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By Heath Tibbetts

I was supposed to die on a Tuesday in 1977. My 15-year-old mother had been scheduled to have an abortion despite her objections, leading her into the high school counselor’s office the Monday before that dreaded appointment. After hearing my mother’s story, Mr. Sheets called her mother attempting some mediation away from abortion, but to no avail. He hung up the phone and asked my mom two questions.

“You plan to keep this baby, correct? You know you may not be going home tonight?”
To both questions the brave 15-year-old responded, “Whatever it takes.”

Mom lived in a few foster homes around town for the next several months before and after my birth. She continued to go to school and wrestled with the idea of adoption. As the due date drew closer, she had decided to keep her baby and to be able to support herself within a year, which she did. Many people claimed my arrival would ruin her future, but she couldn’t bring herself to end an innocent life to correct a previous mistake. My mom wasn’t a Christian then, but she had no difficulty recognizing her unborn child as a life.

Leading on life
Moses concluded his leadership of Israel by giving them a final call to pursue God diligently. He gives the people two choices: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut. 30:19). As leader to the people, he called them to choose life for their sake and the sake of future generations.

Our leadership today pales in comparison on the issue of life. In our state and across the country, officials work toward the expansion of abortion rights, like the law passed recently in New York that allows abortion up until birth. What leads people to applaud such a law? They have forgotten the value of human life.

America has long struggled to properly apply that wonderful statement from our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” If this truth was self-evident, how did we refuse rights to the thousands of black slaves already spread throughout the colonies? The short answer is convenience. It was more convenient to exclude any mention of slavery from the Declaration, and later the Constitution, in order to unite the various states in one nation.

Issues of convenience continue to devalue life today. Abortion advocates regularly declare their concern for the health of the mother, but the top reasons for abortion in 2013 (as published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information) were “not financially prepared” and “bad timing.” Abortion is too often a procedure of convenience.

But the emotional scars carried by men and women who make this choice are anything but convenient. For years I couldn’t understand why I was my grandmother’s favorite grandchild. I’m not being a narcissist; everyone knew it was true. Only later did I learn Mom’s story and my grandmother’s role in it. My grandmother dealt with the guilt of even suggesting an abortion for decades after I was born, trying to make it up to me my whole childhood. Being able to tell her as an adult that I forgave her was probably the best gift she’s ever received from me.

“Pro-life” is being rebranded by opponents as “anti-choice,” but nothing could be further from the truth. I support every women’s right to choose avoiding sex if she’s not ready for a child. Children are rarely convenient. Even the married couple intentionally trying to bring children into their family quickly finds the dynamics of life and relationship have changed. Yet any parent will tell you these little lives are worth it.

The rest of the story
My mom was able to introduce me to her former high school counselor, Mr. Sheets, in 2002. I found myself imagining how his Monday changed when Mom walked into his office. What if he had been out sick that day or had decided not to get involved in a messy family situation? Mr. Sheets was the advocate that encouraged her to choose life, a life that became the first in my mother’s family to go to college, partnered to create the three coolest kids ever and has been used to impact lives, souls, and churches.

I often thank God for allowing me to escape the abortionist that Tuesday in 1977. My hope is to be an advocate for every unborn life in some way, attempting to convince people that every pregnancy is a creation of the Creator. I was not a choice. I am a life and every life matters.

Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

The Briefing

Southern Baptists to launch sexual abuse advisory panel
J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced July 26 the formation of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group. The working group will consider how Southern Baptists can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse. It will also make recommendations for creating safe environments in churches and institutions.

Turkey moves Andrew Brunson to house arrest
Wednesday, a Turkish court ruled that Brunson should be moved from Kiriklar prison to house arrest at his home in Turkey. Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina has lived in Turkey for 23 years, pastoring a church in Izmir. He has been on trial for terrorism and spying charges and was detained nearly two years ago.

Sessions announces religious liberty task force
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced July 30 the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force to ensure the Department of Justice implements the Trump administration’s approach to religious liberty. Sessions said the goal of the task force will be protecting religious groups from persecution. 

Study: US churches unwelcoming to autism, ADD/ADHD
America’s religious communities are failing children with chronic health conditions such as autism, learning disabilities, depression, and conduct disorders. The odds of a child with autism never attending religious services were nearly twice as high as compared to children with no chronic health conditions. The odds of never attending for children with developmental delays, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, and behavior disorders were just as high. 

Churches may have to pay taxes
Some in Congress want to tweak a portion tax bills that will now force nonprofits, including churches, to pay a 21% tax on the value of certain employee benefits. But most others downplay the problem or deny it needs to be addressed.

Sources: ERLC, Christianity Today (2), Religion News Service, McClatchy

Are revivals effective?

ib2newseditor —  March 15, 2018

Abstract cross

I was in a small gathering of folks the other week when a dear lady made reference to a revival she had been a part of.

“But, of course, nobody has revivals anymore,” she said with such confidence. I wanted to say, “Well, that’s not exactly right. I am beginning a revival this Sunday at Summit Baptist Church in Loganville.”

Here in Georgia, I remember very distinctly one statistic that stood out from research a few years ago about evangelistic churches: Churches that have revivals baptize more people than churches that do not have revivals.

In my book “Healthy Kingdom Churches” a few years back, I wrote about a doctor friend, who accepted the task of getting me well from a respiratory ailment, so I could preach a revival meeting at Atco Baptist Church in Cartersville. He made a statement and then asked a question: “I didn’t know churches were still having revivals. Are revivals still effective?”

I gave the most sincere and honest answer I knew: “Revivals are effective in some churches and not in others.”

“How do you explain that?” he asked.

I responded, “It’s like most other things. The success of a revival is determined largely by the amount of effort put into getting ready for revival.”

Churches that have revivals baptize more people than churches that do not have revivals.

The revival at Atco Baptist Church was truly amazing. It happened because the pastor, Wayne Hamrick, had prepared the congregation through praying for revival and witnessing across the community. That week we saw 57 people come to faith in Christ. In one service, we saw over 20 make professions of faith. There were many other decisions as well, with people making rededication commitments and coming on transfer of membership. God had done an amazing thing among His people who dared to trust that if they prayed and witnessed, God would do what only God can do.

I have come to the conclusion that it is wrong to declare the death of revivals, when the only reason they may be dead in a church is a lack of commitment to pray for revival toward reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the first service at the recent revival at Summit Baptist Church, pastor Jason Rothe made the statement that the congregation had literally been praying for months for this series of services. That did not surprise me because when I arrived at the church, I found a vibrant congregation filled with anticipation over what the Lord would do during the week. When the invitation was given, the aisles filled with people coming down front to pray and to unite with the church.

I want to encourage you to plan a revival for your church. As you do, remember that we have a good number of vocational evangelists in our Baptist family that God is using in a great way. When you contact them you will discover faithful, energetic and effective servants of Christ ready to bless your church.

J. Robert White is executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. This article originally appeared at http://www.bpnews.net.

The Briefing

Details on Billy Graham Memorial events
Watch the live stream of all major events from the Billy Graham memorial website. In the meantime, viewers can watch classic Billy Graham sermons, along with live commentary from his ministry headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Related:

Graham’s indelible impact on global missions
Not only did Billy Graham preach in person to large gatherings in more than 180 countries, but for 40 years he led in organizing international conferences on missions and evangelism that introduced the concept of “unreached people groups” that today lies at the heart of global strategy. And the simple fact those meetings solicited representation from many countries — not just traditional mission senders in the West — drew Christian groups from less-developed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America into their own global mission undertakings.

Billy Graham’s 5 greatest sermons
Watch five of Graham’s greatest sermons, from the spiritual revival that made him a household name to the last address he ever gave, on his 95th birthday in 2013.

Study shows far-reaching impact of Billy Graham
About 80 years after he began his ministry, Billy Graham continued to impact the faith of millions with nearly half of all Protestant churchgoers saying they have watched one of his sermons on television. Only 4% of churchgoers said they “have no idea who Billy Graham is.”

Related:

Graham had pride and regret on civil rights issues
The Rev. Billy Graham was single-minded when he preached about God, prefacing sermon points with the phrase “The Bible says …” Yet he had a complicated role in race relations, particularly when confronting segregation in his native South. “Ultimately, what Graham put forth was what we might now call a colorblind gospel,” Steven P. Miller, a scholar who has written about Graham, told Fox News.

Related:

Sources: Facts & Trends, Baptist Press, Time, Christianity Today, Fox News, Illinois Review

Billy and Ruth Graham

Ruth and Billy at their Montreat, N.C., home. (Baptist Press photo)

I had the privilege of meeting Billy Graham three times in my life. Each of those encounters gave me a slightly different perspective on both the man and the far-reaching scope of his ministry and influence.

I first met Dr. Graham while a college student at Judson University, where one of his sons was also a student. The chapel was buzzing that morning with news that Billy Graham was present, and I sat down eager to hear the famous evangelist. Instead, we heard the regularly scheduled chapel speaker, and learned that Dr. Graham was there as a parent and fellow worshiper that morning. I had a brief moment to shake his hand after chapel. But the memory I walked away with was of his humility, and that he didn’t need to be in the limelight.

The second time I met Dr. Graham was in the mid-1980’s, when he visited the offices of Christianity Today Inc., where I worked as a mid-level manager. Dr. Graham founded our flagship magazine in 1956, and it had become the primary voice for evangelical Christianity, and a thoughtful alternative to the more liberal Christian Century.

Throughout my 17 years at Christianity Today, we would occasionally discuss whether anyone could personify and hold together the many strands of evangelicalism as Dr. Graham did. The memory I walked away with from those years was that this evangelist, best known for declaring the simple gospel message, also founded worldwide ministries that articulated and defended conservative, evangelical Christianity, even in leading academic and theological circles.

The final time I met Dr. Graham personally was in 1999, when the North American Mission Board and its missionary to the United Nations hosted a dinner for ambassadors and diplomats in New York City. Though the setting was by no means an evangelistic crusade, I listened as Dr. Graham masterfully, disarmingly, and yet directly delivered the gospel message in an after-dinner speech to some of the world’s most influential men and women. I walked away thinking, “That gracious, winsome man uses every opportunity he has to share the gospel.”

In those brief, personal, glimpses, I saw a humble, gracious man, a father and husband who didn’t “need” the spotlight, but who leveraged every opportunity to spread the gospel, both widely around the world and deeply into the most academic and theological circles. I hope that meeting him personally those few, brief times gives me the right to now miss him as personally as I do.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Family gatherings

ib2newseditor —  October 16, 2017

Postcard art

Not long ago, the pastor of an already growing church contacted me about “becoming Southern Baptist.” His church was starting to think about planting another church or campus, and had heard about the partnership and resources available through our North American Mission Board.

As I began explaining Southern Baptist polity and structure to him, I realized that those of us who “became” Southern Baptist when our parents enrolled us in the church nursery may sometimes take for granted the way our largest Protestant denomination in America operates and cooperates. In fact, many laypeople in our churches today might have trouble answering this pastor’s question.

Later I wished I had explained Southern Baptist life to him the way I truly think about it—like a family. A local church is like the immediate family you live with every day. You do life with them and know them intimately, in good times and bad, for better and worse.

A local Baptist association is like your family that lives nearby. You might see them every week, or maybe once a month, perhaps for dinner or to help with a project. They would help you move, or loan you their truck, or pick up your kids or grandkids in an emergency. They are your first line of support, and your first line of defense. You trust them, and you count on them, because they’re family, even if they don’t live at your house all the time.

Illinois Baptists will celebrate their annual ‘family reunion’ Nov. 7-9.

A state Baptist Association or Convention is like a more extended family. The distance between family members keeps you from seeing everyone in person very often. But you talk by phone, and you’re Facebook friends, and you’re aware of what each other is doing. When you’re in their town, you visit them. When their kids graduate or get married, or have a big life event, you’re there. And they’re there for you too.

When you are together with extended family, it’s still clear you’re related. The subtle family resemblances are there. Behaviors and preferences may be diverse, but values are largely the same. You know the same folklore. You celebrate the same heritage. You would still do anything for each other, even if Uncle Bill irritates you a little. You would never want to leave or lose this family, even if you’re grateful to get back in the car and go home.

Then there’s the national Southern Baptist Convention, which I might compare to a nationwide family reunion. I attended one of those once, for the Cunningham line of my family, which has gathered every Father’s Day weekend for decades in western Kentucky. We loved going, and met people we had never met before, and it didn’t take long to discover common threads, and certainly common values. I hope to go again someday. And if you ask me, “Are you a Cunningham?” I will proudly say yes, and eagerly help anyone from that family.

I know lots and lots of pastors and church members who have never been to a national Southern Baptist Convention, but who faithfully give to Southern Baptist missions, and who faithfully believe The Baptist Faith and Message. It’s a wonderful, diverse, large family.

And so, with a newfound warmth and enthusiasm for family, I invite you to come to Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur this November 7-9 for the IBSA Pastors’ Conference and IBSA Annual Meeting. In fact, bring someone with you who hasn’t been to this extended family gathering in a while. You won’t know everyone, but everyone you meet will be family. They believe what you believe, and they work together at doing the things you know are most important. And at least most of us would do anything for you.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

John Mattingly

John Mattingly

Lost people matter to John Mattingly, especially those who live in the northwest quadrant of Illinois. John served as a pastor in Joy, Ill., then as director of missions for Sinnissippi Baptist Association, and now serves as IBSA’s church planting director for the region that includes Peoria, Rockford, and the Quad Cities. John takes his role as a strategist for church planting seriously. John and his wife, Jacki, sold their home so they could be unencumbered and mobile.

“A pastor’s got to come and be part of the community,” Mattingly said. Currently, that’s in Sterling, where the couple has helped restart a faltering congregation.

“John and Jacki are just a unique couple,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director of church planting. “I think part of their passion for people in northwestern Illinois comes from a deep sense that God has planted them (there).”

Mattingly is one of eight IBSA church planting catalysts working with more than 80 church planters across Illinois. Last year, IBSA and ministry partners started 16 new churches. IBSA has identified more than 200 places and people groups in Illinois that need a church. (Their work is supported, in part, by the Mission Illinois Offering.)

New churches are needed because in some places, there simply aren’t enough. Of 102 Illinois counties, 10 counties have no Southern Baptist church, and another 12 have only one. There are large sections of the state with little evangelical witness, especially in northwest Illinois and in the cities. And new churches are needed in other places too, because new congregations are effective at reaching unchurched people.

“If we are going to reach northwest Illinois, I really believe that we’re going to have to develop an appetite for risk,” Mattingly said. “Risk means that we don’t know what’s going to happen.” And that makes the northwest corner “a frontier area.” Part of his job is finding church planters who will come to this mix of cities and rural communities.

“People in northwest Illinois deserve every opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus just like someone on the other side of theglobe,” Kicklighter said of the area where factories once booming have closed, and churches once common have dwindled.

“Our communities are open to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mattingly concurred. “All we need are some people who will come and take some risks.”

The Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer is September 10-17. Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.