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Mt. Vernon Sermon

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WBVN was given permission to reprint this article which was originally published in the Feb. 9 edition of The Southern Illinoisan

FBI QUESTIONS PASTOR’S SERMON:
BY JIM MUIR
THE SOUTHERN

MOUNT VERNON – As the senior pastor at Southwest Christian Church in Mount Vernon, Randy Steele thought he had encountered nearly every circumstance a minister could face.

The Rev. Steele recently found out he was totally wrong in that assumption, however.

The 32-year-old pastor, who has been a minister for 13 years, received what he called the “shock of his life” last November and is still incredulous about the chain of events that took place.

On Nov. 23 – the day before Thanksgiving – he received a phone call from an agent with the FBI who requested to speak with him in person. After the phone call Steele said he assumed that a member of his congregation might be in trouble.

“I was wondering if maybe somebody in my church might have done something, but still I couldn’t fathom what they wanted to talk to me about,” Steele said. “So I was in a lot of prayer that day asking God to give me the right words to say.”
Steele altered his schedule and agreed to be interviewed and later that same day a pair of FBI agents arrived at the church. Steele said he had a brief conversation with the two agents, what he termed “small talk,” before he finally asked them what they wanted to talk to him about.

“One of the agents opened a file and told me that the FBI wanted to question me about a sermon that I preached on Memorial Day nearly six months before,” Steele said. “At first I just laughed and said, ‘you’re kidding, right?’ and then I could tell by the look on their faces that they weren’t kidding.

“They were in no way abrasive, but the things they started asking me about were specific quotes that I had made during that sermon. I was certainly taken aback by the fact that they had exact quotes and I would say that whoever contacted the FBI had to be at the service.”

Steele said he quickly recalled the sermon was about abortion and was one of a series of eight sermons on controversial cultural issues, such as separation of church and state, homosexuality, gambling, etc.

Highlighting the fact it was Memorial Day, the Rev. Steele said he paid tribute to the men and women who had lost their life in service to their country as a prelude to his sermon. He then shared with his congregation the number of people who have died in all America’s wars versus the number of babies who have died since Roe v. Wade became law in 1973.

“It was a sermon about abortion and what the Bible says about the sanctity of life,” he said. “But it also dealt with how as Christians we need to love and reach out to people and teach them the message of truth about these types of issues.

“I shared the number of people who have died in wars versus the number who had died through legal abortion since 1973. There have been 1 million die in all the wars and more than 43 million abortions – that’s quite a gripping contrast,” Steele said. “I also tied it together by stating that we are in a different type of war that is being fought under the presupposition of freedom.”

During that same sermon Steele also talked about Hope Center, a Granite City-based clinic where he said as many as 45 abortions are performed every week. He said he also talked about how abortion is a $400 million per year business in the United States, when life actually begins and the legal requirements to consider when a person is alive.

“I just shared a lot of those little contradictions to make people aware and kind of open up their eyes,” Steele said.

Steele theorizes somebody in attendance that day apparently misunderstood his comments about abortion being a “different type of war” as a call to wage an actual physical war against abortion clinics. He also believes that person placed an anonymous phone call to the FBI, which prompted the investigation.

“I never heard a single disgruntled word following the sermon,” Steele said. “In fact, I had several people tell me they enjoyed the sermon and appreciated the information that was provided.”

Steele said his church has doubled in size in recent months, making it impossible to know if somebody was actually attending solely to target his sermons.

The informant also told authorities that during a sermon on homosexuality, Steele said he was willing to go to jail for his beliefs, prompting another line of questioning by the FBI.

“I talked during that particular sermon about a pastor in Canada that was arrested for speaking about homosexuality in his church,” Steele said. “I related how that pastor told his congregation that if speaking the truth means going to jail, ‘then by golly, that’s where I’m going to be and I’m going to save you a seat next to me.’”

Steele said the FBI actually looked through manuscripts from several of his sermons and he also voluntarily gave the agents copies of the sermons, which he says support his claim he did not call for violence.
“I sat there with those two agents and we went through it all; I did say some of those things and I made a reference to war, but not in the context that it was taken,” Steele said.

Steele said he took the matter back to his church body at the first opportunity.

“They were shocked, of course I guess that goes without saying, since the FBI was investigating and questioning their pastor,” Steele said. “That’s why I wanted to be open and clear with my church family so that the rumors didn’t get spread around that the FBI was at our church.”

Steele said he felt the two agents were satisfied with the information he provided.

“I asked them where it goes from here and they both told me ‘nowhere,’” Steele said. “They told me that they had to check me out but they also did not feel I was the person that the caller was trying to portray me to be.”

Marshall Stone, media relations spokesman with the FBI in Springfield, would not discuss particular events involving Steele, or even confirm the minister had been investigated, but did talk in general terms about handling anonymous tips.

Stone said he is not aware of any increase in the number of similar complaints the FBI has received but added the agency handles each case on an individual basis.

“Each complaint, each investigation is followed up on based upon facts and specific circumstances of that complaint, allegation or investigation,” Stone said. “Agents will do a minimal level of looking into the complaint to see if, No. 1, there is FBI jurisdiction to do anything about it, and two, to see if there is potential for a federal criminal violation. Those are the first things that agents will try to make a determination about.”

Stone said the FBI is also obligated to follow up on each complaint.

“Sure, obviously if it’s called in,” Stone said. “Whether if it’s by telephone or by letter it is not always easy to determine whether it is legitimate so we have to do something to try and make that determination to tell if it is a legitimate complaint.”

Despite the harrowing experience, Steele said he does not plan to shy away from topics that might be considered controversial or politically incorrect.

“As a pastor I believe that as Christians we are called and it is our duty to speak the truth no matter what,” Steele said. “I don’t think as a pastor that I have an option. I think I have to speak the truth that the word of God teaches; otherwise I don’t have anything to say. And we have to continue to speak that truth in love to all people and to share the message of Christ because it’s the only message that’s going to change the lives of people.”

While acknowledging that he came through the ordeal unscathed, Steele says he has one concern.

“The thing that bothers me the most about this whole thing is that right now the pulpits in America are pretty open to attack,” Steele said. “If somebody wants to call in and make an accusation against a minister for preaching the gospel and call it hate crime they can do it.”

Steele said he did fire off one parting salvo at the two FBI agents.

“I invited them back to our church anytime to hear the word of God,” Steele said.

Fear

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At the beginning of each year, in anticipation of the next, I think about not just one thing, but many things come to mind. Of course, being an expert on none of the things I think about leaves me with the comfort that no matter what I think, I won’t be asked my opinion about most of them and I won’t be responsible for the “way the world turns out.” But I think about “things” just the same. So here goes my, in no particular order, “things” I’ve been thinking about this month.

Terror! Oh, I know everybody’s thinking about it, but I was watching The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers over the holidays and just noticed the similarity between the choices in the fiction and the real choices America (and really the world) faces today. We have many of the same options that Middle Earth had. King Theoden was for running off to the next fortress instead of facing the problems head on. His allies, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the others (Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin) were for more of a direct confrontation with the “Orcs”…taking it to them you might say. Much like that “King of Rohan” of fiction, we can tempted by “man-wisdom.” It stands in contrast to Godly-wisdom much of the time and seems to run to a temporary comfort rather than a future good. “Man-wisdom” tends to hide and hope that trouble goes away. Maybe the terrorists will get bored with terror and just pack up their bags and go home. Maybe their “fanaticism” will wane and they’ll decide to give up “their life of crime.” Maybe they’ll take up gardening as a hobby. I suppose, with a little “man-wisdom,” you could think terror will go away by simply boycotting it. It is so ironic that a peaceful people choose to “fight a war on terror,” but sometimes to preserve the peace we will experience “fighting” in the defense of it.

Light is much more powerful than darkness! I remember going to Mammoth Cave several times as our daughters were growing up. Each time our tour guides always did the same thing inside the cave. They turned off all the lamps and just let us, and 50 other people, set in the dark. I mean really dark! Pitch Black! Not the dark that we’re accustomed to, dark influenced by starlight, streetlights or the moon to brighten the evenings. Then the guide would light a candle and the whole room was brightened. WE could see everyone and everything with only that candlelight! It was very impressive moment and illustrates a likeness to the “Light of the World.” Just a little Light illuminates the place where It is present, no matter how dark it is! Now, you can’t say that about darkness. Try taking a little darkness into a room that’s lit. That darkness just can’t dispel the light. Darkness is less powerful than Light! As America (and our friends) tries to make a difference in the world, we need to support this effort to dispel “this present darkness.” We shouldn’t grow “weary of doing good.” Even if we’re small in number, the “goodness” of our cause is stronger than terror. As lonely and as criticized as we are, we must do the right thing to have any chance of bringing the Light to the dark “cave” we all live in. It can be tough, it can be unpopular, it can be dangerous, and it can be tiring, but I think the effort is important. So terror is one of the things I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve been thinking about people a lot lately. I’m concerned about Christians’ lack of observing the emotional toll on people around them. While we all have different problems we face, there’s universality to much of what I see. It seems that all people are “stressed” at some level. It reminds me of a teaching we broadcast by Bill Gillham a few years ago. The Gillhams had a program on WBVN called Lifetime Guarantee. One of the subjects dealt with our emotional condition and how we can get “bent out of shape” so easily and stay there! While being confronted by stressful situations, our “feelers” go to “10″ on a scale of “1 to 10.” Bill illustrated how our “feeler” (our emotional well being) gets stuck. The needle on his “feeler meter” gets buried at the highest mark. Bill put it like this, using the threat of a bear on a camping trip as motivator, “Bears eat meat, you are meat; running is an option, but bears can run faster than people. However, you could be running while generating more options; climbing a tree’s no good, since he’d just eat you in the treetop. Then you see a cabin in the woods and you dart into the cabin.” Your feeler is doing one thing and one thing only: it’s generating an emotion we all call FEAR! And even after you reach the safety of the cabin (a cabin made of logs, bolted together; built like a fort!) your emotions are stuck on 10! The problem is you don’t know you’re safe. Even though you are safely inside the cabin, as the bear tears at the wall and raises all kinds of havoc, your “feeler” still remembers thinking “bears eat meat, I am meat!” Every stimulus just peaks the needle even more. If fact, if you don’t watch out, you might be perfectly safe but die of a heart attack because you don’t benefit from your safety. If you benefited from your safety you could do the next thing, believe your safe and trust! That’s were we are today! Stressed and forgetting our safety in Christ. In this time, in the condition we find ourselves in, we need to “lean in on God”.

The (1) terror, (2) the pressure of the culture, (3) the difficulty in relationships, and (4) the distractions of this world have established a lot of us at a level “10″ and we’re stuck there! We get accustomed to that “10″ feeling and forget how to get the meter down in the lower levels. We need to be aware of the emotional “meter reading” of others. We live in a time when any thing said casually, carelessly, could get a big reaction from our friends and family. Even when there’s no threat there at all, people can feel threatened. We stay in that “9 to 10″ range. If we’re not careful we’ll assume that “10′s” are natural feelings to stay at. Ten’s become the norm! Because of all the stress, it doesn’t take much to bury the needle. We need to be more observant of the world around us and understand the environment people live in and how that affects their emotional responses. We all need to be more careful. People are at “10′s” all over the place, and as believers, as spiritual people, we need to recognize and interpret the condition of the world we live in and apply the Gospel attitude with care and knowledge. Well, that’s the second thing I’ve been thinking about.

Next, as we begin our 16th year in broadcast ministry I’m thinking “beginnings.” Actually our beginning. How close are we to the original purpose we began with in 1990? Are we still relevant today? How do we begin to increase the amount of ministry in direct proportion with the increased need of believers for encouragement? Relevancy is an important factor for ministry. Fifteen years of CCM and 89 WBVN concerts and still going is a great testimony for us, but is the radio ministry still valuable to people who listen. I did a little research and found that CCM is the fastest growing “genre” in America. Four out of 10 adults listen to Christian Radio each week, that’s 75 to 80 million people per week. Amazingly, one-third of Christian radio listeners do not claim to be born again! Thirty-two percent of the listeners are college students. Seventeen percent of adults that do not attend a church or are not affiliated with a denomination listen regularly. Thirty-eight percent of the “Baby Boomers” listen. Importantly, Christian Radio gives “life-style” stewardship and expresses “core-values” at a time when most broadcast media want this country to live “above God” not live “under God.” WBVN’s not just entertainment; its more than that. We have about 15,000 people that tune in each week and WBVN ranks in the middle of all broadcasters (secular and Christian) in this listening area. Those facts encourage us of our relevancy. They encourage us to continue to encourage you.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking about this quote because it was the most encouraging quote I read in 2004. It’s from Dwight Lyman Moody, and in the times we live in, it offers some comfort to Believers. “Someday you will read in the papers that Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I was born of the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1855. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit shall live forever.” I really don’t have much to add to that. In this time of trouble, almost a “Jacob’s trouble”, to know this one truth encourages me. Terrorists and bears are not much of a threat to people that believe like Moody. This life’s pressure is only a moment in the time and as believers we’re “timeless.” No thing can separate us from the Love of God; nothing set against us can destroy what is eternal. God Bless and we look forward to being an “Encourager” for the Body of Christ for year number 16…

Beginnings BVN

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You don’t mind if I congratulate you do you? The reason I can say it that way is because WBVN is celebrating 15 years of ministry this month, and we’re always aware that it’s because of two things that we get to celebrate anything at all. First, we really do believe The Father directed us to bring the station into the area in 1990. Secondly, we know for sure that we would not have been able to continue to do ministry here without the generosity of our listeners. That is why we congratulate you! You’re directly responsible for the effects of having had WBVN in the area. I’ve ways said that the testimony of WBVN must first point to the Spirit of God and His sure movement to establish the station. And secondarily, we would identify the role that listeners have played to keep us on the air all these years.

We started the initial steps to build a Contemporary Christian Radio station in 1988 with only about $5,000 dollars in the bank and no “deep pockets” to fund the ministry. Somehow, in a way only God could explain, WBVN began broadcasting on January 8th, 1990. There’s a tangled web of stories about how the impossible became possible during the two years that it took to get the station on the air, too many to mention in a short letter, but there was an essence of just watching God do what we could only imagine! We’ve never been smart enough, or clever enough, to bring WBVN to pass and continue for 15 years. Simply, we know who “worked the works” for this ministry.

The early days are still vivid in our memories. Our first contribution came from Rick and Laurie Chapman a couple months before the station went on the air. The first contribution received in the mail was from Charles Carter of Carterville, at that time a grandfather supporting the station because he knew it would encourage his grandchildren to hear the Gospel in a Contemporary Christian Music fashion. Our first month’s deposit to the bank was for $372, not a lot when expenses ran upwards of $9,000 a month. It took three years before our annual budget needs were met without additional capital being spent. Each year since, we’ve been able to “keep up” with the cost of broadcasting and keep CCM on the air. The hourly cost has risen over the years. We started out needing about $13.00 an hour to broadcast; today that figure is more like $19.00. Many people have been good to increase their giving or to start giving when others needed to stop. Each year it takes about 650 contributors to keep WBVN on the air. Some churches, businesses, ministries and individual families all make up the annual group that help financially.

We’ve had our share of miracles for sure. Sometimes we didn’t know how we were going to get through the “current crisis,” or how to prepare the next one. Having an understanding that the Father, who had encouraged us to “go and do” this in the first place, would supply the needed help to make WBVN “happen” comforted us in times of trouble.

FM 104.5 has offered a unique opportunity for thousands of believers to “be on the same page” by bringing people together for a single moment in time for praise and worship using CCM. I believe there’s a “regional importance” in having believers connected by an “encourager” throughout the day. I guess it’s more appropriate for a radio station to describe that occurrence as “being on the same wavelength.” Literally what happens is that all of us are listening, at the same moment, to a wavelength of 104,500 wave cycles per second. Oh, I know that’s some just some “mumble-jumble” for “radio heads,” but something is very interesting about it: if we don’t all get on that one wavelength, if we just move off it ever so slightly, we’ll not be able to hear WBVN. But when we find FM 104.5, we all gather for a common experience of Praise “on the other side of the radio.”

Amos 3:3 says unless two men agree, how can they walk together? The implication is they must be “on the same wavelength” to be productive in their effort. Finding the mind of Christ, and the common purpose of the Gospel, is essential for believers. We trust WBVN’s format does that, offering Christ-centered Christian Music 24 hours each day. 1Peter 1:13 encourages us to “gird our minds for action.” It’s important to let the Word of God affect our minds. Teaching, studying, sharing and sometime listening to “hymns and songs” are ways that gets done.

Moses wrote in Joshua 1:18 that the Word of God needs to be studied and meditated on in order for us to be successful. Clearly, God obligates us to “work on our thinker” in order to experience more of the Christian life. Having been freely given a spirit of Love, of Power and a Sound mind, we can access the “Mind of Christ” and be in daily contact with the Great Counselor, the Prince of Peace. We begin that process by permitting Philippians 4:8 to operate in our lives. Let our minds dwell on “whatever is True, Honorable, Right, Pure, Lovely, and of Good Repute, of Excellence and worthy Praise”. If we do that, according to scripture, the “Peace of God” will be with us. If we dwell on Christ, we will be able to overcome the biggest enemy we face, the thing that causes us to fail the most: our thinking!

Our trust has always been that having Christian broadcasting over FM 104.5, our minds (our thinkers) will be centered on Christ and as believers we would benefit. Added to tapes, teaching, books, preaching and praying, we believe CCM “makes a difference” in the way we’re all able to walk the Christian faith. We provide a daily opportunity to keep your mind on Christ by listening to Songs of Praise on FM 104.5. Believers’ minds have been changed during the past 15 years through WBVN. We thank you for the opportunity to do that. Surely, without the prayers and contributions of our listeners all the benefits from having the music, programming and artist testimonies at the concerts would have been missed, and we would not be as “peaceful” a people. Hebrews 12 tells us that if we will keep our mind on Christ, He will keep us in perfect Peace. That’s one of my favorite promises in the scripture and one I think is extremely needed in the world we live in today. For these 15 years I hope it’s been a joy to be on the same “wavelength,” 104,500 cycles per second. We love bringing you “the very best in Contemporary Christian Music on WBVN.” We look forward to year number 16

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