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Cheerful Giving

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WBVN Listeners:
Thank You! The pledge forms have been “stowed away” for another six months. The tally sheets’ information has been entered into the computer and now is being ceremoniously retired. Volunteers have gone back to their daily routines, the phones are napping once again, Cindy has carried off the snacks, and the total gifts for this Celebration have again blessed this ministry. Almost 300 contributors called during the Spring Celebration and about 75% of those were “new” donors to this ministry. We are very grateful for all the support and kind words shared during the three-day event.

I wanted to take one more opportunity share the ministry vision for funding WBVN. It is our understanding from Paul’s teachings that God has always funded ministry through the very people that received from the ministry. That’s the biblical pattern we have associated ourselves with for the past 15 years. We do Celebrations to permit the Spirit of God to “stir people’s hearts” and also to “celebrate” with our listeners the ministry they’ve provided over the past year. As you listen you can hear a “light-hearted” celebration and the joy of having had the chance to share the Grace of God over the years. We truly are very grateful for your help in providing that opportunity. We have a tendency to “marry” a joyful mood with a very serious and solemn activity, the activity of giving for the Gospel’s sake. It’s a sacred act when it’s motivated from the heart of a believer and initiated from God’s own prompting. Giving with a cheerful heart is “ground zero” for this ministry. It’s a central theme throughout the three days.

At the same time, we’re aware that each gift is something that some person, family, church or business is entrusting to us to “multiply” to thousands of other believers each day. We’re aware that each gift is a sacrifice by those people. We place a very great value on the “giver” of the gift, actually a higher value than the gift itself! For that reason we are very careful about how we express the motivation to give to WBVN. We don’t “do what ever it takes” to raise funds. We do not encourage listeners to give “until it hurts,” rather, we encourage people to experience the “life-style” of giving that yields blessing because it is the very foundation of the Christian life. Giving should be a natural way for Christian to live. Jesus taught the Word of Truth in a way that expressed a knowledge that it’s in giving that we will receive. He was very precise about the order of giving, obligating that action first. It’s a simple truth. As believers, we’ll always have to humble ourselves to that teaching to fully experience the fullness of the Christian life. However, if during our Celebrations we simply find a way to separate our listeners from their money, we have not encouraged a sacred, a holy thing. Ours is to offer the opportunity for the Spirit of God to create a “real desire” to give as a “holy action.” If that takes place during WBVN’s Celebration, two very important things take place at the same time. One, we will be funded sufficiently; second, believers will learn to experience the blessedness that follows being a generous giver, not just financially but the cheerfully part as well.

Thank you again for the kindnesses over the 15 years of this broadcast ministry. We’re aware that the funds you share with us are pledged in good faith and trust and we’re grateful for the opportunity your contributions give WBVN to share the Gospel with thousands of listeners each day. We believe you have a treasure hidden in your hearts that is the Spirit of God and it is a much more valuable treasure than the money Celebrations generate. And, while the gifts are vital and necessary, we value the relationship we have with our listeners more than the contributions that are given. At WBVN that “ground zero” is summed up in the following: “give as unto the Lord (Col 3:23) from each man whose heart prompts him to give (Exodus 25:2) because with perfect heart they offer willingly (1Chron. 29:9) and not only supplying the needs of God’s people, but also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God (2Cor. 9:12).


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My Dog Wants To Talk to Me!

That’s true. I’ve seen it! But, that’s not the place to begin. Ivy is her name and she just celebrated her first birthday with us. Ivy is our second Beagle. If you remember I did a newsletter a few years ago about our first Beagle, Jessie. I identified in that earlier letter how much Jessie meant to me. She was the first dog that had lived in the house and the first dog that, in some strange way, became a very real part of our family. She didn’t really do that much to be so “connected to us” but she “connected” just the same. As I recall, the whole purpose of that letter was to identify how much we all loved Jessie just because she was our dog. She certainly was not the only dog deserving of such love, but no other dog got the attention and the affection as much as Jessie did in our lives. I compared that love for that dog to the Love of God for “His” own, His family. A family made up of believers. That Love for us is justified only because we are His. It’s not because we deserve it, or earn it; it’s just because we’re His! His Grace grants it to us. (Galatians Chapter 3)

I really loved writing that letter. As I wrote it I discovered how deep, how wide and how high the love of Christ is for all “His children” that have accepted being chosen by Him. Just as we chose Jessie at the kennel, so the Creator of the Universe chose you and picked you out to be a part of His family. All the things Jessie needed (shelter, food and love) we provided. Jessie loved us as much as we loved her. Now as dogs go, she was a great dog and a dog that taught me a great lesson about God’s Love for His children.

Ivy, our second Beagle is the one that wants to talk to me. It was this past evening. I was fooling ’round with Ivy. I began to talk to her in the usual manner. You know the kind of talking that people do to dogs, cats and babies. You could just see it in her eyes. Pretty soon her head cocked a little off center and she began to move her mouth in such a way that I could just tell she wanted to talk to me, wanted to tell me how much she loved this game. I think she wanted to tell me how much she loved having this relationship with someone. Of course all she could do was take off running and jumping and twisting add wagging her tail (what in Beagle language is called a flag) at me. But I could see that desire to talk to me just the same. Towering over her, a picture went off in my head about the Father and our attempt to “talk to Him” and strong desire to listen. I was almost brought to tears thinking about how sad it would actually be if Ivy wanted so much to talk to me and not have a language to communicate with me. I was aware of the sadness I felt by not being able to let her know how much I appreciated and loved her desire to “talk to me. “

There’s a very rare simplicity in “dog and master love.” I really don’t do very much to cause Ivy to respond to me, to love me so. Oh, I feed her, give her water and take her outside. But, that’s about it. Actually, she could live without me, I suppose. It would be harder living without my love but she could do it. (We, too, can live without His love, but it’s not easy, not comfortable, not pleasant, and simply not the way it was meant to be.) For all the things I “don’t do” for Ivy, she still gets so excited when I get home each night. She’s devoted. Just like clockwork, Ivy meets me at the door each night and “just loves me to death.” It pleases me so to have that happen. It’s rare in this world that anyone is “unjustifiably happy” just to see someone else. It surely is the same way with the Father. I’m sure when we meet with Him he is overjoyed to have us so “giddy” to be with Him. What great pleasure He must get out of those moments.

Ivy’s “tickled” with any attention I give her; she goes “nuts” about it. She jumps high in the air, spins, twists and barks with an unusual vigor. (Reminds me of some Worship services I’ve attended over the years.) When you take the time to watch and notice her response, it almost brings tears to your eyes to be the benefactor of so much approval and love. How the Father must feel when we celebrate before Him.

My dog wants to talk to me! She really does. She wants to communicate so bad and be much more a part of the relationship. But you know the important thing? Ivy does all she can do to express her love for me. It’s an expression with limits. I’m sure in the scheme of all Creation, our expression to the Father is limited as well. However, just as I appreciate and recognize Ivy’s “limited” expression of love, the Father recognizes our expressions as well. While towering over her, my heart breaks observing her desire and her minimum ability to interact with me. She can’t “say what she wants to say” but I love “the desire to talk to me” just the same.

Dog ownership is “strange” in so many ways. It seems like an ancient idea, perhaps from the loneliness of some earlier time. I know that people that have never owned a dog that’s been apart of the family (in the house, eats with you, sleeps at your feet, runs to the door to meet you, does all kinds of tricks for just a pat on the head: that kind of being a part of the family) can’t really understand. They can’t “feel or appreciate” that relationship because they have never experienced that kind of relationship “with an animal.” When you tell people about it, they just kind of shrug their shoulders and think maybe that’s over the top just a little bit. But, there’s something we can learn from that experience. Not surprisingly, people feel the same way when they are unaware of a relationship with God. I mean they just can’t get it. It’s just not imaginable for them until it’s real to them. I didn’t get it about Jessie and Ivy until I got it! I didn’t get it about the Father until I got it! When we first picked up Jessie, you could never have made me believe I could care so much for a dog; that I could have experienced so much from a dog. After she died, I couldn’t wait to experience that “unconditional love” again. Jessie left an impression on my heart. Ivy continues that today. Our experience with the Father is much the same. Once experienced, you never want to give His unconditional Love up. What was not imaginable before that experience is now commonplace, normal and consistent. I’m glad we got a Beagle. Jessie taught me so much about the Love of God toward us. Ivy has taught me about our love toward God. I’m more aware of my limited and simple communication with God and just how pleased He is to see that expression just the same because “my dog wants to talk to me!”

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


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.