Archives For Bible studies

Canoeing at Streator Baptist Camp

When our IBSA executive staff recently pulled away for a couple of days of long-range planning, we chose to drive north to Streator Baptist Camp. Mike Young is doing a great job as camp manager there, and we arrived to see new roofs, new siding, new paddleboats on the lake, a newly furnished and equipped dining hall, new mattresses on the beds, and improvements to the grounds too numerous to mention.

Though the camp was bustling with workers making final preparations for the summer camp season, Mike and his staff hosted us graciously, serving delicious meals, and giving us a tour of the well-kept grounds. After dinner, he prepared a toasty campfire for us, complete with marshmallows and all the ingredients for s’mores.

I don’t attend as many camps these days as I once did. But something about the campfire, or the bunk bed, or perhaps the wooded setting made me think back to my first Royal Ambassador Camp at Lake Sallateeska, our other fine Baptist camp in southern Illinois. Believe it or not, this year marks Lake Sallateeska’s 75th year of service to Illinois Baptists!

That summer camp was one of the first times I can remember being away from my parents for more than a night. I can still feel the anticipation of packing up and leaving home with my friends, but then also the homesickness of bedtime, and laying there in the dark with only the sounds of the woods. I recall the fun of canoes and archery and crafts, then the seriousness of the lessons from the Bible and about missions.

Sometimes we get to see down the road a little to the fruit of our efforts in tomorrow’s leaders.

Looking back, what made that first scary and wonderful week away from home OK was my trust in a guy named Ray, who was my RA counselor both at camp that week and at church every week. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, Ray had been investing in my young life for a long time, leading me down a road of Christian discipleship and leadership.

He probably knew he wouldn’t see me all the way down that road. A couple of years later another devoted Christian man led me, then when we moved on to another church, and another. For a while, it was week after week of RA’s followed by camp, and then it was week after week of youth group followed by a retreat. But always my church gave me a Christian man, and his weekly commitment and friendship, and an occasional week away from home when I could stretch my Christian commitment to a new level.

I know I’m not alone in this experience of disciple making and leadership development. Recently I was visiting with Evelyn Tully, IBSA’s retired Woman’s Missionary Union Director. She showed me a commemorative booklet from Illinois WMU’s 100th anniversary, and it was filled with pictures of Baptist women investing themselves into the lives of Baptist girls. One of those pictures was Evelyn with a young Sandy Wisdom-Martin, who is now the Executive Director of National WMU in Birmingham. Sometimes we do get to see down the road a little, to the fruit of our efforts in tomorrow’s leaders.

I don’t know where Ray is today or if he ever got to see much of the result of his investment in my life. But being at camp again last week reminded me of that investment, and the lasting difference it’s made in my life.

There’s an advertising slogan for Las Vegas that simply says, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But that’s not the case when it comes to investing in kids at a Christian camp. What happens there can last a lifetime—and spread all over the world.

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

For the joy

Decatur | Deana Moore didn’t mind the less than stellar running conditions that greeted her early on Saturday morning, April 28. Instead of derailing her from participating in a planned 5K race, the rain and unseasonably cool temperatures helped her enjoy nature and the people she ran with in the event, which is held along with IBSA’s Priority Women’s Conference.

“It was quite an accomplishment for me too, because I was able to run the whole thing without walking or stopping,” said Moore, a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur. Running alongside her were several other women who participated in a spring “Run for God” Bible study that met on Wednesday evenings at Tabernacle.

The 5K in Decatur was a “graduation race” for the class led by Leigh Johnson, a veteran runner and the wife of Tabernacle Pastor Randy Johnson. Run for God is a curriculum created in 2010 by Georgia runner Mitchell Hollis that combines the physical and the spiritual in a 12-week study that also includes group runs.

At Tabernacle, Johnson’s group ran outside on Wednesday evenings when they could, and inside when the weather didn’t permit it. The building’s upstairs loop was their track, she said, as the group carefully dodged around children from the church’s Awana program.

“They were very gracious to kind of bob and weave with us,” Johnson said. The run also took the class through the balcony around the sanctuary, where they heard the worship band practicing for Sunday’s worship service.

The music could well have served as a reminder for the group’s ultimate purpose—to grow closer to God while doing something he has equipped them to do. “Being able to physically do those things—[to] build up to running like we did—I know that wasn’t me,” Moore said after her recent 5K. “I know that it was all God helping me to do that.”

Unhindered

Rainy weather didn’t keep runners from participating in the Priority Women’s Conference 5K race April 28
in Decatur.

One class for all levels
Leigh Johnson first heard about Run for God during last year’s Priority conference. IBSA’s Carmen Halsey, director of women’s missions and ministry, introduced the curriculum at the annual 5K race and offered to partner with churches who wanted to use it as an evangelistic outreach.

Johnson went home and looked up the program. “I was all over it,” she said.

Each week of the study focuses on a devotional piece and correlating Scripture passages, along with an educational component about running.

One week, the lesson focused on Jesus feeding the 5,000. He recognized the physical hunger in front of him, but also an even deeper need—the spiritual hunger of the people. Johnson’s group talked about how the things people do—going to church, reading books, listening to sermons in the car—are good and valuable. But they’re snack-like compared to the sustaining nourishment of a relationship with Jesus that includes personal quiet time, reading, praying, and searching.

Greeting

Members of Leigh Johnson’s Run for God Bible study group were among the runners, and she greeted them at the finish line.

Before their Wednesday evening runs together, the women discussed the Scripture passages provided with each week’s lesson. Johnson brought in local experts—including a physical trainer and a representative from a running shoe store—to help teach the group about the proper way to run.

Johnson said the study was beneficial to people at all stages of physical fitness, and spiritual development.

“I think it’s beautiful in that sense, that it could be for anyone,” she said. “For the runner, the non-runner, the person that’s been a Christian for years, a non-Christian, or a baby Christian that’s just accepted the Lord.”

One woman in the class was brought back into the hope of a relationship with Christ, after feeling like her connection with him had been broken. Another rediscovered the joy of personal devotional times with God.

Deana Moore said the week the class was challenged to share their own stories was particularly effective for her. “It made me think about my own testimony: if I’m called to give it, am I prepared for that?”

Since the 12-week class ended, Moore has also already signed up for two more 5K races, and is involving her teenage daughters in running with her.

Johnson, a self-described uncomfortable public speaker, discovered the encouragement of her group—and strength from God—could help her do something she didn’t previously think was possible. After she made a Facebook promotional video for the class and flyers were printed about the upcoming study, she realized, “I’m really going to have to do this,” Johnson said.

But with “deep breath after deep breath and prayer and prayer,” she moved forward, leaning on Scripture verses like Philippians 4:13 and Joshua 1:9, whick is a key verse for Run for God. Johnson said she’s “blown away” that God would use something she’s comfortable doing—running—to help her with something she’s less comfortable with—leading in a public setting.

At the Priority 5K in Decatur, she had to take on a completely different role after injuring her foot just before the race. Rather than running with her group, she had to take a step back and cheer them on at the finish line. Johnson stood in the rain under a large umbrella, greeting her friends as they completed the run and handing out finisher’s medals.

Had she run herself, she said, she might have forgotten what the day was supposed to be about. Instead, she ran a different race that Saturday, one that, judging by the hugs she gave and received, was every bit as vital.

For more information about women’s ministry and missions opportunities across Illinois, go to IBSA.org/women or contact Carmen Halsey at (217) 391-3143 or CarmenHalsey@IBSA.org.

–Meredith Flynn

Exterior of a building with Education engraved in stone

I hadn’t intended college to be a particularly eye-opening experience. I was excited about my newfound freedom and interesting classes and those deep friendships everyone always talked about, but I was going someplace where I thought all those things would happen in the context of familiarity. My Southern Baptist college had felt like home during my first on-campus visit—that was what drew me there in the first place.

But at the start of my second semester, I sat with my Bible on the roof of the gymnasium (where the serious scholars went to study all night), wondering whether the loneliness and uncertainty I felt meant I had made the wrong decision in coming to a place six hours from home. Those good college things—the classes and the friends and the football games and the freedom—had all happened. But instead of feeling fulfilled, I was left with a bigger question, one that I now know most people that age, particularly younger Christians, probably face at one time or another: Who am I going to be?

I met people my own age who pushed me to a deeper investigation of what it means to be a Christian, no matter what job I would eventually choose.

A few years later when I graduated, I was glad I had been at that small college six hours from home as I tried to answer that big question. Because it was there that I found people with the knowledge, experience, and empathy to help young people navigate that tricky territory between the familiar and the future. Here are three things I still value about my Christian college experience:

1. A deeper faith identity. Raised in a minister’s home, I thought I had Christianity figured out (and, at 18, probably most everything else too). That’s why it was surprising, then convicting, to find other people my age who knew much more and felt much more about the call of Jesus on their lives than I did. And these weren’t just the kids that had committed to career ministry or missions—these were everyday students studying to be dentists, attorneys, and counselors. But they seemed to understand that the responsibility of a Christian to be, well, a Christian, extended far beyond one’s future vocation. They lived their faith in a way I wanted to, and their example pushed me to a deeper investigation of what it meant to be actually be a believer in Christ, no matter what job I would eventually choose.

2. Challenging, trustworthy professors. My first class on my first day of college was Old Testament Survey, taught by a young professor who would present four or five different theories about a difficult text and then say something like: “That’s what some people think. Here’s what I think.” Usually, his opinion was similar to one that he had presented. But by giving us the breadth of knowledge on a particular topic, he showed us young Bible scholars that it’s OK to wrestle with Scripture. At the same time, his daily, trustworthy counsel through the Bible gave us an anchor to come back to amid the multiple interpretations offered by the outside world.

3. Unrequired opportunities. Like many high school youth group kids, I started going to church because my parents drove me there, and I kept going because I had always gone. But in college, I didn’t have to be anywhere. Tuesday night Bible study wasn’t a necessity; neither was a Saturday mission project in our neighboring city. Learning to commit to things that weren’t required drove me to deeper discipline about how I spent my energy and time. The ministry activities that are most valuable, I learned in college, are the ones that root themselves in your mind and heart so that you are compelled to take part, even if no one would miss you if you weren’t there.

After I graduated, I moved to the Midwest to attend graduate school at a large state university. It was certainly different than where I had been. And that’s one more reason I’m grateful for my college experience: The foundation that God, through wise professors and leaders, had begun to lay for me carried me through the challenges of a truly unfamiliar place. And has continued to do so, all these years later.

– Meredith Flynn

A new Bible

ib2newseditor —  March 20, 2017

Like most Americans, I’ve always respected founding father Thomas Jefferson. But I was surprised, and frankly disappointed, to learn recently that in the latter years of his life, Jefferson actually constructed his own version of the Bible. He did so by literally cutting and pasting, with razor and glue, numerous sections of the New Testament, intentionally omitting the miracles and any mentions of the supernatural, including the resurrection of Jesus.

To be fair, Jefferson apparently didn’t refer to his reconstruction as a Bible, but rather titled it “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Yet over the years it has come to be commonly known as “The Jefferson Bible.”

In fact, from 1904 into the 1950’s, the Government Printing Office gave all new members of Congress a copy of the Jefferson Bible, and that practice was resumed by a private publisher in 1997. The American Humanist Association published its own edition of the Jefferson Bible in 2013, adding passages from the Quran, the Buddhist Sutras, the Book of Mormon, and other works, and distributing it to members of Congress as well as President Obama.

Bible readership

We as Southern Baptists should be truly grateful that, since 2004, our own LifeWay Christian Resources has stewarded its own original Bible translation from the original languages, the Holman Christian Standard Bible. And now, this month, LifeWay is introducing a revised and updated version, renamed simply the Christian Standard Bible (CSB).

Recently I was invited to LifeWay, along with other state executive directors, for an overview presentation of the new translation. In fact, it was there that the Jefferson Bible was used as an illustration of what can happen when God’s Word is not stewarded carefully, and faithfully. In the CSB, LifeWay has sought to balance the two most important aspects of Bible translation: accuracy and readability.

I came away from that presentation greatly encouraged, but also greatly challenged. You see, I also learned during this presentation that Bible ownership is not really the main problem today. 88% of American households own a Bible, and the average number of Bibles per household is 4.7. The real problem is that only 37% of Americans read the Bible once a week or more. With the CSB, LifeWay’s goal is not to sell more Bibles; it is to grow the number of people who read the Bible, and are spiritually transformed by it.

LifeWay has carefully studied the activities linked to true spiritual growth. And the number one activity contributing to spiritual growth is Bible reading (91%), followed by church attendance (87%), personal prayer life (85%), and being mentored by another mature believer (81%).

By providing a freshly updated translation, LifeWay is seeking to grow the number of people engaged in the activity that most often leads to spiritual growth—reading the Bible. In doing so, they have relentlessly preserved accuracy, calling on some of the world’s finest Bible scholars to serve on the translation committee. Yet they haven’t sacrificed readability. Rather, they have sought to carefully balance the two.

So I came home from LifeWay with a new Bible. I don’t really need one. I’m the son of a pastor and a school librarian, and I worked in Christian publishing for almost 20 years. I already have way more Bibles than the 4.7 average per household.

But this new Bible gives me a fresh incentive to delve more deeply and more frequently into God’s Word. It gives me a renewed appreciation for our friends at LifeWay who faithfully steward this translation. And it gives me a reason to give others a new copy of the Bible, and to pray that our reading of it will bring the true spiritual growth that God desires.

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

Follow the follower

ib2newseditor —  February 16, 2017

follow-jesus

Christian leadership training experts like to cite Jesus as an example of the best leader ever, Michael Kramer told Illinois Leadership Summit breakout attenders. While he agrees, the pastor also believes Jesus is an example of the best follower the world will ever see.

The education pastor from Immanuel Baptist in Benton based his claim on this: “Christ called us to be followers. Even Jesus followed the will of the Father. Jesus was the greatest follower and his disciples followed him… As followers we are to be deeply dependent on Jesus.”

As leaders, Kramer stressed, we are to follow the tenet of John 3:30—He must increase, I must decrease. “Our intake of Jesus must be greater than our outtake,” he said. “We need to be spending much time in the Word. Not time in sermon preparation, don’t count that.”

Kramer suggested several ways to increase private prayer time and Bible reading. “Read through the Bible in a year or read a Psalm a night. Download a Bible app and listen. Buy the Jesus Storybook Bible, it’s the most creative Bible I’ve come in contact with. It goes straight to the heart. Memorize a Bible verse a week.”

“Pray the Lord’s Prayer every morning before your feet hit the floor,” Kramer said. “Go away for a few hours or an even longer period of time once a month just for prayer.” Kramer will spend a few hours in the woods walking and talking with God. He also recommended praying through a prayer list with your spouse, children, or grandchildren

By increasing time spent with God, you begin to decrease your focus on self. “What’s it look like to decrease?” he asked. “When God wants to go after your heart he’s going to do it in an unexpected way. Christ is going to go after the places that he wants to claim in our hearts.”

Smart phones make smart disciplesMy faith was greatly impacted in college by a church that challenged me to be a student of the Bible. That love for personal Bible study has motivated me to become an advocate for biblical literacy—a need highlighted by a recent Lifeway Research study that found only 45% of regular church attenders read the Bible more than once a week.

Before becoming a pastor, I always viewed the main responsibility as preaching. But now I understand why the role isn’t called “Senior Preacher.” As a pastor, I have a responsibility to build stronger disciples in Jesus Christ, and that’s an impossible task apart from the Bible.

To help combat biblical illiteracy at our church, we have turned to an app called YouVersion. I think of it as an example of what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” YouVersion is a 21st century response to Paul’s approach.

With over 200 million downloads, the app is a helpful tool that any church can easily use. It’s free, can be carried on any smart phone or tablet (or accessed by a computer at bible.com), and offers valuable opportunities for biblical accountability and community.

A long-time church member stopped by my office last month and said, “I want to grow closer to the Lord.” After listening to his testimony of faith, I inquired about his personal devotional times. He admitted to not reading the Bible much, and so I asked him to pull out his phone. We quickly downloaded YouVersion, and got him started on a daily reading plan through the Gospel of John.

He texted me later that night to tell me he finished the entire book of John! “Should I just go onto Acts?” he asked. Since then, he has not only finished Acts for the first time, but is now re-reading it to gain a better understanding of the story. He credits his success to the ease of YouVersion.

We’ve used YouVersion with recent converts to Christ. I helped them get the download and choose a reading plan. This has provided these brand new believers with a clear plan and goal for their Bible reading.

As with other forms of social media, you can “friend” others through YouVersion. As you do, your homepage fills up with news of their progress through Bible plans or verses they highlighted. So I not only learn from my own Bible reading, but that of others in my church. And anytime one of my friends has been offline for a while, I know to check in with them.

Two weeks in a row, highlighted Scriptures from members of my church made their way into the messages I had been working on for that week. They were thrilled to know their personal study of the Bible had influenced my own.

Even my 10-year-old daughter switched to YouVersion on her Kindle last year and I use it to monitor and comment on her reading.

I also use my YouVersion newsfeed as a prayer list. As I see the names of friends and passages they’re studying, I pray for their study and usually let them know I’m praying. And watching comments between our members regarding a particular passage is a great encouragement to me as their pastor.

We as a church also use the YouVersion live component. This allows us to create “events” for each upcoming sermon. People can read the Scripture passage and interact through polls, or by posting comments or questions. And again, it’s 100% free.

I should tell you, YouVersion doesn’t pay me for my advocacy. I’m merely sharing how this Bible app has had an impact on our church. Like many churches, we’re often slow adopters when it comes to technology. And while a digital Bible is no better than a traditional Bible, it’s time we used every opportunity available to us in building biblically literate believers in Jesus Christ.

Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

Teaching Sunday School

Lisa Sergent —  February 22, 2016

I have the privilege and challenge of attending a different church almost every week, but this past month I was able to attend my home church two weeks in a row. The first week, at the end of our Sunday school class, our teacher announced that he and his wife would be gone the following Sunday, and asked if any of us were available to substitute.

Our eyes met, and he smiled and said, “I don’t guess you will be here next Sunday.” I replied that actually I would, and a few minutes later I was walking out the door with his teacher’s book under my arm.

Teaching Sunday schoolI love teaching Sunday school. I’ve done my best to learn to preach over the years, but I’m really more at home in a classroom setting. I love the process of studying and organizing a lesson, of thinking through its most relevant, real life applications, and then planning creative illustrations or exercises that will help everyone take home some practical help.

But it’s more than just the teaching process that always made me love leading a Sunday school class. It’s living life with a small group of people week in and week out. It’s coming together outside class for fellowship and ministry. It’s doing missions projects together. And it’s making our class so fun and inviting and loving that we have lots of opportunities to welcome others in, and even send some of them out to do the same thing elsewhere.
That one week I got to teach Sunday school, I really only got to do the teaching part. Most of the rest of those benefits only come with consistent, loving investment in a group of people over time.

But the Lord did give us a special moment during that lesson. Our text in 2 Corinthians spoke of the burdens and hardships that Paul was carrying for the sake of the gospel. It wasn’t in the curriculum, but in my notes I had simply written the question, “Are we carrying any burdens or enduring any hardships for the sake of the gospel?”

When I framed that question for the group, I made it clear that I wasn’t just looking for a list of minor inconveniences, or for the self-absorbed whining in which we can readily engage. I asked them what burdens or hardships they were currently facing because they longed for someone to know Christ.

Frankly, I didn’t expect a lot of response. Sometimes teachers ask questions simply to create reflection or allow for conviction. But in the hallowed moments that followed, several in the class shared with quiet emotion the difficulties they were currently facing while trying to lead someone they loved to Christ, or back to Christ.

After a few minutes of sharing, we encouraged one another, and urged one another “not to give up,” as Paul had written. Paul labeled his own afflictions “momentary” and “light” compared to the glory that is waiting for us. And as our class shared our own burdens with one another in the context of God’s Word, we felt them get lighter as well. We walked out of that class with renewed determination and optimism. Now that’s Sunday school.

My one week back in teaching Sunday school reminded me again how powerful and transformational small group Bible study can be. And it gave me a renewed appreciation for my own Sunday school teacher, Matt, and for the thousands of faithful men and women that lead Bible studies in our churches every week.

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