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News

Foursome discover redemption through Children’s Homes

October 24 2014 by Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications

Joe, Roberta, Paulina and Travis act as if they’ve always known one another. The foursome could fool anyone into believing they are old friends or even relatives.
 
Joe, the oldest, was born when Harry Truman was president. The youngest, Travis, just began his senior year in high school. Roberta is a mother of two teens, a singer and an author. Paulina is pursuing her master’s degree in social work.
 
While not related by flesh and blood, the group shares a special kinship – they all lived at Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH). They all belong to North Carolina’s largest family.
 
Although there are smiles on their faces today, they share another commonality that once defined their lives – hopelessness.
 
“I didn’t know a lot about hope when I was 10-years-old. I didn’t know what hope was,” 64-year-old Joe Knight reveals.
 
As a boy, Joe’s life was filled with turmoil. His father abandoned Joe’s mother and his siblings. Things were desperate as they moved from one place to another in constant search of shelter. Creature comforts, such as a warm bed or regular meals, were foreign to Joe.
 
In 1960, Joe’s mother brought her children to BCH’s Mills Home in Thomasville. Joe came to his new home with only one change of clothes. Being at Mills Home was the first time Joe recalls “sleeping between two sheets.”
 
“I remember my mother let go of my hand and someone else took my hand. That lady was an angel,” Joe remembers. “It took a lot of courage for my mom to let go of her five children to come here, but she knew it was the best thing for us.”

 
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BCH Photo
(From left) Joe, Paulina, Travis and Roberta are Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina success stories. Through N.C. Baptists, these four are among the rich ministry history of BCH. (BCH photo By Blake Ragsdale)

While Joe’s mom kept her children’s best interests at heart, the same could not be said for Roberta’s mother. She and her siblings endured horrific abuse by her mother’s boyfriend.
“We didn’t know if we would be able to eat,” Roberta Brunck shares. “We had to sleep outside. We were beaten for anything we did wrong or was perceived as wrong.
 
“The hardest thing was watching my mother do absolutely nothing to protect my brother, sister and me.”
 
Roberta and her siblings were removed from her mother’s care (she and her boyfriend were charged with 52 counts of abuse) and arrived at BCH’s Broyhill Home in Clyde in 1991.
 
“Being able to have a family at Broyhill Home that displayed what a mom looks like and what a dad looks like and what brothers and sisters look like was life changing,” Roberta explains. In June 1993 while at Broyhill, Roberta asked Jesus to come into her heart. “My spiritual journey began by just being loved.”
 
Travis Martin intimately understands what it’s like to feel unloved. As a child, he watched his mother and father succumb to alcohol and drug addictions. When his father asked Travis’ aunt and uncle to take care of his eight-year-old son, the boy felt abandoned.
 
“They didn’t do the things they needed to do to regain custody of me and that caused me to have a lot of anger – even anger towards God,” Travis said. “I didn’t feel worth anything since my parents didn’t care enough to do what they needed to do to keep me.”
 
As time passed, the boy’s anger and depression became deeply rooted. Despite the loving care of his aunt and uncle, Travis arrived at a breaking point. “There was a day where it didn’t matter to me anymore whether I lived or died. I was done.”
 
In 2010, Travis came to Cameron Boys Camp in Moore County, one of BCH’s two residential wilderness ministries.
 
“After about the first year, I realized my worth wasn’t in my parents. I had God,” Travis said. “I knew He was going to always love me no matter what happened.”
 
Paulina Burch didn’t know about God as a child. She only knew about the heartache she felt because of the dysfunction that festered within her family.
 
At age three, her father was imprisoned for abusing her mother. After her mother remarried, turmoil continued to plague Paulina’s family which culminated in another divorce.
 
“I was angry and hurting,” Paulina remembers. “I needed someone to love me.”
 
Paulina was introduced to God’s love when she came to Mills Home in 2006. One night, while sitting at the kitchen table in the cottage, her houseparents led her to Christ.
“I didn’t know what unconditional love was before coming here,” Paulina said. “I love sharing how much of a difference it made for complete strangers to care for me as if I were their own child.”
 
Paulina, Travis, Roberta and Joe successfully vanquished the darkness that put their futures at risk. As Travis explains, each of them used the foundation they received at BCH to build better lives.
 
“BCH gives a child the tools needed for their future,” Travis said. “It helps bring that redemption story into their lives so they can build a better future for themselves and their families.”
 
The 18-year-old has returned home with his aunt and uncle, Karen and Dan Wood, where he attends a local Christian academy. Travis serves with his aunt and uncle on his church’s praise and worship team. He has developed gifts for singing and speaking. Travis shares his testimony at churches throughout the state.
 
“God put me through my situations so I could be where I am today,” Travis said. “I’m able to speak about BCH and what God has done in my life. I can be an advocate and a strength to my friends and other kids that are in need.”
 
Like Travis, Roberta actively sings and speaks about her life and the redemption she has found. She has written her first book, I Choose Forgiveness, which chronicles both her childhood and the spiritual journey that led her to forgiving her mother.
 
Roberta, a mother of two, has broken the cycle of abuse in her family. She has passed on the hope she has received to her children, Noah and Hannah.
 
“I think kids coming to BCH today still need hope,” Roberta said. “They need to know that they’re not alone – that they never have to be alone – and that they’re loved.”
 
Paulina graduated May 9 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
 
She also received the outstanding senior award from the Health and Human Services Department.
 
Only two days after commencement, Paulina began graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Inspired by the BCH staff who undergirded her with love and support, the former Mills Home resident is studying to receive her master’s degree in social work.
 
“My dream is to give back and impact the lives of others just as my life has been impacted by BCH,” Paulina shares.
 
Joe is making his own unique impact today at the place where he ran and played as a 10-year-old-boy. He owns a landscaping business and maintains the grounds at Mills Home. Through his company, Joe cares for the campus that has cared for him and countless others.
 
“There’s been thousands of children and families rescued by the Baptist Children’s Homes,” Joe said. “Every time I come through that arch, I get this feeling that God loved me then, He loves me now – God loves me. And he loves these children, and He loves this place. This is God’s place.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The Week of Prayer for Baptist Children’s Homes’ Annual Offering is Nov. 16-23. More information and resources are available at bchfamily.org/offering. Watch “Redemption Stories,” the new video featuring Joe, Roberta, Paulina and Travis, at vimeo.com/bchfamily/redeemed.)

10/24/2014 10:53:58 AM by Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications | with 0 comments



Southwestern Seminary clears Patterson after dispute over Muslim student

October 24 2014 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have affirmed the school’s president, Paige Patterson, after investigating his decision to admit a Muslim student into the school’s Ph.D. program.

Patterson, one of the most revered Southern Baptist figures and an architect of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago, faced heavy criticism from some Baptists who accused him of violating the standards of his school in Fort Worth, Texas.

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SWBTS photo
Paige Patterson speaks at a SWBTS chapel service in August.


“We join with our fellow Southern Baptists in appreciation for and admiration of the evangelistic heart of our president, Paige Patterson,” the trustee board said in a statement Oct. 22 as it concluded its fall meeting.

“Any violations of the seminary bylaws were done in a good-faith enthusiasm to pursue the seminary’s purpose, as set forth in its articles of incorporation.”

The trustees have closed their investigation, and Patterson told Religion News Service after the meeting that the Muslim student, Ghassan Nagagreh, is no longer enrolled at the seminary.

“He wrote me a letter declining to return,” Patterson said. “He was not specific about his reasons, but he had previously indicated that he had no desire to be a problem to anyone. He is one of the kindest men I know and I was not surprised at his decision, even though I was disappointed.”

Patterson suspects the negative publicity probably influenced Nagagreh to make the decision.
“For many reasons this is a great sorrow to me,” he said.

Patterson gave an emotional apology at the June annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention for what was considered an unusual step at an evangelical seminary.

“I made an exception to a rule that I assumed, probably wrongly, the president has the right to make if he feels that it is that important,” Patterson told convention delegates.

All six Southern Baptist seminaries require students to demonstrate their evangelical belief: a profession of faith, a testimony that gives evidence of that faith, a church endorsement and three references that affirm their Christian character.

While some Southern Baptists were shocked at Patterson’s actions, other prominent seminaries have students of various faiths studying side by side.

At the same June convention, the school’s program within the maximum-security Darrington Unit in Texas was questioned. Patterson said that Muslim and atheist inmates were included: “Unfortunately, it is the case that you cannot discriminate and have a program in prison.”

The trustees also addressed the prison program in the statement.

“While not compromising the missional purpose of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are taking steps to amend the seminary’s bylaws to improve accountability that will allow for flexibility in pursuing ministry opportunities such as the one at the Darrington Unit,” they said.

In both cases – the Muslim student and the prison program – Patterson cited his goal of evangelizing non-Christians.

In June, he described the Sunni Muslim student as “very open, at this point, to the gospel of Jesus Christ” and said of the prisoner program participants: “We have to admit them to class but the wonderful thing, of course, as you would guess, is that as they are studying in class they are coming to know the Lord.”

10/24/2014 10:43:55 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



SBC not ‘third way’ on divorce

October 24 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

It is not inconsistent for a church to accept divorced and remarried members with “mercy and grace” but require homosexuals to leave their gay lifestyle before joining the congregation, Southern Baptists’ lead ethicist said in response to arguments posed by the pastor of a church that was disfellowshipped from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) because of its stance on homosexuality.
 
Charging Southern Baptists with hypocrisy is valid in some respects because “the divorce culture” in churches is an indication that Baptists have embraced “elements of the sexual revolution,” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote in a blog post. “But divorce and remarriage is not, beyond that, applicable to the same-sex marriage debate.”
 
Moore’s post answered arguments made in an Oct. 21 Huffington Post article by Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif. Acting on behalf of the SBC, its Executive Committee (EC) voted Sept. 23 to withdraw fellowship from New Heart, where some members including Cortez believe “same-sex marriage can be blessed by God.”
 
Cortez has called New Heart a “third way” church in which members can hold varying perspectives regarding same-sex marriage.
 
In his article, Cortez recounted attending EC meetings and telling the group’s Administrative Committee the SBC already practices the “third way” regarding divorce and remarriage because people with varying views are given “space to disagree” within the same church. Additionally, pastors who perform weddings for people who have been divorced for unbiblical reasons violate the Baptist Faith and Message’s prohibition of sanctioning adultery, but their churches are not disfellowshipped from the SBC, Cortez wrote, recounting his statements to the Administrative Committee.
 
Moore was present at the Sept. 23 Administrative Committee meeting and published his blog article the next day. He did not reference Cortez by name or attribute statements to him because EC policy prohibits reporting direct statements from committee and workgroup meetings. But he addressed Cortez’s arguments.
 
First, most evangelicals believe the Bible permits divorce in cases of adultery or abandonment by one spouse, Moore wrote, noting that remarriage after a permitted divorce is not sin. But even when Christians divorce for illegitimate reasons and then remarry, repentance does not require them to end their new marriages, he wrote.
 
“Suppose [an illegitimately divorced and remarried] couple repents of their sin and asks to be received, or welcomed back, into the church. What does repentance look like for them?” Moore wrote. “They have, in this scenario, committed an adulterous act (Matt. 5:32-33). Do they repent of this adultery by doing the same sinful action again, abandoning and divorcing one another? No. In most cases, the church recognizes that they should acknowledge their past sin and resolve to be faithful from now on to one another. Why is this the case? It’s because their marriages may have been sinfully entered into, but they are, in fact, marriages.”
 
Same-sex marriages on the other hand do not fit the biblical definition of marriage and must be abandoned by any person wishing to repent of their sin, Moore wrote. No church can remain biblical while allowing some of its members to affirm homosexual acts, he noted.
 
Christians must recapture “a vision of marriage defined by the gospel, embodied in local congregations,” he wrote. “This means preaching with both truth and grace, with accountability for entering marriages and, by the discipline of the church, for keeping those vows. We don’t remedy our past sins by adding new ones.”
 
Cortez claimed in his article that failure to grant homosexual couples membership in local churches while receiving divorced and remarried couples “is to grant straight privilege. It is to say that in our Baptist practice we will agree to disagree on straight issues but not on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender ones.”
 
In his article, Cortez said he told the EC’s Administrative Committee “that we all knew pastors who were officiating remarriages in our denomination that were the result of non-permitted divorces.”
 
A LifeWay Research survey published in 2011 found that 29 percent of evangelical pastors will perform a wedding for a divorced person “regardless of the reason” for the divorce. The survey did not examine the specific percentage among Southern Baptists.
 
Cortez also wrote he did not want his church to become fully gay affirming even though he has “become affirming of same-sex relationships” himself. A church should have unity despite “deep disagreements” in fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that His people would be one, Cortez noted.
 
“Each Sunday our churches are segregated by our theological and verbal disputes,” Cortez wrote. “And each Sunday, Christians are excluded from the [Lord’s Supper] table because of our disagreements.”
 
The SBC, the California Southern Baptist Convention and the Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association each disagreed with the claim that unity requires granting church membership to persons who affirm homosexual behavior. In September the California Southern Baptist Convention’s executive board voted to withdraw fellowship from New Heart. The Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association’s executive board recommended in July that the body not seat messengers from New Heart at its fall meeting.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/24/2014 10:37:54 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Spurgeon’s ministry examined in SBTS Alumni Academy

October 24 2014 by Jeff Robinson, SBTS Communications

His sermons are still circulated around the world through books, pamphlets and the Internet. He is quoted by thousands of pastors across the land each Sunday. His books are read and re-read. Church historians often say Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the prince of preachers, but it may accurate to say he still is.

“The ministry of a man like Spurgeon is timeless,” said Thomas J. Nettles, who studied Spurgeon for nearly 20 years in writing Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. “His attentions and affections were focused on things that were not merely ephemeral, but were eternal. The longevity of interest in him is something that certainly commends him to all of us.”

More than 125 alumni of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary attended a two-day Alumni Academy, Oct. 9-10, devoted to the life and ministry of the great British pastor.


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SBTS photo
Thomas J. Nettles, who recently retired as professor of historical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks at the school’s Alumni Academy on the life and ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Oct. 9-10.

Nettles, who retired from full-time teaching at Southern Seminary in May after more than 35 years as a professor of historical theology, served as the main lecturer for the conference. He taught on Spurgeon as a pastor-theologian, Spurgeon’s biblical preaching, his writing as a pastoral discipline, his commitment to benevolent ministry and his involvement in theological controversies of the day.

Born in 1834, Spurgeon served as pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle, a London megachurch, from 1854 until his death. When he died in 1892, Spurgeon was escorted to his final resting place at the head of a funeral procession that snaked five miles behind him.   

In his first lecture, Nettles argued that God’s work in and through Spurgeon began early in his life, during his teenage years. Nettles identified nine lessons Spurgeon learned early in life that established the foundation for his ministry:

  • Spurgeon learned to interpret his life, even his emotions, in theological terms and all the events of his life in light of God’s providence.

  • As a young teenager, he became conversant with and convinced of the doctrines of grace through reading volumes of the Puritans from his grandfather’s library.

  • He became convinced early that Baptist ecclesiology was a biblical ecclesiology, partly through hearing arguments from the Church of England in favor of infant baptism.

  • He yearned for edification from the pulpit.

  • He became convinced of the necessity of evangelism using any means possible that was faithful to the Bible.

  • He showed early signs of a tendency toward sickness, suffering and depression. Spurgeon was ill throughout much of his life and his ministry, which often saw him preaching 10 times per week and no doubt hastened his death.

  • He developed a propensity for self-analysis that allowed him to relate his personal experience, especially his well-known conversion account at age 16, to others.

  • He committed himself to a position of no-compromise with modernism and higher critical thought in the Baptist Union controversy in the late 19th century. Nettles unpacked Spurgeon’s role in the Downgrade Controversy toward the end of his life in which the prince of preachers defended biblical orthodoxy within the Baptist Union at a time when the denomination was embracing theological liberalism.

  • He developed a commitment to scripture as the final arbiter of all doctrine, teaching and practice. The principle of sola Scriptura was the bedrock for all of Spurgeon’s preaching, teaching and writing throughout his life.

One of Spurgeon’s great pleasures was the training of young ministers through the pastor’s college he established in London.

In that context, Spurgeon published his widely read Lectures to My Students and, as Nettles pointed out, set forth four evidences that a man has been called to preach God’s Word: he must have a saving experience of the gospel; he must have a superior esteem for the worthiness of the gospel; he must possess an inability to give himself to any other work than the gospel ministry; and he must have natural gifts for preaching and teaching.

“Spurgeon believed a man whom God calls to preach the Word must have a resolute confidence in the sufficiency of scripture and must be committed to the exposition of it,” Nettles said.

Southern Seminary professors Michael A.G. Haykin and Donald S. Whitney also lectured on topics related to Spurgeon. Haykin serves as professor of church history and biblical spirituality and Whitney is professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean of the School of Theology.

Haykin examined the necessity of the Holy Spirit in the Christian ministry, a fundamental part of Spurgeon’s teaching. As a young man, Spurgeon had encountered robust teaching on the Holy Spirit in the works of the Puritans, Haykin said, and this taught the budding pastor that without the work of the Spirit, the changing of sinful human hearts is impossible. Spurgeon preached often on the Holy Spirit.

“The role of the Holy Spirit in conversion and ministry was a central theme in Spurgeon’s preaching and overall ministry,” Haykin said. “One of his best-known sermons from late in his life, called The Greatest Fight in the World, preached with the Downgrade Controversy as the background, was on the Holy Spirit. In it Spurgeon said, ‘When the Holy Spirit is gone from a church, even truth itself becomes an iceberg.’”

Whitney addressed the piety of Spurgeon, asserting that meditation on scripture was Spurgeon’s priority in his daily walk with the Lord. Whitney called Spurgeon’s godliness a “gregarious piety” because of his virtual constant interaction with people; Spurgeon was not a minister who needed lengthy seasons of time alone.

“Spurgeon practiced both direct and indirect meditation,” Whitney said. “He meditated on small phrases or brief parts of select passages and actively used his imagination in meditation.

“He meditated also indirectly in that he considered how everything conveyed biblical truth,” he continued. “Through this means he used a lot of simile and metaphor which is why his sermon illustrations were brief but were also so rich.”

Alumni Academy provides free ongoing instruction for alumni and prospective students of Southern Seminary. To find out more about the program, visit events.sbts.edu.

10/24/2014 10:29:52 AM by Jeff Robinson, SBTS Communications | with 0 comments



People line up night before dental clinic at Guilford Baptist

October 24 2014 by Press release

Rain did not deter dental patients who came to the seventh annual dental clinics at Guilford Baptist Church (GBC) in Greensboro on Sept. 26-27.
 

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John R. Bell/Touch A Life Photography
Hygienists Amanda Lester and Sara McCollum work with a dental patient at a recent clinic at Guilford Baptist Church in Greensboro.

Many patients arrived before midnight to spend the night so they would be sure to get seen through the clinic.
 
Eighty-nine patients received physical dental care for cleanings, fillings and extractions along with the spiritual evangelistic care from GBC volunteers as they shared the healing message of Jesus Christ. 
 
“We thank you for all you do said Joseph, Pamela and Brenda who took the time to give us a handwritten note. “We felt your spirit when we walked into this church.  God bless you and we love you for caring for us.”
 
While waiting, patients watched Christian movies and were given snacks, beverages and lunch.
 
Eighty-one New Testament Bibles (English and Spanish) were given to patients before they left, along with hygiene kits with follow-up care information about other dental clinics in our area. 
 
One patient who was seen on Friday offered to come back Saturday as an interpreter with the Spanish-speaking patients. He expressed interest in being involved in future clinics as a way to “give back.”
 
The clinic was coordinated through Baptists on Mission, also known as North Carolina Baptist Men.
 
Churches and other organizations wishing to sponsor a free dental clinic in 2015 should make reservations for a mobile dental unit ASAP. Read the guidelines for sponsoring a dental clinic at http://baptistsonmission.org/Projects/Type/Medical-and-Dental.aspx. To make your reservation, call Joanne Honeycutt at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5603 or jhoneycutt@ncbaptist.org.

10/24/2014 10:02:21 AM by Press release | with 0 comments



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.

IMBBrady10-23-14-1.jpg

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



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