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With less than one-sixth left of 2017, unless there’s a drastic turnaround, the year likely won’t be remembered as one of the country’s best. Devastating hurricanes. Political gridlock. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The headlines have only gotten bleaker as the year has worn on. And the year’s not over yet.

A new survey on what Americans fear the most paints a picture of how the year has taken a toll on lots of people. Almost 75% of Americans are afraid or very afraid of corrupt government officials, according to Chapman University’s annual survey. That topped the list last year too, but was the only fear expressed by more than half of respondents. This year, five fears were held by a majority, including the new healthcare plan, pollution, and not having enough money for the future.

Things are difficult, and people are scared. Scanning the headlines or, more likely, scrolling through a news feed, doesn’t help either. The current climate is such that as our team brainstormed how to write about Thanksgiving this year, we couldn’t come up with much of a fresh angle. Certainly, we have a lot to be thankful for; as Americans, we know that’s true. But with the din of the constant news cycle perpetually in our ears, it can be difficult to pinpoint the bright spots in an otherwise dreary year.

Perhaps that’s why a Friday conversation with an Illinois pastor’s wife was so refreshing. Jane Miller and her husband, Larry, have been part of Shiloh Baptist Church in Villa Ridge for nearly 33 years. Jane answered our call that Friday afternoon for information about the church’s recent 200th anniversary, but ended up sharing some unexpected hope too.

She talked about how she and Larry have developed deep friendships with the people in their church over the years. How he has mowed yards when some of their church members haven’t been able to do it themselves. That he keeps the church refrigerator stocked with eggs from the chickens he keeps. Every off-hand reference she made to their church and their ministry told the story of people who have put down roots in a community and are committed to each other.

That’s hopeful.

So, too, is a group of kids waiting—beach towels over their arms—to be baptized at Stonefort Missionary Baptist Church.

Perhaps it’s because the year has been so murky that these bright spots, which might have been overlooked in the past, shine even brighter. As we approach a season focused on giving thanks, may we be grateful for the little things that remind us of God’s goodness and provision, in this year and every other.

-MDF

Andreson-Ponce

Chicago pastor Dave Andreson (left) met Puerto Rican church planters while serving on the island in October, including Jose Ponce, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Resurrección in Isabela.

Arecibo, Puerto Rico | In October, Southern Baptist volunteers began relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the U.S. territory sustained devastating damage from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The volunteers are working through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Relief initiative, but their work is unlike other Disaster Relief projects.

“The circumstance is so unusual that we have to take the full responsibility of this response on our own,” said David Melber, president of Send Relief. “That means buying and shipping the food, renting warehouse space, sending the kitchen equipment, and then providing the volunteers to do the cooking. We are forging our entire response by ourselves.”

Chicago church planter Dave Andreson spent a week in Puerto Rico as a trained Disaster Relief chaplain. Andreson, a U.S. Army veteran, couldn’t shake the growing burden he felt for the island. “I had to get there,” said the pastor of Resurrection City Church in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.

While plans to send volunteers to Puerto Rico were on hold immediately after the storms, Andreson attended a two-day Disaster Relief training at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp in southern Illinois. One week later, with Baptist volunteers able to get into Puerto Rico, Andreson boarded a flight from Chicago to San Juan.

McKnight

Pastor George McKnight and his wife, Debbie, pause for a photo at Green Island Baptist Church in Puerto Rico, which lost its roof and was flooded during Hurricane Maria’s sweeping destruction.

He served with a Disaster Relief team from Virginia in Arecibo, a city 50 miles west of San Juan in northern Puerto Rico. The team stayed at First Baptist Church there and spent their days cleaning out homes and removing downed trees. Andreson said the teams are working under the leadership of local pastors who understand the people and needs in their communities.

Since the hurricanes, Andreson said, many people are leaving Puerto Rico. Their workplaces are still without power, most schools are still closed, and if you have running water, it’s not safe to drink. FBC Aricebo has already lost about 40 people. One church planter Andreson talked to is worried his young congregation won’t survive.

But the Chicago pastor said he believes Puerto Rico is primed for the gospel. “Physical suffering makes us aware of physical need, and those physical needs always open the door by which the word of God, the gospel proclaimed, makes us aware of our spiritual need,” Andreson said.

“This is a horrible thing that happened, but it’s a good gift from God by which the gospel will go forward. Now more than ever, the church in Puerto Rico, the church of Jesus Christ, has an opportunity to shine the light of Christ.”

The punishing hurricane season has left its mark in other parts of the U.S., including Florida and in Texas, where Illinois teams have served in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief opportunities and training, go to IBSA.org/dr. To learn more about opportunities in Puerto Rico through Send Relief, go to sendrelief.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from NAMB

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

At the Vatican’s Humanum Colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman in marriage—happening this week—Pope Francis affirmed marriage as providing “unique, natural, and fundamental good for families, humanity, and societies,” according to a report by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“Pope Francis made clear that male/female complementarity is essential to marriage, and that this cannot be redefined by ideology or by the state,” said ERLC Executive Director Russell Moore, who is in Vatican City for the gathering of 300 religious leaders.

The_Briefing“I am glad to hear such a strong statement on this, and on how an eclipse of marriage hurts the poor and the vulnerable.”


Construction on the Washington D.C. Museum of the Bible is set to start by Dec. 1, reports Baptist Press. The museum will house the world’s largest private collection of biblical artifacts, owned by the Green family, who also own Hobby Lobby stores.

“We want to invite all people to engage with this book,” said museum board chairman Steve Green. “We think education is the first goal, for people to realize how this book has impacted their lives, and then consider the principles and apply them to their own lives because of the benefits that it brings.”

The eight-story museum, three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, is set to open in 2017.


Memphis pastor Michael Ellis was unanimously elected the first African American president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention during the convention’s annual meeting last week. “I just happen to be an African American,” said the pastor of Impact Baptist Church, who ran unopposed. “Race doesn’t matter,” Ellis told The Baptist & Reflector. “That’s what I love about our convention.”


With a sermon clocking in at 53 hours and 18 minutes, Pastor Zach Zehnder of Florida broke the Guinness world record for Longest Speech Marathon, The Christian Post reports. Zehnder’s message, preached from Friday to Sunday, raised money for a non-profit dedicated to drug and alcohol-addiction recovery.

The goal of the marathon message, he said, “was to talk about God’s ridiculous commitment to his people.”


One in every 30 U.S. children experienced homelessness last year, according to a report by the National Center on Family Homelessness. “America’s Youngest Outcasts” outlines the prevalence of the problem in every state and ranks them from best to worst. Illinois is in the middle at #25.


Baptists in Illinois joined in a “Concert of Prayer” at their Annual Meeting Nov. 5-6 in Springfield. Read a full report here.

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The Illinois Baptist State Association’s Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference is in Springfield this week, beginning today at 1 p.m. Check our blog for coverage throughout the week, or at Facebook.com/IllinoisBaptist and Twitter.com/IllinoisBaptist.


“Parents, love your LGBT or same-sex attracted children and point them to a life of costly discipleship following Jesus,” Christopher Yuan told attendees at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s National Conference last week. The Moody Bible Institute professor’s journey out of a lifestyle of addiction, which included same-sex relationships, was shaped by the love of his Christian parents, The Christian Post reported.


After same-sex marriage became legal in their state Oct. 10, six magistrates in North Carolina stepped down rather than be required to preside over same-sex marriages, the Christian Examiner reported. “For me to do what the state said I had to do, under penalty of law, I would have to go against my convictions, and I was not willing to do that,” said Magistrate Gayle Myrick. “I want to honor what the Word says.”


Theologian R.C. Sproul said “the pervasive influence of humanism” is evident in a new survey produced by LifeWay Research and commissioned by Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries. The online survey of 3,000 Americans asked 43 questions about faith, covering topics from sin and salvation to the Bible and the afterlife.


It was announced last week that the network of 13 Mars Hill churches founded by recently resigned pastor Mark Driscoll will dissolve by the beginning of 2015. According to a Christianity Today report, the churches have three options: become independent, merge with an existing church, or disband.


Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore is one of the speakers set to address a Vatican colloquium on marriage and family later this month. The religious groups that will be represented certainly have their differences, Moore blogged, and the meeting won’t change that reality. “That said, I am willing to go anywhere, when asked, to bear witness to what we as evangelical Protestants believe about marriage and the gospel, especially in times in which marriage is culturally imperiled.”

 

Redunda_Noble_blog_calloutHEARTLAND | Redunda Noble

Our church recently completed a study based on Thom Rainer’s eye-opening book “I Am a Church Member.” In the book, Rainer shared practical insight for developing the right attitude about the part we play as members of the Body of Christ. I breezed through the first few chapters with an air of superiority. As the wife of a pastor for more than 15 years, I was completely proud of myself for being a “model” church member. After all, I was already obeying most of the principles articulated in the book. I kept thinking, “It sure would be great if ‘brother and sister so-and-so’ read this book.” (Be honest. You know you have thought this too!)

I gleefully stood on my pedestal — until I got to chapter four.

The title, “I Will Pray for My Church Leaders,” hit me on the head like a ton of bricks, knocking me off my pedestal and down to my knees.

The moment I read the title, it struck me that I was the one who needed this book. I was not spending quality time daily in prayer for my pastor (who is my husband) and the other leaders of our church. (Bear with me while I confess.) I prayed daily like most Christians. I prayed for my family, my health, my needs, my wants, my desires, my struggles … my, my, my. My. All about Me! Oh My! How selfish I was in my prayers! Nowhere in my prayers did I petition the Lord specifically for the needs of my pastor and leaders.

We mistakenly think our pastor doesn’t need our prayers because when we see him, he is in the pulpit, often wearing a tailored suit and always a smile. We never want to think that our pastors and leaders might be struggling and desperately need our prayers.

Rainer challenges us to pray five minutes a day for our pastor. Only FIVE minutes. Who doesn’t have five minutes, right?

Jesus is the Son of God; yet he understood the importance of prayer in ministry. In Luke 6:12, the Bible records Jesus going to a mountain to pray. He stayed there and prayed ALL NIGHT. As Christians, we should follow Jesus’ example by spending ample time in prayer. While most of us understand we should pray, we have difficulty finding the time to pray. After looking at my own prayer life, I found that I struggled in three areas:

Prioritize prayer
How often do we get up in the morning, get dressed, eat breakfast and rush out the door, certain that we will have time to pray later? But later never comes. By 10:30 p.m., I was exhausted from the busyness of the day, managing to whisper only a few words to the Lord before drifting off to sleep. To prioritize prayer, I had to prioritize my morning and designate a specific time to pray.

Learn what your pastor’s needs are. Pray for his needs the way you pray for your own. It does not matter when you pray as long as you do pray. Put a daily reminder in your smartphone and take the time to pray for your pastor.

Persevere in prayer
You will find that when you decide to pray regularly for your pastor and the leaders in your church, many things will challenge your commitment. You may choose to start with prayer early in the morning, but on the day you begin, the baby wakes up crying at the same time. You may decide to pray on your lunch break at work, but find that other employees constantly interrupt. You may plan to pray in the evening, but your child’s teacher sends extra homework that requires your help. Whatever the challenge, recognize that prayer honors God. Don’t give up. Although you may struggle in the beginning to pray, what joy you will find when you persist.

Prayer is a privilege
What is your attitude toward prayer? Do you see prayer as just another chore added to your to-do list? Attitudes are important to God. View prayer as a privilege. See it as your opportunity to spend time with the One who loves you most. Ask God to give you a desire to pray.

I have struggled to be consistent. But I find that as I continue to pray, my love for the Lord, His church, and my spiritual leaders grows deeper. I hope you find this to be your experience as well.

Redunda Noble leads a women’s Bible study, sings at church and serves alongside husband James Noble, pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn. This Baptist Press column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, to pray for revival and spiritual awakening for churches, the nation and the world.