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Jaide Soppe, 8, makes a fleece blanket for a Springfield shelter on Children's Ministry Day March 15.

Jaide Soppe, 8, makes a fleece blanket for a Springfield shelter on Children’s Ministry Day March 15.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

For the fourth consecutive year, kids and their leaders served across Illinois  through Children’s Ministry Day, a one-day missions experience that culminates with a celebration service at each project site.

Created by national Woman’s Missionary Union, the day of service for kids has taken on a life of its own in Illinois. Nearly 1,100 children, leaders and volunteers representing 75 churches served at nine locations around the state on March 15.

This year’s theme, “Make a Splash,” came from Matthew 10:42, where Jesus says, “And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple – I assure you: He will never lose his reward!”

Children’s Ministry Day is now IBSA’s most successful mission involvement activity, said Mark Emerson, who leads the organization’s missions team. The event has grown in number of locations and participants each year since 2011, when he organized the first set of projects in Springfield. Local associations began hosting the projects last year, and the service day expanded to nine cities in 2014, including first-time locations Bridgeport, Chicago, Decatur, Granite City and Peoria.

“I think more churches identify that this is a high impact project with an easy engagement possibility,” Emerson said. “The logistics of the day are already complete, so all the church has to do is to figure out how to get the kids enlisted, and get the kids to the event.”

Pastor David Brown has led kids from his church, Dow Southern Baptist, to Children’s Ministry Day each of the last four years. Standing outside an urban ministry center in Springfield, he recalled each of their projects: making baby blankets, baking cookies for police officers, visiting with nursing home residents, and this year, raking leaves and sorting donated supplies.

“This is one of the best events that we can do, because we’re starting at a foundational age,” Brown said. His fourth grade daughter, Cameryn, accompanied him to Springfield this year and has participated in every Children’s Ministry Day.

“And if they fall in love with serving when they’re kids,” Brown said, “they’re going to keep serving when they’re teens, and hopefully when they’re adults and grandparents. It’s foundational; it’s what the church is all about.” Read more here.

Other news:

Franklin Graham on Putin’s policies
America has “abdicated our moral leadership,” Franklin Graham wrote in this month’s issue of Decision Magazine. The son of evangelist Billy Graham said that converse to the current U.S. administration, Russian President Vladimir Putin is right to want to protect his country’s children from a homosexual agenda. (Graham’s comments came before Russia’s controversial action in Crimea.)

“To be clear, I am not endorsing President Putin,” Graham wrote. “…His enemies say he is ruthless. To some, he is a modern version of a czar. His personal life has its own controversies.

“Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue – protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda – Russia’s standard is higher than our own?” Read the full story at BillyGraham.org.

KJV is king of translations
Americans read the King James Version of the Bible more often than any other version, according to a new national survey on “The Bible in American Life.” The research, from the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, found just over half of Americans (50.2%) read Scripture in the past year, and 17% of those did so daily. The KJV was read most often by 55% of respondents, followed by the NIV at 19%. Read more findings here.

Bible Drill for the digital age
There’s an app for that – Scripture memorization, that is. The Georgia Baptist Convention has developed a Bible Drill app for smartphones and tablets designed to help kids learn verses and review Bible books. “We hope to have a whole new generation of children who will have a passion for studying God’s Word,” said GBC state missionary Maria Brannen. The app is available from iTunes for $0.99. Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Your mood in tweets
Twitter can tell us a lot about how people are feeling, according to data released by the social media giant this month. The network analyzed words used in tweets throughout 2013, noting when “feeling sad” occurs most often (December Sundays and October Mondays), as well as when users are “feeling happy” (Tuesdays in December or January).

Twitter measured tardiness too: Users were most likely to tweet “late for work” on Wednesdays and Fridays in January, and Monday through Wednesday in July. Read more at Twitter’s blog.

Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Over the weekend, First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla., hosted a memorial service for victims of the May 20 tornado that destroyed parts of the Oklahoma City suburb. Click here to watch a video of the Daily Oklahoman’s coverage of the service.

Pastor Kevin Clarkson’s church is serving as a hub for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief work in the area. The pastor also presided over the funerals of two children killed at Plaza Towers Elementary School. In an interview last week with Clarkson TheBlaze website, he answered a question about what he will say to people who have lost so much:

“I’m going to tell them that, number one, God loves them and God understands. He’s not punishing them. Jesus really came and put away the wrath of God on the cross. But God is with them in their suffering.

“And I’m going to tell them that we’re with them and that that’s what the people of God are for, the church. We’re going to help one another, and we’re going to give to the needs.”

Donations to the Disaster Relief efforts in Oklahoma can be made at NAMB.net.

Other news:

SBC leader: Boy Scouts vote ushers in ‘sea-change’(From Baptist Press) Southern Baptist leaders have been vocal in their opposition to Boy Scouts of America’s proposal to include gay-identifying youth in their membership. After delegates to the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America approved the measure last week, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page told Baptist Press he was “deeply saddened” by the move.

Page said the vote “ushers in a sea-change in the credibility of the Boy Scouts of America as a viable boys’ organization for millions of Americans who believe strongly in the principles of biblical morality. To claim that the Boys Scouts is the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training suddenly rings hollow.”

SBC President Fred Luter echoed those sentiments, calling it “a sad day in the history of an organization that for years stood on Christian principles, particularly for the thousands of Southern Baptists who grew up as Boy Scouts like myself.”

“My prayers,” Luter said, “go out to the parents and churches who have been forced to make decisions about being a part of the Boy Scouts organization. As Southern Baptists, our commitment to the Word of God and Christian values must take priority over what is ‘politically correct.'” Read more at BPNews.net.

59% of Americans say homosexuality is morally acceptable
A record-high percentage of Americans believe homosexuality is morally acceptable, according to Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey. The research found 59% of adults say “gay or lesbian relations” are morally acceptable, up from 40% in 2001. Read more at Gallup.com.

For some African American reps, same-sex marriage vote is tied closely to religion
The Chicago Sun-Times published an in-depth article this month about how African American members of the Illinois House plan to vote on the pending same-sex marriage leglisation. The paper’s count of the 20-member Illinois House Black Caucus found four yeses, five no’s, five who are leaning toward yes, and seven undecided. The article also details that for some representatives, churches’ involvement in the issue could sway their vote.

“I’m a Christian before I’m a black woman before I’m a Democrat,” said Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), one of the undecided representatives. “Before all of that, I’m a Christian.

“I have to live with what I do or don’t do. And so it’s a vote I have to take that I can be comfortable with the rest of my life. This is history.”

Read the full story at SunTimes.com.

pull quote_STETZERCOMMENTARY | Ed Stetzer

(From Baptist Press) Louie Giglio withdrew from the program at President Obama’s inauguration in the face of criticism over a 15-year-old sermon referencing homosexuality as a sin. Many will want to debate and desire to nuance the specific wording he used in the sermon, but his points are largely mainstream evangelical beliefs.

This Louie Giglio moment, and the Chick-fil-A moment that preceded it, and the Rick Warren moment which preceded that, raise the question: Where do people of faith with long-standing traditional religious/scriptural convictions go from here?

For those of us who know Louie, this is a strange moment indeed — but also illustrative of how our culture has turned. Louie has dedicated his life to helping others — the poor, the enslaved, those trapped in sexual trafficking. Yet, I do not recognize the person I see portrayed on the news — a bigoted homophobe driven by his hatred for gays. You can be certain that is not Louie Giglio — even though some prefer to believe that any opposition to homosexual practice, and people who hold that view, must apparently be silenced for the common good.

In a recent LifeWay Research study, 37 percent of American adults agreed that homosexuality is a sin. That number is declining (down from 44 percent according to a 2011 survey), but it is still a substantial minority. Yet, such views (which were mainstream just a few decades ago) are indeed now a minority position — and viewed as unacceptable by many in society.

So, what does this mean for Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Orthodox Jews and others who believe that their authoritative religious texts teach something the prevailing culture finds so unacceptable that they are no longer welcome in the public square? Must they jettison their sacred texts and adopt new views to be accepted as part of society? If they do not, will they be marginalized and demonized even as they serve the poor, care for the orphan or speak against injustice?

Or, instead, can we recognize that a substantial minority in our culture hold views they see as rooted in their scriptures and part of their faith, even though those views may not always be popularly accepted?

Yes, the First Amendment protects these views. But we also have to decide if the people who hold such views can be protected by our self-identified tolerant culture as they seek not just to hold those beliefs in secret, but also dare to utter them in public — even on a sermon tape 15 years ago.

Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research. This column first appeared at USATODAY.com.