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Famed New Orleans evangelist Bob Harrington, known by many as “the Chaplain of Bourbon Street.”

Forgiveness is a significant theme in God’s Word.

The Bible tells us: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will remember not your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). “He [Jesus] was delivered up because of our offenses, and raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Scripture is clear; God’s forgiveness is for all, but each one of us must receive His forgiveness personally.

Our family has experienced forgiveness in a clear and visible way. My dad, Bob Harrington, was dramatically converted on April 15, 1958, when I was only 6 years old. He attended a revival meeting in his hometown of Sweet Water, Ala., to find some insurance prospects, and instead he found the Lord. During the fifth stanza of “Just As I Am,” Dad was forgiven of his sin and saved by the grace of God.

He preached his first sermon three days later and led his parents to faith in Jesus Christ. My mother, sister and I followed Dad in faith and became active in church. The Lord called my dad to ministry and led him to attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

In a chapel service, then-NOBTS President Leo Eddleman presented a challenge to students: “Any pocket of sin is a mission field, and the closest Christian to it is a missionary.” Dad responded to that call and began a ministry in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In 1962, he was proclaimed by the mayor “The Chaplain of Bourbon Street.”

His ministry expanded in the 1960s and 1970s from the second block of Bourbon Street to nationwide crusades and national television. Many people were converted and called to the ministry through his personal soul-winning and powerful preaching. God used Bob Harrington to share His gift of forgiveness with thousands of others.

At the peak of Dad’s ministry, “the devil threw him a pass and he ran for defeat” (drawing from his own words). He left the Lord, left the ministry, left my mother and left our family. What a painful time for each of us.

God immediately spoke to me about forgiveness. I needed to forgive my dad even though he did not ask for forgiveness. Initially I did not want to forgive him, but later I chose to obey God’s clear command. We prayed faithfully for Dad’s restoration for 17 years before he returned to the Lord. What a time of rejoicing for our family! We were a part of his redemption story as Dad sought forgiveness from each of us.

After Dad returned to the Lord, he again had “fun being saved” and became “happy in the Lord.” He was bold in his witness and called to preach to others like him who had left the Lord and needed to get right with Him. He titled his message on prodigals, “Loving the Left Back Right.” What a beautiful picture of forgiveness!

In his later years, Dad had dementia. He was completely at peace in his condition. He spent his days sitting in his big red chair watching television.

As I walked into his little house one afternoon, God gave me a vivid example of total forgiveness. A divorced couple on the Jerry Springer program was screaming at each other. Dad looked up at me and said, “Isn’t it wonderful that no one in our family has ever been divorced? We all love each other.” Wow! Who would have ever thought that such truth could come from a Jerry Springer moment? Dad himself had been divorced twice, but God had forgiven him and taken his sin out of his conscious thoughts. What a perfect picture of forgiveness! When God forgives, our sin is completely removed.

My sister and I rejoice in the forgiveness of God which allowed our family to be reunited and our dad to have joy until his last breath. To our knowledge, Dad had no memory of the time he was away from the Lord. He talked often about our family years ago and remembered many amazing days of ministry. When once asked by a reporter what led him back to the Lord, Dad sincerely replied, “I have never left the Lord. I have always loved Him.” God literally removed his sin and blotted it from his memory, so he remembered it no more. I will always be grateful for being a part of a real-life story of forgiveness!

This article first appeared at

LifeWay_storeTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

LifeWay Christian Stores opened its third Illinois location August 1 and will celebrate with grand opening festivities throughout the month. The Wheaton store, located in the Town Square Wheaton on South Naperville Road, is formerly a Johnsen & Taylor Bookstore operated by Tyndale House Publishers.

“I’ve heard from many individuals and churches who are excited about LifeWay Christian Stores being here,” said store manager . “We are grateful to see the continuation of the ministry started by Johnsen & Taylor.”

LifeWay also operates stores on the campus of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and in Carterville, Ill.

Other news:

‘Wrath of God’ too much for hymnal
The Presbyterian Church USA chose not to include the song “In Christ Alone” in their new hymnal, all because the song mentions the “wrath of God.” On Mary Louis Bringle, chair of the committee that made the decision, wrote that the song propagates “the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger,” and that view could be harmful to future generations of worshippers.

Southern Baptist leaders, including Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, have weighed in on the decision. Read his commentary on The Washington Post’s On Faith blog here.

Most churches still do VBS
A Barna study found 68% of churches held a Vacation Bible School last year, including 91% of Southern Baptist churches. The research also found that churches in the South are most likely to host VBS, along with churches with larger budgets and more adult worship attenders. And churches with “Buster” pastors, those aged 30-48, are the most likely to participate in VBS, according to Barna. Read more findings here.

Street preaching resumes on Bourbon St.
The city of New Orleans has revised an ordinance that prohibited street preaching on Bourbon Street, reports. The ban, enacted in 2011, controlled preaching from sunset to sunrise and forbade individuals or groups from gathering “for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message…” Several preachers are suing the city after being arrested or threatened with arrest for preaching during last year’s Southern Decadence Festival, an annual pro-gay event. Read the full story at

Graham calls for prayer for Abedini

Franklin Graham is urging people to pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini (right), an American imprisoned in Iran since last September. Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham and president of Samaritan’s Purse, spoke to FOX News about Abedini’s plight and the prayer vigil scheduled for Sept. 26 – the one-year anniversary of his captivity. He also questioned President Obama’s response: “President Obama has been silent on the issue as an American Christian endures the horrors of Evin Prison,” Graham said.

“Many in the international community are expressing outrage over this blatant example of religious intolerance,” he said. “I ask that our government do the same and demand that Pastor Saeed Abedini be released and allowed to return home to his wife and family in the United States.” Read more on reporter Todd Starnes’ FOX News page.


Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Cindy Winters didn’t set out to write a book. But as she journaled about her grief and pain after her husband’s death four years ago, she realized how healing the writing process could be. And she wanted to share that with others on a similar journey.

Pastor Fred Winters was killed at First Baptist Church, Maryville, Ill., on March 8, 2009, when a gunman entered the Sunday morning worship service and shot him where he stood in the pulpit. Media outlets immediately descended on Maryville, and the story made national headlines. Just days afterward, Cindy Winters extended forgiveness to the shooter on CBS’ Early Show.

“We have been praying for him,” she said. “…We really firmly believe that he can find hope and forgiveness and peace through this, by coming to know Jesus.”

Hope, forgiveness and peace are some of the themes running through Winters’ new book “Reflections from the Pit,” available now on Her writing process started simply, when she sat down with pen and paper to express some of the emotions that were overwhelming her.

“I would leave that writing experience with a sense of renewed strength,” Winters said. “Oftentimes, peace would sweep in over me, and then hope. And just a sense of, ‘Ok, you know what, I’m going to be able to make it through the rest of the day.’” Read more at

Other news:

Rick and Kay Warren grieve son’s suicide
(From Baptist Press) Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay lost their son Matthew, 27, on Friday, April 5, to suicide. Rick Warren released an emotional statement to Saddleback’s staff, which has since been broadly published:

“Over the past 33 years we’ve been together through every kind of crisis. Kay and I’ve been privileged to hold your hands as you faced a crisis or loss, stand with you at gravesides, and prayed for you when ill. Today, we need your prayer for us.”

Among those expressing compassion for the Warrens was Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and a former SBC president.

Page and his wife Dayle lost a 32-year-old daughter, Melissa, to suicide in 2009.

Page stated via Twitter the day after Matthew Warren’s suicide: “My heart is broken as I’ve heard the news about Rick Warren’s son. Please pray. Unfortunately, I understand that which they experience now.” Read more at

Haircuts and clean feet in New Orlenas
A team of 24 women traveled to New Orleans last week to minister in partnership with the Baptist Friendship House and missionary Kay Bennett. They served the city’s homeless population with a free health fair, where they offered haircuts, feet-washing stations, and listening ears. The day after they returned to Illinois, volunteer Kim Evrard said she woke up with a heavy heart. “This morning, I wake up and realize I barely slept because I can’t stop thinking about the people I met, and tears won’t stop this morning,” Evrard wrote in an email.

“I am so blessed. My heart is so heavy for the people I met.” Read more in the April 15 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans own Bible
As History Channel wrapped up its well-watched miniseries on the Bible, Barna and American Bible Society released their “State of the Bible” report, which found the book is still a staple in most households. Of the 1,005 American adults surveyed, 88% own a Bible and 80% said the Bible is sacred; 61% said they wish they read it more. Read more at

SBC’s non-Calvinists host ‘John 3:16’
The recent John 3:16 Conference in suburban Atlanta gathered more than 350 people and several prominent Southern Baptist leaders for a discussion of Calvinism in the SBC. The conference speakers, brought together by Jerry Vines Ministries, focused on the differences with those who identify with Reformed theology, but also emphasized cooperation and unity, reported Baptist Press. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, Tenn., said Calvinists are not his enemy. “I can work with them,” he said. “There is no need for a takeover. We need to live together.” Read more at

Many Southern Baptist churches will mark the Week of Prayer for North American Missions this week. For more information about the week of prayer or the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, contact IBSA’s Missions team at (217) 391-3138.

Baptist Friendship HouseKay Bennett, black shirtDay 4 – Kay Bennett
Several years ago, Melanie was homeless, pregnant, and struggling with substance abuse. A newspaper article about rebuilding efforts in New Orleans caught her eye and, desperate to rebuild her life as well, Melanie set out for the city. She was on the path to a divine appointment with missionary Kay Bennett.

“Melanie contacted me and came into our transitional housing program,” said Bennett, director of New Orleans’ Baptist Friendship House. “She got a job, got into college and is working towards her social work degree now.” At the center, Bennett helps vulnerable women and children as they transition into to new lives. She and her team also host events throughout the year designed to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their community.

Pray for encouragement for Bennett and her staff as they encounter hurting people every day.

Go to to watch “Simply Jesus,” the story of how the Baptist Friendship House helped give a family a new future.

By Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director

I can usually measure the value of a meeting by the follow-up actions I note for myself as a result of it. If I don’t write anything down, the meeting was probably pretty pointless. If the meeting moves me to action or change, it may have been worthwhile.

So let me share with you a few of my follow-up notes from the recent Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, at least as they relate to the major issues discussed at this year’s annual meeting. You can read about these issues in the July 2 of the Illinois Baptist or at

My notes about the informal name “Great Commission Baptists” as an alternative to “Southern Baptists” could be summarized simply by the phrase “wait and see.” Clearly a large number of churches feel that having an alternate name, even an optional one, is not a positive thing. But the majority that voted to endorse the alternate name gave those who wish to try it out a new tool to potentially reach people for whom the term “Southern” may be a barrier.

For now, I plan to “wait and see” how many churches embrace the new name, especially here in the Midwest. I suspect we will continue using the “Illinois Baptist” identity in our communications more than either of the others.

My notes about the various issues that have the Calvinist vs. Arminian theology debate at their root simply say, “stay above the fray.” Both outgoing President Bryant Wright and SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page served us well, I thought, when they essentially stated that the Baptist Faith and Message is big enough for both strains of theological thought, and that there is more danger in our heart attitudes about either position than in the doctrinal differences themselves.

Some time ago I came to the personal conclusion that Calvinist theology describes salvation more from God’s perspective outside time, and that Arminian theology describes salvation more from man’s perspective within time. I’m sure that those for whom that explanation is not sufficient will continue this centuries-old debate. I plan to try and stay above the fray of that argument, and pray it does not distract us from our far more important Great Commission task.

Finally, you may not think I need follow-up notes from the election of Fred Luter as the SBC’s first African American president. But I found I did. Tuesday night, just after Pastor Luter’s election, I attended a dinner with the African American Fellowship of Southern Baptists that included SBC entity executives and state executive directors like myself from all over the country.

Even during that dinner, I formed several follow up notes for myself: Don’t just sit with people you know – get to know some new African American brothers and sisters. Learn to understand and appreciate the history and the pain, the culture and the passions of African American churches and their leaders, especially those that have chosen to be part of the Southern Baptist family. Relax and enjoy different worship and preaching styles – God wants to speak to you through those too! Recognize how important it is to make sure African American leaders are participating in Southern Baptist life, both in key discussions and in key leadership positions. Develop more personal, not just professional, relationships with African American pastors and leaders.

As I said, I can measure the value of a meeting by the follow-up actions I note for myself. If the meeting truly moves me to action or change, it may have been worthwhile. My follow through on these notes has the potential to make this year’s SBC meeting truly worthwhile. I hope these notes for needed future action help you too.

(Editor’s note: New Orleans in Rear View. Now that we’re back home, our Illinois Baptist news team reflects on the question: What is the lasting value of the 2012 SBC?)

 Posted by Meredith Flynn

David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., delivers a Pastors' Conference message in New Orleans on true repentance and salvation.

David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., delivers a Pastors’ Conference message in New Orleans on true repentance and salvation.

Before the convention, many (especially us press types) were buzzing about how a growing debate over Reformed theology might come up from the floor. The answer: It didn’t really pan out like we thought it might, at least in terms of a heated debate.

Instead, Pastors’ Conference speakers and panelists at some of the surrounding meetings encouraged Southern Baptists to work together, even if it means crossing theological lines. And some, most notably Alabama pastor David Platt, spoke passionately about the bigger fish we have to fry.

During his message Monday afternoon, Platt referenced a YouTube video from a message he preached at an inter-denominational conference earlier this summer. On the widely-watched video, Platt said the sinner’s prayer is a “superstitious” prayer that never appears in Scripture, and called into question some traditional evangelism methods.

In his message at the Pastors’ Conference, Platt admitted that as a young pastor, he would be wise to watch his words. But then he stayed true to what he said briefly in the video, pleading with Southern Baptists to preach the true Gospel, full of the messages of repentance, belief, discipleship, and global mission.

Two days later, after some debate on the convention floor, messengers approved a resolution upholding the “sinner’s prayer” as a biblical means to salvation.

How we lead people toward a saving knowledge of Christ, and where we find the conviction of our own salvation, is the most important conversation we can have, in my view. I’m grateful for the discussion, and look forward to watching and listening as God moves us closer to His heart for people.

(Editor’s note: New Orleans in Rear View. Now that we’re back home, our Illinois Baptist news team reflects on the question: What is the lasting value of the 2012 SBC?)

Posted by Eric Reed

Parents watch the convention proceedings from the "stroller section," a cordoned-off area for families with young children.

Parents watch the convention proceedings from the “stroller section,” a cordoned-off area for families with young children.

Descending the escalator on the final day of the convention, I watched on the floor below me as a four-year-old had a meltdown. He wasn’t alone. His sister, a couple of years younger, perched in a carrier seat atop a stroller, teared up, and eventually wailed.

I felt the same way. We were all tired. The only difference between us was, I couldn’t get away with a meltdown.

Landing at the foot of the two-story escalator, I was suddenly in a sea of small children. “Don’t run!” the father of one said futilely. “There are grown-ups here.”


Not as many grown-ups as children, it seemed at times. This was a convention of young people. Once the domain of people with hair in various shades of gray and blue, this gathering was marked by a large percentage of young adults, many of whom bought their families. (There were strollers everywhere, even a “stroller section” roped off near the platform.) And their presence was felt in all the proceedings of the convention.

Perhaps the Pastors Conference foreshadowed a shift we should notice. Opening on Fathers Day, the line-up included sons introducing their better-known fathers as conference speakers. “Dad’s gonna bring the heat!” one son said before his father preached. But in one notable reversal, it was the father, a former convention president, who introduced his up-and-coming son. There was a changing of the guard, it seemed.

The most challenging and emotionally gripping moments among the pre-meeting sermons came from the youngest preacher, in his early 30s.

The debate over use of “the sinner’s prayer” started with young people, as an older generation’s tried and accepted method is challenged. 

And it is young people who raised debate over Reformed theology and Calvinism. A young pastor (age 40, son of a past SBC president) drafted a response and coined the phrase “Traditionalists” to describe his (and many elders’) Southern Baptist theology.

Many messengers speaking from the floor mics during the business sessions were younger pastors. 

This emergence of young people in SBC life was clearest at the Baptist 21 panel discussion (and turkey po-boy lunch). “21” in the name refers to 21st century, but it might have characterized their age. Fully half the people in the SRO crowd of nearly 1,000 were in their 20s and 30s.

For watching the panel discussion, the Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s was ancient history. Like WW2. Many of them were not born at the time today’s senior convention leaders stopped what they described as a left-leaning drift and returned the denomination to biblical inerrancy. For these young people, Judge Paul Pressler and Dr. Paige Patterson are historical figures to be honored (which they were at the luncheon).

For a few minutes in New Orleans, the convention’s past met its future. And it was clear in that moment that this is not your grandfather’s SBC.

Or even your father’s.

It belongs to the kids.

(Editor’s note: New Orleans in Rear View. Now that we’re back home, our Illinois Baptist news team reflects on the question: What is the lasting value of the 2012 SBC?)

 Posted by Lisa Sergent

Pastor Fred Luter, the SBC's new president, receives a standing ovation from messengers at the convention's annual meeting.

Pastor Fred Luter, the SBC’s new president, receives a standing ovation from messengers at the convention’s annual meeting.

The 2012 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans was historic for many reasons.  The return of Southern Baptist Convention for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, the adoption of the “Great Commission Baptist” descriptor name, and the election of Pastor Fred Luter as convention president.

Luter’s election made headlines across the country because he is the first African-American to be elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention, a convention which some still associate with its birth in the support of slavery. But, as I listened to the various platform speakers, I began to grow concerned. Yes, Luter is an African-American, but this is not why he is president. Luter is president because of his character, leadership abilities, heart for Christ, and the way he has allowed God to lead him in his ministry.

One example of his leadership, commitment, and faith was seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when Franklin Avenue Baptist Church sat in 13 feet of floodwater. While some of the churches over 7,000 members remained in New Orleans, others were scattered to Baton Rouge and Houston. On the first and third Sunday’s of the month, he would preach an early morning service to members who gathered in First Baptist New Orleans church building. In the afternoon, he would travel to Baton Rouge to lead a service for more members. The second and fourth Sunday’s of the month saw Luter in Houston, Texas, leading church services for still more members. He did this for over two years until the Franklin Avenue’s building was ready for services again.

As Southern Baptists we need to focus on Luter’s God-given abilities and pray for him as he leads our convention. He is president because of the content of his character in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. His election is a historic step for the Southern Baptist Convention, but his election is wonderful because he is a faithful man of God, whom God has already used and will continue to use in great and wonderful ways.