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By Nate Adams

You deserve a breakSummer can be a very busy time for churches, and therefore for many devoted church leaders and members. Vacation Bible School, camps, mission trips, construction projects, and more can quickly fill the warm-weather months.

But summer also provides most of us with a few days of vacation, or at least staycation. If we’re wise, those days can be just as important as the ones we spend in ministry.
All of us need breaks in our routines and the daily patterns of our lives. We are often creatures of habit, whether those habits are daily, weekly, or monthly.

For example, when I am teaching or preaching about worship on a Sunday morning, I sometimes ask the congregation, “How many of you are sitting in about the same place that you sit every Sunday?” Usually at least three-quarters of the room raises their hands, and then looks sheepishly at their familiar, nearby neighbors.

Then I ask, “How many of you parked in about the same place that you park every Sunday morning?” Again, most hands go up, and people quickly understand my point. Routine or ritual can become very poor substitutes for true, spiritual worship.

Likewise, the weekly or monthly patterns of our work, our down time, our relationships, and even our church commitments can too easily fall into almost thoughtless repetition. That’s why we need not only nights to pull away from our days, and sabbaths to pull away from our weeks, but also vacations to pull away from the sameness of our years.
Especially if your vacation is still ahead of you this year, let me encourage you to invest at least part of that time in three key “re’s”—refresh, reflect, and refocus.

Refresh. Giving yourself time to refresh physically is important, but so are spiritual and emotional refreshment. In addition to getting extra rest on your vacation, make some time for the replenishing things that really restore your soul. Take a long walk, or go fishing, or get alone with a great book. Have a long talk with your best friend. Take a drive to a solitary place and just decompress. You know better than anyone else what refreshes you. Make it happen!

Reflect. Once you’re starting to feel refreshed, take time to do some honest soul-searching. Are you happy with the pattern into which your life has settled? How do you feel about your job, your relationships, your life goals? Is your spiritual life healthy? Are you finding ways to serve and use your gifts? Does your life feel “on track,” and if not, what would it take to get back there? If you don’t have some serious time for reflection on your vacation, you are likely to return to the same habits and patterns from which you needed a break.

Refocus. And finally, allow your refreshed spirit and thoughtful reflection to lead you to a time of intentional refocus. When you return from vacation, how can you reorder your life to prioritize what’s truly important, and pull back from the things that are distracting you from your life’s true purposes? It’s sometimes hard to see changes that are needed when you are in the midst of your life’s routines. Let your vacation time show you what needs to be refocused.

When it comes to making your vacation time meaningful, “to re, or not to re, that is the question.” Just as a bad day can look much better after a good night’s rest, and a trying week can look much better once you reach the weekend, a vacation can provide a much-needed break to refresh, reflect, and refocus. May you find that time this summer.

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

By Adam Cruse

As I was reading through Romans recently, I came across a verse I’ve seen several times. This time, however, it caused me to pause. The Apostle Paul wraps up the letter by sending his greetings to people who were special to him personally. One of those individuals was a man named Apelles. “Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test” (Romans 16:10).

I’ve never heard of Apelles. He’s not to be confused with Apollos. He wasn’t as well-known as Paul or Peter. He did not possess the notoriety of Barnabas or Timothy. Yet, as I thought about it, the one thing he is forever remembered by from this account in Scripture, is his faithfulness to Christ.

I began to think through how, if I could be remembered by one line, what impression I wanted to leave. I couldn’t think of anything better than the legacy Apelles lived and left.

So, how do we develop a faith that stands the test? In my personal observation, it’s not by constantly looking back at past failures or successes, or by constantly looking around at current problems and struggles. Standing the test comes by looking forward to the time we stand before Jesus and our potential reception of eternal rewards.

Randy Alcorn writes, “Five minutes after we die, we’ll know exactly how we should have lived. But God has given us his Word so that we don’t have to wait to die to find out. And he’s given us his Spirit to empower us to live that way now.”

A list of faithful people in Romans made me consider my own actions.

Missionary and martyr Jim Elliott wrote prior to his death in an Ecuadoran jungle, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose.” Then he proved it.

And pastor and evangelist Johnny Hunt puts it succinctly: “I wish to live in a way that I would have hoped I had, once I get to heaven.” When we live in light of eternity, recognizing that we will stand before Jesus at his judgment seat, we are reminded that everything matters now.

Paul describes the moment: “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

What Paul describes in these verses is the bema judgment seat of Christ. It is reserved exclusively for believers. Heaven and hell are not at stake; the rewards for our service are. In New Testament days, a bema seat resembled a stair step. It was used as the official seat of a judge in a sort of tribunal. It resembled a throne that Herod built in the theater of Caesarea by the Sea, from which he watched the games and made speeches.

It was at a bema that Paul stood before Felix and later Agrippa in Acts 24 and 24. Festus was “sitting on the judgment seat” (Acts 25:6). And there Paul desired to make his appeal in Rome: “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat” (Acts 25:10).

Every believer will give an account of himself and the Lord will judge those decisions believers made. Paul, knowing and believing this, wrote, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Understanding how Jesus will judge believers does two things. It challenges us to focus intently on those areas we know will be reviewed, clarifying what is ultimately and eternally important. And it reminds us that while the Christian race is difficult at times, in the end it all will be worth it.

Adam Cruse is pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman. He is concluding his term as IBSA vice president.

Jesus is watching

How we treat other believers, Heb. 6:10

How we employ our spiritual gifts, 1 Peter 4:10-11, 2 Tim. 1:6

How we use our financial resources, 1 Tim. 6:17-19

How much we suffer for Christ, Matt. 5:11-12

How we spend our time, Eph. 5:16, 1 Peter 1:17, Psalm 90:12

How we run the race God has assigned to us, 1 Cor. 9:24-27

How many souls did we win to Christ, Dan. 12:3

How do we react to trials and temptations, James 1:2-3, 12

How much the doctrine of the Second Coming matters to us, 2 Tim. 4:8

How we use our words and guard our mouth, Matt. 12:36

How faithful we, as pastors, are to the calling of God and the people of God, 1 Peter 5:2-4

How we, as leaders, exercise our authority over others, Heb. 13:17

New IBSA training helps ministry leaders prevent sexual abuse

Child Protection“You’re not going to leave this training feeling uplifted.”

Mark Emerson introduced a new IBSA workshop on creating a safe environment for children with a sobering series of statistics:

  • 90% of sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they know and trust.
  • 66% of those victims don’t report the abuse until they are an adult.
  • Just 10% of offenders ever come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team, teamed up with Next Generation Ministries director Jack Lucas to offer the training at First Baptist Church in Morton May 16. The workshop was held as the Southern Baptist Convention considered its response to sexual abuse involving SBC leaders and churches. The denomination took action at its June annual meeting, including a “Caring Well Challenge” designed to help churches prevent future abuse and care well for survivors

In Morton, Emerson and Lucas shared that there are 60 million sexual abuse survivors in the United States. An astonishing one in five Americans will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Statistically, that data means 14 people in the average IBSA church are survivors of sexual abuse.

“Part of the problem is in our churches we don’t want to acknowledge that there is a problem,” Lucas said. “It happens in small churches, in large churches, small towns, and in big cities.”

A recent LifeWay Research study found 32% of Southern Baptist churchgoers believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than have been brought to light (43% disagreed and 25% said they don’t know). Of those surveyed, 4% said they knew of someone attending their church who had sexually abused a child, but it has not yet come to light.

“Perceptions are reality,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “When almost a third of churchgoers sense there is an avalanche of abuse and assault cases coming, Protestant churches must address this head-on, even if few say they actually know someone whose abuse is still hidden.”

Identify ‘grooming’ behavior
At the IBSA training, Emerson and Lucas identified three types of abusers. The first is the abduction offender who has no previous relationship with the victim. Abduction offenders comprise 4% of abusers. More common is the peer-to-peer offender. “All bad behavior of a sexual nature is not from adults,” Lucas noted. “There’s been a 300% increase within schools in the last 3-4 years. More than 50% of reported abuse cases in Illinois are actually peer-to-peer.”

The third, most dangerous type is the preferential offender—someone whose victim knows and trusts them. One statistic says 90% of child victims of sexual abuse know the perpetrator. “Check-in systems do not work against preferential offenders,” Lucas said. “We can’t recognize the risk visually. We have to recognize risk behaviorally.”

That’s why it’s so important that churches learn to recognize the grooming process, the IBSA trainers said in Morton. “Grooming” refers to tactics an abuser uses in his or her relationship with a child to facilitate abuse.

When an offender is seeking to abuse a victim, he or she is generally looking to do so through deception, not violence, Emerson explained. And the abuser isn’t just grooming the victim, but also the gatekeepers—a pastor, the parents, church leaders. Grooming is about gaining access to the kids, and groomers often seek out career and volunteer opportunities related to children in churches.

“If there is somebody taking pictures, too much interaction, making friends with a couple to make friends with their child…You need to take note,” Emerson said. “There’s always that guy. If it’s done over the top you’ve got to take note of that.”

Emerson further described the groomer as someone who “appears helpful, trustworthy, and kind. He’s already picked out the child at your church. He knows what the targeted child wants or needs. He is skilled at age-specific communication.”

Groomers often target children who are:

  • unconnected, on the fringe, or in need;
  • seeking someone to follow or trust;
  • from a broken family or single-parent home, or seeking a father figure; or
  • already involved with alcohol or drugs, or pornography.

According to Emerson, a groomer will seek to introduce nudity and sexual touch into the relationship. He’ll do this through barrier testing and erosion, such as taking a child or youth home by himself after an event. Sexual discussion and joking will seep into conversations. Playful touch and “accidental nudity” might be introduced. He will create a culture where nudity and sex is acceptable or cool, including sharing magazines and movies.

Once he has succeeded in abusing his victim, the groomer will work to keep the victim silent through shame, embarrassment, and threats.

Create safer policies and procedures
Emerson and Lucas urged churches to have child protection policies in place, including a purpose statement and clear definition of terms. “When you say child, youth, adult, staff, volunteer, approved worker, who are you talking about?” asked Lucas. “What do we mean when we say ‘child’? Is an adult someone age 21 and above?”

The next step is to define what it means to be an approved worker. This entails an application, background check, reference check, and safety training. “MinistrySafe is the best one we have found,” Lucas said, referencing the national organization dedicated to equipping churches in the area of preventing sexual abuse and ministering to victims.

A group tasked with studying abuse in Southern Baptist churches released in June a free 12-session video curriculum for churches. “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused” is available at churchcares.com.

There are some policy points that must be mandatory for churches, Emerson and Lucas said. For example, a two-adult rule protects children and the church, while also shielding workers in the room from a false accusation. If at all possible, do not put spouses together, the trainers advised. They also encouraged:

  • a minimum 6-month attendance rule for all workers;
  • approved-worker status;
  • clear sight lines into each classroom; and
  • check-in and release procedures.

If abuse has occurred, it’s important that churches offer professional counseling for those who are suffering, Lucas said. “In the life of a victim, something is really wrong and we as a church need to love that victim. We need to show them we care and want to protect them.”

For more resources on preventing sexual abuse in your church and caring well for survivors of abuse, go to IBSA.org/protect.

By Steve Playl

Declaration of Independence grunge America map flag

Picnics in the park, cookouts with families, visits to historic places, yardwork, parades down Main Street, extravagant pyrotechnic displays!

These are as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie and are appropriate ways to celebrate Independence Day. But while celebrating the Fourth and enjoying our present freedoms, may I suggest that we take a look back, then let’s look to the future.

Look back to July 4, 1776, when Thomas Jefferson, assisted by such patriarchs as Ben Franklin and John Adams, completed the final wording of the document presented to the Second Continental Congress, which evolved into the birth certificate of the United States of America.

That document, the Declaration of Independence, was eventually signed by 56 men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to secure the opportunity for an experiment in democratic government. And it led to the greatest free nation the world has ever seen.

Although the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal” was not yet understood as meaning that all human beings of both genders and all races are equal in the sight of the Creator, the document has become the capstone of freedom for all Americans.

As we celebrate our freedom, let’s remember that it came at a great cost to those who went before us — and that our freedom from sin’s penalty was paid for by our Savior with His divine sacrifice…

Although the meaning of “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” has been misrepresented at times from many different directions, those rights have been fought for, debated and paraded through the streets of this nation for more than 240 years. Some, in the name of tolerance, have insisted that their rights include forcing others to comply with their wishes. Others, insisting on their understanding of “science,” have argued against the reality of a Creator. Many have added their own desires to the list of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Still the Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest human documents ever created, and it represents a magnanimous vision for all — a “land of the free and home of the brave.”

Four score and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln pointed out in his Gettysburg Address that the nation could possibly perish. That speech was made during the deadliest and most devastating war in America’s history. Many wars before and after have cost us dearly in the blood of our sons and daughters, but most of our conflicts have been with “outsiders” and America has been united in battle. The “Civil” War, on the other hand, divided our nation against itself.

Now, two hundred, two score and three years after the states united to declare independence from Great Britain, we find ourselves divided by politics, policies, power struggles, and pride. Too few of our leaders seem willing to sacrifice personal feelings and ideas for the greater good of the masses. While there will never be unanimous agreement on every conviction, surely we can agree to place far greater priority on negotiating with our fellow Americans than negotiating with our avowed enemies.

My prayer is that our precious grandchildren will grow up in an America somewhat like the one where I grew up. With all its faults, it has been the greatest nation throughout all of history.

But if that future is to become reality, more of us must return to the God of our Fathers in repentance, humility, prayer and commitment. We must again become a nation with common sense. We must use the word tolerance as something more than political rhetoric. We must again practice compassion, even while passionately defending differing points of view. And, yes, we must also stand for truth as revealed by our Creator.

As we celebrate our freedom, let’s remember that it came at a great cost to those who went before us — and, all the more, that our freedom from sin’s penalty was paid for by our Savior with His divine sacrifice on the cross, which calls for the most serious of celebrations.

Steve Playl, a retired Baptist pastor, is a chaplain at a Bristol, Tenn., hospital, a newspaper columnist and college instructor. Reprinted from Baptist Press.

By Autumn Wall

Family vacation on the water

It’s summertime, and that means family vacation! The danger in vacation is that we tend to check out of every part of life—and that’s not helpful for Christians. Here are a few ways to keep Christ at the center of your time away.

1. Build time with Jesus into your day. Read through a Bible book with your family, or talk about what you’re studying individually. For kids, take along some Bible videos or search for a kid-focused devotional to watch together.

2. Pray together (not just over your food). Ask each person to share one thing they are struggling with in their relationship with God, and one way they are doing well. Don’t critique or lecture, just pray with them for what is on their hearts. And don’t forget to share yours too. Kids need to hear that parents struggle, but they take it to Jesus.

3. Visit a church! Find a Bible-teaching church in the area where you’re vacationing and attend worship there. Teach your children that gathering with the people of God is not something we do because we know and love the people, but because we know and love Jesus.

4. Plan a one-hour outreach. Share Jesus on the beach; take a homeless person to lunch; create encouraging notes to give to waiters, gas station attendants, or hotel hosts.

5. Secretly pay for someone’s meal. Leave a note that says, “Enjoy your lunch today on us! We are praying for you.” Then pray for them!

Autumn Wall and her husband are planting a church in Indianapolis. She is coauthor with her mother, Diana Davis, of “Across the Street and Around the World: Ideas to Spark Missional Focus” (New Hope Publishers).

Called to comfort

Lisa Misner —  June 27, 2019

By Adron Robinson

Read: 2 Corinthians 1:3–5, ESV

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

One of the amazing things about God is that in his providence, he never wastes anything. God uses every part of our journey in life to conform us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-29).

Paul tells the Corinthians that God uses our afflictions as a means for his ministry in us. The Apostle reminds us that when Christians are afflicted, God comforts us. That truth is a blessing to all who face affliction: the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort has promised to minister to us in the midst of our affliction. Truly he is a good, good Father, for he never leaves us or forsakes us.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He tells us that God’s comfort is not for us to keep to ourselves. Like all of his blessings, God intends for us to share with others that which we have received from him. We are called to comfort others with the comfort we have received from God. (Count the number of times “comfort” appears in the three verses in our focal passage.)

Someone near you is facing an affliction that you have been through. God calls you to comfort them with the comfort you received from God. You didn’t think you would make it, but God gave you strength. You felt like giving up, but God gave you endurance. You almost quit, but God gave you a future and hope. Now, share what God has given you with someone in need. You were comforted to be comforter.

Prayer Prompt: God of all comfort and mercies, thank you for always providing what we need and for always being more than enough. Help us, Father, to reflect your love by comforting others with the comfort we have received from you. Amen.

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

Three Illinois girls

Lisa Misner —  June 24, 2019

By Nate Adams

This month it is my privilege to officiate the wedding ceremony of our youngest son, Ethan, and his fiancée, Alyssa. They will be married in Elgin, where they first met as Judson University students six years ago, and where my wife, Beth, and I also met more than forty years ago.

Our middle son, Noah, is also married to an Alyssa, and so we will gladly navigate that potential confusion at family get togethers. They met in high school, however, here in Springfield, not long after I came to serve at IBSA.

And our oldest son, Caleb, literally met his wife, Laura, at IBSA. They were in high school at the time, though it wasn’t until a few years later that they reconnected for good. Both Laura’s mom, Melissa, and I worked at IBSA. One summer we dragged our two reluctant college students to the IBSA family picnic. They started writing letters, and now they’ve been married six years.

Especially as parents who mainly know boys, Beth and I are so grateful for these three young ladies who have become our daughters. All are devoted Christ-followers who love the Lord and are active with our sons in local Baptist churches. Each one is delightful, gifted, and unique. And we are especially blessed with the genuine friendship these six young adults have with one another—and with us.

And so, I want to say thank you. Thank you first to the Lord, of course, who sovereignly brought these three couples together in his perfect timing. But thank you also to the IBSA Board and the larger Illinois Baptist family, who more than thirteen years ago called me to bring a wife, three teenage sons, and a slightly quirky dog to serve the churches of Illinois. As I occasionally remind each of our sons, we have prayed for their future wives since before they were born. As it turns out, all of them were here in Illinois.

As our youngest son marries, I’m finding grace in unlikely places.

As we discussed wedding preparations, each of our sons and their fiancées asked me to make sure that their marriage ceremonies contained clear gospel presentations. They asked me to underscore that Christ is the center of their relationships, and that by his grace he will be the lifelong foundation of their marriages. What a privilege it is to prepare a marriage ceremony with that charge.

There were a number of challenging topics that I considered writing about this month. The Southern Baptist Convention will convene in Birmingham and face several difficult issues, including recent accusations of sex abuse in churches and even by missionaries. Leaders will seek the best paths forward for effectively helping prevent the travesty of sex abuse in churches.

Also, at the end of their May session, the Illinois legislature approved the “Reproductive Health Act” that legalizes abortion through nine months of pregnancy, requires all insurance to cover abortions, and allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions. This appalling legislation is a major setback to the pro-life movement in Illinois. The action stands in stark contrast to recent legislation in states including Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama that have sought to limit or end abortion.

So it’s a tough month for Southern Baptists in Illinois. But right in the middle of that, I get to celebrate this wedding, this testimony to the gospel message and to Christ and his church. I get to welcome this wonderful young lady into our family, and watch our son be welcomed into hers. And I get to remember that God called me here to this often tough Midwest mission field, and that his grace and provision are still evident, in at least three Illinois girls.

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