Archives For Family

Unintended family histories

ib2newseditor —  January 23, 2017

My wife, Beth, is definitely the gift-giving genius in our family. She has, I believe, the spiritual gift of giving, and so she is not only generous, but also has a knack for choosing gifts that are personal, useful, meaningful, and often even frugal. But this year, it seems, I got lucky, and thought of a pretty neat gift for her.

Just a couple of days before Christmas, I was scrambling to put together our annual family Christmas letter. For 24 years now, since our youngest son Ethan was born, we have produced a two-page letter with an overall family update on the front page, and individual updates on the back page.

Beth provides the raw content for the letter, and then I work at making it humorous or at least interesting. Unfortunately, multiple moves and computer changes over the years had left us without copies of many of the older letters, the ones that described little boys and grade schoolers rather than college students and young men.

There’s a sense in which our churches today, now walking in the light of fully revealed Scripture, continue to add their own pages to the story of God’s faithfulness to his people, his family.

So I set out to find all the old computer files, to update and repair the documents the best I could, to recreate the pieces that were missing, and to print them out fresh, or photocopy the originals I could find. On Christmas morning, I presented Beth with a complete notebook of those letters, all carefully protected in clear plastic sleeves, and with front and back covers decorated with photos of our growing family across the years.

I kind of hoped that Beth would like the gift, and I thought our kids might eventually like copies too. So I made extra copies while I was at it, but only wrapped one to place under the tree. As soon Beth opened it, not only did she love it, but it became the conversation piece of Christmas.

Our sons and daughters-in-law quickly asked for turns reading it, and asked if they could get their own copies some time. That’s when I had the fun of retrieving books for each of them from the next room. To my surprise, all other gift opening came to a halt, as we all sat and paged through our family’s journey from little boys to big boys, from Illinois to Georgia and back to Illinois, from trips in America to trips abroad, and from one year of God’s faithfulness to another.

I’ve been reflecting since then on how surprisingly valuable and precious this last-minute gift was, and why it has continued to captivate our family’s attention. As a gift, it was much more than a flurry of searching, typing, printing, and inserting. It was an unintended family history, a series of annual mileposts that traced our journey as a family for a quarter century.

My thoughts turned from our family’s story, to the Christmas story, to the stories of the Bible, and ultimately to the fact that the Bible itself is essentially a family history of God and his people. None of its authors, though divinely inspired, could see very clearly beyond their own time in history and their own chapter of faithfulness. But once Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s revelation, early church fathers could compile and preserve all those chapters into one wonderful notebook that we now rightly call the Holy Bible.

There’s a sense in which our churches today, now walking in the light of fully revealed Scripture, continue to add their own pages to the story of God’s faithfulness to his people, his family. As I discovered this Christmas, we may not fully realize the history we are writing until we have an opportunity to look back. But looking back should make us want to write this year’s chapter with great care.

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

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We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

Standing on the promises

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Donald Trump (left), Mike Pence (right)

A third of Americans (34%) think Donald Trump will be a “good” or “very good” president, while 23% say “average” and 36% expect a “poor” performance. The survey by CBS News was conducted the second week of December, after Trump began announcing cabinet appointments.

The ratings fall along party lines: 70% of Republicans expect a good presidency, while 60% of Democrats predict poor results. That means evangelicals, who mostly supported Trump, have high expectations—but for what?

Religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, on her Washington Post blog, points to a half-dozen areas where Trump’s campaign promises intersect with evangelical interests. Some are the expected areas involving religious liberty. The nomination of Supreme Court justices who will uphold pro-life legislation topped the list. Trump also said he would defund Planned Parenthood, sign a bill that forbids abortions after 20 weeks, and make the Hyde Amendment permanent. It prohibits use of federal funds for most abortions. And Trump has expressed support for a group of nuns who have battled provisions in the Obama Affordable Care Act that mandate contraception as part of an organization’s health care plan. Southern Baptists have supported their lawsuit.

Trump promised to repeal the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the U.S. tax code, which prevents pastors from endorsing or opposing political candidates, or else lose their church’s tax exempt status. And he has taken a position on education funding that allows families to choose private, charter, or home schooling, with a promise to set aside $20 billion for vouchers in his first budget.

The U.S. will be a “true friend to Israel,” Trump said, a position common among evangelicals favoring Israeli interests over others in the Middle East and urging movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Many Southern Baptists would support these actions, if they came to pass. For SBC leaders who have been in contact with the future administration, the Trump presidency represents a new way of thinking about the White House. Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Southern Baptists in general have viewed Republican administrations as allies in the causes of pro-life, families and marriage, and religious liberty. They have, at the least, been sympathetic to evangelical causes, and even co-laborers in the faith. (Remember the stories of George and Laura Bush singing hymns at the White House piano with Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the keyboard?) Democratic presidents, on the other hand, have often been at odds with evangelicals’ causes, even if they claimed to be Baptists, as in the case of Bill Clinton.

Donald Trump represents a third way of relating to the White House: a president who made promises to evangelicals and drew their support at the polls, but who shares no apparent faith commitment with the born-again community. (There are no stories of Trump walking on the beach with Billy Graham and committing his life to Christ. And the tycoon-turned-president has said he sees no need to ask for forgiveness for his sins.)

The evangelicals closest to Trump, including incoming vice president Mike Pence, take on the role of Joseph in Egypt—keeping the interests of God’s people before pharaoh, hoping to keep his ear and hold him to his promises.

High hopes for high court

Some voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump said they did so because of concern for the U.S. Supreme Court. The February death of Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacancy, and three of the Justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 83, Anthony M. Kennedy, 80, Stephen G. Breyer, 78—may be looking toward retirement in the next few years.

Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson supported Trump. He told Christianity Today, “The next president will nominate perhaps three or more justices whose judicial philosophy will shape our country for generations to come.”

A LifeWay Research survey found 23% of evangelical pastors were most concerned about the candidates’ likely Supreme Court nominees. And 36% of Trump-supporting pastors cited the high court as a major factor in their choice.

Trump released a list of his potential Supreme Court nominees—20 judges and one senator, Mike Lee of Utah. Each met two criteria: they are pro-life and support the Second Amendment. The list was vetted and reviewed by the Federalist Society, which is comprised of conservative and libertarian lawyers, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Commentator Denny Burk told Baptist Press the list “does not alleviate the concerns that many of us have about his candidacy.” Because Trump didn’t promise to pick someone from the list, Burk said, “The list means nothing….And we are again being asked to trust the judgment of a man who changes his positions daily…” Burk is professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.

Reince Priebus, future White House Chief of Staff, told radio host Hugh Hewitt on December 14 that the President-Elect will likely name Scalia’s replacement near the January 20 inauguration.

Priebus said Trump may choose a younger nominee. “Well, I tend to believe younger is better, too, but I can tell you what the president (elect) believes is that the most qualified, best person to serve on the Supreme Court is what’s most important….Certainly longevity’s a factor, but it’s just a factor. Competence and having the best possible person nominated is what’s most important.”

Tension between leaders, pews

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Russell Moore

The 2016 presidential campaign and election exposed deeper divides than many knew existed in the U.S.­­—and within evangelicalism. White evangelical voters overwhelmingly supported Trump, even while some of their leaders voiced their opposition.

As Wheaton College’s Ed Stetzer said after the election, “The evangelical leadership is out of touch with the evangelical rank-and-file,” during a Christianity Today podcast.
Tension over the election appears to be at least part of a rift between some Baptists and the SBC’s public policy entity, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

In November, Louisiana Baptists voted to ask their convention’s executive board to study recent actions of the ERLC.

Will Hall, editor of the state’s Baptist Message newspaper, noted that the motion did not elaborate on the issues of concern, “but ERLC President Russell Moore has come under fire nationally from Southern Baptist laymen and leaders for a number of controversial actions and statements, including…his aggressive attacks on Southern Baptists who supported Donald Trump.”

Moore, who has led the ERLC since 2013, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in May in which he said the election “has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country.” His article caught the attention of Trump, who tweeted that Moore was a “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals.”

The op-ed also sparked a fervent debate on the SBC Voices blog, where Baptists posted a variety of opinions on Moore, from “he did what we pay him to do,” to “it is difficult for me to imagine Russell Moore functioning as ERLC President if Trump wins in November.”

The questions about Moore and the ERLC are just one example of the impact the 2016 election could have on religious organizations and denominations, and on the nature of Christian leadership. The tension leaders face, Ed Stetzer said, is between recognizing the responsibility to speak prophetically, and realizing they represent a constituency who largely feel very differently than they do.

For Christian leaders, their influence in the next four years may well depend on how well they strike the balance.

empty-frame2The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas always ignites the stress of finding just the right gifts for loved ones and friends.

The reality is that Christmas in America is more of a commercial event than a religious holiday. Decrying commercialism won’t change things much, but there are some ideas to make your holiday season a more spiritual experience for your family.

Let me recommend an amazing gift you can give this year that will have long-lasting impact.

I propose that you write your conversion story.
You could print it on parchment paper and perhaps frame it as a gift, or just write it as a letter. OK, so your kids and grandkids will want something more but, in the end, your story will be the greatest gift they receive.

As Christians, we need to leave a legacy of faith to our families. This could be a wonderful way to tell your faith story to your family. Title it your “Legacy of Faith.”
Here is an outline of how you might approach writing your story. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just share your story from your heart. And be sure to sign it when you finish.

Place your life in context.
For me, I can tell my family of the rich spiritual heritage I enjoy because of the faith of their great-grandparents and grandparents. I can tell of the spiritual umbrella that was cast over our home because of the living faith in Christ and unreserved commitment to the church displayed in our home.

Your story may be different. The context of your journey may be filled with brokenness and pain. Share your story with truth while not glorifying your past.

Relate what led to your decision to follow Christ.
I cannot remember a time I did not love Jesus. As a child, I knew the plan of salvation. Yet, one morning in Sunday school, my teacher told us the story of the cross and said, “Boys and girls, someday you will give your heart to Jesus and trust him as your savior.”

At that moment, the Holy Spirit made the reality of my sin and Jesus’ death on the cross for my sin collide. I made the decision then to ask Jesus to forgive me and become my savior. I went forward in the service that morning, but I really decided to follow Jesus in Sunday school.

Share your faith journey since your decision.
What are the ways you have learned to follow Jesus? How has Christ made a difference in your life? What are some of the life situations you have faced when Christ has walked through with you? There may have been times of financial struggle, sickness, or death. How has Christ blessed you and your family throughout your Christian life?

My life is transformed day by day as I follow Jesus. As I learned to feed on his Word and communicate with him through prayer, he became my forever friend. In every circumstance, I know I have a friend who will walk with me. Space will not allow me to elaborate, but you get the picture.

Even if your family members are younger and do not understand the significance of the gift you place in their hands, there will come a day when this gift will mean more than gold.

So give a gift to your children, your children’s children and generations who follow. Leave them a written “Legacy of Faith.”

“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-7, 9).

Anthony L. Jordan is executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. This column is courtesy of Baptist Press.

Scalia death clouds abortion, religious liberty cases
The death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia not only brings about a battle over replacing him and elevates the Supreme Court as an issue in the presidential election, but it likely will affect important cases about life and liberty in this term.


Evangelical leaders denounce Selective Service for women
Key evangelical figures have come out staunchly against a proposal to register women for a possible military draft, arguing it would weaken America’s military readiness and is at odds with traditional male-female relationships. Albert Mohler, Russell Moore and Andrew Walker are among the Southern Baptists who have spoken out.


Graham crackers not so wholesome?
Families of gay, transgender and adopted children celebrate acceptance on ‘Love Day’ in a new ad from Honey Maid Graham Cracker’s “This Is Wholesome” campaign.


Lawsuit claims Gospel for Asia misused most donations to 10/40 Window
One of the world’s largest missions agencies, Gospel for Asia (GFA), has long promised that it spends 100 percent of donations in the field—specifically, in the 10/40 Window.  More like 13%, alleges a lawsuit filed this week by a couple in Arkansas who donated to GFA based on that promise.


Thousands of Chinese students accepting Christ in U.S
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students come as atheists to study in colleges and universities in the United States but thousands of them accept Jesus into their lives as they get exposed to Christian beliefs, according to reports. More than 304,000 Chinese studied in American colleges and universities in 2015 alone, according to Institute of International Education.

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

Friendly mergers

nateadamsibsa —  April 27, 2015

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Recently I attended a memorial service in Dupo, Illinois, for Wendell Hooks, who was my grandfather’s cousin. Wendell was 96 when he passed, and was a longtime member and deacon at the First Baptist Church there in Dupo.

Nate_Adams_April27I could certainly write more about Wendell and his life of dedication to his family, his work, his church, and his Lord. But I didn’t know him long. In fact, he was 90 when we first met in person at a Baptist associational meeting, just about the time he was transitioning from his home to an assisted living facility. It was there that we got acquainted over the past few years.

I didn’t have to spend much time with Wendell to realize that we were of the same family. From years of observing my mother and my grandparents, I quickly recognized the Hooks sense of humor and the familiar twinkle in his eye whenever he was
expressing it. I recognized the strong work ethic, the personal disciplines, and the tenacious dedication to both church and pastor. Yes, he was definitely a Hooks.

And he helped me remember that I am a Hooks too. Most people probably think of me as an Adams. I look like my dad, and I’m in a ministry profession like my dad, and I write pieces in this paper, like my dad did.

But cousin Wendell reminded me again how much Hooks is merged in to my Adams. My personality, my drive and discipline, my organizational bent, and yes my sense of humor, are all probably more Hooks than Adams. And I could have just as easily been a Sunday school teacher or deacon as an executive director, because it is really a layperson’s commitment to church and pastor that motivates me, more than a desire for ministry vocation. That’s the Hooks in me.

Chances are you enjoy that same “friendly merger” of family traits in your life. You are a blend, not only of your mom and dad, but also of grandparents and even generations before them. Some of those traits you recognize, and some of them you are still discovering.

I like to think that same sort of positive “blending” is happening in my spiritual life too, and in yours. Each of us is the unique, eternal person that God “knits us together” to be in our mothers’ wombs. But that person is also born in sin and needs redemption. Once I come to know Christ, he doesn’t discard my human identity. He simply redeems it and transforms it. He returns it to his image, to what it was supposed to be.

I love it that the Holy Spirit allowed the writers of the Bible to continue expressing their own unique identities and personalities and styles. Yet they also wrote with a perfect consistency and harmony, demonstrating that their individual voices were each inspired by the Holy Spirit.

During cousin Wendell’s memorial service, I was able to reflect for a few moments on the Adams and Hooks families that have blended into me, and for that matter the Adams and Schultz families that are blending into my children. With each new generation, there is consistency, and yet uniqueness.

And the same is true of my spiritual identity in Christ. I am not a clone of any one person, or even of God. I am a one-of-a-kind blend of both God’s unique workmanship and his redemptive work in Christ. Like David in Psalm 139, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And so are you.

I’m grateful to cousin Wendell for reminding me that I am a friendly merger of both Adams and Hooks. And we can all be grateful to God, for giving us identities that are unique, and yet that enjoy a friendly merger into His likeness, day by day.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Amid continuing tension in Ferguson, Mo., church members will engage in a block-by-block outreach initiative to promote relationships–and healing–in the St. Louis suburb rocked by violence and protests since the shooting of teenager Michael Brown last August.

The_BriefingJose Aguayo, a Ferguson pastor and chaplain with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will lead the effort to send out teams of church members tasked with getting to know residents on their assigned block. Eventually, Aguayo told Baptist Press, ministries resulting from the outreach could include “sports teams, community outings and study assistance for children and adults.”

First Baptist Church in Ferguson, led by Pastor Stoney Shaw, is one of the churches participating. He told The Pathway newspaper in Missouri, “We want to join with other churches and minister. Walking the streets and praying is a simple yet powerful plan.” Read more at BPNews.net.


In other news from Ferguson, Christianity Today reports on a dialogue between Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders. Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, posted March 12 on his Facebook page, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience.” (Read the entire post here.) But according to a group of 31 Christian leaders who wrote an open letter to Graham, the issue is often more complicated.


Family is the most central factor in how Americans identify themselves, Barna found in a new study, followed by being an American at #2, and their religious faith at #3. But the answers change, depending on how old you are.


On the day marking the Iranian New Year, President Obama issued a statement calling for the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has arrested in the country in 2012. “Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Obama said. “He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.” Read more at ChristianityToday.com.


Texas Senator Ted Cruz spoke about Christianity and liberty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where he also announced he will run for President in 2016. Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of the Christian university, introduced Cruz but was careful to note Liberty was giving the candidate a platform rather than endorsing him, The Christian Post reported.


More than $2.5 billion is wagered on the annual March Madness basketball tournament, according to the FBI. But Christians would be wise not to throw any money in the pot, says Barrett Duke, a vice president for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

The_Briefing_ChristmasTHE BRIEFING | Grinches might have tried to ruin a nativity scene in Indianapolis, but organizers at the Indiana Masonic Home got back-up in the form of GPS monitors placed inside the Jesus statue and several others.

After Baby Jesus was stolen Dec. 6 (and returned Dec. 11), BrickHouse Security made the Masonic Home the latest recipient of its “GPS Jesus” tracking devices,  USA Today reports.


Speaking of festive holiday displays, a Christian group in South Korea has decided not to reconstruct a Christmas tree tower on the border between North and South Korea, Christianity Today reports. “The establishment of our Christmas tree [tower] was to be a religious event aimed at promoting peace,” Christian Council of Korea (CCK) senior official Hong Jae-Chul told reporters. “However, our pure intention caused undesirable misunderstanding that it would aggravate inter-Korean friction.”


Where are people a little less worried about big holiday displays? In New Jersey, apparently, where Liquid Church is planning a “spiritual flash mob” for Christmas Eve. Read the Christian Post story here.


“We tend to idealize holidays, but human depravity doesn’t go into hibernation between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” blogs Russell Moore. The president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission gives five pointers for those who face tension around the Christmas dinner table.


Every time a bell rings … It’s a Wonderful Life is on TV again. Especially this time of year. But there’s more to the classic movie than just serving as a staple of Christmas-time viewing. Critic Phil Boatwright says, “Without any sermons or altar calls, It’s a Wonderful Life reveals how God’s love transforms and sustains. For me, that makes it the best film of all time.”