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Back to basics

ib2newseditor —  January 15, 2018

The recent holiday season gave me a little more time than usual to watch football on TV. As the regular season gave way to playoffs and bowl games, it seemed pre-game analysts spent increasing amounts of time discussing “what it will take to win” the next, tougher game. The more serious the consequence of the game, and the fewer games that remain, the more critical it seems to be able to think, and not just play.

Yet as I’ve listened to experts talk again and again about what it takes to be successful, it seems they often come back to the same basic advice. Focus on fundamentals. Block and tackle well. Everyone do your assignment. Establish the ground game. Everything else you need for success will flow from there.

In these big games, will there be an occasional trick play, or a key turnover, or a missed call that influences the game? Probably. But everyone seems to agree that the best you can do to prepare for victory is simply get back to the basics.

Now is the time to consider what it takes to be truly effective in our mission.

I found myself wondering if there is a reminder, even an exhortation, for churches to consider here. Among the most “basic” practices of Baptist churches as we follow the Lord and pursue his mission are celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and believer’s baptism. Yet these can sometimes seem like occasional, even rare, ceremonies, rather than the very blocking-and-tackling basics on which the rest of church life is built.

More than an occasional or routine ceremony, the Lord’s Supper was given to us to be a time of frequent, intimate church fellowship and worship, one that draws each participant to introspection and confession of sin, and to a carefully considered reminder of the price Jesus paid for that sin. The Lord’s Supper is, in itself, a symbol-rich proclamation of the gospel message, one that should, each time, lead us to humble worship and gratitude, and fresh motivation to live out our salvation and to share Jesus with others.

What if we got that “basic” right, every one of us, in every church, every time we celebrated the Lord’s Supper?

If we did, I think it would have a dramatic effect on the other, more neglected, “basic” of baptism. Think of it this way: What if a church were to schedule baptism celebrations as often as it scheduled Lord’s Supper celebrations? More importantly, what if that church adjusted all its other priorities with the goal of seeing at least one person baptized by that time?

In fact, what if the church filled its baptistery on that date, no matter what? If no one was ready to be baptized, the church would simply pray in lament over the unstirred waters, and ask the Lord to guide them to a different result next time.

If the core, blocking-and-tackling tasks of the church are to remember the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus, and continue his mission of seeking and saving the lost, then maybe we need to get back to the basics of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. Maybe we need to let them drive our churches’ priorities and resources and schedules more than the things that drive them now.

As the football analysts remind us at this time of year, the closer we get to the end, and the fewer days that remain, the more critical it is to reflect carefully on what it takes to be truly effective in our mission. That careful reflection will almost always lead us back to the basics, and then forward to victory.

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

How a biblical proverb can help us manage modern money

COMMENTARY | Doug Morrow

Doug_Morrow_blog_calloutI’ve been working on a project since mid-November. Once a week (okay, once every two weeks), I write an extended devotional or comment based on a chapter of Proverbs and have been addressing it to my children. Proverbs represents some of the most amazing “counsel” ever written, and much is written as from a parent to a child. I’ve been trying to amplify the Proverbs into my own paternal voice for the benefit of Reed, Lauren and Claire.

It was in this process that I discovered a nugget that describes what I believe in so passionately, and the mission of the Baptist Foundation of Illinois:

“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce,” reads Proverbs 3:9, “then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

King Solomon’s words can be difficult to translate to our time and culture. “First fruits” has a different meaning in an America so replete with cheap food that we’re far more likely to queue up at the McDonald’s drive-thru than pray for rain for the wheat crop. Few of us have barns, and ever since municipal water projects, there are even fewer with “vats bursting with wine.” So, what could the Spirit say to us through these words to those living in the wealthiest nation in our planet’s history? “Honor the Lord with our wealth?”

In truth, most of the assets we steward for the Lord aren’t in our income (technically our “first fruits”), or emergency cash. Over time, most people collect “wealth” in things like real estate (67% of Illinoisans own their home), IRA or other retirement assets (often acquired ‘pre-tax’), life insurance, or other “stuff” we collect over our lifetimes.

I think the way we honor the Lord with this wealth, along with our first fruits, is amazingly simple and can be found in the text itself. The pattern we apply to our wealth should be consistent with the pattern we establish with our “first fruits!”

Do we take care of our needs such as food, shelter and clothing with our first fruits?

Do we use those fruits to care for our children and dependents?

What about supporting the work of God’s church?

Absolutely, on all three counts. And because we do those things with our first fruits, we should do so with our wealth.

How does all of this come together in a way that accomplishes this God-honoring stewardship plan? Well, since most of our “wealth” is not accessed until our death, it’s important to put together a Christian Estate Plan now. Such a plan accomplishes the “pattern” that God has called us to live out in our lives—taking care of our own needs, caring for children and dependents, and investing in the work of God’s church.

These are the elements I commonly refer to as the “big four” parts of a Christian Estate Plan:

• A will and possibly a living trust
• A financial (durable) power of attorney (when not using a living trust)
• A health care power of attorney
• Careful attention to titling, beneficiary designations, or transfer on death devices on retirement assets, life insurance, financial accounts or other assets, since any asset designated in this way bypasses the will and the probate process

The Baptist Foundation has actually made the process simpler than you might imagine—and much less expensive than you might fear. A great place to start is with the Life Stewardship Navigator, a free download from BFI provides complimentary and confidential help in putting together a plan that enables you to provide for your family and support Christian causes in exactly the manner you wish to support.

Over the next few months, I’ll keep working on the Proverbs chapters (my wife wants me to arrive at chapter 31 in time for Mother’s Day). In the meantime, it’s important that we begin this year with the counsel that all we are, hope to be, or ever will steward belongs to our God. May we carefully honor Him in everything.

Doug Morrow is executive director of the Baptist Foundation of Illinois.