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Actions on abuse, racism await messengers in Birmingham

By Meredith Flynn, with reporting by Baptist Press

SBC Kids

“Gospel Above All” is the theme of the June 11-12 annual meeting of Southern Baptists.

“It is the gospel that is the source of our renewal, and it is the gospel that should be our defining characteristic as a people,” Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear told the SBC Executive Committee last fall. “[The gospel] should be what people think about and talk about when they think and talk about us.”

When Baptists arrive in Birmingham, however, several other topics—some of them highly charged—will also be on the table. Chief among them is the SBC’s response to a Houston Chronicle report detailing hundreds of cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers.

Greear and other SBC leaders have said it is crucial that Baptists leave Birmingham with a clear position against abuse and churches that exhibit indifference toward it. They also need to make strides toward caring well for survivors. During the business session, voters at the meeting (called “messengers”) will consider an amendment to the SBC Constitution to designate churches indifferent toward abuse as not in friendly cooperation with the convention.

Messengers will also consider a similar amendment on racism. In order to become part of the SBC Constitution, both measures must be approved by a two-thirds majority in Birmingham and at the 2020 meeting in Orlando.

New leaders on the platform
Paul Chitwood (International Mission Board), Adam Greenway (Southwestern Seminary), and Ronnie Floyd (Executive Committee) will each share their first reports as heads of Southern Baptist entities, although Floyd is a familiar face after serving two one-year terms as SBC president.

While in that role from 2014 to 2016, Floyd was known for consistent communication with fellow Southern Baptists through blog posts and social media. As newly elected president of the Executive Committee, he recently launched an online campaign to promote the annual meeting and get more Baptists to Birmingham by sharing 50 reasons to be there—one each day leading up to the convention.

Floyd’s new role positions him to play an integral part in the SBC’s actions on sexual abuse. After his election in April, he pledged to use the weeks before Birmingham to work with other SBC leaders on a unified response.

On Monday evening prior to the annual meeting, a study team appointed by Greear will co-host with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission a discussion on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. A new curriculum for churches—“Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused”—also will be unveiled at the meeting.

While serving as SBC president, Floyd brought leaders together for a memorable worship service devoted to praying for racial reconciliation. Greear has made it a goal of his presidency for Southern Baptist leadership to reflect the diversity of Southern Baptist churches. The Birmingham meeting will feature a panel discussion titled “Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconciliation,” as well as

two additional panels: “Gospel Above All: Keeping Secondary Issues Secondary,” and “Indispensable Partners: The Value of Women in God’s Mission.”

Room at the table
As the SBC and the culture at large continue to wrestle with the ramifications of #metoo, several new and revamped events in Birmingham will focus on the role of women in the church and the denomination:

The new SBC Women’s Leadership Network will be featured during a Women’s Session Monday morning, which takes the place of the former Pastors’ Wives Conference. Norine Brunson, wife of formerly imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson, will speak during the session, along with author Kandi Gallaty and “SBC This Week” podcast host Amy Whitfield, among others.

Illinois’ own Becky Gardner will participate in a panel discussion on leadership development at the 5th annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast June 12. Gardner, superintendent of Peoria Christian School, is chair of the trustees for breakfast sponsor Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Last year’s meeting in Dallas marked the first gathering of Women & Work, a group dedicated to helping women pursue God’s mission through their vocations. Teacher and author Jen Wilkin will speak at this year’s forum June 11, along with Tami Heim, president and CEO of Christian Leadership Alliance.

The annual Ministers’ Wives Luncheon will feature Lauren Chandler, whose book “Steadfast Love: The Response of God to the Cries of Our Heart” will set the stage for the luncheon’s theme. Tickets are available at lifeway.com/en/events/ministers-wives-luncheon.

Our shared mission
The Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ main channel for sending support to missions and ministry around the world, has taken center stage—literally—at recent annual meetings. This year in Birmingham is no different. The CP stage in the exhibit hall is set to host interviews and panel discussions on how Baptists work together to get the good news of Jesus to more people around the world.

On Tuesday afternoon, annual meeting attendees will hear from current

International Mission Board personnel and new appointees at a missionary Sending Celebration.

Also in Birmingham, numerous Baptist fellowship groups will meet, including:
• Southern Baptist Hispanic Leaders Council
• Chinese Baptist Fellowship
• Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches
• National Asian American Fellowship
• Second Generation Asian American Fellowship
• Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship
• Fellowship of Native American Christians
• Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship

In addition to those groups, the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) will meet in Birmingham to, among other goals, honor former slave and first North American missionary George Liele. NAAF will submit a resolution to add a George Liele Day to the SBC calendar and will ask SBC seminaries to consider creating Liele scholarships, NAAF President Marshal Ausberry told Baptist Press.

A 2012 SBC resolution formally recognizes Liele as the first overseas missionary from the U.S. Scholarships in his name could help train future African American missionaries, Ausberry said.

For more information about the SBC annual meeting, Pastors’ Conference, and other Birmingham events, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting by Baptist Press

By Milton Bost

birthday cake

Last month, I hoped my birthday would pass with little notice. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my birthdays. I used to anticipate them, but they just don’t hold the same level of excitement. They make me count and remind me that I am, to some people, an old person. I’m learning that too many birthdays can kill you.

Birthdays are milestones. They are mute reminders that more sand has passed through the hourglass. Birthdays give us a handle on the measurement of time, which, when broken into minutes, moves quickly. There are 60 minutes in an hour, 1,440 minutes in a day, 10,080 minutes in a week, and 525,600 minutes in a year. That means I experienced over 34,164,000 minutes by my birthday. My 65th birthday.

No wonder I need more naps.

The minutes often pass by so quietly, so consistently, that they can fool us. In C. S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters,” the senior demon advises his protégé of the strategy of monotony: “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without any sudden turns, without milestones, without signposts….The gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair of ever overcoming chronic temptations…the drabness which we create in their lives…all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”

So, we mark our calendars and phones with deadlines, dates that set limits for the completion of objectives. If we ignore these deadlines, it brings unwanted consequences. Therefore, to live without deadlines is to live an inefficient, unorganized life, drifting with the breeze of impulse on the fickle way of our moods. We set deadlines because they discipline our use of time.

God is the one who brings about our birthdays, not as deadlines, but as lifelines. He builds them into our calendar once every year to enable us to make an annual appraisal, not merely of the length of life, but the depth of life. Birthdays are not observed simply to tell us we’re growing older, but to help us determine if we are also growing deeper.

Obviously if God has given you another year to live for him, then he has some things in mind. I have this strong suspicion that it includes much more than merely existing 1,440 minutes a day.

In a Psalm attributed to Moses, he prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (90:12). Is that not a perfect prayer for us to pray every year our lifeline rolls around?

There is, however, a warning: Don’t expect wisdom to come into your life wrapped up like a birthday present. It doesn’t come with song, candles, party favors, and fanfare. Wisdom comes privately from the Lord as a by-product of wise and right decisions, godly reactions, humble lessons, and application of his principles in daily circumstances. “Gray hair is a glorious crown; it is found in the ways of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).

Wisdom comes not from seeking after a ministry, but from anticipating the fruit of a disciplined life. It comes not from trying to do great things for God, but from being faithful to the small and often obscure tasks few people ever see.

James R. Sizoo said, “Let it never be forgotten that glamour is not greatness; applause is not fame; prominence is not eminence. The man of the hour is not apt to be the man of the ages. A stone may sparkle, but that does not make it a diamond; people may have money, but that does not make them a success.”

As we number our days, do we count the years as the grinding measurement of minutes, or can we find the marks of wisdom—character traits that were not there when we were younger?

As I look back over my life, I recall some of the things I did, that I said, that I believed. If I think long enough on them, I have regrets. But I thank the Lord that he was able to soften the hardness of my heart to help me become a better learner, a clearer thinker, and a corrected believer. If he should decide that April 18 was my last birthday, he has made my life full. He has forgiven me of my sin. He has blessed me beyond words. I pray that I have pleased him.

– Milton Bost is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church.

Illinois lawmakers returned from their spring break poised to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use for adults. The legalization effort is supported by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who advocated it throughout his campaign and in his inaugural address.

Pritzker and other legalization supporters say marijuana would bring beneficial revenue to the state, including up to $170 million in fiscal year 2020. But others say the costs—financial and otherwise—would be much greater.

“Too many people are shrugging and saying, Will it really do any harm? Yes. Absolutely, it will,” wrote two Illinois law enforcement associations in a joint statement last year. The Illinois Chiefs of Police and Illinois Sheriffs’ Associations pointed to increased marijuana-related traffic deaths and more teens being treated for marijuana use in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2013.

Other opponents, including Illinois’ six Roman Catholic bishops, cite moral grounds for their disagreement. “As lawmakers consider this issue it is important to remember they are not only debating legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from,” the bishops said in February.

“In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens.”

Flag of Illinois State, on cannabis background

Currently, recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states, and 22 others, including Illinois, have legalized medical use of the drug. The legislators writing the Illinois law—Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago)—hoped to unveil it during the General Assembly’s first week back. A shell of the bill, SB 7, was filed in January, but details weren’t made available prior to legislators’ spring break.

The legislation would reportedly remove previous misdemeanor marijuana convictions, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, and would provide support for minority-owned businesses within the state’s future marijuana industry. The General Assembly’s Black Caucus is a key component of the legalization push, Politico reported, but in March, the Illinois president of the NAACP spoke against the measure.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for our communities,” said Teresa Haley. “It hurts our community.”

Supporters of legalization also face opposition from some fellow lawmakers. Prior to the General Assembly’s spring break, 60 members of the Illinois House—a majority—signed on to a resolution to slow down the legalization process. The resolution’s sponsor is Rep. Martin Moylan (D-Des Plaines).

“I believe more research needs to be done on the topic of legalization including hearing from experts, such as physicians,” Moylan told the Sun-Times last year, prior to his election. “I am worried about underage use as we’ve seen with alcohol. I do not want ‘normalization.’”

Other bills to watch
Mandated reporters
SB 1778, sponsored by Sen. Julie A. Morrison (D-Deerfield), amends the Abuse and Neglected Child Reporting Act to add clergy to the list of mandated reporters of abuse and neglect.

Status: The bill passed in the Senate April 10, and was assigned to the House Adoption & Child Welfare Committee April 30. Its chief sponsor in the House is Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Deerfied).

LGBT-inclusive curriculum
In March, the Illinois House passed HB 0246, which requires public schools to include in their curriculum the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The bill’s chief sponsor in the House was Rep. Anna Moeller (D-
Elgin).

Status: The bill, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), was assigned to the Education Committee April 24.

Sports gambling legalization
The House Revenue and Finance Committee held a second hearing April 25 on legalizing sports gambling in Illinois. Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D-Riverside) filed a shell bill in February, but lawmakers haven’t yet introduced details of the legislation. Gov. Pritzker proposed a budget in February that includes revenue from sports betting, which is currently legal in seven states.

– State Journal-Register, Chicago Sun-Times, Politico

By Meredith Flynn

The announcement that LifeWay Christian Resources will close its brick-and-mortar stores by the end of the year dismayed many Southern Baptists who have long shopped the shelves for books, music, and Lord’s Supper wafers. The reaction was predictable—it’s sad to lose a trusted source of information and resources. What some seem to be missing even more, though, is a unique service LifeWay offered customers: vetting.

“I think one of the greatest competitive advantages LifeWay could have had, and had in some ways, was being trustworthy, where pastors could tell their congregations, ‘You can go into the store, and anything you buy is trustworthy,’” Indiana pastor Tim Overton told Baptist Press.

LifeWay, he said, “was unique [among bookstores] in holding very high standards and not simply allowing a profit to motivate all choices.”

In the weeks since LifeWay announced the closures, that quality has been celebrated by pastors like Overton, and lamented by some authors whose books weren’t sold in LifeWay stores. Others, though, praised the organization’s principled stand, even while not agreeing with its actual principles.

“I genuinely respect them (or any company) that is driven by principles other than profit alone,” tweeted Tish Harrison Warren, an author and Anglican priest whose book LifeWay declined to sell. “My book has sold well. LifeWay likely lost $ by not selling my book. Props for being willing to.”

When LifeWay stores close their doors this year, books and Bible studies and curriculum resources will still be available online. In fact, LifeWay plans to invest more in digital strategies to meet the needs of online customers. One aspect of the shopping experience they should consider is how to communicate to the buyer that the resources they’re scrolling through are held to the same standard as what was previously on LifeWay shelves.

In a world full of online bookstores, it may be hard to distinguish a sell-anything-that-sells mentality from a thoughtfully curated collection. The end of LifeWay stores puts more responsibility on readers to judge carefully what books are worthy of a place on their own shelves.

LifeWay stores weren’t controlled by profit, but as a Baptist Press article pointed out, finances were ultimately what brought the publisher to the decision to close. The stores lost money while LifeWay’s digital channels grew.

Faced with the numbers, the publisher made what they deemed to be the wisest choice. Now, smart phone in hand, it’s up to readers to do the same.

– Meredith Flynn

By Nate Adams

During the years when our sons were younger and still at home, one of them asked me one evening, “Dad, what do you do all day?” No doubt I was distracted with whatever work I was doing at the time, and I glibly replied, “I attend meetings, talk on the phone, solve problems, and write e-mails.”

While a little sarcastic, my answer was not inaccurate. Administration is not just a big part of my job, it’s one of my spiritual gifts from God, so I accept it gratefully.

But some weeks, administration can feel more tedious than purposeful or personal. That was the case this past week, and in the midst of that drudgery, God sent me several unexpected guests.

One guest was a man I have known for years, though we have often not seen things the same way. The last time we talked by phone was months ago, and our conversation then had ended professionally, but not cordially. The only thing that surprised me more than seeing him at my office door were his immediate apology and his request for forgiveness when he sat down. I gratefully accepted and reciprocated, sorry that I had not taken the initiative. We prayed together sincerely and parted, brothers again. And I remembered that my work is often administrative, but my real priority is people.

They reminded me of my real priority.

A second guest came to me via both phone and e-mail. He was brokenhearted and concerned for the church where he grew up, and where some of his family still attend. He described the problems, and sources of conflict, and the impasses. He asked for counsel, and for information and resources to help, and I did the best I could on the spot, offering to come or send others from our staff when the time was right. There was despair in our first exchange, and optimism and hope in our last. And I remembered that my work is often administrative, but my real priority is people.

My third unexpected guest just dropped in while she was in the area. I didn’t know her personally, though I knew her church. She quickly and quietly told me that she didn’t want to take much of my time, but her mother had recently died, and she found in going through her things documents from several Baptist meetings that were over a hundred years old. Rather than throw them away, she wondered if they might be as important to us as they were to her mother. I reverently paged through them with her, talking about what it must have been like to attend a Baptist association meeting in 1894, and why her mother would have treasured them. I gratefully agreed to receive them into our historical archives. And I remembered that my work is often administrative, but my real priority is people.

Other unexpected guests came into my life this week. One had been deeply hurt by his church, another by her pastor. Neither plan to return to their lifelong churches, but both were looking for reasons not to give up on church entirely. I know why one of them contacted me, but I have no idea why the other one did. But by the time they did, I remembered again that my work is often administrative, but my real priority is people.

What do I do all day? There are indeed a lot of meetings, and phone calls, and e-mails. But God used at least five unexpected guests this week to remind me, in the midst of my administration, that real life and ministry and purpose is found in people.

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

Roadside assistance

Lisa Misner —  May 2, 2019

By Adron Robinson

Read: Acts 8:26-40

Everyday is an opportunity to introduce someone to Jesus Christ, because everyday God allows us to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. In Acts 8, Philip was such an ambassador. When led by the Holy Spirit to go on what must have seemed an illogical journey, he immediately obeyed.

Because of his obedience, he was in the right place at the right time to tell someone about Jesus. The Holy Spirit led Philip to a high-ranking Ethiopian official who had been in Jerusalem to worship but left still searching for the living God. Despite the official’s power and prestige, he had a vast emptiness in his soul.

Will you share the gospel with one person and pray for them to be saved?

This Ethiopian man is like many of our friends, family, and co-workers today. They are socially successful and culturally religious. Sometimes they even read the Scriptures and seek the truth, yet they do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ. And each of them needs someone to show them the way. On the journey of life, they need roadside assistance!

They need a Philip to obey the Holy Spirit’s leading and come alongside them on the road of life to have a gospel conversation with them. They need someone who will help them understand the Scriptures, and they need someone who will tell them the bad news about their sin and the good news about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And when they believe, they need someone to baptize them and then disciple them so they can go out and make other disciples.

Will you be like Philip and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading? Will you share the gospel with one person and pray for them to be saved? On the road of life, we all need roadside assistance.

Prayer Prompt: Father God, we were lost and you found us; we were broken and you healed us; we were dying and you rescued us. Help us to follow in your footsteps and look for daily opportunities to share the gospel with those in need.

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

Ronnie Floyd, president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, is the current president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. This year’s National Day of Prayer is Thursday, May 2.

Many Christians are so disappointed and fed up with matters about America that they struggle even to pray for our nation. Is this right? Is this justified?

Absolutely not!

And many Christians struggle to truly love one another, while many are uncertain about our future as a nation and even the future of our churches.

On the National Day of Prayer this Thursday, May 2, let’s be sure to join together in fervent prayer because:

#1: Christians need to pray for America

Where America is today is the reason we need to pray. If all was perfect and unity abounded across our nation, we may enjoy praying for America more regularly, but whether we enjoy it or not, it is needed.

Praying for America should be our first choice, not our last choice.

God is our hope — our last, great and only hope. Therefore, we need to pray like we believe this with all we are.

The alarm clock is going off in our nation and this is not the time to push the snooze button. America needs to experience the next great move of God.

That is why we pray. That is why we will prioritize praying for America on our upcoming National Day of Prayer. Will you join us?

Prayer precedes every great movement of God biblically and historically. Therefore, we need to pray and ask God for a mighty, great spiritual awakening across America. That is why the National Day of Prayer is a nationwide movement of prayer for America.

#2: Christians need to love one another

Christians need to follow Jesus’ teaching of loving one another, in obedience to Christ’s command: “Love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This what we are calling our nation to do on Thursday, May 2.

We need a Love One Another movement that begins in the church of Jesus Christ. Christians should never take pride in being filled with skepticism or criticism of other people. We should love all people just like Jesus did and does: willfully, sacrificially and unconditionally.

Love One Another needs to become a movement that also infiltrates every part of American life when the church is experiencing this movement within their own fellowship.

Followers of Christ need each other more than ever before. While certain secondary doctrinal differences will exist, we need to unite around our belief that:

— The Bible is God’s infallible Word; it is truth without any mixture of error.

— Jesus is the Son of God and the hope of the world; therefore, salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.

— We must focus our lives, churches and futures on taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in America and across the world.

In our confessional statement, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, we as Southern Baptists believe, “Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament” (Article 14).

We need to stop fighting over secondary issues and rise up together to become the spiritual light in this darkening America and world. The church needs to model loving one another or we forfeit our right to speak into the future of our nation. It is time to come together in unity.

#3: Prepare for the future

What will the church become in the future of America? Will we lose our freedom or have it affirmed?

We need to prepare for the future realistically, but also with great hope. Regardless of the present cultural tide that is rising in direct opposition to the ways of God, we are a Gospel people committed to Christ alone.

Our future is not in the hands of the United States government; our future is in the hands of our sovereign God. Yes, our times are in His hands!

We need to prepare future generations spiritually and vocationally for what God wants them to be and how He wants them to live for Him.

That is why I believe our greatest hope lies only in Jesus Christ, His Gospel and the advancement of this Good News message reaching every corner of America and across this world.

While we call out to God for His church to be revived by the Spirit and to love one another, resulting in coming together in unity, we need to simultaneously pray extraordinarily for the next great spiritual awakening in America, which is our greatest hope.

– Ronnie Floyd, reposted from Baptist Press