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The Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer is September 10-17, but there are plenty of opportunities for prayer ahead of that week. In fact, all of September is a good time to focus on God’s work through Baptists in Illinois.

Devote time to prayer every Sunday or Wednesday in September. Share mission facts and videos on the mission stories. Our main focus is evangelism and church planting in Illinois. Review the statistics about lostness in Illinois. These are not just numbers, they are people.

Pray for salvation. Check Wikipedia for the population of your county or town. According to the experts, more than two-thirds (say 65%) of those people do not know Jesus Christ. Do the math. Pray for their salvation. While you’re at it, make a list of people you know who need Jesus.

Pray for the missionaries by name. Use the daily devotions as brief prayer prompts in worship services and in personal prayer. They are in the MIO Prayer Guide/bulletin insert, online, and printed in the special Illinois Baptist wrapper on the outside of the Aug. 14 issue.

Schedule a special prayer meeting for state missions. Some churches use the Wednesday during the Week of Prayer, others use Sunday morning or Sunday night. Or pick another time, day or night.

Spread the responsibility. Ask Sunday school teachers and small group leaders to focus prayer on state missions during September. Ask the missions team or WMU or men’s group to pray for state missions in their September meeting.

Focus on Romans 10:14.
“How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (CSB)

Pray each section of the verse:
• For the Holy Spirit to open hearts to believe;
• for the gospel to be shared; for the church planters;
• for gospel witnesses to respond to the call to
missions and evangelism, especially in Illinois.

We could plant so many more new churches and reach so many more lost people in Illinois if there were more future leaders in the pipeline.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering at MissionIllinois.org.

Sharing Jesus everywhere

ib2newseditor —  August 21, 2017

Pat Pajak praying

Pat Pajak will make you cry. Why? Because he cries.

Whenever there’s talk about how many people in Illinois don’t know Jesus, you can count on Pat to get choked up. And whenever Pat tells how he had the privilege of sharing the gospel with someone—and that someone accepted Jesus as Savior—tears will flow. His shoulders shake up and down. His voice cracks. And for a moment, the story stops. But he catches a breath, and continues.

And invariably, the person he’s witnessing to agrees that they need Jesus, and prays to receive him as Savior.

The biker. The nurse. The couple at the gas station on the way to North Carolina. “I believe in witnessing opportunities wherever you’re at,” Pajak said.

Pat Pajak has a gift. Some would say his gift is evangelism, but that’s only part of it. Pat makes lostness in Illinois—vast, unfathomable, and seemingly almost too big to tackle—become real, and personal, and up-close.

“Lostness” is people, and Pat knows them personally. Even if he doesn’t, he’ll sidle up to them and ask if they go to church anywhere. And that leads to real conversation about knowing—and believing in—Jesus Christ.

Whether it’s 8 million people in a state of 13 million, or the nurse at the Decatur hospital where he had heart surgery, lost people matter to Pat, because they matter to God.

After three decades as a pastor of growing evangelistic churches, and another leading church strengthening in Illinois, Pat today serves as associate executive director of evangelism for IBSA.

Winning Illinois, one by one
For some people, simply walking across the room to start a conversation feels like taking a risk. Taking the next step—turning a conversation toward the gospel—may feel even riskier. But that’s what we’re all called to do. Share the gospel.

And for many IBSA churches and their members, that’s where Pat Pajak comes in.
Pat will train more than 200 churches in soul-winning this year. And through IBSA’s Pastor’s Evangelism Network, Pat will help mentor more than 100 pastors. Encouraging pastors who encourage their churches in faith-sharing is Pat’s specialty.

“The easiest way, I think, to impact lostness in Illinois, is to build friendships with people where they begin to trust you,” he said.

For Pat and his wife, Joyce, that level of trust was established in a crisis more than 30 years ago, when a house fire claimed their infant son and a pastor soon led them to Jesus. Not every conversion comes after crisis, but Pat finds opportunity to share Christ in tough times, even his own.

“After Memorial Day last year, I had a heart attack…and quadruple bypass surgery,” he said. And since he believes in sharing Christ wherever you happen to be, that included the ICU and later the cardiac rehab unit. Eventually, he led eight nurses to faith in Jesus Christ in a three-month period.

“I said, ‘Will you allow me to pray with you?’” he recalled from an encounter with Gina. “So I shared the Romans Road with her and asked if that made sense to her. She said yes, and she prayed and asked Jesus Christ to come into her heart.”

Pat wells up when he tells the story. “I saw her today and she hugged me and said, ‘I love you.’”

From complete stranger to sister in Christ.

“What a difference it would make if our church (members) decided, ‘I have the responsibility of sharing Christ, not just my pastor,’” he said.

With support from the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer, IBSA is equipping pastors, church members, and church planters to share the gospel. “Now is the moment,” Pajak said, because people in Illinois need Jesus Christ. “We just need to capture that.”

In other words, now more than ever.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering at MissionIllinois.org.

Rites of summer: VBS

ib2newseditor —  July 17, 2017
VBS-Rockford

Living Stones Community Church, Rockford

A woman pulling dandelions along the sidewalk in front of her house seems willing, even eager to take a break.

“Well,” she says, “the church is over there about a block,” pointing westward along one of the community’s few streets. “But the marker you’re asking about is right over there, waving a hand holding weeds southward.

“That’s where it really started, so that’s where they put the marker.”

It’s clear that Hopedale, Illinois is still proud of its place in history as the one-horse, no stop-light town that birthed an international movement: Vacation Bible School.

In the late spring of 1894, Mattie Pritchard Miles, wife of Hopedale’s Methodist minister, had a bold idea: take advantage of the summer break to teach otherwise idle children about the Bible. She planned a day of Bible teaching and activities “for all children of whatever church—or no church at all.” From the beginning, VBS has been about outreach. Perhaps that’s why its first organizer took the school outside the walls of her church and denomination.

The meeting place was on the grounds outside the elementary school, where the historical marker stands today, with the park next door.

Some 37 children showed up.

What’s even more remarkable is that Mrs. Miles didn’t hold a one-week VBS, or even two-weeks as some older people may remember. Her Vacation Bible School lasted 26 days over five weeks.

The 1894 school quickly became a model for churches and denominations everywhere. The big stone marker includes a time capsule that is to be opened in 2094, on the 200th anniversary of VBS.

In the meantime, proponents of the summertime discipleship ministry, and Southern Baptists in particular, still see its value for evangelism as well as discipling children (and adults). LifeWay reports that 25% of all baptisms in SBC churches come through VBS.

Consider these other 2015 statistics from LifeWay, which produces VBS curriculum especially for SBC churches.

• Every one person trained in VBS in SBC churches results in 1.1 salvation decisions.
• 10% of people enrolled in SBC VBS are unchurched.
• 2.7 million people enroll in VBS each year.
• 72,925 people each year accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
• 2,666 people commit their lives to church-related vocations through VBS.
• 56,386 people enroll in Sunday School/small group Bible study as a result of attending VBS.

Mrs. Miles lived 55 years after her first month-long experiment. By 1949, VBS was a well-established tradition that continues to reach children and families and to change lives today.

-Eric Reed

Columbus, Ohio | Meredith Flynn

The most personal testimony shared publicly during the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, came from a source most Baptists probably had never heard of prior to the meeting.

Rosaria Butterfield (second from left) was part of a panel discussion on same-sex marriage at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention.

Rosaria Butterfield participated in a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon with some very familiar faces—men that have been instrumental in calling Baptists to a deeper reliance on the gospel when it comes to understanding how it intersects with cultural issues.

When it was her turn to speak, she delivered the truth, plain and simple:

“I often tell people I was not converted out of homosexuality,” said Butterfield, a former lesbian. “I was converted out of unbelief. And then the Lord started working on some other stuff.”

One reporter in the press room later commented they were glad Butterfield had been in Columbus, so that more people could hear her story. Her past and, in a different way, her present—her husband pastors a Reformed Presbyterian Church—set her apart from her audience in Columbus. But as she nodded encouragingly as the other panelists talked, and when she delivered the short version of her testimony with an almost-constant smile, the value of hearing from a new voice at the Southern Baptist Convention was clear.

As a professor at Syracuse University, Butterfield said she had finished the book she needed to write to achieve tenure and turned her attention to what she really wanted to write: “a critique of the religious right from a lesbian feminist point of view.”

In the process, she met a Christian pastor and his wife who invited her into their home (and visited hers) and truly befriended her. At first, “I thought I simply got free research assistants,” Butterfield told the audience in Columbus.

But after two years and reading through the Bible seven times, she said, “The Bible simply got to be bigger inside me than I. And one of the things that I realized was that I wanted Jesus.”

Butterfield’s fascinating testimony, detailed in her book “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith,” stands alone as encouragement to churches trying to reach out to their neighbors with genuine love and the truth of the gospel.

But it was what she said later in the discussion that could prove to be most helpful. In just a few minutes, Butterfield laid out a prescription for how the church can minister compassionately to the LGBT community:

Make your Christian community an accessible community. That means giving up ownership of our time, Butterfield said, and also gaining a more “collective” understanding of sin.

She quoted 1 Corinthians 10:13, about God providing a way of escape from temptation. “What if your home is the way of escape?” she asked.

Share “the means of grace” in a public way. How can Christians make repentance more known (and understood) among their neighbors?

Get to know the Bible—better than we do now. Time with the Lord is “a public community service,” Butterfield said. It’s how Christians get ready to speak a word of truth.

“Don’t deny the power of the gospel to change lives and to travel at the grassroots level,” Butterfield said near the end of the conversation. “Your friendships matter.”

For those listening to her story in Columbus, the power of the gospel was undeniable.

Watch the panel discussion, held during the Wednesday afternoon session of the Southern Baptist Convention, at http://live.sbc.net.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/ondemand.html.

HEARTLAND | Eric Reed

When I said to my co-workers, “Well, let’s go meet a thousand of our closest friends,” I didn’t know how true that statement would be. We left our offices and drove the four blocks to Springfield’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, site of the 2015 Midwest Leadership Summit. And like so many of our Baptist gatherings, this one felt like Homecoming Week at Sandy Creek Church. We saw dear friends from across Illinois, and some we knew from the other dozen states in attendance.

Eric_Reed_Feb9But I never expected to see Woodie.

After all, it’s been 35 years. And the last time I saw Woodie, he was a Mormon. In Alabama. Go figure. Woodie and his siblings were fourth-generation Reformed Latter Day Saints (RLDS) living in a fishing town on the Gulf Coast. We all went to high school together. Although our school was a ministry of a conservative fundamentalist church, no one made an issue of Woodie’s religion. All his family
were clean-cut, well-mannered, and better behaved than many in our class who claimed to be Christians. I remember Woodie as a great guy, a good football player, and very well liked. But lost.

Woodie came to that truth while in college. Through a campus ministry he came to a life-saving faith in Jesus Christ and left his family’s religion. Later, he attended Mid-America Seminary and was called to ministry. Eventually Woodie moved to Lamoni, Iowa, the place where Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith once lived and present-day home to the RLDS college. Woodie had attended that college for a couple of years until he began question the RLDS religion.

Returning in 1991, Woodie started a Baptist student ministry, reaching out to RLDS students and others.

Eventually he pastored First Baptist Church of Lamoni, the sponsor of his college ministry, for nine years, and just recently was called to lead Calvary Baptist Church in Clinton, Iowa. Woodie said God is opening doors to Brazilian soccer players (in Iowa!) because his son plays soccer and his wife is originally from Brazil. Go figure.

That’s why he was at the Midwest Leadership Summit and standing in the hallway outside the ballroom at the Springfield Crowne Plaza. Woodie is a Southern Baptist pastor in the Midwest, looking for fresh ideas, inspiration, and encouragement.

I stand amazed by all God has done in Woodie’s Christian life and Baptist ministry. And I’m so glad God brought our paths to cross again.

I should be more amazed that 35 years after high school—even though Woodie hasn’t changed much—I recognized him standing there. But that’s the Lord’s doing too.

Go figure.

Eric Reed is IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Communications team, and editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

As World Cup fever raged across the globe – and even here! – new research from Barna showed most Americans recognize their country’s fascination with sports, and almost two-in-three think the culture cares too much about athletics.

The nationwide survey conducted in February found 89% of adults strongly or somewhat agree that sports are an important part of American culture, with men slightly more likely to strongly agree than women. Interestingly, practicing Christians (55%) were the most likely group to strongly agree.

soccer ballBarna also found 27% of Americans believe the culture cares too much about sports, and 39% agree somewhat. A majority of Americans also agree strongly or somewhat that professional athletes make too much money (86%), and that American professional sports are very corrupt and distract from important global issues (both 62%).

As for America’s favorite sport: Football reigns supreme with regular viewers (53%), followed by basketball and baseball (both 33%). Soccer’s numbers were higher than you might think, especially considering the survey was completed before the World Cup. 11% of Americans regularly watch the beautiful game (that’s what they call soccer), 20% have played it, and 16% say their kids play.

Zamperini remembered as Olympian, war hero, Christian
Former Olympic runner and prisoner of war Louis Zamperini died July 2 at the age of 97. Zamperini, the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 book “Unbroken,” also was a Christian. His conversion happened at a Billy Graham Crusade after he returned from a Japanese POW camp, at the height of his bitterness and rage over two years of captivity. Read Denny Burk’s tribute to Zamperini.

Some Nigerian girls escape, more than 200 remain captive
While many Americans were celebrating independence, dozens of women and girls in Nigeria were finding freedom from a much more immediate threat. The Christian Post reports more than 60 women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram on June 22 escaped around July 4. More than 200 girls reportedly are still held by the terrorist group founded to fight the influence of Western education. In a video message released earlier this year, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to sell the kidnapped girls.

Book release: Piper’s ‘Pastor’s Kid’
Barnabas Piper’s new book “The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity,” was written for PKs, pastors and churches, the son of famed pastor John Piper wrote in the introduction. Coinciding with the book’s July 1 release, the author answered questions from culture writer Jonathan Merritt in this Q&A for Religion News Service, including the biggest negative effect of his upbringing (“not connecting with God in a personal way”). Piper also shared a few surprising facts about his dad, like his love for the comedy “What About Bob.”

Four Southern Baptists named to ’33 under 33’ list
Christianity Today’s list of influential young leaders includes four Baptists, Baptist Press reported July 1. They are:

  • Trevin Wax, a blogger and managing editor of LifeWay’s The Gospel Project
  • Hip-hop artist turned pastoral intern Trip Lee
  • Former rapper D.A. Horton, who is now the North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for urban student missions
  • Saira Blair, a 17-year-old candidate for West Virginia’s state legislature

See the rest of the list at ChristianityToday.com.

 

Mark_Warnock_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Mark Warnock

I resigned in December from my church, First Baptist Columbia, to return to my home state of Florida. God has burdened me with the vast lostness of South Florida, and impressed upon me a duty to be closer to my aging parents. I’m moving down to join a church planting movement in South Florida, and to shine my little Gospel light in that darkness.

This move brings to a close 17 years of ministry in Illinois – six-and-a-half years in Chicagoland, and eleven years in the Metro East. I leave behind a host of people at my church and throughout the state that I love and respect. As I leave Illinois, I see both a lingering challenge and a great hope.

The primary challenge I see is the same one the church faces everywhere: selfishness. On a personal level, a church level, and a denominational level, we must fight constantly the Satanic gravity of our own selfishness that wants to make our lives all about us, our churches all about us, and our denomination all about us.  Jesus our Savior came not to be served, but to serve, and He calls us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow Him.

God formed a church to be a light to the world, for His glory. He has graciously allowed us to cooperate as a denomination to pool our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission, for His glory. So to the leaders in Illinois: Do not stop calling us outward, to the lost. Remember Luke 15, and the priority of God our Father: “…there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

This fight to keep our eyes outward is not in vain, because there are signs of hope everywhere. Here are three I see:

Planting churches. I learned during my time at Columbia that one key to a healthy church is a steady stream of new converts. Like families, which continue to exist only if new babies are regularly born into them, churches begin to die without new spiritual life, and denominations begin to die without new churches.

I’m encouraged that God is calling men and women to devote their lives to starting new churches, and that IBSA is giving great priority to new church starts all across the state. Even more, I’m encouraged that increasingly, established IBSA churches are beginning to discover the joy and adventure of partnering with, supporting and working alongside church plants for the advancement of the Gospel.

Thinking students. I began teaching high school students at IBSA’s Super Summer in the late 90s. Many of the students I had in the early years are now pastoring or leading in churches across our state. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of the students in Illinois. They are passionate about the Gospel, hungry to be taught, and eager to love God with their minds. If our churches fail to equip our students with a clear understanding of the Gospel and the intellectual tools to be apologists in a hostile culture, we are in deep, deep trouble. The good news is that when presented with the challenge, our students – our future leaders – consistently rise to it.

A saving God. The real reason I have hope for the Gospel in Illinois and in South Florida? God keeps saving people. In my Monday night men’s group in Columbia, God kept saving some of the most unlikely men. In my first Sunday at my new church in West Palm Beach, I met a woman who came to church without an invitation, just stirred by the Spirit, and not knowing why she was there. She came to faith that week.

Consider Jesus’ answer to the scribes in Mark 2:17 who asked why He was eating with unlikely dinner guests – sinners and tax collectors. “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

No one is as passionate as our God to save sinners like us.

So to my colleagues in the Gospel across Illinois: Thank you for 17 years of friendship and love. Don’t lose heart. Let your light shine in the darkness. Keep speaking of Jesus. Keep fighting the good fight. Keep holding out the Gospel, because our God is willing and mighty to save.

Mark Warnock formerly served as associate pastor of First Baptist, Columbia.