Archives For Christ

Missional impact in your state

Lisa Misner —  September 13, 2019

By Paul Chitwood

Paul-Chitwood-webMy first international mission trip took place on a farm in central Kentucky.

As a new pastor in the community, I often found myself interacting with migrant workers from Central and South America. I soon realized that most were spiritually lost.

From conversations with farmers, I learned many of them were as concerned as I was about the eternal state of the souls of these (mostly) men who were so far away from their homes and families.

As we began to pull together churches in our association and piece together a plan to begin a migrant ministry, we found an organization ready and eager to help us: our Baptist state convention. With the assistance of our state convention staff, we were soon seeing people from all over Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua come to Christ — though we never left Kentucky.

Ministries in our 41 Southern Baptist state conventions vary from state to state, but their mission is the same: help churches reach their state and our world for Christ.

As we enter the fall of the year, most of our state conventions are promoting their annual state mission offering to support these vital ministries. My family will be giving to support the work in our state. As grateful and enthusiastic as I am for Southern Baptists’ support of international missions, I’m also thankful for and supportive of the ministry and mission work of our state conventions.

From my past experience as a pastor and state mission leader, I have seen firsthand the missional impact of state convention ministries. Where I served in Kentucky, more than 100 missionaries in the state receive varying levels of support for their work.

Ministries to refugees, migrants and ethnic minorities often are led or assisted by state convention team members and resources. State conventions help facilitate church planting, church strengthening and revitalization efforts as well as provide evangelism training and coordinate disaster relief ministry. In many states, collegiate work is led by the state convention and support is also provided for the ministry of local Baptist associations.

One of our adopted daughters was rescued and kept safe by our state convention’s orphan and foster care ministry before she came into our family. The lives of unborn children are being saved by crisis pregnancy centers that are often funded, in part, by the state convention. Several state conventions are actively involved in lobbying efforts for legislation to protect unborn children from the horror of abortion.

Many state conventions provide training and funding for prison ministries, through which inmates are hearing the Gospel, trusting Christ and being baptized by local churches. Women in the adult entertainment industry are being shown pathways to freedom and salvation, and churches are equipped for ministry to the homeless and those suffering addiction.

Across America, people are finding new life in Christ as churches work together through their state convention ministries. In addition to your church’s ongoing Cooperative Program support, your annual state mission offering is an opportunity for Great Commission and Great Commandment giving. Will you join my family and be a part of what God is doing through these ministries by giving through your state mission offering this year?

This week is the Week of Prayer for State Missions in Illinois. Learn more about MissionIllinois.org.

Paul Chitwood is president of Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board and a former executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Reprinted from Baptist Press.

Day 6 Missions Mobilization

Mission trips are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, every time you go. IBSA’s Carmen Halsey trains volunteers to share Christ in new environments. And more than 20,000 Illinois Baptists serve each year.

Pray for IBSA’s mission mobilizers. Pray about your personal commitment to missions nearby and far away.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

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.