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Family gatherings

ib2newseditor —  October 16, 2017 — 1 Comment

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Not long ago, the pastor of an already growing church contacted me about “becoming Southern Baptist.” His church was starting to think about planting another church or campus, and had heard about the partnership and resources available through our North American Mission Board.

As I began explaining Southern Baptist polity and structure to him, I realized that those of us who “became” Southern Baptist when our parents enrolled us in the church nursery may sometimes take for granted the way our largest Protestant denomination in America operates and cooperates. In fact, many laypeople in our churches today might have trouble answering this pastor’s question.

Later I wished I had explained Southern Baptist life to him the way I truly think about it—like a family. A local church is like the immediate family you live with every day. You do life with them and know them intimately, in good times and bad, for better and worse.

A local Baptist association is like your family that lives nearby. You might see them every week, or maybe once a month, perhaps for dinner or to help with a project. They would help you move, or loan you their truck, or pick up your kids or grandkids in an emergency. They are your first line of support, and your first line of defense. You trust them, and you count on them, because they’re family, even if they don’t live at your house all the time.

Illinois Baptists will celebrate their annual ‘family reunion’ Nov. 7-9.

A state Baptist Association or Convention is like a more extended family. The distance between family members keeps you from seeing everyone in person very often. But you talk by phone, and you’re Facebook friends, and you’re aware of what each other is doing. When you’re in their town, you visit them. When their kids graduate or get married, or have a big life event, you’re there. And they’re there for you too.

When you are together with extended family, it’s still clear you’re related. The subtle family resemblances are there. Behaviors and preferences may be diverse, but values are largely the same. You know the same folklore. You celebrate the same heritage. You would still do anything for each other, even if Uncle Bill irritates you a little. You would never want to leave or lose this family, even if you’re grateful to get back in the car and go home.

Then there’s the national Southern Baptist Convention, which I might compare to a nationwide family reunion. I attended one of those once, for the Cunningham line of my family, which has gathered every Father’s Day weekend for decades in western Kentucky. We loved going, and met people we had never met before, and it didn’t take long to discover common threads, and certainly common values. I hope to go again someday. And if you ask me, “Are you a Cunningham?” I will proudly say yes, and eagerly help anyone from that family.

I know lots and lots of pastors and church members who have never been to a national Southern Baptist Convention, but who faithfully give to Southern Baptist missions, and who faithfully believe The Baptist Faith and Message. It’s a wonderful, diverse, large family.

And so, with a newfound warmth and enthusiasm for family, I invite you to come to Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur this November 7-9 for the IBSA Pastors’ Conference and IBSA Annual Meeting. In fact, bring someone with you who hasn’t been to this extended family gathering in a while. You won’t know everyone, but everyone you meet will be family. They believe what you believe, and they work together at doing the things you know are most important. And at least most of us would do anything for you.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at

The Briefing

New rules protect abortion mandate objectors
Christian organizations are celebrating what they deem a win for religious liberty after the Trump administration released new rules Oct. 6 that allow institutions and corporations not to include abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health insurance plans.

A 2011 “contraceptive mandate” included in the Affordable Care Act had been the subject of legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and four Baptist universities, Baptist Press reported.

House approves late-term abortion ban
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 237-189 last week in favor of the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, is based on evidence that a child is able to experience pain in the womb after 20 weeks.

The House previously passed a pain-capable bill in 2015, but it was voted down in the Senate.

Princeton U. ministry drops “evangelical” from name
“There’s a growing recognition that the term evangelical is increasingly either confusing, or unknown, or misunderstood to students,” said Princeton Christian Fellowship’s Bill Boyce. That’s why the 80-year-old ministry at the Ivy League institution has changed its name, reports Christianity Today.

Higher education: College offers ‘marijuana degree’
Northern Michigan University’s four-year degree in medicinal plant chemistry combines chemistry, biology, and business classes—and could gain even more traction if a petition drive succeeds at getting full legalization of marijuana on Michigan’s ballot next fall.

Survey: Suicide still taboo topic in church
The majority of churches say they’re equipped to help someone threatening to take his or her own life, but a new study from LifeWay Research found only 4% of people who have lost a close friend or family member to suicide said church leaders were aware of their loved one’s struggle.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, USA Today, LifeWay

The stand

ib2newseditor —  August 14, 2017

Surrounded by a Forest of Tall Golden Aspen Trees

Over the years, I’ve grown to love Aspen trees. They’re not that common in Illinois, growing in only about a third of the state’s counties, mostly in the north. But in cooler or higher-altitude climates such as central Colorado, they grow abundantly, often covering the mountains like wildflowers.

It was while vacationing there with my family this summer that I started asking myself why I find Aspen trees so beautiful and interesting. Is it the “quaking” leaves, which so freely alternate their green and silver sides in the breeze, and then turn bright yellow in the fall? Or is it that those leaves are mounted on a beautiful white tree trunk, crisscrossed with black bands, that grow up to a hundred feet tall?

Perhaps it’s that these striking trees always appear so plentifully. Aspens grow in clusters or “stands” and multiply rapidly. Individual trees are actually part of a larger, singular organism that spreads rapidly in the form of new trees from a common root system.
As a result, one Aspen stand in Utah is considered by many to be the world’s oldest living organism. It’s more ancient than the massive Sequoias of the West, or even the famous Bristlecone Pines, some of which are said to be 5,000 years old. It appears that individual trees like those are not quite as enduring as the spreading organism of Aspens, which presents itself as many trees, yet underneath shares a unified root system that results in each unique tree being a genetic replicate of the others.

Inspiration for Baptists from the mighty and prolific Aspen trees

As you might guess, I find in these beautiful Aspen trees an encouraging metaphor for the equally creative work I believe God desires to do among Baptist churches here in Illinois. Like the diversely colored leaves that “quake” at the slightest breeze, our lives, stirred and filled by the Holy Spirit, should attract the attention of those we meet and invite them to know Jesus as Savior.

The bright, white-and-black banded trunk that holds us together is the local church that beautifully reflects the light of Christ and his word, not just one at a time, but in diverse sizes and shapes. Yet our churches should be united by a common root system of both doctrine and cooperation, one that makes us resilient and also allows us to multiply rapidly and spread throughout our region and the world. Aspens are the most widespread tree in North America, and there are varieties of Aspens found throughout Europe and Asia.

This year, September 10-17 is the week our “stand” of churches here in Illinois has set aside to pray for mission work here, and to receive a special offering called the Mission Illinois Offering. This offering is like a refreshing rainfall on our cooperative work as Baptist churches, work that takes place in a culture that can be as harsh on Baptist churches as mountain winters on a stand of Aspens.

But with that offering, we train leaders and church members in evangelism. We strengthen churches in multiple ministries that help them make more disciples and grow. And we provide the network of doctrinally sound cooperation that gives you confidence that the 20 or so churches being started in Illinois each year, though unique, are doctrinally united with all the churches in our “stand.”

Aspens grow all the time, even in winter. But many feel they are most brilliant and beautiful in the fall, when their golden leaves paint the mountainside with the glory of God.

This fall, when you and I give a generous offering through the Mission Illinois Offering, I believe we have an opportunity to do the same.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at

Judge Neil Gorsuch

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch

New Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch continued his first week on the bench with what many Court watchers have said could be the most important case of this term. The justices heard oral arguments April 19 on “the Playground Case,” which involves a church-owned preschool’s fight to participate in a state grant program.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., sued the state after its preschool was denied participation in a program that funds safer recreation spaces for kids. (Trinity’s playground is gravel, but operators wanted to replace it with a rubberized surface made from recycled tires.)

The preschool was denied funding, even though it ranked fifth out of 44 applicants, and 14 of those applicants received grants the year the school applied, USA Today reported. At issue is a Missouri provision that prohibits religious institutions from receiving public money.

But multiple media outlets reported that opening arguments before the Supreme Court favored the Missouri church, with even some liberal-leaning justices appearing to side with the preschool’s right to participate in the program.

According to USA Today, concerns raised by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer during the oral arguments could result in a 7-2 decision (should conservatives John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch move in the expected direction). However, the newspaper reported, the Court will perhaps rule “on narrow grounds, so as not to set a broad, nationwide precedent on public funding for religious institutions.”

It’s also possible that the Court could rule the case moot, since Missouri Governor Eric Greitens recently instructed the state’s Department of Natural Resources to allow churches to apply for and receive funding from state grant programs.

Prior to Tuesday’s arguments, the case was thought to be an issue on which Gorsuch would help shift the Court toward the school’s side. The former appellate judge previously ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in the company’s fight over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that corporations cover birth control—including drugs such as Plan B and Ella—in their employee health care plans.

The Playground Case has been in a holding pattern for more than a year since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and a subsequent Senate hold on former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, left the Court with only eight justices.

Judge suspended in same-sex marriage case
The Alabama Chief Justice who instructed the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been suspended without pay for the rest of his term. Judge Roy Moore told 68 probate judges in January that they had a duty not to issue the licenses until the Alabama Supreme Court could clarify the relationship between state law and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage.

A 9-judge panel didn’t get the unanimous vote needed to remove Moore from office, but the suspension has the same result, Moore’s attorney, Mat Staver, said. They plan to appeal the ruling.

Some fear Internet change could threaten religious liberty
As of Oct. 1, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit organization that oversees domain names, is now governed by an independent board rather than the U.S. Department of Commerce. The shift has been seen by some as dangerous to religious liberty.

But while the change likely doesn’t pose a big threat to religious liberty, says a Baptist software engineering professor, it could allow people with an anti-religion agenda to block some websites with Christian content.

‘Free Speech’ act would loosen guidelines for churches
Two Republican Congressmen have introduced legislation that would make it easier for churches and non-profits to speak in favor of political candidates. The Free Speech Fairness Act is designed to counteract the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which limits political speech by churches and other organizations that receive tax-exempt status. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment if he’s elected.

Split down the middle
Americans are evenly divided on two key religious liberty issues, according to a new study by Pew Research. 48% of Americans say businesses that provide wedding services should be able to refuse to provide those services to same-sex couples based on religious conviction, while 49% disagree. Americans are similarly divided on whether transgender individuals should be allowed to use the bathroom of the gender with which they currently identify.

Publisher changes its mind on ESV
A Bible publisher has reversed its decision to make the text of the ESV Bible permanent. Crossway had previously announced that after tweaks on 29 verses, the ESV translation would “remain unchanged in all future editions.”

“We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake,” President and CEO Lane Dennis said in a Sept. 28 release. “Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.”


Charlotte churches pray for peace
“Now is the time for heartfelt and sincere prayers, not political and personal-agenda driven rhetoric,” Pastor Phillip R.J. Davis posted on his church’s website in the wake of violence and protests in Charlotte, N.C.

His Southern Baptist congregation, Nations Ford Community Church, and others in the community held prayer meetings as their city continued to feel the aftermath of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, and subsequent protests that turned violent, resulting in the death of another man, Justin Carr.

Film recounts race to save missionaries
Samaritan’s Purse and Executive Producer Franklin Graham will release “Facing Darkness” next spring, a documentary recounting the race to save missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol after they contracted the Ebola virus during a 2014 epidemic that killed 11,000 people. The film, which includes interviews with those on the frontlines of fighting the virus, will be shown in select cities for one night only on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Most not hopeful about election outcome
With the presidential election just over a month away, only a small percentage of Americans say Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would make a “great” or “good” president, according to new polling from Gallup.

Up from the grave
Christian in Southeast Asia witnessed a seemingly miraculous event when a village leader believed to be dead came back to life as they prayed over him. International Mission Board President David Platt recently recounted the story to Southern Baptist Convention leaders, adding that God’s work in the region has continued, as people have come to know Christ and have burned their idols.

Creature comfort
Mourners at a New York funeral home receive an extra measure of comfort from Lulu, a therapy dog who “prays” with grievers by putting her paws on them and tilting her head down. The goldendoodle is an “added source of comfort” and “a calming presence” to people who are grieving, says her owner, Matthew Fiorillo.


Josef Latham, 16, serves at his church’s Crossover block party in Mascoutah on June 11.

Mascoutah | Three months ago, Josef Latham was a self-described agnostic struggling with difficulties he didn’t know how to handle. He asked a friend what he should do, and she advised him to pray, believing God would hear him.

Her advice eventually led him to First Baptist Church, Mascoutah, where he accepted Christ during the week after Palm Sunday and was baptized on Easter.

On Friday, June 10, Josef shared his testimony at a community worship service hosted by the church as part of Crossover, the evangelistic outreach held before the Southern Baptist Convention each year. Mascoutah’s youth group spent the week painting pavilions at a local park and starting conversations with pool-goers and walkers.

They had some 300 conversations during the week, said youth pastor Matt Burton.

“I know that the person I was before I was saved, I would have never ever had the courage to reach out to these people, to speak like I did last night,” Josef said Saturday at a block party culminating the week. “And I think there’s absolutely no way that it wasn’t Him.”

Burton started planning for the church’s Crossover project late last year. The youth group has participated in World Changers projects the past several summers, so Burton planned a mission week based on that model: community service projects in the morning and worship in the evening, with evangelism training—based on the “3 Circles” guide to starting gospel conversations—in the afternoon.

“It’s really exciting just to see the boldness of some of these kids,” Burton said. Like 11-year-old Gracie Wood, for whom Mascoutah Changers and Crossover was her first ever youth event. At the beginning of the week, Burton said, she was tentative and shy. But by the last day, she was approaching people to ask how she could pray for them.

“I have no doubt some of these kids, whether they’re in vocational ministry or not, are going want to do mission trips, are going to share the gospel.”

Josef Latham is already doing that. Taking time away to serve with his youth group all week strained some of his old relationships, he said, but he had the opportunity to encourage one of his friends to pray, just like someone told him once. And while he’s still working on how to start conversations that lead to the gospel, he was joyful for the opportunity to share his salvation story with his youth group.

It’s like youth leader Bonnie Bodiford told him: “You are the gospel now.” Jesus’s love for people made manifest in Mascoutah, and a story to tell there and beyond.