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By Andrew Woodrow

The death of missionary John Allen Chau has sparked arguments among Christians. Some call the young man impulsive, while others admire his commitment to reach unreached people with the gospel. Many are comparing Chau to another missionary killed in South America more than 60 years ago.

On Nov. 17, Chau was reportedly struck and killed by arrows from a Sentinelese tribe living on a remote island off the Bay of Bengal. Born in Washington state, he had been intrigued by the tribe since his teenage years. He chose his college degree to prepare him for his mission. He underwent linguistic training, participated in global missions, refrained from romantic relationships, and later joined the mission-sending agency All Nations.

After arriving in the region in early November, Chau paid fishermen to take him on trips where he attempted to befriend the Sentinelese with gifts, songs, and declarations of Jesus’s love. Chau wrote of his fear in returning to the island for his third visit (and his first overnight one), but reassured himself that the tribe’s eternal lives mattered more. The next morning, when Chau’s companions sailed near the island, they saw his body being dragged on the beach.

For its striking similarity, Chau’s death has been compared to that of five missionary martyrs in 1956, among them the well-known Jim Elliot. Elliot also devoted his early years to preparing for missions. He and his team sought to evangelize the Huaorani tribespeople in Ecuador. They were killed by warriors’ arrows soon after first contact. Elliot journaled extensively of his desire to reach the lost tribe, and his work was continued successfully after his death by his wife, Elisabeth.

But Jim Elliot was celebrated, while Chau has been criticized.

Wheaton College’s Ed Stetzer said he imagines Elliot would receive very different treatment today. “People are much more negative about missions, partly because of mistakes missionaries have made, such as colonialism, a lack of cultural awareness, and more.”

But, “As Elliot wrote (and Chau experienced), ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,’” Stetzer wrote. “Here at Elliot’s alma mater, we still believe and train missionaries. To some, that makes us the fools. But…if that makes us fools, we will be ‘fools for Christ.’”

– IBSA’s Andrew Woodrow was a missionary kid, living with his family in Mozambique

Mistaken identity

Lisa Misner —  December 6, 2018 — Leave a comment

By Adron Robinson

Read: John 13:34-35

It may take former Phoenix NBA star Edward Arnett Johnson a long time to get over the worst day of his life. After his NBA career ended, the 6’ 8” basketball player, who is now 47, spent many years serving his community.

But in 2006, another former NBA star—6’2”, 51-year-old “Fast Eddie” Johnson—was arrested for sexual battery and burglary. Some reporters around the country picked up the story and mistakenly assumed that Edward Johnson of Phoenix was the criminal. His phone started ringing off the hook. Neighbors, even friends, were quick to tell him how disappointed they were with him.

“The thing that disappointed me the most is some people were overzealous enough to think it was me and attack me with a ferocity I can’t comprehend,” Johnson said. “That’s the part that didn’t allow me to sleep last night. That’s the part that forced me to reach out to as many people as I could and say, ‘Shame on you; that’s not me.’”

Afterward, Eddie Johnson of Phoenix said his goal was to get the word out about who he really is—and isn’t.

Just like Eddie Johnson, the church is facing a case of mistaken identity. The sinful acts of some who claim the name of Christ have sullied the reputation of the church. And because of this, we need to display God’s love first to other believers, regardless of their race, social status, or place of birth.

Second, we need to venture outside the church building and into our communities to show the world our true identity: love. A world full of hateful speech and hate-filled action needs to see and hear what true love looks like, so be intentional today about loving one another.

Prayer Prompt: Father God, your Word tells us that the world will know we are your disciples by our love. Please forgive us for trying to identify ourselves by anything else but your love. Sanctify our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit to love one another.

Adron Robinson is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Our family photo

Lisa Misner —  November 29, 2018

By Meredith Flynn

New churches

We call it the most chaotic three minutes of the year. It’s the part of the IBSA Annual Meeting when churches that are affiliating with IBSA come down front to receive their certificates and take a photo together. We documented it in this space a couple of years ago, celebrating the warmth of the moment and the fun of meeting new IBSA family members, and bemoaning the fact that it is never a very good photo.

This year was no different. But we had heard it might be. Of the 11 churches joining IBSA at this year’s Annual Meeting, only about half were able to send representatives to Maryville. This will be a small group, we thought. We’ll fit on a single row.

But when the first church was called, the back few rows of the left side of the sanctuary emptied and Collinsville Community Church made their way down the aisle. Usually, only a pastor or a couple of church leaders come down front. But church planter David Seaton brought many members of his young congregation with him to Maryville.

As they kept coming, and were joined by representatives from other churches, I could almost hear the wheels turning as those of us on IBSA’s Church Communication Team considered how to get dozens of people into an artful arrangement across the front of the sanctuary. The photo you see here is the result of our stewing.

Like that picture from two years ago, it’s a bit chaotic. It will win no awards. But the subject matter is perfect. The churches in this photo represent different brands of the “pioneering spirit” that was focus of the Annual Meeting. Some, like Collinsville Community Church, are relatively new churches driving hard at the work of transforming their towns and cities with the gospel. They’re reaching people that didn’t have any interest in church before.

And some, like First Baptist in Orion, have established a longstanding, faithful presence in their communities. FBC Orion just celebrated its 175th anniversary. The congregation and others like it show their pioneering spirit when they seek out new ways to partner with other churches, so that the gospel might advance across Illinois.

What unites the churches is this shared testimony: Partnership for the sake of the gospel is valuable, and worth scooting over to make room for each other. Facing the challenge of Illinois’ challenging mission field is easier when we do it together.

Our annual thank you note

Lisa Misner —  November 22, 2018

A prayer of thanksgiving for 2018

cornucopia

By Eric Reed

(Editor’s note: For more than three decades, Chicago Tribune columnist Joan Beck annually penned a Thanksgiving essay recalling the year’s blessings. Her offering in free verse was a fan favorite and serves as our template, with input from the Illinois Baptist team.)

As we gather together
to ask the Lord’s blessings,
397 years after the first
Thanksgiving Day,
we are grateful, dear God,
for this year of lows and highs,
praise and sighs,
all which showed your mercy.

We give thanks with a grateful heart–
For our Savior who proves
time after time
He’s a friend who sticks closer
than a brother,
Who by his life and death
and life again
gives us a peaceful rest and a
perfect end.
My chains are gone,
  I’ve been set free,
And grace is still Amazing.

Now thank we all our God–
For the survival of democracy,
freedom of religion, press,
and speech;
For hope that civility will be
restored
And the nation will return
to her Founder.
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
  Confirm thy soul
  in self-control,
    Thy liberty in law!

What the Pilgrims struggled to
secure we have in abundance:
food on our table
and family around it;
those here now and
those who once were.
Thanks for texts, technology,
and prayer that keep us
in contact;
for the communion of saints
and so great a cloud of
witnesses who cheer us on to
the faithful completion
of our race.
And cousins.

Our blessings are a grocery list
of wonder drugs and Eliquis,
caring nurses and specialists.
Thank you, God, for gainful
employment
and Kingdom work.

Did we mention Fancy Nancy
and giggling Peppa Pig?
making toddlers laugh
and dance little a jig,
pre-schoolers’ discoveries too
quickly turning to senior year,
the pleasure of watching kids
grow tall,
trusting God who’s over all
will keep them safe.
For Crock-pot weather
and chili time,
Autumn in colorful riot,
the joy of snowfall’s first blanket,
relief at its last,
and Spring’s eternal hope.
The uplift from worship
when we don’t feel like going,
encouragement from church
family and knowing
God will meet us there.

When upon life’s billows
  we are tempest tossed
By trials undreamed and
searing loss,
You invite our cry, we boldly say,
Lord, I need you, Oh, I need you;
  Every hour I need you.

Eternal Father, strong to save
Daily I am grateful that
You walk with me
and talk with me
and tell me I am your own,
even when I feel distant or alone
your rod and staff,
  they comfort me.

No matter what next year may
bring, we attest with confidence
neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
  nor powers, nor things present,
  nor things to come,
  nor height, nor depth,
  nor any other creature
shall be able to separate us
from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media.

By Meredith Flynn

Of all the buzz words floating around churches over the past decade, “community” might be the buzziest. Biblical community is something many churches aspire to now. It can take the shape of small group meetings, monthly dinner gatherings, or a simple encouragement to show hospitality. “Community” can also be used to describe in general the way we want to feel about church. We want community. The Bible tells us we need community. Right?

What about the family who struggles to make it to small group during the week? Or the newcomer who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing personal details with relative strangers. And are “older” forms of community—like Sunday school classes—still a valid expression of the concept?

I’ve felt those tensions in my own life and family. As a single adult, community wasn’t difficult. An evening meeting with people in the same stage of life was a welcome break in the middle of the week. But as a married mother of two preschoolers, it’s often difficult for us to get out of the house on a weeknight, and even harder to arrive in an attitude befitting community as we’ve come to understand it.

Is it a command for all Christians, or just people who are wired for it?

Our current situation begs the question: What is the value of community with fellow Christians, even when a particular set of circumstances or stage of life makes it challenging?

Thankfully for us, the Bible has much to say about community, even if the authors don’t use the term like we do. By exploring how Scripture describes early Christian community, we can start to define the characteristics that ought to mark ours:

1. Community encourages. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul tells the church there that he longs to see them so he can “impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” His aim isn’t just one-way encouragement. The apostle says he wants to be encouraged by their faith too.

When we put this in context, we can draw a parallel between their time and ours. Christians in Rome were being persecuted. The level of our persecution now is drastically less severe in most cases, but there is a connection. We as believers can encourage each other to continue in the faith, even when the circumstances of our lives are difficult, or the culture moves farther away from a real understanding of God’s plan for the world.

2. Community shares the load. “Carry one another’s burdens,” Paul tells the church in Galatia. He’s talking about sin burdens, commentaries note, but Charles Spurgeon extended the metaphor this way: “Help your brethren….If they have a heavier burden than they can bear, try to put your shoulder beneath their load, and so lighten it for them.”

Many burdens have been shared in community groups I’ve been a part of over the years. Depression, career disappointment, death of a parent or a sibling or a child. These burdens were shared verbally and then figuratively, as group members prayed for each other and kept in close contact.
Community gives believers an extra shoulder to bear the weight when it’s too heavy to bear alone.

3. Community provokes (in a good way). The writer of Hebrews encourages Christians to “watch out for one another to provoke love and good works.” Whereas the encouragement we see in Romans 1 undergirded the early church, the encouragement referenced in Hebrews 10:24 spurred it forward.

In a recent community group discussion about hospitality, I listened as my fellow group members shared humbly about how God is opening doors to share Jesus, simply because they’re inviting people into their homes. I was encouraged and “provoked” to do the same so that the gospel can go forth.

4. Through community, God builds his church. Acts 2 paints a glorious picture of the church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer….Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 47, CSB).

Living faithfully in the context of community drew people to the truth of Christ. The same thing happens now. At a recent baptism at my church, two couples shared how they came to understand their need for Jesus in the context of their community group.
Scripture’s depiction of biblical community puts the emphasis on God’s graciousness to us. The gifts of community—encouragement, burden-sharing, good works, and the opportunity to see God build his church—are gifts from God himself. It’s far more about him than it is about us.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist and a member of Delta Church in Springfield.

By Mike Keppler

Mike KepplerI was pretty unruly the last weeks leading up to my retirement. In dealing with the loose ends and trying to find an acceptable closure to over 26 years of ministry, I was stressed and disagreeable at times. I was getting into trouble by saying some harsh things to family and friends and finding myself needing to ask for forgiveness. How often do we need to ask, “Please forgive me”?

Over the years, I have had to “walk back” several comments that were hurtful. Sometimes I tried unsuccessfully to make excuses about what I had meant, but when something mean comes out of the mouth, something mean must be in the heart. No amount of excuse-making will work toward healing in these situations. Rather, it’s time to admit wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. You would think that as time goes on, a maturing Christian should be growing past some of these careless words and actions, but it seems that the devil never gives up working to trip us up!

While patience may be one of the more important of virtues required in a long-term ministry, asking for and offering forgiveness is a close second and surely related. By the grace of God, I have been able to re-constitute my relationship with some fellow church members over the years. Misunderstandings, differences of opinion, and handling (or mishandling) expectations often disrupt our relationships, but patient forgiveness helps us to reform and experience even stronger bonds with those individuals who may have become adversarial toward us at times.

I had an “old salt” come out the auditorium doors one Sunday morning early in my ministry. I had been his pastor for a good three years by this time. As I reached out to shake his hand, he bluntly declared, “Preacher, I was against calling you when you came, but I’m for you now!” I thought later how that would qualify him as a “late adopter!”

You might think it’s ‘I love you,’ but it’s not.

I wasn’t really aware of the man’s resistance to my leadership, but evidently, he was not fully on-board with it either. I was able to forgive that blunt remark, even forget about it and move on with him in the following years of service together. Sometimes it is not so easy with others. I have been “dressed down” in auditorium confrontations, “roughed up” during church business meetings, and yes, there was also that unpleasant incident of “physical aggression” in my office long ago that left me asking myself what I had done to deserve such an angry reaction. These encounters take a lot of time, prayer, support from family and friends—and forgiveness—if there is to be healing.

When I read about Paul’s encounters, I think I had it easy. He suffered numerous angry reactions and many hardships throughout his ministry. He said to the Corinthian believers, “As servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5). Paul never wanted to be a stumbling block or to have his service and witness for Christ discredited by inappropriate responses. Neither should we!

Paul warns the Ephesians, “Watch the way you talk!” (4:29,32). Speaking in a “kind and forgiving” way should define us. Our speech should not be from a rancid, angry disposition, but rather, one that always expresses thoughtful consideration and patient preference of others.

One way we do this is to show kindness. We must learn to let go of things and forgive. In the Model Prayer, Jesus gives us the motivation: “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:11). We respond with forgiveness because we have been the recipients of God’s great forgiveness of our sins.

Have you discovered that an unforgiving spirit does more harm to us and our relationship with the Lord than it does to hurt others? My experience is that if we aren’t kind and don’t exercise forgiveness, we will be miserable in our spirit. God has taken me to the “woodshed” to discipline me more than a few times for grieving the Holy Spirit. I think it all comes down to this: It grieves God and breaks his heart when we have conflict in our relationships and use speech that does not build others up. The Holy Spirit is aggrieved by our harsh and unforgiving ways. When the Spirit isn’t happy, we’re not happy as a result.

Mike Keppler recently retired after 26 years as pastor of Springfield Southern Baptist Church.

A compelling vision

Lisa Misner —  August 23, 2018

MIO Logo 500pxImagine a place in America where people have never heard the gospel. Imagine a growing town with no church to share the Good News of Jesus. That place is Illinois, and that community is Pingree Grove—rather, it was. Now, church planter R.T. Maldaner and City of Joy Church are taking the gospel to Pingree Grove, with the help of IBSA church planting strategists.

People in Pingree Grove are catching a vision of what it would be like to see their community transformed. The spiritual need there, and across Illinois, is at the heart of the 2018 Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer.

Acts 1:8 commissions believers in Christ to share the gospel everywhere, from their home towns to the ends of the earth. Tucked into that call is “Judea,” which modern readers often translate to mean our state. Our Judea is spiritually needy, with millions who don’t know Christ, and at least 200 places in need of a new church.

13 million people call Illinois home. More than 8 million of them do not know Christ.

Baptists have long been people of vision, especially for missions. We give cooperatively to send missionaries to North America’s largest cities, and to remote villages around the world. Here in Illinois, people need the truth of Christ just as desperately. Imagine whole towns and cities transformed. Churches made stronger by members intentionally living out the gospel, and sharing it with their neighbors. Lives changed—for eternity.

The Mission Illinois Offering is a lifeline to vital ministries and missions here. Your MIO offering helps start new churches, strengthen existing congregations, and train people to share the gospel in their neighborhoods and beyond.

In our state of great need, we have a compelling vision—to see the gospel transform lives, churches, towns, and cities.

Many IBSA churches will observe the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer Sept. 9-16. Your church should have received an offering kit in the mail, and additional resources are available at missionillinois.org.

If your church is planning to collect the offering for the first time, or the first time in a while, the IBSA ministry staff will gladly help you communicate with your church about the vital nature of state missions. Please contact the Church Communications Team at (217) 391-3119 or request a speaker online.

In our state of great need, we have a compelling vision—to see the gospel transform lives, churches, towns, and cities.