O’Rourke: Opposing same-sex marriage should mean losing tax-exempt status
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said at a forum hosted by CNN and gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. O’Rourke’s controversial position has been rejected by some of his fellow candidates, but Religion News Service reports the candidates’ liberal theology on orientation and gender is now the norm for most of the country.

Conflict in Syria endangers Christianity in the Middle East
The United States’ decision to withdraw troops from a Kurdish-controlled region of Syria “could lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region,” said one evangelical leader. President Donald Trump announced last week he would hand over control to the Turkish government, a move many say will allow ISIS to continue their assault on religious minorities, including Christians.

Brunson’s book details discouragement, suicidal thoughts in prison
Missionary Andrew Brunson contemplated taking his own life while imprisoned in Turkey, he writes in a new book released Oct. 14. In “God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance,” Brunson writes at one point, all he heard from God was silence. He was released last October after more than two years in prison. Since his release, he and his wife, Norine, have shared their story at various events, including at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

Man baptized after Arkansas church offers forgiveness
Brenton Winn destroyed $100,000 of property at Central Baptist Church in Conway, Ark., in February 2019. Six months later, Winn was baptized after accepting Christ through a recovery program the church helped him enter. “As I’m starting to understand how God works, I’ve realized I didn’t pick the church that night. God picked me,” he said. “If it had been any other church, I think I’d be sitting in prison right now.”

Are our pastors our friends?
One-fifth of Christians say they regularly meet with or talk to the lead pastor of their church outside of weekly church services and events, according to Barna Research. Still, “friend” leads the list of words that best describe a Christian’s relationship with his or her pastor, followed by mentor, counselor, and teacher.

Sources: Religion News Service, Christianity Today, ERLC.com, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna Research

Opponents say Planned Parenthood facility is more about money than women
Planned Parenthood (PP) expects to open a large clinic this month in Metro East Illinois that will serve 11,000 patients a year. A Planned Parenthood press release called the new Fairview Heights clinic a “regional haven for abortion access,” as Illinois’ neighbor states have enacted stricter abortion laws.

The new clinic is 13 miles from St. Louis, where Missouri officials have threatened to close the state’s last remaining abortion provider for violations of state code.

‘Caring Well’ conference urges better measures for abuse prevention
“How and where you and I exercise our power, particularly with vulnerable human beings, shines a light on who we are.” Dr. Diane Langberg, a Christian psychologist and trauma expert, was one of dozens of voices at the “Caring Well” conference, a three-day meeting of Southern Baptists designed to help churches navigate the sexual abuse crisis. Langberg and fellow speakers urged churches and ministries toward more effective prevention measures and better care for abuse survivors. Read Meredith Flynn’s reports from Dallas.

Tennessee governor plans statewide day of prayer and fasting
Gov. Bill Lee, who was elected last November, introduced the Oct. 10 day of prayer as an opportunity “to offer prayers of healing, prayers for forgiveness, prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of hope for our state and for the 6.7 million who call Tennessee home.”

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press he gladly joins Lee in the statewide effort. “One thing is crystal clear: politics will not heal us, and government will not fix us,” Floyd said. “We need a massive prayer movement that will lead us back to God and bring healing to our land.”

President Trump says Christians are ‘electrified’ in his defense
As campaigning heats up ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Christians are revisiting the differences that divided them in 2016. “I got a call the other night from pastors, the biggest pastors, evangelical Christians. They said that they have never seen our religion or any religion so electrified,” President Donald Trump said Oct. 3, referencing their defense of him against his political rivals and the media. Some evangelical leaders affirmed their support of the president, while others called for distance between faith and politics.

InterVarsity reinstated on Iowa campus
A federal judge ruled in September that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship can remain on campus at the University of Iowa, even if the ministry requires leaders to sign its statement of faith. Judge Stephanie M. Rose also said campus officials will have to pay any damages awarded to InterVarsity at a trial currently set for January.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, USA Today, Baptist Press, Associated Press, Christian Post, Christianity Today

Report promotes civility in public discourse
The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm released a report Sept. 26 on how Christians can help heal the country’s political divides. “Faith and Healthy Democracy,” released by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and based on interviews with nearly 50 evangelical leaders, found that “toxic” was the most common adjective used to describe today’s public discourse.

Ahead of election, evangelicals report surprising priorities
A LifeWay Research survey in conjunction with the ERLC report found evangelicals are more likely to say healthcare, the economy, national security, and immigration are the public policy concerns most important to them, rather than religious liberty, abortion, providing for the needy, or addressing racial division. Only 8% say they are single-issue voters.

Pastor condemns impeachment effort
Following the announcement of an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, one of the President’s most vocal evangelical supporters said the country could be headed for a “Civil War-like fracture” should Trump be removed from office. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, also said of fellow evangelicals: “…I have never seen them more angry over any issue than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 election and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.”

2020 will see 40% decrease in refugees resettled in U.S.
Christian leaders decried the Trump administration’s announcement last week that the U.S. will resettle only 18,000 refugees in the 2020 fiscal year. Christianity Today reported the ceiling for resettling refugees hadn’t dropped below 70,000 for 30 years before it dropped to 45,000 in 2018, then 30,000 the next year.

SBC President opens U.S. House session with prayer
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear prayed Sept. 25 before the U.S. House of Representatives, asking God to “grant that this body rule in a way that directs the men, women and children of this country toward your goodness, and enables them to respond in thankfulness to you.” Baptist Press reported Greear’s visit to the Capitol also included meetings with several legislators.

Sources: Baptist Press, LifeWay Research, Times Record News, Christianity Today

 

High-profile religious freedom cases set for high court’s 2019-20 session
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to consider several cases dealing with the First Amendment right of freedom of religion, including a trio of cases that ask whether sexual orientation and gender identity are included in non-discrimination protections in federal workplace law.

“This is shaking up to be an exciting term for religious liberty,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the religious freedom legal nonprofit Becket, as reported by The Christian Post.

“I think this term will see the court have some opportunities to tighten up and improve its doctrine and in the process, perhaps, stem the tide of religious liberty cases it’s been getting in recent years by giving some clear answers and some clear resolutions to some lingering controversies.”

IBSA joins religious freedom lawsuits
The Illinois Baptist State Association will join two lawsuits involving religious liberty issues for the purpose of protecting Southern Baptist churches in the state. One case involves zoning regulations that prohibit churches and church plants from being located in certain areas of a city; the other contests requirements that churches and religious institutions cover the cost of abortions for their employees.

World Vision shifts sponsorship program to empower kids
A ministry dedicated to helping impoverished children around the world will now let the kids choose their own sponsors, instead of the other way around. “We are simply expressing what we believe in a new and fresh way,” Edgar Sandoval, president of World Vision US, told Christianity Today. “We are working to empower them to be agents of change.”

United Methodists to consider separation plans
Following a narrow vote in February to keep its traditional positions on marriage and qualifications for clergy, the United Methodist Church appears poised for a breakup next year. Religion News Service reports the country’s second largest Protestant denomination (after Southern Baptists) will consider how to allow dissenting churches to leave the denomination, while keeping their ties to support organizations like publishing houses.

Disaster Relief continues in the Bahamas
Southern Baptist agencies are working with local churches and Baptist leaders to help residents of the Bahamas rebuild after Hurricane Dorian. “At the end of the day, when all the disaster relief groups from the U.S. go back, the Bahama Baptists are still there,” said Jeff Palmer, CEO of Baptist Global Response. “We want God to be the champion in this, and we want our local Baptist partners to be, as well.”

Sources: Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

Annual Meeting MM 650

The 2019 IBSA Annual Meeting will focus on renewal of church ministry. The three-day event begins with the Pastor’s Conference on November 5-6 followed by the Annual Meeting on November 6-7. Both conferences will take place at Cornerstone Community Church in Marion.

Cornerstone pastor Michael Nave will be the featured speaker in a special worship service on Wednesday night, and the Cornerstone worship team will bring the music all three days. IBSA President Adron Robinson will bring his final message as he concludes two years in the post. Robinson is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, a suburb of Chicago.

A full list of speakers for the Pastor’s Conference and the Annual Meeting schedule will both be published in a special edition of the Illinois Baptist Sept. 30. Included on the roster are revitalization leader Mark Clifton of the North American Mission Board, Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg, and Illinois pastors Michael Kramer, Tim Lewis, and Bryan Price. Pastors can also choose from seven breakout sessions in two time slots. A panel discussion will address avoiding ministry burnout.

IBSA member churches will need to vote for messengers to attend the Annual Meeting. Registration information was mailed to churches in August.

Among the items of business to be considered is approval of affiliation of the following churches, whose applications, theology, and practices have been reviewed by the IBSA Credentials Committee.

• Calvary Baptist Church, Granite City
• First Baptist Church, Collinsville
• Grace Baptist Church, Peoria
• Grace Fellowship, Davis Junction
• Greater New Hope Baptist Church, East St. Louis
• Harvest Bible Chapel, Rockford
• Jesus is the Life, Park Forest
• Journey Church, Normal
• Progressive Baptist Church, Chicago
• Revolution Church, Manhattan
• Second Baptist Church, Mt. Vernon
• The Net Community Church, Staunton

Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer

Lisa Misner —  September 19, 2019

By Cheryl Dorsey

Cheryl DorseyIn a recent prayer meeting with pastors and prayer leaders from Chicago and its suburbs, we were directed to read Matthew 7:7 to launch our prayer time. “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Before the prayer leader had finished speaking, the Holy Spirit dropped the chorus of this old Francis Crosby hymn in my heart.

Draw me nearer, nearer
blessed Lord,
To the cross where
Thou hast died;
Draw me nearer, nearer,
nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious,
bleeding side.

As those in the room sang with me, that chorus became the opening lines of my prayer, and as I prayed, the Lord revealed that the action of prayer fulfills dual purposes. Spending time in his presence is not only a blessing for those for whom we pray; it also builds and strengthens our relationship with the Lord. Praying draws us nearer to the Lord; he speaks to us through our contemplation of his Word, and through the sweetness of communion with him.

Several passages of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments speak of “drawing near to God.” Psalms 73:7 says, “But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works.” James 4:7a says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

I have found that as I pray for others, the Lord does a work in me—comforting, correcting, enlightening, and perfecting. While we pray, asking God to help someone with “a speck in their eye,” he kindly points out “the beam” in our own, and the wise pray-er will stop, repent, receive forgiveness, and continue in the original focus of their prayer time. Prayer is full of “teachable moments.” As we stretch out on God’s word, he increases our faith and builds up our trust in him.

Specifically, God has taught me to remember and practice these things as I pray:

1. When I “draw near” to him, God places me in alignment with his plans for my life and the lives of others. Through his holy word, the perfect prayer guide, he helps me look at the situation from his perspective. He gives me the “mind of Christ” on the matter. Things that I felt were impossible are simple from his perspective. Prayers from a finite being are surrendered to the Infinite One, the Ancient of Days, the Great I AM.

2. I am not responsible for the answers to prayer. That’s the LORD’s job. My job is to pray, to lift up the needs and issues of others and this world to a Sovereign God. I am not responsible for answering the prayer, and that takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders.

We know from Jeremiah that God has a purpose and a plan, and he responds to our prayers in accordance with his purpose, his plan, and his will. We should not confuse our effort and energy with the outcome of our prayers. The only exception is, as Andrew Murray called it, “the sin of prayerlessness,” where we don’t bother to pray at all, and therefore see no result.

3. Trust and obey. A toddler’s first steps are a little ungainly until practice gives him confidence in his ability to walk across the room. Similarly, as we consistently practice the discipline of prayer, our experiences increase our understanding of and faith in God. Pray-ers learn to trust and obey him more.

There are times when we will offer up a short and sincere prayer and leave it at his feet. Other times, the Lord will have you spend some time praying about an issue. And there may be a time when you are led to turn down your plate and fast a meal or two, spending that time in prayer instead. All of these prayer efforts should be “God-breathed,” meaning the Holy Spirit prompts you in the appropriate avenue to take. It’s not formulaic; the Lord will guide you to the perfect path for the situation.

When I draw near to God in prayer, he aligns me with his plans and reminds me of his sovereignty over all things. As he guides my prayer life, I learn to trust and obey him more. As I draw near to him, he draws near to me.

Cheryl Dorsey is prayer coordinator for Chicago Metro Baptist Association. Her husband, Rick, is pastor of Beacon Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago Heights.

By Meredith Flynn

Quilters_small

“Each one of us has got some adopted grandchildren.” In a Sunday school classroom at Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Alberta Siverly explains why she and her sisters meet here every week. Along with their friend Karen Wallace, the sisters are assembled to work on quilts for an annual auction held by Illinois’ Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services (BCHFS).

Today’s work isn’t focused on quilts for this year’s auction—the 20 bed-sized blankets the small group creates every year are finished, ready for pick-up and transport to BCHFS’s Carmi campus. Alberta says they like to work ahead. The sewing they do these Wednesday mornings at the church and on their own time at home is for next year’s quilts, and for the baby blankets and prayer shawls they create when they hear of a need.

Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, adopted or not, are the subject of much conversation around the table as the sisters and Wallace share stories and back-to-school photos. Dona Sanders, the youngest sister, has a granddaughter who was adopted through the Children’s Home as an infant. She’s now a junior in high school.

The Marshall quilts have raised tens of thousands of dollars for BCHFS since 2005, when the group created their first one for the auction held during the agency’s annual fall festival. Now in its twentieth year, the festival is BCHFS’s single-largest fundraiser, said Executive Director Denny Hydrick.
This year’s fall festival is Sept. 21 in Carmi.

The Marshall quilters and other partners across the state enable the ministry of BCHFS, Hydrick said. The agency, which celebrated its centennial anniversary last year, receives no state or federal funding and is supported by donor individuals and churches.

“Each church probably has its own story,” Hydrick said, “but from my perspective, partnerships are so intertwined with the ministry, you just can’t exist without them.”

All in the family
Organizers estimate this year’s auction will have between 60 and 80 quilts, with at least a quarter of those created by Loving Hands, the ministry that started 25 years ago out of Marshall’s “old lady class,” as Siverly calls it.

“Wait a minute, don’t put that in there,” Wallace says. “Just put ‘mature class.’”

“This is the last class you go to before you get promoted,” says Shirley Shumaker, another sister. Promoted, as in heaven. As they work, the quilters speak often of Carolyn Siverly, Alberta’s sister-in-law who passed away in May. And Martha Garner, their oldest sister, who will turn 90 in October. After a recent fall, she’s currently in a nursing facility.

Draped over a chair next to their work table is the last quilt Carolyn worked on. “I had to finish it for her,” Alberta says. The sisters say Carolyn was born with a talent for colors and fabrics. “She could throw in an odd block that you wouldn’t think would even belong in that quilt, but it looked right,” Wallace said. She’s the group’s newest recruit, but she lived down the street from the sisters when they were young.

As Wallace sews and the sisters look over patterns and swatches, they teach a crash course in quilting. The quilt patterned with interlocking circles is “Double Wedding.” Another with little girls in profile is “Holly Hobby,” also known as “Sunbonnet Sue.”

Sunshine on the front porch.

Blocks, batting, backing.

“We love to talk quilts,” Siverly says. “My husband, before he passed away, he said, ‘Alberta, you’re going to turn into a quilt.’”

The sisters and Wallace hold several different conversations across the table, often finishing each other’s sentences. “Eat, sleep, and drink quilts,” one says. Across the room: “And then repeat.”

Loving Hands started when a woman at the Marshall church wanted to be more involved in missions. She had a garage built at her home so the group could meet there; they rotated from one member’s home to another before eventually moving their weekly meeting to the church. They gather Wednesday mornings to get ideas and to plan future projects, but the majority of the sewing they do at home.

Pastor Paul Cooper steps into the classroom to greet the quilters, recalling a lunch he shared with the group early in his tenure as pastor. He had driven them to Carmi to drop off their auction quilts and suggested a Mexican restaurant on the way back. Not accustomed to the cuisine, every one of the quilters ordered the same entrée—a chicken chimichanga.

“We got him young,” Siverly says affectionately of their pastor. “We trained him the way we wanted him to go, with God’s help.”

“He’s doing really well too,” adds another quilter.

The Loving Hands ladies talk about the need to recruit new blood for the group. A fellow church member built them a large quilt stand positioned just outside the sanctuary. They swap out the featured quilt every few weeks—the one currently on display has a woodland theme, with animals hidden throughout.

As they stand in the foyer examining the quilt, the Loving Hands greet the few people here on Wednesday morning with hugs and conversation. Some are actual family, others just feel like they are.

“Everybody down here’s related to everybody else.”

Cultural crossroads
Two hours south of Marshall, Susan Shilling works on a quilt with a group of brand-new sewers. Shilling, who has helped lead the quilt auction for BCHFS for 10 years or more, is teaching the ins and outs of quilting to junior highers at her church, First Baptist in Grayville.

“They’re real beginners,” Shilling said. “Two of the girls had never touched a sewing machine.” She plans to do the actual quilting for their creation, but she’s been careful to let them sew together the pieces of the quilt top. “If they have a boo-boo, they have to pick it out themselves and fix it. I want to be able to say the girls made the quilt.”

Shilling marvels at what the Marshall group accomplishes each year. “I just can’t imagine how they get all those quilts made.” When she drove to Marshall to pick up this year’s quilts, she saw the file cabinet in the Sunday school classroom, already full of projects for next year’s auction.

The quilts sold this year will benefit the four main ministries of BCHFS: residential care at the Children’s Home in Carmi; care for new and expecting mothers at Angels’ Cove Maternity Center in Mt. Vernon; adoption services; and counseling offered at Pathways centers around the state.

In addition to those initiatives, Hydrick says BCHFS is also pursuing a new avenue of ministry: a crisis pregnancy clinic. The new opportunity is in response to Illinois’ new abortion laws, which repealed several longstanding restrictions on the practice. The clinic would provide pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, as well as counseling for women as they make decisions.

“In our one hundred years of history, the ministry has always adapted to meet more contemporary needs,” Hydrick says. It’s been 100 years since the first sibling group of four came to live at the Carmi campus. A century of ministry has been made possible by the benevolence of donors and giving churches, he says.

In Marshall, the Loving Hands quilters are considering a future trip to Illinois Amish country to look at material and get ideas for upcoming projects. Youngest sister Dona will likely drive, because she has a van. They’ll continue to meet on Wednesdays, working on quilts for people in need, now and in the future.

“Eat, sleep, and drink quilts.”

“And then repeat.”

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist.