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North Korea releases American detainee

October 23 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

An American citizen who was detained in North Korea for nearly six months for allegedly leaving a Bible in a night club has been reunited with his family in Ohio.
 
Jeffrey Fowle, 56, was awaiting trial on charges of committing an anti-state crime before North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un ordered his release, The New York Times reported. Fowle met his wife and three children at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, Oct. 22 after flying from Pyongyang on a U.S. military plane.
 

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Screen capture from CNN.com

“I don’t know whether or not Mr. Fowle left a Bible behind or not, but if the regime accused him of doing so, it must consider the Bible to be a significant threat,” Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press in an email. “It is tragic that the regime fears spiritual truth, but that is the nature of fallen flesh. The gospel is indeed the power of God for salvation. It is my prayer that one day soon all the people of North Korea will be free to read God’s Word and that Kim Jong Un, as well, will read it and be wonderfully saved through Jesus.”
 
A State Department spokeswoman said Fowle “appears to be in good health” but added that the U.S. cannot discuss details of his release while it is still working to obtain the release of two other Americans in North Korean custody – Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller.
 
Bae is a Christian who was arrested as he led a tour group in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of “trying to build an underground proselytizing network in a plot to overthrow the government in Pyongyang,” the Times reported. Miller was convicted in September of spying and sentenced to six years of hard labor after he ripped up his tourist visa. North Korea claims Miller engaged in unruly behavior in hope of being sent to a prison camp, where he could observe alleged human rights violations, according to the Times.
 
“We remain concerned about Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “We work very hard in a variety of ways that we don’t publicly outline to get these Americans home.”
 
Duke said of Bae and Miller, “The North Korean regime should release their other prisoners of faith and conscience too.”
 
Fowle family spokesman Tim Tepe thanked God “for His hand of protection over Jeff these past six months” and said the family is “overjoyed.”
 
Bethel Baptist Church in West Carrollton, Ohio, where Fowle has attended, tweeted on Oct. 21, “We rejoice in the news that Jeff Fowle has been released and will soon be reunited with his family.” Bethel is not a Southern Baptist church.
 
The Swedish government helped negotiate Fowle’s release since the U.S. has no official diplomatic relations with North Korea. The two nations remain officially at war because the Korean War was halted in 1953 only by a truce.
 
Commentators said Kim’s order to release Fowle likely was an attempt to display strength at home and open dialogue with the U.S. The dictator has not appeared in state-run media outlets for six weeks, leading to speculation that his health was failing or he was losing power.
 
A statement emailed to CNN by a North Korean government official said Kim “in deference to agreement between the Supreme Leaders of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and the U.S. granted a special dispensation for the American Jeffrey Edward Fowle, who was being indicted, to be released after his case had been dismissed.”
 
Former Obama administration spokesman Jay Carney told CNN the statement was “a fig leaf” intended to “pin” the release on the U.S.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/23/2014 12:42:19 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Festival 31: Back in a big way

October 23 2014 by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder

There’s big, and then there’s Calvary Baptist big.
 
The lengths to which the Winston-Salem congregation has gone to plan for its upcoming Festival 31 Halloween alternative are impressive, to say the least. Try this on for size – a community mailer went out to no less than 45,000 homes in the area, and church members distributed approximately 10,000 invitations at the recently concluded Dixie Classic Fair.
 
That’s not all. Local Christian radio station WBFJ will not only publicize everything that is taking place leading up to the Oct. 31 celebration, but it will also broadcast live on location. Candy will be distributed Trunk or Treat style, to go along with 12 inflatables and free hot dog dinner.
 
It will be Calvary’s first Halloween event since 2007, and they’re planning for somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 people to attend.
 
“We had close to 2,000 at the event we had in 2007,” said Kelli Benfield, Calvary’s director of communications. “We were initially planning on 2,000, but we just want to make sure that we have enough for 3,000. We’re asking all of our members who plan on attending to go ahead and register, so that when folks from the community come, they’re not having to wait in this big, long line. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for our guests.”
 
Festival 31 is not so much a reaction to Christian criticism of Halloween as it is a way to further connect with the church’s community.
 
“It’s not because we have issues with Halloween at all,” Benfield said. “We’re trying to provide a safe and friendly event for families in our community, as a way to just network with our community, to say, ‘Hey, we want to connect you with us in an approachable way.’”
 
There can be no doubt that Festival 31 will be fun, but organizers are working to cultivate its ministry possibilities. Still more volunteers will be on hand to pass out copies of The Story, which according to the book’s website is “an abridged, chronological Bible that reads like a novel.”
 
“We’ll be evangelistic,” Benfield said. “Our volunteers will be trained on how to share The Story, just because it’s a neat tool. We’ll have people who (help guests) become familiar with Calvary, to know that we are a family friendly place, we’re here for them and we care about their salvation and where they are in their walk with the Lord. We want to make sure we provide an easy door to walk through, that they can find Jesus.”
 
Although Calvary has not had any official church-wide Halloween-themed events since 2007, it has dedicated a tremendous amount of financial resources to ensuring the success of Festival 31 this year. Massive mailings, thousands upon thousands of invitations and copies of a best-selling book don’t come cheaply.
 
“It’s a big expense,” Benfield admitted. “At a time when we were pulling back budgets, it just seemed like (the Halloween alternative) was the thing to pull out of our budget. But right now, we just say, ‘Hey, let’s try it again.’ It’s a completely free event, so we’re picking up a lot of expense.”
 
The hope is for Calvary to connect the dots between Festival 31, Christmas, Easter and regular church attendance.
 
“At Christmas time, a lot of people are looking for a place to go to church,” Benfield said. “Easter, a lot of people are looking for a place to go to church. We’ve tried to be intentional the last couple of years to invite people to come to Christmas at Calvary during the Christmas season, but we kind of advertise that we don’t want you to just come to our Christmas musical.
 
“We have plenty more things going on, like great messages. So one of the things we’re doing at the end of Festival 31, on your way out the door, you’ll get an invitation to come back and visit us at Christmas. At Christmas, we’ll be intentional about inviting them back at Easter, also.”
 
Pre-registration is available on the church’s website for those wishing to bypass the lines waiting to sign in the day of the event. Visit http://www.calvarynow.com/festival31 for more information.

10/23/2014 12:35:58 PM by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments



China: Fewer abortions? But more persecution

October 23 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

China’s newly announced switch to a two-child population control policy does not resolve the coercive nature of the program, pro-life leaders say.
 
The disclosure of the change came even as the communist government imposes the most severe oppression in four decades, according to a leading advocate for the Chinese church.
 
Christians face the “worst persecution in China since the Cultural Revolution,” Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, said in an article by Christian Today on Oct. 9.
 
That description is justified, Fu explained to Baptist Press (BP) in written comments in an email interview Oct. 22, due to “both the large scale and the severe degree of [the] violent crackdown” against not only the unregistered house churches but against the government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement congregations. About 300 churches have either been destroyed or had crosses forcibly removed recently in an ongoing campaign, and various believers have been arrested, Fu said.
 
Three-Self pastor Zhang Shaojie of Henan Province received a 12-year prison sentence in July, Fu noted, while Huang Yizi, a Three-Self pastor in Zhejiang Province, awaits trial after rallying prayer support for victims of the government crackdown.
 
Credible evidence exists, Fu told BP, that demonstrates Xi Jinping, who became China’s president in March 2013, instituted a “more hostile religious policy” last year. His goal is to “contain the over-heated growth of Christianity, according to confirmed and verified officially issued documents,” Fu said. Christianity is listed as a national security threat by the Chinese Communist Party, said Fu, who received the 2007 John Leland Religious Liberty Award from Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) for his work on behalf of the persecuted church in China.
 
Meanwhile, a government researcher’s statement that China intends to “fully relax” its infamous “one-child” population control policy in two years was reported by Bloomberg News on Oct. 16. Cai Fang, a vice director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, “People wish to choose the number of children they want to have, and they should be given the choice, at least for two children.”
 
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist ERLC, said a two-child policy “is not good enough to answer China’s horrific human rights record when it comes to innocent unborn children.”
 
“We should be glad that some children will be born who would have otherwise been killed, but the fundamental problem of China’s forced population control remains,” Moore said in a written statement to BP. “This government’s Pharaoh-like brutality is seen in its audacity in acting as though it has the authority to ‘allow’ or ‘disallow’ life. We should pray for the day when human rights and human dignity are recognized in China, in which children are seen as blessings and gifts, and not as herds to be culled.”
 
To say China “will fully relax” its policy is “extremely misleading,” Reggie Littlejohn said in response to the Bloomberg report. Littlejohn is president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, which campaigns against China’s coercive program.
 
“Allowing all couples to have a second child does not constitute a ‘full relaxation’ of the One-Child Policy,” Littlejohn said in a written statement. “The problem with the One Child Policy is not the number of children ‘allowed.’ Rather, it is the fact [that China] is telling women how many children they can have and then enforcing that limit through forced abortion, forced sterilization and infanticide.”
 
The “one-child” program generally restricts couples to a single child, but exceptions increasingly have been permitted in recent years. The limit in urban areas is one child, but two children are allowed to families in rural areas, if the first is a girl. Parents in cities may have second babies if at least one is an only child. Couples who violate the policy face the possibility not only of large fines, job loss and imprisonment but of forced abortions or sterilizations.
 
“Even if all couples were allowed two children, there is no guarantee [China] will cease their appalling methods of enforcement,” Littlejohn said. “Women will still need a birth permit to have their first and second child. Women who get pregnant without permission will still be dragged out of their homes, strapped down to tables and forced to abort babies that they want, even up to the ninth month of pregnancy.”
 
Calling China’s population control program the “One Child Policy” is “a misnomer that causes confusion,” Littlejohn said. “It should be called China’s ‘Forced Abortion Policy.’
 
“China’s Forced Abortion Policy does not need to be modified. It needs to be abolished,” she said.
 
China first instituted limits on population growth in 1971 and established what became known as its “one-child policy” in the late 1970s. Last year, the government reported the following statistics since 1971 – 336 million abortions performed, 196 million sterilizations conducted and 403 million intrauterine devices inserted.
 
While Beijing says the program has prevented 400 million live births and raised many families from poverty, the restriction has produced widespread reports of forced, even late-term, abortions and sterilizations by authorities in some localities. The coercive abortions are performed normally on female babies, because of the Chinese preference for sons. Sex-selection abortions and infanticide have resulted in dramatic differences in the female and male birth rates.
 
China is beginning to reap the harvest of its population control program. China’s fertility rate of 1.66 per woman is far short of the 2.1 level needed to sustain population levels, according to the United Nations, Bloomberg reported. China’s labor population – which consists of people between 16 and 59 years old – dropped in both 2012 and 2013, according to the report.
 
A comparatively small but growing number of China’s churches have begun to address abortion in recent years. Pastors are preaching on the sanctity of human life, resulting in repentance among church members, and congregations are seeking to aid women who are under pressure to abort, according to a July 15 report in BP.
 
Fu of ChinaAid attributed the change in the Chinese church “to both the persistent awareness campaign by the international pro-life and liberty organizations and the increasing teachings about life, dignity and liberty issues by some Chinese churches.”
 
The switch “from indifference to more repentance” and a pro-life position by house churches in China has occurred perhaps only in the last few years, Fu told BP.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by June Cheng of WORLD News Service.)

10/23/2014 12:29:17 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Facebook & Apple cover workers’ egg freezing

October 23 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A rise in the single population and the emergence of employers paying for female workers to freeze their eggs may indicate that America has wandered further from biblical sexual morality.
 
“The sexual revolution is the governing principle of our time,” Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press (BP). The refusal of many sexually active people to marry and bear children indicates that “ultimately it’s the god of eros that’s reigning today.”
 
The population of Americans over 16 who are single has eclipsed 50 percent for the first time since the government began compiling such statistics in 1976, Bloomberg reported. That includes 30.4 percent of American adults who have never married and 19.8 percent who are divorced, separated or widowed.
 
Meanwhile, Facebook and Apple have announced they will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs – a move The New York Times said “could be seen as paying women to put off childbearing.”
 
In January Facebook began covering up to $20,000 for female employees to freeze their eggs, the Times reported. Apple told NBC News it will begin covering egg freezing in January 2015, joining companies like Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and Microsoft which offer similar benefits.
 
Walker believes the rise of singleness and employer offers of egg freezing are related, both reflecting a devaluation of marriage.
 
God has given some people the gift of singleness as described in 1 Corinthians 7, Walker said, yet a large number of singles are seeking sexual fulfillment outside marriage and refusing to channel their desires in a husband-wife union. The freezing of eggs may indicate that some people want to separate the bearing of children from a one-flesh union between husband and wife, Walker said.
 
“The main reason” marriage is “breaking down is that the goods of marriage” like children and intimacy are now “attainable outside of marriage,” Walker said. When those things “can be attained outside of marriage,” some may ask “why do you need to enter marriage in the first place?”
 
Additionally, Walker fears that employer-paid egg freezing could lead to the destruction of embryos. Often women who freeze their eggs later attempt in vitro fertilization, where sperm is used to fertilize the egg in a laboratory and then a tiny human is implanted in the woman’s uterus. Unless conducted within strict ethical parameters, in vitro fertilization can involve the indefinite freezing of embryos or even their destruction.
 
Although some reports have touted egg freezing as a way to delay child bearing, the Times reported that women under 35 have only a 10 to 12 percent chance of giving birth per egg, and women over 35 have a 6 to 8 percent chance or lower.
 
Egg freezing involves a two-week process of hormone injections and extraction under sedation, The Times reported. Generally it takes another two weeks for the patient to feel back to normal, and a cycle of extraction costs up to $15,000, with many doctors recommending more than one cycle. Storing the eggs costs about $500 per year.
 

‘Consumeristic mindset’

Larry Mayberry, a pastor in New York City, confronts the issues of delayed marriage and child rearing on a regular basis. He told BP his church is attempting to teach singles that marriage is a covenant and not a consumer product.
 
A “consumeristic mindset” common among New York singles “makes it way more difficult to settle down because you only want a mate that can give you ... what [you] think you want,” Mayberry, community pastor at Connection Church in Queens, said.
 
The oldest regular attendee at Connection is 45 and many worshipers are single, especially the women, Mayberry said. He does not believe many New York singles have the biblical gift of singleness but thinks they are distracted from the blessings of family by career, social life and a worldly approach to romance.
 
For one single woman at Connection, surrendering her life to Jesus as Lord and Savior led to a transformed perspective.
 
Before becoming a Christian, “her desire was to move up in her career. Her desire was to get to the top and to do it as quickly as possible. And she was delaying marriage because of that,” Mayberry said.
 
As the woman started to grow in her relationship with Jesus, “she began to see that if she really desired to be married, then she had to make sacrifices. It’s not just getting and getting and getting, but it’s about giving. So just in the last month she and a single man in our church have begun dating with the intent to marry,” Mayberry said.
 
While he did not comment on the bioethical implications of egg freezing, Mayberry said there can be legitimate reasons for Christian couples to delay child rearing, including the desire to provide adequate housing for a family.
 
“Having or not having a child is not a decision one should make solely based on your income,” Mayberry said. “However, if you live in a studio apartment as a young couple and you need to move into a one-bedroom – which may cost as much as $1,000 more a month [in New York] – one of the steps to getting there might be advancing in your career to one more promotion where you can get a raise.”
 
Determining whether delaying children is appropriate for an individual couple should always be done “in unity” within the marriage and “in community” with a local church, Mayberry said. He added that married couples should regard children as a blessing and not a curse.
 

Help for couples

Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, writes in his book What Is the Meaning of Sex? that it can be ethically permissible for couples to delay child bearing. But he notes they should never use a method of birth control that prevents implantation in the womb of a fertilized egg.
 
Burk offers several principles to guide Christian couples. Among them:

  • “Christians must reject the contraceptive mentality that treats pregnancy and children as ‘impositions to be avoided rather than gifts to be received.’“

  • “Each and every marriage act” of intimacy does not need to be aimed at conceiving a child as long as there is a general “openness to children over the course of a marriage.”

  • “Scripture does not order married persons to pursue the largest number of children that could possibly be conceived.”

Like Mayberry, Burk condemns the worldly mindset that regards marriage as a commodity and children as burdens.
 
“A selfish, materialistic mind-set is often blind to the blessings that God offers through children,” Burk writes.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/23/2014 12:22:46 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Former missionary pleads guilty to wire fraud

October 23 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press

Former Southern Baptist missionary Brady Nurse pleaded guilty Oct. 21 in a federal court to fraudulently obtaining approximately $300,000 in mission funds over a period of five years while working as a logistics and business coordinator for the International Mission Board (IMB) in Portugal.
 
Nurse, 37, who resigned as a missionary in January, could face up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and an order to make full restitution of the money he took. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2015, by U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer.
 
Nurse and his wife Andrea were appointed IMB missionaries in March 2006. His wire fraud activity was discovered earlier this year by the mission board’s internal auditing procedures. It was reported by the board’s internal auditor and general counsel to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which began a months-long investigation resulting in federal charges against the Montana native. Nurse’s plea agreement was announced Oct. 21 by Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond, Va., and FBI special agent Adam S. Lee after it was accepted by United States Magistrate Judge David J. Novak.

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Brady Nurse

 

Nurse admitted in a statement filed with his plea agreement that he obtained more than $285,000 through 135 fraudulent reimbursement requests from 2008 to 2013 during his time in Portugal and after returning to the United States. In the statement, signed by Nurse and his attorney, he acknowledged that he “routinely altered” amounts on valid documents and invoices submitted on expense reports to increase his reimbursement; “submitted fraudulent, manufactured, and/or duplicated documentation” on expense reports, “falsely represented” quotes and estimates for service from vendors as services actually provided, rather than lower amounts actually charged; altered documentation associated with household shipping charges “to obtain additional benefit from an increase shipping allowance”; and falsely obtained reimbursement for non-reimbursable expenses.
 
After his resignation as a missionary, the statement added, Nurse continued to seek reimbursement for “suspect shipping expenses by false statements submitted to IMB through interstate emails.” He also received nearly $21,000 in additional funds through a clerical error by the board’s benefits department and has yet to return those funds.
 
The mission board became aware in January of “suspicious transactions” by Nurse related to shipping of household items from Portugal to the United States, according to the court document. IMB internal audit staff began a full-scale review of Nurse’s reimbursement requests, comparing them with original documents obtained from Portugal. Results of the internal review were reported to the FBI, which began an investigation.
 
In a statement, IMB General Counsel Derek Gaubatz said:
 
“We are deeply grieved that one sent out to proclaim the free gift of the gospel would violate the sacred trust placed in him by Southern Baptists. IMB believes it is appropriate that Mr. Nurse face accountability for his actions and fully supports his prosecution under federal law. At the same time, IMB takes no joy in that prosecution. IMB is praying for Mr. Nurse and his family that they would experience the mercy of God in a fresh way.
 
“IMB is very thankful for its Internal Audit team that uncovered and put an end to the sophisticated methods used by Mr. Nurse to carry out his scheme. IMB has already put into place even more enhanced accountability measures to prevent similar schemes in the future. IMB takes its role as a steward over Southern Baptist resources given for missions very seriously. While both IMB’s external auditors and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) have independently verified that IMB has robust anti-fraud measures in place, IMB will be seeking their input on any additional measures they would recommend.
 
“Finally, IMB wishes to commend the special agents in the FBI and the professionalism of the US Attorney’s office for their role in bringing resolution to this matter.”
 
In an Oct. 22 message to all missionaries and staff, IMB Executive Vice President Clyde Meador asked for prayer for Nurse, his family and everyone affected by the case.
 
“One of the members of our IMB personnel family has acted in such a way to cause grievous harm to the cause of Christ and furtherance of the gospel in the area where he served,” Meador said. “It is one thing when someone sins and hurts himself, but when the individual takes advantage of the funds and the trust given to him by IMB, it seems much more damaging.”
 
“When family hurts us deeply, a best first reaction is bathing our reaction to the hurt in prayer. God alone can comfort, provide wisdom, and will guide your thoughts and words as you move forward in processing what has happened,” Meador continued. “Please join us in holding this brother up in prayer.... By allowing the federal government access to the facts, we have acted in a biblical manner, and now there is a legal penalty to be paid. We know you will be praying with us for him and those he loves in the coming months and years.”
 
IMB, Southern Baptists’ denominational mission enterprise, has more than 4,800 missionaries serving worldwide.
 
Nurse, originally from Montana, now lives in Washington state, according to court records.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent.)

10/23/2014 12:10:07 PM by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



IMB’s Platt reflects on listening, learning

October 22 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press

A gathering of Southern Baptist missionaries grappling with what’s working in missions – and what isn’t – welcomed a new colleague to the strategic discussion: International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt.
 
The long-planned conference, held earlier this fall in Asia, came at an ideal time for Platt, 36. The influential pastor, mission mobilizer and Radical author was elected a few weeks earlier by IMB trustees to lead Southern Baptists’ international mission enterprise. Now he’s focused on absorbing the huge amount of knowledge required for his new job. The five-day gathering enabled him to meet with missionaries working in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe – something that might have taken him months or years to do otherwise.
 
“I was encouraged that the Lord orchestrated all of this, that He [brought] all these leaders together at this time of transition to be on the same page together, to study the Word together, to pray together, to worship together, to plan and work together,” Platt said. “I walked away totally energized that God’s doing something unique here – and just overwhelmed that I get to be a part of it.”

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IMB photo by Hugh Johnson
Missionaries surround International Mission Board President David Platt to pray for him as he seeks to mobilize churches. The prayer time came during a meeting in Asia that brought together missionaries to discuss breakthroughs and barriers.

 

Platt went to the five-day conference primarily to “listen” and “learn,” he said. He took full advantage of the opportunity, meeting from dawn until after midnight each day with a wide variety of missionaries, from region-wide strategy leaders to front-line workers. He also spoke to the full gathering several times, laying out his initial priorities as IMB leader. His messages received a warm response from missionaries.
 
“We’ve got great days ahead of us,” one missionary predicted of Platt’s leadership. “David has a passion for the lost that is contagious. It will spread out to other pastors, to churches, to missionaries. Our job is to lead, to mobilize and get out of the way. Let the church do what it was created to do: make disciples among all nations.”
 
During TED-type “up talks,” breakout sessions and small-group circles analyzing specific case studies, Platt joined other conference participants learning about mission breakthroughs that can be applied worldwide – and persistent barriers, or “stuckages,” preventing the advance of the gospel. The goal: to share effective approaches and spread fruitful practices as widely as possible.
 
“As I had this time with brothers and sisters who are serving on the front lines of unreached peoples, it was so encouraging to hear different stories – whether it was training church leaders in East Asia and seeing the gospel spreading through a burgeoning movement of churches there, or hearing from brothers and sisters in South Asia who are seeing a mighty move of God in one of the spiritually darkest places on the planet, or moving down to South America and hearing about what God’s doing in the middle of the Amazon,” Platt said.
 
“Not every place in the world is seeing this mighty move,” he added. “There are other brothers and sisters who are sharing in different places of struggles and hardship. They’re facing walls and barriers. But the gospel is spreading through them and it’s pressing through barriers as we persevere in our praying for them and going alongside them. That was the whole theme of the conference: The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of those who believe. Romans 1:16 is being proved over and over again in all kinds of different places in the world.”
 
An urgency to unleash local churches in missions permeated Platt’s messages during the conference. He outlined the “five desires” he has for mission strategy, a list he also is sharing with International Mission Board staff, Southern Baptists and the wider evangelical Christian community: to exalt Christ globally, the supreme purpose of missions; to mobilize Christians for God’s mission; to serve and equip churches for their biblical purpose of making disciples among all nations; to enable churches to reach every unreached people with the gospel and plant churches among them; and, ultimately, to complete God’s commission to the church.
 
“[I was] thankful for the time that I had to listen, to learn and hopefully to speak and to encourage as well,” Platt said after the conference. “My prayer in the days to come for our IMB family and the churches we are mobilizing is that the Lord would conform us all more and more to His heart, to His Word and His truth ... in seeing His mission accomplished.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)

10/22/2014 11:36:32 AM by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Mark Driscoll speaks for first time after resigning Seattle megachurch

October 22 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Mark Driscoll is back. Sort of.
 
Days after stepping down as head of Seattle’s Mars Hill megachurch, Driscoll spoke briefly Oct. 20 at the Gateway Conference in suburban Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. Initially, he and conference organizers agreed that he would not give a formal address at the conference.
 
But Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church near Dallas, said Driscoll requested to come to the conference as an attendee. “That was big of him to just come and be ministered to,” Morris said.

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Video screenshot
Mark Driscoll addresses participants of the Gateway Conference 2014, an event about leadership and worship and hosted by Gateway Church near Dallas, Texas.

 

“We could crucify him, but since someone’s already been crucified for him … ” Morris said, his voice trailing off. “It’s very sad that in the church, we’re the only army that shoots at our wounded. And I’d like you to stop it.”
 
Driscoll’s resignation came in the wake of accusations of plagiarism, bullying and an oversized ego that alienated some of his most devoted followers. Conference attendees gave Driscoll a standing ovation as Morris handed him the microphone.
 
“What do you want me to do?” Driscoll asked, teasing about the dangers of giving “a microphone to a preacher who’s been gone for a while.”
 
Driscoll spoke for three minutes, telling the crowd that he’s praying for Jesus to show him “blind spots” where he could grow.
 
“There are a lot of things I could say that would make me feel better. I don’t know if it would make me look better, but I don’t think it would make Jesus look better,” he said.
 
Driscoll asked the crowd for prayer for his family of five children, ages 8 to 17. “I’ve cried a lot lately,” he said. “It’s been a rough season for the family.”
 
Driscoll said his family has moved three times, people have been arrested at his home and he has received death threats. Recently, he said, he found rusty nails on his driveway.
 
When his children wanted to camp in the backyard, the family “woke up in the morning about 6:30 or so, and huge rocks about the size of baseballs come flying at my kids,” he said.
 
Days later, Driscoll said, media flew over his house in a helicopter. He said his 8-year-old son came down wearing a military jacket, loading up his Airsoft rifle, asking if his jacket was bulletproof. “He didn’t have any concept of media coverage,” Driscoll said. “He thought it was bad guys coming to kill his family.”
 
Addressing a conference of pastors and church staff, he said: “Every pastor needs a pastor. You pastors, your family needs you to be their pastor.”
 
Morris said that Driscoll had been preaching 50 times a year, sometimes six times a week, which was not healthy. “I’m glad he’s saying, ‘Help me learn to do it differently and do it better.'”
 
Morris joked about how he invited both Driscoll and North Carolina megachurch pastor Steven Furtick to the conference, both of whom “got bad media this year.” Furtick, who was already under fire for buying a $1.6 million house, came under the spotlight for “spontaneous baptisms” that turned out to be not nearly so spontaneous. Driscoll and Furtick smiled and shook hands.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)

10/22/2014 11:30:39 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



1% CP Challenge: Learn, pray, give

October 22 2014 by SBC Life, Baptist Press

During October’s Cooperative Program (CP) Emphasis Month on the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) calendar, churches are encouraged to use the “1% Challenge” video as an educational and motivational tool.
 
The 1% CP Challenge “is a succinct way to do something more – an understandable way to say, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’” said Frank S. Page, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee president. “It is understandable, is easily acted upon, and can be done without shifting major sections of a church’s finances.”
 
The month-long emphasis spurs churches to learn about the Cooperative Program and prayerfully consider increasing their contributions to its work.
 
In 2012, 7 percent of cooperating Southern Baptist churches reported they had accepted the 1% CP Challenge in support of missions and ministries led by their state conventions and the SBC, according to a study by LifeWay Research for the Executive Committee, called the 2012 Cooperative Program Omnibus Survey.

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BP graphic
Southern Baptists have worked faithfully through the Cooperative Program for nearly a century to spread the Gospel locally, nationally and globally.
 

In their 2012 Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports, 3,192 churches – 6.93 percent of Southern Baptist churches – showed an increase in the percentage of their missions giving through the Cooperative Program by at least 1 percent, confirming the accuracy of the LifeWay Research survey. One tangible result of this is that the average percentage of undesignated gifts given through the Cooperative Program by Southern Baptists moved up by an encouraging one-tenth of 1 percent from the previous year (5.41 to 5.50 percent).
 
After many years of decline in average CP gifts from churches of about 0.20 percentage points per year, the decline leveled off in 2011 and 2012 (5.407 percent and 5.414 percent, respectively), rising slightly to last year’s 5.50 percent.
 
The Executive Committee commissioned another survey this spring, asking church leaders the same set of questions they were asked in 2012. An additional 8 percent of pastors indicated they plan to lead their churches to accept the 1% CP Challenge in the coming year. If this trend continues, millions of additional dollars will become available for missions and ministry entities to fulfill the tasks Southern Baptists have assigned to them.
 
“The Cooperative Program is not a reservoir that we hold; it’s money that we send through the CP to missions and ministries,” Page said. “It’s exciting to see new pastors, younger pastors, older pastors, ethnic pastors, Anglo pastors, say, ‘You know, it’s time to put more emphasis on the Cooperative Program.’”
 
The Cooperative Program fuels Southern Baptists’ global vision for reaching the nations with the gospel while sustaining a strong home base of ministry, reflecting the driving passion of Southern Baptists since the SBC was formed. If every cooperating Southern Baptist church raised its contributions through the Cooperative Program by 1 percent, the resultant CP gifts would increase by nearly $100 million.
 
This would unleash the state conventions to make a greater impact on lostness in their respective states. It would give the North American Mission Board greater flexibility in its Send North America church planting and evangelism initiatives. It would allow the International Mission Board to send and maintain a larger number of missionaries on the field. It would allow SBC seminaries to explore new delivery systems for ministerial training and graduate-level theological education to make an even greater impact on training pastors and church leaders for effective service. It would assist the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in its continuing mission to engage the broader culture with the claims of Christ and a biblical worldview.
 
Since 1925, more than $5.75 billion has been contributed through the national portion of the Cooperative Program to help fuel Southern Baptist missions and ministry causes of international missions, North American missions, theological education and moral advocacy. This is more than the combined cumulative totals of the Lottie Moon Offering since 1888 and the Annie Armstrong Offering since 1933.
 
Simply put, the 1% CP Challenge has the potential to be the rising tide that raises all the causes that Southern Baptist cooperating churches support. The Cooperative Program, as Southern Baptists’ unified plan of giving, remains the fuel that drives the missions and ministries of the convention.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – SBC LIFE is the journal of the SBC’s Executive Committee. Visit sbclife.net.)

10/22/2014 11:24:43 AM by SBC Life, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Supreme Court reopens Texas abortion clinics

October 22 2014 by Bonnie Pritchett/Southern Baptist TEXAN

A lawsuit challenging abortion regulations in Texas is being fast-tracked through the appeals process and most likely will go to the U.S. Supreme Court, with attorneys for both sides navigating uncharted legal waters.
 
As Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey is bandied in the appeals process, Texas abortion clinics have closed and now reopened since Sept. 1, the date when the House Bill 2 (HB 2) was scheduled to go into effect. In the latest iteration, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in mid-October that HB 2 cannot go into effect while two key provisions are under appeal.
 
The case is now being expedited. Briefs should be filed before year’s end and oral arguments heard as early as January before the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, according to Denise Burke, an attorney and vice president for legal affairs for Americans United for Life, a nonprofit organization that drafts pro-life public policy and law.
 
Burke told the Southern Baptist TEXAN she is confident the contested provisions can stand up to the appellate court’s scrutiny. But she would not presume to “read the tea leaves” about a Supreme Court ruling based on its five-sentence Oct. 14 statement vacating a Fifth Circuit ruling to allow enforcement of the law, enacted in July 2013.
 
The Supreme Court statement named the dissenting justices, an unusual move when considering emergency applications, with Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito voting to deny the hearing. A majority decision to deny would have left the Fifth Circuit’s Oct. 2 judgment in place that allowed enforcement of the law, closing all but eight abortion clinics in Texas.
 
Some of the clinics forced to close Oct. 3 due to full implementation of the law began to open again following the high court ruling.
 
The Supreme Court ruling reinstated an injunction imposed by federal Judge Lee Yeakel Aug. 29 halting the implementation of a provision requiring abortion clinics meet ambulatory service center (ASC) standards.
 
Only four other states have a similar provision. Missouri’s law was challenged and upheld. Alabama and Pennsylvania ASC laws have not been challenged. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, will likely succeed in rolling back the provision in that state, Burke said.
 
Abortion providers claim the ASC regulations – like the rest of HB 2 – are unnecessary and created solely to make operating abortion clinics in Texas untenable. But Burke said the provision forces clinics to operate according to the same standards as other outpatient clinics in Texas.
 
Americans United for Life is working with state legislators in Texas and other states to draft laws establishing inspection guidelines. Failure to adequately inspect abortion clinics in Pennsylvania led to the atrocities of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murder in May 2013 for killing babies born alive in his Philadelphia abortion clinic. That state’s ASC law, established in the wake of the Gosnell controversy, most likely will not be challenged in order to avoid bringing to light the lax inspection standards, Burke said.
 
“The fight isn’t over, but today we are relieved,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, owner of Whole Woman’s Health and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, tweeted Oct. 15 after the Supreme Court ruling.
 
The post included her statement from a New York Times article, “Our entire Whole Woman’s Health team is bruised and battered from the year of battle, but today we all know in our hearts and minds that it has been worth it. Tonight, our reality in Texas was recognized by SCOTUS and they ruled on the side of Texas women.”
 
Hagstrom and other abortion proponents charge the ASC laws are purely political and created, not with women’s health care in mind but with the goal of closing clinics.
 
In the Texas lawsuit, Yeakel also ruled the admitting privileges requirement could not be applied to two clinics in McAllen and El Paso. The combined impact of both provisions forced the closure of the two far-flung clinics imposing an “undue burden” for women seeking abortions in those regions of the state the judge argued.
 
“The courts have struggled since [Planned Parenthood vs. Casey] with ‘undue burden’,” Burke said, referring to the 1992 Supreme Court case establishing the term.
 
The court’s invention of the term “has created an unworkable standard,” Burke said. Judges, establishing their own interpretation of the subjective term, have issued a myriad of rulings with a host of meanings for “undue burden.” Burke predicted that somewhere along the HB 2 appeals process the court is going to be asked for a concise definition.
 
Burke said courts also might consider access to abortion facilities outside a state when quantifying undue burden. In assessing Yeakel’s undue burden conclusion, the Fifth Circuit’s three judges did not consider the fact that women in El Paso can drive 50 miles to the newly opened Whole Woman’s Health abortion clinic across the border in Las Cruces, N.M. Instead they chose to consider the impact of the law only as it applies within Texas.
 
Similarly, the same court did not consider the ability of Mississippi women to obtain an abortion in nearby states when they refused to apply that state’s admitting privileges law earlier this year. Application of the law would have closed Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

10/22/2014 11:14:58 AM by Bonnie Pritchett/Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Mud Creek seeks racial reconciliation

October 21 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

Mud Creek Baptist Church and Mud Creek Missionary Baptist Church share the same name because of a local creek that runs through Henderson County. Yet, the three miles now separating these two churches once had a racist past leading to a congregational split.
 
Greg Mathis has been pastor at Mud Creek Baptist Church for 35 years, and he had heard stories about the church split. He began searching church minutes after the Civil War, and it was then that he discovered some horrible details about some racism expressed against its African-American members. According to the minutes Mathis found, the sixth order of business in April 1867 deemed that Mud Creek’s African-American members “be allowed” the two back pews on the men’s side when the church wasn’t full.

 
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Times News Photo by Patrick Sullivan
James Roberts, from left, pastor of Fairmont Missionary Baptist Church in Asheville, Greg Mathis, pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, and Matthew Tollison Sr., pastor of Mud Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Hendersonville, talk about a framed copy of Mud Creek Baptist Church’s apology for racist acts following the Civil War that caused black church members to form Mud Creek Missionary Baptist Church. 

A month later, African-American members left to organize Mud Creek Missionary Baptist Church. They didn’t have an official place to worship until 1933 when they moved to their current location in East Flat Rock.
 
Matthew Tollison Sr., pastor of Mud Creek Missionary Baptist for 19 years, said he was shocked when he received a formal apology letter from Mathis.
 
In the letter, Mathis says, “I am ashamed of some of the past history between our churches, and I know that Christ was not pleased. … The Bible makes it abundantly clear that followers of Christ must exercise no discrimination toward other human beings because of skin color. We are all a part of the human race and should treat each other that way.”
 
Tollison and Mathis plan on framing and hanging the letter in conspicuous areas in each of the churches.
Mud Creek Baptist Church hosted a special service Oct. 12 to address racism and racial reconciliation. Mathis, continuing a sermon series called, “What a Christian Should Look Like,” opened the service saying that whites don’t always see through the eyes of those who’ve experienced racism.
 
In a video interview between Tollison and Mathis, Tollison said that even though strides against racism in America have been made, it’s still real.
 
Mathis also interviewed James Roberts, pastor of Fairmont Missionary Baptist Church in Asheville. Roberts told a story about a few altercations between whites and blacks in the days of segregation. While he was a medical professional, he had to take care of the very people who mistreated him. We had “to nurse them [whites] back to health. So, God must’ve had something in me during that time to love the individual and not the ‘ways.’”
 
Eric Gash, Hendersonville High School football coach and former NFL player, told Mathis about his first real encounter with racism.
 
He said, “It was my sophomore year in high school and we went from 3A down to 1A, and we had to play Rosemont. … At halftime we were beating them 7-0 or 14-0, and coming off the field a lot of the parents were there, and they were dropping a lot of obscenities – the ‘N’ word, curse words and things like that. That was like a rallying cry for us and we ended up bonding stronger and winning the football game. As we were leaving, they were throwing rocks at the bus and that shook me a bit,” because Gash had never experienced prejudice like that first-hand before.
 
In his sermon, Mathis said racism comes in many forms – it can be racial, geographic or religious. “If that’s who you are … then you’re either ignorant of what the Bible says, you’re misguided because of a misguided culture that you maybe grew up in, you’re ‘backslidden,’ or you’ve never really been saved. “I want to say very boldly, biblical and spiritually today that it’s absolutely a sin … if you have racism in your heart,” Mathis said.
 
In the apology letter to Mud Creek Missionary Baptist, Mathis closed saying, “We humbly and contritely seek racial reconciliation with you and your congregation.
 
“I want us to lead our congregations to do even more together, beginning with biblical reconciliation. I concur with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘A person should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character!’ As we strive to live the new nature of Christ and lead our congregations to do the same, let’s move forward together as one race, the human race!”

10/21/2014 12:41:46 PM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



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