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Christians divided on Jerusalem decision
President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was met with strong reactions from Christians on both sides of the issue. While some applauded the Dec. 6 announcement, others worried it could increase hostilities in the Middle East. Trump also announced the U.S. will being the process of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Generation gap on support for Israel
While a majority of Americans with evangelical beliefs express at least some measure of positivity about Israel, many younger evangelicals are indifferent in their support for the country. According to a new survey by LifeWay Research, 77% of evangelicals 65 and older say they support the existence, security, and prosperity of Israel, but the number drops to 58% among those 18 to 34. And 41% have no strong views about Israel.

Baker gets High Court hearing
The Supreme Court will likely rule next year in the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration. During oral arguments Dec. 5, comments and questions from Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy were encouraging to lawyers supporting Phillips, Baptist Press reported.

Texas churches turned down for FEMA assistance
A judge ruled against three churches seeking federal aid after Hurricane Harvey, citing a policy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency that denies grants to facilities primarily used for religious activities. The Texas churches, who argue that FEMA’s policy is unconstitutional, have filed an appeal.

What we say vs. who we are
LifeWay Research found 24% of Americans self-identify as evangelicals, but only 15% are evangelical by belief. The survey also measured the percentage of people in each U.S. region who fall into the two categories.

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Springfield | Ten years ago, the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee sponsored a privately funded display depicting the birth of Jesus Christ at the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol. The first display of its kind in any state Capitol, the nativity scene has become a Springfield tradition in the decade since, and has been followed by similar displays in 15 other states.

Julie Zanoza, Chair Woman of the SNSC, opened this year’s ceremony Nov. 28 by reminding the audience of the two-fold purpose of SNSC’s mission: “We want to be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as well as demonstrate the constitutional right we have to publicly meet and celebrate his birth.”

Several other guests spoke at the dedication, representing the Thomas More Society, a law firm specializing in religious liberty issues; the Catholic Diocese of Springfield; and Hope Chapel, a Nazarene congregation in Lincoln. State Senator Sam McCann (R-Plainview) also addressed the hour-long gathering attended by around 50 people.

Greg Wooten, pastor of Hope Chapel, described the manger scene as too small for a savior. But, he said, “In a weirdly wonderful point of view, God made that small little stable big enough for the whole world to come to Jesus.”

Bernie Lutchmann, president of Business Men in Christ of Springfield, opened the gathering in prayer after reading the biblical account of John the Baptist’s birth in Luke 1.

“We had very good attendance this year,” Lutchmann said after the ceremony, “But we’re even more excited that 15 other states have adopted our idea too….And we hope that someday, the nativity scene will be displayed in all 50 of our U.S. State Capitols.”

-Story and photos by Andrew Woodrow

Supreme Court will hear pregnancy center case
The Supreme Court announced this month it will rule on a California law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to inform clients of abortion options available elsewhere.

The FACT Act, passed in 2015, shares some similarities with an Illinois law that requires pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians to discuss abortion as a legal treatment option and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers. Multiple pregnancy centers in Illinois sued Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this year over the law, and were granted a preliminary injunction.

Dockery elected to lead theologian group
The annual meeting of the Evangelical Theology Society focused on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The group also elected David Dockery, a Southern Baptist and president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, as president.

Zimbabwe’s Christian leaders see unrest as ‘opportunity’
The conflict between Zimbabwe’s president and its military could be resolved by a “winner-takes-all-mentality,” many of the country’s religious leaders wrote in a letter following President Robert Mugabe’s military arrest. But it doesn’t have to, they said, calling the the situation an opportunity for “permanent healing” in Zimbabwe.

Hillsong pastor won’t change marriage views, despite Australian vote
While Australian voters decided in November to legalize same-sex marriage, Brian Houston, who pastors Sydney megachurch Hillsong, said his view of marriage as between a man and a woman “will not change.”

Coming to the big screen: Apostle Paul
A silver screen version of Paul’s life is set for release next Easter. “Paul, Apostle of Christ” tells the story of a persecutor of Christians who became the world’s most famous missionary and martyr. James Faulkner stars as Paul, and “Passion of the Christ” actor Jim Caviezel is Gospel-writer Luke.

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A log cabin stood in the exhibit hall at the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, surrounded by displays showing the current challenges of taking the gospel to people in Illinois.

Decatur, Ill. | Illinois Baptists were urged to remember their pioneering ancestors as they take the gospel to the more than 8 million people in the state who don’t know Christ.

One year before Illinois’ bicentennial celebration, the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association focused on “Pioneering Spirit” and asked churches to make four commitments: go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders.

Kevin Carrothers web“We can’t be satisfied with the status quo, because the status quo is decline,” said IBSA President Kevin Carrothers (left) during his president’s message. The commitments are designed to help churches on the “uphill climb” to get the gospel to more people.

Preaching from the book of Numbers, Carrothers said no one remembers the names of the naysaying Israelites who didn’t want to go into the Promised Land. Instead, the real legacy of pioneering spirit was left by Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who trusted God to provide.

“They recognized the will of God was more important to obey than the whims and the desire of men, even if the majority won,” Carrothers said.

During a Wednesday evening worship service, church leaders put commitment cards on the altar—a symbol of their decision to take the gospel to new places, or to engage new people with the Good News, or to make new sacrifices of their resources, or to invest in new ways in the next generation of pastors, church planters, and missionaries.

The urgent need to get the gospel to more people was a driving theme of the meeting and Pastors’ Conference that preceded it, which started two days after a mass shooting at a Texas church. Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines was slated to speak during both the Pastors’ Conference and Annual Meeting, but instead traveled to Sutherland Springs, Texas, to minister to the church that lost 26 people in the attack.

Tom Hufty webTom Hufty (right), pastor of First Baptist Church, Maryville, Ill., filled in for Gaines at the Annual Meeting, outlining the 8-year journey his church has been on since Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed in his pulpit in March of 2009.

“These tragedies remind us there’s an urgency to share the gospel,” Hufty said. The pastor told meeting attenders he remembers exactly where he was and what he thought when he heard the news about Winters: What must it be like to have been in that building that day, and how difficult it would be to lead the church through the aftermath.

“Even in that shape,” Hufty said, speaking of churches that have endured tragedy, “the church is still the heartthrob of the bridegroom”–of Christ. Ministry isn’t rocket science, Hufty said. “It’s loving God. It’s loving people. It’s making disciples.”

Sammy Simmons webIn the meeting’s final session Thursday morning, Pastor Sammy Simmons (right) offered encouragement for those who are weary from a difficult season of life and ministry. Rely on the Lord, said the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton. And keep taking bold steps for the sake of the gospel.

“The conditions are too rough, the lostness is too great, for us to continue to do business as normal,” Simmons preached. “The cause of the gospel causes us to make bold sacrifices for King Jesus.

“I’m all in for this pioneering spirit. Oh, how much our church needs it. Oh, how much I need it. Oh, how much our state needs it.”

Decatur, Ill. | Two days after a mass shooting at a Southern Baptist church in Texas, Illinois pastor Randy Johnson urged pastors to preach every message like it could be their last opportunity to deliver the gospel.

Johnson, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, filled in at the IBSA Pastors’ Conference for Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, who was slated to preach during the conference but is in Texas ministering to First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs. On Sunday, Nov. 5, a gunman killed 26 people at the small church outside San Antonio.

Preaching from the book of 2 Timothy, Johnson encouraged pastors to check their measure of gospel urgency. Preach like it could be your last message, he said, and also like it could be your hearers’ last opportunity hear the gospel.

“As a preacher of the gospel, your highest calling is to preach the word,” he said. “It is your responsibility to stand before your people in your church and tell them what is right, what isn’t right, and how to get right.”

Johnson exhorted pastors to not only remember that every message could be their last, but also that every hearer will have a last moment.

“Preach like it’s their [the congregation’s] last moment. They don’t know when it’s going to be… You’re going to have people who don’t want to hear what you’re going to say. Consider their last moment. What are you leaving them with? What are you turning their hearts toward?”

On Wednesday morning, Ed Stetzer (below) spoke to Pastors’ Conference attenders about working for and journeying toward the long view of ministry. Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, urged pastors to have an eternal perspective and to recognize the contrast between life now and eternal life in heaven.

Ed Stetzer web

“It’s a long hard slog sometimes in ministry,” Stetzer said, “and we’re going to see Jesus one day.” That sounds very “old-school Baptist,” he acknowledged, but Baptists a few generations ago talked about heaven a lot more than we do now.

Christians have a confident hope, he said, because they walk by faith and not by sight.

“The afterlife is a sighted life, but life now is not. You don’t know everything. But you have a confident hope, because you know Jesus does.”

 

 

 

Curtis Gilbert 2 webDecatur, Ill. | The IBSA Pastors’ Conference began Tuesday with an impassioned plea for leaders to heed the apostle Paul’s words in Titus 1:5-9:

“The reason I left you in Crete was to set right what was left undone and, as I directed you, to appoint elders in every town: one who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion. For an overseer, as God’s administrator, must be blameless, not arrogant, not hot-tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, righteous, holy, self-controlled, holding to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.

Curtis Gilbert (above) warned pastors not to miss four areas of needed assessment evident in Paul’s words. First, how’s your love for Jesus, asked Gilbert, pastor of The Journey in Belleville. Don’t get used to Jesus, he told pastors.

“If you’re bored, the reason is you’ve gotten your eyes off him, and onto yourself and onto your ministry,” he said. No matter how long you’ve walked with Jesus, Gilbert told conference attenders, you still have as much need for the gospel and for Jesus as when you first confessed him as Lord.

The Metro East pastor asked pastors to assess their lives and ministries in three more areas: how well they love the gospel, their families, and God’s people.

He reminded pastors that as shepherds, they have as much need of their people as their people do of them. “If they keep putting a cape on you, and you keep letting them, then you need to be rebuked,” Gilbert warned pastors. “Because you are nobody’s Superman.”

Joe Valenti webJoe Valenti (right) spoke after Gilbert and urged pastors to fall in love with the gospel. “Everything else comes out of that,” said the student and missions pastor from Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio.

There are more than 11,000 people groups in the world, Valenti said, and more than 7,000 are still unreached with the gospel. That’s not a problem for the International Mission Board or for missionaries or for the Cooperative Program, he said. Rather, “We need to see the completion of the Great Commission as a personal problem.”

Postcard artThe IBSA Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference kicks off today at 1:30 from Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur. Belleville pastor Curtis Gilbert and Joe Valenti, a student and missions pastor from Ohio, will speak during the first session of the Pastors’ Conference, an annual gathering that this year is focused on the spiritual health of leaders, their families, and their churches.

Ed Stetzer, the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism and executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, will speak twice on Wednesday.

Check up Pastors ConferenceConference attenders also will have the opportunity to choose from several breakout sessions, including making your church more evangelistic, and developing healthy leaders in variety of roles.

On Wednesday afternoon, the IBSA Annual Meeting starts at 1:15 with music from This Hope, an Atlanta-based worship quintet. They will lead worship throughout the meeting, which is focused on the “Pioneering Spirit” needed to reach Illinois with the gospel.

During the Wednesday evening worship service, churches will be challenged with four “Pioneering Spirit” commitments in the areas of missions, evangelism, giving, and leadership development.

Check back here and at IllinoisBaptist.org for news and updates from Decatur.