signs curriculum bill set to take effect in July 2020
Public school students in Illinois will study the roles and contributions of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s approval of a bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly in May. Four other states have enacted similar legislation: California, New Jersey, Colorado, and New York.

Baylor students request review of school’s LGBT policies
Students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, have asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big 12 Conference to investigate the Baptist school’s treatment of LGBT students and compliance with Title XI civil rights law. The student group includes members of gay club Gamma Alpha Upsilon, which has sought recognition as an official on-campus student group since 2011, The Christian Post reported.

Baylor, the country’s largest Baptist university, is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Seminary denies liability in sex abuse lawsuit
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the school has a responsibility to protect students from sexual assault, and to train them to avoid such a risk. The suit was filed by “Jane Roe,” a former student who claims she was raped on campus at gunpoint by a student the seminary employed.

Hillsong songwriter renounces faith
“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me,” songwriter Marty Sampson wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post. The Australian writer of dozens of worship songs continued, “Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.” Sampson’s announcement followed a similar statement by Joshua Harris, the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” who announced last month he’s no longer a Christian.

Christians differ on the church’s role in racial reconciliation
Four hundred years after slavery began in the U.S., age and ethnicity factor into how practicing Christians think the church should respond to the African American community now. One-third of white Christians say there’s nothing the church should do, compared to 15% of black Christians. And 35% of Millennials say the church should try to repair the damage done by slavery, compared to 17% of Elders.

Sources: The Hill, Freeport News Network, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna

A box of names

Lisa Misner —  August 12, 2019 — Leave a comment

The gospel reaches from jailhouse to church house

Stevens baptism by Sexton and Easter

Easter (far left), Sexton baptizes Stevens (far right).

Jared Sexton was pacing back and forth in his jail cell. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know why I keep doing this… I don’t even want to live this way. I know not to live this way. I keep doing it over and over and over and over again.’”

His cellmate handed him a King James Bible and told him, “You need to read Romans 7.” In the complex passage, Paul complains about committing sins that he hates. Sexton had a hard time understanding the Apostle’s words, but, “I was like, ‘OK, well this sounds exactly like what I was just saying.’” He wanted to know more.

He began drinking at a young age. “I was always in trouble, in and out of jail, and rehabs, boot camps, prison—I’ve been to every one of them….I was literally at a point where the only thing I could do is look to God.” That was the point when he found himself in a jail cell with four other inmates, one of whom had just returned from a Bible study of Romans 7.

When Sexton bonded out of jail, he went home and found a Contemporary English Version Bible someone had given him. “I read it and it just blew my mind…I read the Bible [before] and nothing ever clicked. This time was completely different. It was like everything was jumping out at me.

“For the first time in my life I took a real look at what sin meant in my life…I wanted to know more what that meant. And so, I knew the perfect place to go; that was church.”
Sexton went to Metropolis First Baptist Church where his boss is a member and his grandparents had taken him a few times as a child. There, Sexton met Cliff Easter, the church’s youth and missions pastor, and gave his life to Christ.

Metropolis First is deeply involved in evangelism and missions through local outreach ministries, international mission trips, and church planting mission trips to Chicago. Easter said, “It’s not complicated. It’s just, ‘Go, reach somebody.’ We’ve incorporated that into some of our discipleship training that we’ve just begun in our church.”

That’s my ‘one’
IBSA’s Pat Pajak led an evangelism training in the local association, as he does across the state, sharing the “Who’s Your One” evangelism concept in which members pray for the people they know to find salvation in Christ. Three times in the past two years, Pajak has urged churches to dedicate one Sunday or a month of Sundays to a baptism emphasis, and baptisms in Illinois increased almost 7% last year.

The Metropolis church keeps cards at the front of the auditorium for members to write the names of people who need Christ. The cards are an important part of the evangelism effort. “Every Wednesday night at our prayer meeting, we distribute every single one of those cards, and as a church we pray over them,” Easter said. “There are hundreds of names in the box.

“The idea is, if you put someone’s name on a card in the box, you’re praying for them, and you’re looking for opportunities to share the gospel with them.”

The first name Sexton put in the box was his childhood friend, Dakota Stevens. “We all began praying for Dakota,” Easter said. “You could tell that God was at work in him, and sure enough Dakota came to repentance and faith in Christ.”

“I don’t know when he put my name in there, or what date it was, but it obviously worked…. The power of prayer does work. It’ll move anything in front of you,” Stevens said.

Sexton, as a Christian and member in good standing at Metropolis First, had the privilege of baptizing his friend. “I came up out of the water… I was like, it’s a helping hand that he’s always had,” Stevens said. “He’s good about that. If he cares about you that man will help you no matter what.”

Sexton knows he is blessed to bless others to share the gospel, especially his old friends. “I’ll try to say some things related to the Word that are happening in my life. Whether it be with prayer, or a blessing God has shown me…I just pray…that something that they heard, something catches their attention that just breaks a little bit of the resistance away from them.”

Watch the 2019 MIO videos at MissionIllinois.org and also download mission studies.