Archives For Christ

The Green Wave

Lisa Misner —  August 5, 2019

By Meredith Flynn

Legal pot use will be a growing challenge for Illinois churches

When Illinois lawmakers legalized recreational marijuana in June, many lauded the fulfillment of one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s campaign promises, and the potential for millions in tax revenue to aid the financially ailing state.

Others, like Pastor Steve Ohl, grieved the decision’s potential impact on Illinoisans. Ohl is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenview; he also leads an addiction support group.

“When I was into drugs and alcohol, there was a void in my heart and I was trying to fill it anyway I could,” the pastor said. Ohl urged pastors to recognize many people in their pews and communities are struggling to fill their own heart-voids, and the road to recovery will probably be harder with easier access to pot.

Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana use on January 1, 2020, so now is the time to look to states where pot is legal, for both the impact on communities and the ministry challenges for churches.

Highs and lows

West Coast examples
Pastor Dave Seaford is well-versed in marijuana culture and its effect on a community. In the Emerald Triangle of northern California, Humboldt County is a pot mecca, with a climate right for growing and the nearest police force more than an hour away. When the hippies left San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, Seaford said, they came here to build communes and grow their own marijuana.

The region where Seaford has ministered over the past five years was a center for illegal pot prior to California’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2018. Today, legal business is booming, and people come to Humboldt from around the world to “trim product” and otherwise benefit from the industry.

But life in the region is hard, said Seaford, who pastors First Baptist Church in Redway. The Netflix series “Murder Mountain” chronicles life in his county, where drug users scream to themselves on the streets, and stories abound of pot workers being held in shipping containers, some never to be heard from again.

Redway used to be logging and fisheries, Seaford said, with a quiet, easy, joyful lifestyle. It had its own culture apart from the marijuana industry. “How quickly that has turned.”

Illinois is unlikely to become the next Emerald Triangle, but Seaford warned Illinois pastors to prepare now for the coming challenges, and new opportunities for life-changing work.

“This is a terrible place to live,” he said of his community. “But it’s an incredible place to do ministry.”

The heart of the matter
Derk Schulze’s time in the Emerald Triangle began in 1980, when he moved to Arcata, Ca., to attend Humboldt State University. Marijuana is a catalyst for how people in the region live, think, and worship, Schulze said. His decades in the region are evident as he explains the network of cause-and-effect scenarios that led to the culture he ministers in today.

First, old industries collapsed, pushing some small-scale farmers toward the pot business, which grew as an illegal enterprise until 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Little by little, the culture shifted until acceptance of marijuana use was widespread. Once the state’s medical marijuana policies were in place, doctors in Arcata freely gave out “215 cards” (named for the statute that legalized medical marijuana) to anyone who came in with a complaint, Schulze said.

Medical professionals couldn’t keep up with monitoring the effects of the drug on patients, and officials were overwhelmed to the point of not enforcing pot possession laws if the person in question had a 215 card. They did, however, enforce federal drug trafficking laws. Jails were overcrowded, leading politicians to push for the legalization of recreational marijuana, which also promised more tax revenue.

In 2018, recreational pot became legal in California. Schulze said the arrival of the new law forced local farmers out and brought in groups looking to make a big profit. “Murder Mountain” is a sensationalized view of what has happened to his community, Schulze said, but, “It’s not a safe situation. You don’t get out of your car in certain areas.”

Marijuana is so entrenched in the culture, the pastor said, that churches can’t afford to take a temperance view on it “because the law just makes for more lawbreakers.

“The law’s not going to solve it either, because it’s a worldview heart issue,” Schulze said. “People are just as vigilant and set in their thinking about being pro-marijuana culture, as a Christian is for the kingdom.

“We have to address the heart.”
His church decided to set up their parking lot as a sanctuary for the many travelers in and to Arcata. One day, a yellow RV painted with the word “Miracle” arrived bearing a couple with a young child. The woman was pregnant with what she said God had told her were twin girls. She had a boy instead, and Schulze’s church ministered to the couple—both marijuana users at the time—and built relationships with them based on biblical truth. The couple came to Christ, and the man was later called into pastoral ministry.

The couple wouldn’t have been received at any other church in the area, Schulze said, because of the way they smelled, dressed, and talked. But his church was willing to get to the heart of the matter.

“We can proclaim the gospel and the good news, and true freedom, because that’s what a lot of people are looking to have by smoking marijuana,” Schulze said. They’re looking for deliverance, he added, from pain, anxiety, and a lack of true joy.

“We have a better salve, and that is a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Schulze encourages pastors to have conversations with proponents of marijuana, to try to uncover the underlying motive for what they do.

“We have to get to the root. We have to extract the hidden sin, the hidden issue. We have to identity that, and when we do that, the gospel speaks to that.
“Then, you get transformation. Not conformity.”

Offer real answers
Despite their challenging environment, Pastor Seaford’s church has seen numerous spiritual victories. People are trusting Christ and being baptized, some of whom were previously part of the industry. But marijuana has so permeated the culture that a lot of people don’t want to live there anymore. FBC Redway has seen more salvations and baptisms in the last five years than at any point in their history, Seaford said. But most people don’t—or can’t—stay.

The church’s most effective ministry is its partnership with a local shelter. They offer theology classes through the Eureka Rescue Mission’s discipleship program, trying to get to the spiritual need at the root of drug use. The focus is on apologetics, a specialty of Seaford’s.

Some people assume the addled brain of a drug user can’t handle deep spiritual truths, the pastor said. The opposite is true. “We need to present the truth of the gospel, and we need to do it at a level that their questions are genuinely answered,” he said. “These guys want real answers.”

Of course, detox is a real need too, which is why FBC Redway works with the rescue mission. Seaford encouraged pastors in Illinois to seek out similar partners. He also urged church leaders to prepare for ministry opportunities by shoring up their own theological training.

“I believe it’s absolutely essential that we’re prepared to give people real answers,” he said. “Many times, they’re in the situation they’re in because they had no spiritual hope to begin with.”

Bryan Hall entered the rescue mission’s residential program 14 years ago, after many years of drug use that started with pot in junior high.

He was radically saved 25 years ago, Hall said, but fell back into drugs multiple times over the years, punctuated by several arrests and stints in jail. It was an act of honesty that ultimately led to his deliverance, Hall said. Led by God to confess to a crime he had committed, he was inexplicably granted probation instead of a mandatory sentence. He started at the mission soon after, weeping on his first day in the program when a chaplain taught from the Bible.

Hall is now executive director of the Eureka Rescue Mission, a non-profit completely supported by private donations. He directs the mission’s ministry to homeless and addicted people, including partnering with Seaford to offer Scriptural truth through systematic theology classes for men and women.

The answer to reaching addicts is really easy, Hall said. “It’s got to be love.” The only way to reach somebody in drug addiction is developing a loving relationship with them.

“I think that the reasoning behind a lot of drug use, marijuana, is that people are just trying to feel good. They live on feelings, not conviction,” Hall said. Some people come to Christ and keep smoking pot, but over a period of time, he said, they set it aside. “It’s sanctification.”

The theme of the mission’s work is changed lives, and they’re seeing that happen all the time, Hall said. People are getting jobs, going to church, and loving the Lord. They’re becoming salt and light in a very challenging culture.

“It’s really amazing to see someone who just wanted to get clean and sober start to come alive in Christ because some of their questions get answered.”

Be ready to help
In Gunnison, Colo., a small college town of 6,500, legalization of recreational and medical marijuana use in 2014 has made an already pot-friendly culture even more challenging for churches. “We have a significant degree of poverty in our community, which our church feels called to alleviate,” said Pastor Tom Burggraf. “As we try to help families financially and spiritually, it is rare we find someone stuck in long-term poverty that is not also suffering from addiction to alcohol or drugs.”

Burggraf, a bivocational pastor who is also on staff at the local university, says it appears that legalization has increased use among those already on drugs. But from his involvement with young adults, Burggraf cites increased first-time drug use. “It’s another substitute-savior that is now more accessible to those searching for rescue in places where it cannot be found.

“We are investing heavily in Celebrate Recovery,” he said.

That tactic may be an answer for many more churches soon. Steve Ohl already leads a Celebrate Recovery group at Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman. He got involved when he was a member there, before accepting the pastorate in Greenview.

Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12-step program focused on helping people deal with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” The ministry started in 1991 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca. Groups now meet in 35,000 churches around the world, but each has the same DNA: large-group worship, testimonies from people whose lives have been changed, and discussion time in smaller, gender-specific groups.

“When I was struggling, the main thing I needed was somebody to be there for me, to just listen to me and not to judge me,” Ohl said. “I knew that I was having a struggle, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to get the help I really needed.”

Over the past four years, Ohl has seen people get that help through Celebrate Recovery. One member accepted Christ and was baptized at the church.

With legal pot coming to Illinois in less than six months, Ohl urged fellow pastors to research recovery groups and programs in their area, so they have resources to steer people toward when they need help.

“There’s going to be somebody sitting in their congregations struggling with this,” Ohl said, “and pastors need to be ready when they come to talk to them about it.”

By Adron Robinson

Read: Colossians 3:1-4

Ask 10 different people to define what it means to be a Christian and you will probably get 10 different answers. The name Christian is often claimed in our culture today, but the corresponding lifestyle is often absent. This disparity has left many confused on what authentic Christianity looks like.

Christianity is an external demonstration of the internal reality that by faith we have been united with Christ and hidden in him. Our position in Christ is the foundation and motivation for our daily walk in the world. That’s what the Apostle Paul wants the church at Colossae to understand; faith must have a function.

We live in a world full of doubt, disagreement, and downright evil. And the only answer to the ills of this world is the transformational power of the gospel.

Our family members, neighbors, co-workers, and friends need to see living displays of the resurrected life. We need to invite them into our homes and our dinner tables and let them see what compassion looks like, what forgiveness looks like, and what love looks like. We need to talk to them and not at them, to listen to their concerns and their struggles. We need to offer them the hope of the gospel along with a loving display of the gospel.

Many of them won’t come to church, so the church needs to go to them and display the resurrected life.

They will never stop cursing people out by their own power. They will never stop gambling away their savings by their own power. They will never stop lusting by their own power. They need the power that is greater than willpower. They need resurrection power! But if we don’t live the resurrected life, how can we expect to resurrect a dead culture?

Prayer Prompt: God, we were born in sin, yet by your grace you made us alive through faith in Christ. Now help us to live in light of the resurrection so that others may believe in you.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

By Autumn Wall

Family vacation on the water

It’s summertime, and that means family vacation! The danger in vacation is that we tend to check out of every part of life—and that’s not helpful for Christians. Here are a few ways to keep Christ at the center of your time away.

1. Build time with Jesus into your day. Read through a Bible book with your family, or talk about what you’re studying individually. For kids, take along some Bible videos or search for a kid-focused devotional to watch together.

2. Pray together (not just over your food). Ask each person to share one thing they are struggling with in their relationship with God, and one way they are doing well. Don’t critique or lecture, just pray with them for what is on their hearts. And don’t forget to share yours too. Kids need to hear that parents struggle, but they take it to Jesus.

3. Visit a church! Find a Bible-teaching church in the area where you’re vacationing and attend worship there. Teach your children that gathering with the people of God is not something we do because we know and love the people, but because we know and love Jesus.

4. Plan a one-hour outreach. Share Jesus on the beach; take a homeless person to lunch; create encouraging notes to give to waiters, gas station attendants, or hotel hosts.

5. Secretly pay for someone’s meal. Leave a note that says, “Enjoy your lunch today on us! We are praying for you.” Then pray for them!

Autumn Wall and her husband are planting a church in Indianapolis. She is coauthor with her mother, Diana Davis, of “Across the Street and Around the World: Ideas to Spark Missional Focus” (New Hope Publishers).

Called to comfort

Lisa Misner —  June 27, 2019

By Adron Robinson

Read: 2 Corinthians 1:3–5, ESV

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

One of the amazing things about God is that in his providence, he never wastes anything. God uses every part of our journey in life to conform us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-29).

Paul tells the Corinthians that God uses our afflictions as a means for his ministry in us. The Apostle reminds us that when Christians are afflicted, God comforts us. That truth is a blessing to all who face affliction: the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort has promised to minister to us in the midst of our affliction. Truly he is a good, good Father, for he never leaves us or forsakes us.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He tells us that God’s comfort is not for us to keep to ourselves. Like all of his blessings, God intends for us to share with others that which we have received from him. We are called to comfort others with the comfort we have received from God. (Count the number of times “comfort” appears in the three verses in our focal passage.)

Someone near you is facing an affliction that you have been through. God calls you to comfort them with the comfort you received from God. You didn’t think you would make it, but God gave you strength. You felt like giving up, but God gave you endurance. You almost quit, but God gave you a future and hope. Now, share what God has given you with someone in need. You were comforted to be comforter.

Prayer Prompt: God of all comfort and mercies, thank you for always providing what we need and for always being more than enough. Help us, Father, to reflect your love by comforting others with the comfort we have received from you. Amen.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

Three Illinois girls

Lisa Misner —  June 24, 2019

By Nate Adams

This month it is my privilege to officiate the wedding ceremony of our youngest son, Ethan, and his fiancée, Alyssa. They will be married in Elgin, where they first met as Judson University students six years ago, and where my wife, Beth, and I also met more than forty years ago.

Our middle son, Noah, is also married to an Alyssa, and so we will gladly navigate that potential confusion at family get togethers. They met in high school, however, here in Springfield, not long after I came to serve at IBSA.

And our oldest son, Caleb, literally met his wife, Laura, at IBSA. They were in high school at the time, though it wasn’t until a few years later that they reconnected for good. Both Laura’s mom, Melissa, and I worked at IBSA. One summer we dragged our two reluctant college students to the IBSA family picnic. They started writing letters, and now they’ve been married six years.

Especially as parents who mainly know boys, Beth and I are so grateful for these three young ladies who have become our daughters. All are devoted Christ-followers who love the Lord and are active with our sons in local Baptist churches. Each one is delightful, gifted, and unique. And we are especially blessed with the genuine friendship these six young adults have with one another—and with us.

And so, I want to say thank you. Thank you first to the Lord, of course, who sovereignly brought these three couples together in his perfect timing. But thank you also to the IBSA Board and the larger Illinois Baptist family, who more than thirteen years ago called me to bring a wife, three teenage sons, and a slightly quirky dog to serve the churches of Illinois. As I occasionally remind each of our sons, we have prayed for their future wives since before they were born. As it turns out, all of them were here in Illinois.

As our youngest son marries, I’m finding grace in unlikely places.

As we discussed wedding preparations, each of our sons and their fiancées asked me to make sure that their marriage ceremonies contained clear gospel presentations. They asked me to underscore that Christ is the center of their relationships, and that by his grace he will be the lifelong foundation of their marriages. What a privilege it is to prepare a marriage ceremony with that charge.

There were a number of challenging topics that I considered writing about this month. The Southern Baptist Convention will convene in Birmingham and face several difficult issues, including recent accusations of sex abuse in churches and even by missionaries. Leaders will seek the best paths forward for effectively helping prevent the travesty of sex abuse in churches.

Also, at the end of their May session, the Illinois legislature approved the “Reproductive Health Act” that legalizes abortion through nine months of pregnancy, requires all insurance to cover abortions, and allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions. This appalling legislation is a major setback to the pro-life movement in Illinois. The action stands in stark contrast to recent legislation in states including Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama that have sought to limit or end abortion.

So it’s a tough month for Southern Baptists in Illinois. But right in the middle of that, I get to celebrate this wedding, this testimony to the gospel message and to Christ and his church. I get to welcome this wonderful young lady into our family, and watch our son be welcomed into hers. And I get to remember that God called me here to this often tough Midwest mission field, and that his grace and provision are still evident, in at least three Illinois girls.

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

By Nathan Carter

Like a growing number of churches, The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., cancelled services the Sunday after Christmas. Pastor J.D. Greear took some heat on social media for the decision, but should he? What’s wrong with skipping a lightly attended service and giving everyone a break after the holidays? What about the growing practice of occasionally cancelling a Sunday service in order to send the people into the community for outreach projects? Should we ever cancel “church”?

In order to answer the question, there are at least two prior questions we must settle in our minds:

First, is a weekly gathering on Sunday commanded by God? Regular Sunday services are a firmly established part of the Christian tradition. There is strong historical warrant for gathering on Sundays, but is it a biblical requirement?

The answer to that question depends largely on whether we believe the Old Testament commandment about Sabbath-keeping teaches an inherent seven-day rhythm to time and the setting aside of one day in seven for special use. Some Christians will point out that the fourth commandment is the only one that is not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. Others will argue that it was never explicitly annulled.

Is it OK to cancel services now and then?

It is clear that Christians are commanded not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25). And there is an assumption throughout the New Testament that believers come together for meetings (see 1 Cor. 11, 14; James 2:2). But where did we get the idea that this expectation applies to every Sunday at the very least?

Well, Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week and met with his gathered disciples that evening (John 20:19) and again on the next Sunday (John 20:26). In Acts 20 we read that Paul was in Troas for seven days and it was on the first day of the week that the believers all gathered together. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says to collect an offering “on the first day of every week.” Are these examples prescriptive, or merely descriptive? That’s an interpretative decision. Wherever we land, we must at least admit that the case for first day observance cannot be easily dismissed.

The second question we must consider is this: What is the purpose of the Sunday gathering?

We’ve all probably wrestled at some point with whether Sundays are for the saints to be edified or outsiders to be evangelized. I think we must answer, “Both!” Paul envisioned unbelievers having an encounter with God after walking in on Christians worshiping and ministering to each other (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Even more fundamentally, however, we must reckon with the very essence of what it means to be the church. Most scholars agree that the word “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly.” This would imply that when the church assembles it is being most true to its identity.

So is gathering together simply one (among many) practical means of achieving edification and/or evangelization? Or is holding a public meeting a declaration of what it means to be the church, sinners reconciled to God and each other through the blood of Christ? These are important questions church leaders must resolve in their minds before calling off a corporate gathering.

My conviction is that there is something sacred to Sundays, not as a legalistic box to check to be right with God, but as a time for the church to gather as the people of God and be regularly reminded of what indeed makes us righteous and what alone has the power to save—the work of Christ. If workers need a break, find temporary replacements or schedule a simpler service. Cancel Christmas Eve, but stick with Sundays. And if only two or three show up, his presence is still among us.

Nathan Carter pastors Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

The gift of presence

Lisa Misner —  December 24, 2018

By Nate Adams

Not long ago, my wife, Beth, and I were discussing whether or not to try and attend a wedding to which we had been invited. It was a considerable distance from our home and required a couple of nights in a hotel, driving and meal expenses, and at least one vacation day.

Though we both wanted to go, and felt we should, I found myself asking, “I wonder if the couple would rather have the money that we would spend on travel as a wedding gift?”

It’s not the first time I’ve asked that kind of question, and it probably won’t be the last. I remember international missionaries once telling me that a church had spent $50,000 to send a large mission team halfway around the world to serve with them for a few days.

They were grateful for the help and encouraged by the fellowship. But they also shared with me candidly, “We couldn’t help but think how much more we could have accomplished here with $50,000 if they had stayed home and just sent the money.”
Experiences like these underscore the sometimes difficult question, “How much is someone’s physical presence worth?” Or, to state it more casually and commonly, “Shall I go, or just send something?”

And of course, when the question presents itself at the time of someone’s death, it often has the additional pressure of urgency, since there is often little advance notice and little time to make a good decision about going. I still remember fondly and with great appreciation the people who traveled distances to attend my dad’s funeral. And I remember a funeral from almost 40 years ago that I still regret missing today.

How much is someone’s physical presence worth? It’s an excellent, spiritual question to ponder during this Advent season. Could Jesus have just “sent” the gift of salvation, without coming personally? Could he have dispatched someone else to the cross, or was it supremely, eternally important that he be there himself?

I think we miss something incredibly important if we celebrate salvation without celebrating incarnation. On that holy night when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he chose not just to be present with us, but to become one of us. Through Jesus, God entered in to our condition not just with sympathy, but with immeasurable sacrifice.

At Christmas, we celebrate God’s love and amazing grace in choosing to become human, in choosing to embrace mortality for the sake of our immortality. How much was the physical presence of Jesus worth? It was worth everything. It was worth our eternal lives.

By the way, eventually my wife and I did decide to attend that distant wedding. We decided to do so after remembering some of the older adults that traveled distances to attend our own wedding. We remembered wondering, at the time, why they went to such trouble. But now, decades later, we remember very few of their wedding gifts. But we still remember their presence.

There’s a worship song that says, in part, “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sins upon that cross.” That’s certainly true. And yet I wonder if we don’t reflect more on the gift of salvation than we do the very presence of “God with us” in the incarnation.

As great as the gift of salvation is, that gift is simply an expression of how much God loves us and is willing to sacrifice to be with us, both now on earth and throughout eternity in heaven. The value of his very presence eclipses even the value of his wonderful gift.

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