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Hurricane Katrina left mark on Baptist relief

July 28 2015 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

“We’ve shared the gospel with so many people in this community, I don’t know if there is anyone else we can share with,” Randy Corn thought to himself six months after Hurricane Katrina when he arrived in Gulfport, Miss., one of the many Gulf Coast cities devastated by the historic hurricane 10 years ago.
 
Corn was involved in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) construction projects through his church, Biltmore Baptist in Arden, N.C., which had served in the area multiple times and seen many give their lives to Christ through SBDR ministry.
 
Corn had prayed with the homeowner his team was serving on their first morning in Gulfport and, with his proclivity for evangelism, took a look around the neighborhood and spotted a group of young people talking at the end of a driveway.
 
After striking up a conversation with the group, who expressed gratitude to Southern Baptists for their relief efforts, Corn led one of the young men to faith in Christ – the first of eight people he would lead to faith in less than three hours.
 
Thanks in part to Corn’s experience as an SBDR volunteer following Katrina, he and his wife Ronda became North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionaries and have spent much of the past decade helping train SBDR teams in personal evangelism. 
 
Corn, who served on his first SBDR team just days after Katrina’s onslaught, was one of nearly 21,000 volunteers from 41 Baptist state conventions to participate in Baptist relief efforts that began after the hurricane’s Gulf Coast landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and continued through March 2006.
 
Another 26,000 volunteers would participate in Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Homes) Rebuild from March 2006 to April 2009. The influx of new volunteers – by far the most who would ever participate in a single SBDR response and rebuild effort – would transform future disaster relief efforts by Southern Baptists.
 
Fritz Wilson, executive director of disaster relief for NAMB, calls Hurricane Katrina one of a handful of transformational events in the history of SBDR – from its inception in 1967 during Hurricane Beulah to the Southern Baptist response after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet no response remotely compares to Hurricane Katrina. 
 
“Everyone has their own list of what were the most influential events in SBDR,” Wilson said. “But everyone has Katrina as the watermark event in the history of the ministry.”
 
Within the first five years after the hurricane, the number of trained volunteers soared by 46 percent – from 51,300 to 95,000 volunteers – with more than 25,000 new volunteers trained in the first few months after the hurricane.
 
“The disaster relief teams of the SBC are second to none,” said former SBC President Fred Luter, pastor of New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church for nearly three decades. “I don’t just say that for what I’ve heard or read about. I say that because of what I’ve seen firsthand.
 
“Being there in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I saw missionaries and disaster relief volunteers come here from all over the country to help those of us in the city, whether it was to gut out our homes or our churches or to help us to paint or cut grass,” said Luter, president of the SBC from 2012-14. With reports by national media outlets, awareness of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief rose throughout all levels of government.
 
“It opened doors that normally we couldn’t even get close to knocking on,” said Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization at NAMB at the time.
 
“We got much, much better at telling our story through secular media. Then when the government got around to doing a report in 2006 to evaluate what had happened, they were all over the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief response with praise, according to what had been accomplished there.”
 
Burton noted that SBDR’s Katrina efforts became a model for other organizations, even secular ones. “What most observers could not understand or measure was the sense of call our volunteers had to serve Katrina survivors,” Burton added. “That obedience to God’s purpose for them as individual Christian volunteers drove our commitment to excellence and caring.”
 
SBDR volunteers returned home with a new passion for disaster relief – as well as for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. And some stayed, making a gospel-sized impact on their new home. 
 
Today, Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
 
NAMB coordinates Southern Baptist responses to major disasters in partnership with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.
 
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief ministries can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call (866) 407-6262 or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.) 

7/28/2015 11:20:09 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Parkwood Baptist honors M.O. Owens

July 28 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

M.O. Owens Jr. preached his last sermon as the pastor of the traditional service at Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia on Sunday, July 26. He is pastor emeritus and founding pastor of the church.
 
In September Owens will be 102 years old. He preached a closing celebration sermon at the 11 a.m. traditional service, a ministry he has pastored for seven years at the church. The service will be discontinued with Owens’ departure.

 

Parkwood’s senior pastor, Jeff Long, spoke of Owens’ strong commitment to the integrity of scripture and widespread influence across the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  He said Owens is “a very humble man” who did not seek recognition.

 
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The service celebrated Owens’ 80 plus years of faithfulness in ministry. He pastored churches in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. Since retirement, Owens has been an interim pastor at 15 churches, including a year at an English-speaking Baptist church in Belgium.
 
He has held numerous leadership positions in the BSC and SBC. Owens served on the BSC Board of Directors and its various committees, and also served as president of the Pastors’ Conference for two years. He was instrumental in the process of buying property for the NC Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell and for Fruitland Baptist Bible College, where he taught for a number of years.
 
On the national level, Owens was engaged with the ministries of the Baptist Sunday School Board, Home Mission Board and Education Commission. He was present at the annual meeting of the SBC in 1925 when the Cooperative Program was adopted.
 
The M.O. Owens Chair of New Testament Studies was established at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013. Seminary President Danny Akin noted in an article the high standards set by men like Owens. He said, “One way we encourage future generations of gospel-ready champions for King Jesus is by challenging them to learn from examples like that of M.O. Owens.”
 
Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the BSC, said the convention honored Owens with the Lifetime Award in 2013. “M.O. Owens Jr. is one of my great heroes,” Hollifield said. “I am grateful for what he has meant to us as North Carolina Baptists and to the Southern Baptist Convention. Few people have had more influence in helping move the SBC, its seminaries and the BSC back to its conservative theological roots than Owens.
 
“I respect, admire and appreciate M.O. Owens for many reasons,” Hollifield added. “He has demonstrated integrity and he has been faithful as a role model for those who serve as ministers of the gospel. He has based the decisions of his life upon the truth that he learned from being a faithful student of the Word of our God.”
 
Throughout his ministry, Owens never strayed from his commitment and passion to tell people about the life-transforming message of the gospel.
 
“Just preach the gospel,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”

7/28/2015 11:10:50 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



Tax-exemption: Where do churches stand?

July 28 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

In a TIME magazine article June 28, Mark Oppeheimer, religion columnist for The New York Times, wrote the words that many churches in America have feared for some time now: “It is time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt status.” Churches and other non-profits gained exemptions from the Internal Revenue Service early in the 20th century because they were considered a public good. Oppenheimer now argues for an alleged greater good.
 
Many tax-exempt institutions, like churches and private universities, hold large amounts of wealth while they sit on prime real-estate in poor cities, contributing little financially to the good of their local municipalities, according to Oppenheimer.
 
If they paid taxes, he argued, “government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. … countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.”
 
Furthermore, that many conservative churches oppose same-sex marriage only exacerbates the problem for Oppenheimer. He compares the current situation, given the June 26 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, to the 1938 Bob Jones University case, where the school’s tax-exemptions were revoked for opposing racial equality – a “fundamental national public policy.”
 
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a blog post “moral approval” is the center of the issue. “The real intent of removing tax-exempt status,” said Burk, “is to cripple the institutions that continue their dissent from the sexual revolution.” He added, “A call for ending tax exemptions for religious institutions is a call to close them down – or at least to plunder them of their property.”
 

Churches provide ‘intangible benefits’

The Biblical Recorder (BR) published an article in 2012 written by Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF; previously, Alliance Defense Fund), where he explained why churches have remained and should continue to remain tax-exempt.
 
“Churches minister to the poor and needy in the community, provide numerous social services for the downtrodden among us and reach out to the ‘least of these’ in thousands of different ways,” Stanley said. “The social benefit theory justifies tax exemption for churches as a kind of bargain – churches provide needed services, so they are entitled to tax exemption.”
 
Stanley added, “Things like reduced crime rates resulting from transformed lives, suicides prevented when people surrender to Christ and people with destructive behavioral patterns that harm the community changing into hard-working and virtuous citizens who contribute to the well-being of the community.”
 
One study conducted by a University of Pennsylvania professor valued the intangible benefits of several Philadelphia church ministries in the millions of dollars per church.
 
Those economic effects directly benefit local, state and federal governments, since churches provide services for free that public institutions would normally pay a range of social workers, counselors and others to provide.
 

Church tax-exemption is ‘constitutional’

Stanley also offered a principled reason for church tax-exemption: “Our history is one of an unbroken practice of exempting churches from taxation. Churches were exempt from the very first time the tax code was passed at the federal level, and have remained exempt in every iteration of the tax code ever since. Every state in America also exempts churches from property taxes. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case regarding the property tax exemption of churches, called Walz v. Tax Commission, it stated that providing a tax exemption for churches was a less intrusive option under the Constitution than requiring churches to pay taxes.”
 
If the reasons listed above were to become unconvincing to American courts, and if tax exemption were taken away from churches, Art Rainer, vice president for institutional advancement at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, offers six suggestions.

  1. Give – “Tax deductibility has been a side benefit for those who give to their local church, but it has never been the reason why we give. At least, it shouldn’t be. We give because God has told us that this is how we properly steward what He has given to us.”

  2. Celebrate budget cuts – “ … should the loss of tax exemption become a reality, budget cuts will help maintain the existence of a church. It is a sacrificial, missional move.”

  3. Volunteer – “The most important resource for churches has never been money. It’s their people. A potential reduction in resources should motivate you to give your time and your energy to your local church.”

  4. Help unleash bi-vocational pastors into the workforce – “ … the new financial reality will force [churches] to hire fewer full-time pastors. It will usher in a whole new era for bi-vocational pastors. Assist these bi-vocational pastors with finding jobs.”

  5. Stay involved politically – “Do not use this as an excuse to shy away from the opportunity to speak into the political system. … it is a mistake to completely abandon the opportunity this governmental structure gives us.”

  6. Pray – “ … when you pray, ask that God will use this moment in history to bring Him glory. Because God’s agenda was never going to be determined by whether or not U.S. churches were or were not tax-exempt anyway.”

N.C. tax exemption bill before Senate

A bill, HB 229, is currently before the North Carolina Senate Committee on Finance that would modify tax-exempt status for religious property, BR previously reported. Beulah Baptist Church in Bennett received a $7,000 bill in 2014 from the Randolph County Tax Department for property taxes on a building that was under construction.
 
The tax department decided, based on their reading of the current religious property exemption law in North Carolina, the church owed taxes on the building because they did not yet have an occupancy permit; therefore, the property was not used “wholly and exclusively for religious purposes.”
 
HB 229 would modify the current law to provide tax exemption for religious property “if it is under construction and intended to be wholly and exclusively used by its owner for religious purposes upon completion.”
 
The bill passed in the House by a 114-0 vote.

7/28/2015 11:04:08 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



TX Supreme Court: Repeal or vote on Houston ordinance

July 28 2015 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/ Baptist Press

The Texas Supreme Court has directed the Houston city council to abide by its own charter and repeal the controversial Equal Rights Ordinance or put it up to a city-wide vote this November. The city has until Aug. 24 to comply or be compelled to do so by the high court.
 
In a rare move, the Texas Supreme Court conditionally granted a writ of mandamus stating “the legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored.” Last year, Mayor Annise Parker and then-City Attorney Dave Feldman declared “invalid” a referendum to repeal the controversial city ordinance. Petitioners – a racially and politically diverse group of pastors and civic leaders – sued, alleging the mayor and attorney manufactured signature requirements in order to defy the city charter mandates. The court agreed with the petitioners July 24, stating the city secretary, not the city council, is obligated to evaluate petitions.
 
Enforcement of the ordinance is suspended.
 
“Simply put, the City Secretary’s certification started the process outlined in the Charter for reconsidering ordinances following a referendum petition, invoking the Council’s ministerial duty to carry out its obligations,” the court wrote.

 

That is what Andy Taylor, attorney for the pastors’ coalition, has said all along.
 
“The only person who calls balls and strikes is [City Secretary] Anna Russell,” Taylor told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. “They can’t ignore her and force us to sue.”
 
In a statement released late Friday, Parker wrote, “Obviously, I am disappointed and believe the court is in error with this eleventh hour ruling in a case that had already been decided by a judge and jury of citizens.”
 
At issue was the “validity” of petition signatures – those of the signers and the circulators. Attorneys for the city argued in court in February the signatures did not meet a prescribed standard and therefore invalidated the petition. Taylor countered that the city created the standards in an effort to keep in force an ordinance the mayor called “deeply personal.”
 
The jury and judge disagreed, and the plaintiffs lost the initial trial. The coalition appealed to the Texas 14th Court of Appeals. And with a mid-August deadline for placing the referendum on the city ballot, plaintiffs asked for an expedited hearing. Their request was denied, and the appeal was put on the normative months-long track for a hearing. That would have put any ballot measure off until 2017.
 
Acknowledging the plaintiffs were pressed for time, the high court wrote, “Under such circumstances, mandamus has long been recognized as an appropriate remedy when city officials improperly refuse to act on a citizen-initiated petition.”
 
Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council, the group that spearheaded the petition drive, was grateful for the ruling. Feeling vindicated, he said, “Obviously, we thank the Lord for providing the perseverance and commitment on the part of our pastors, Andy, and our financial supporters,” Welch said. But, he added, “This is a battle we should not have had to fight.”
 
The coalition charged the Equal Rights Ordinance created “special rights” for Houston’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community at the risk of compromising the constitutional rights afforded citizens, especially people of faith. The ordinance also permits citizens to use the public bathroom of the gender with which they identify – allowing biological males who identify as female to use the women’s bathroom. The referendum garnered 55,000 signatures. Of those, Russell certified 17,846 – more than enough to send the ordinance back to the city council for repeal or vote by the citizens.
 
“The mere existence of the City’s challenge to the petition does not negate the City Council’s duty to proceed with the political process,” the court wrote. “To hold otherwise would be to allow cities to freely shirk their obligation to follow through on properly certified petitions.”
 
In her statement, Parker said the city would proceed as directed but “at the same time, we are consulting with our outside counsel on any possible available legal actions.”
 
Taylor said there is no legal recourse since the court has spoken. If the city fails to act according to its City Charter, the writ of mandamus will be issued, forcing the city to comply.
 
Parker and Welch are confident their respective sides will prevail in a city vote.
 
“We fought for the right to vote and we look forward to that challenge,” Welch said. “It’s time for the church to act.”
 
(EDITRO’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/28/2015 10:54:39 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/ Baptist Press | with 0 comments



New workshops provide audio training for churches

July 28 2015 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Every week thousands of musicians and singers in churches spend hour upon hour practicing for their worship service only to have that presentation hampered by audio issues.
 
A series of new training workshops being offered across North Carolina will provide vital training for audio technicians at churches to help them in making worship services the highest quality they can be to the glory of God. Beginning in mid-August, the worship ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), in conjunction with local Baptist associations, will offer several audio seminars in locations across the state that will address the basic skills that an audio technician needs to be successful in the local church.

 
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“As we’ve worked with churches on various aspects of worship and music ministry, we’ve discovered that there is a great need for this type of training,” said Kenny Lamm, BSC senior consultant for worship and music.
 
Mark Brady, worship pastor at Fellowship Baptist Church in Moyock, will lead the workshops. Brady’s experiences as a longtime Army musician and a music minister give him the unique perspective of addressing topics from the viewpoint of both the audio tech and the music director. “A good audio tech with mediocre equipment can make a mediocre choir sound good,” Brady said. “On the other hand, a mediocre tech with good equipment can make a good choir sound mediocre.”
 
During the training, Brady will cover topics such as the basics of sound, understanding the role of the audio technician and understanding the functions of the mixer, equalizer, monitors, microphones and other equipment. The workshop will also include hands-on training, as well.
 
“The task that really allows them to gain confidence in their skills is this hands-on portion,” Lamm said.
 
During the hands-on training attendees will have the opportunity to use analog and digital mixers to create mixes utilizing multi-track audio files. Attendees will also receive feedback during the hands-on sessions.
 
The classes will be offered on a Friday night and Saturday schedule. Part one, the basics class, will be offered on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. In addition, an advanced class will be offered on Saturday afternoons. To take the advanced class, participants must take the basic class or pass a prerequisite survey. Each class is limited to 20 people to allow for more personal and individualized instruction. Due to limited space, classes are offered for N.C. Baptist churches only.
 
Workshops are already scheduled for Bolivia (Aug. 14-15), Lincolnton (Sept. 11-12), Waynesville (Oct. 2-3) and Spring Hope Nov. 6-7) for the remainder of 2015. In 2016, sessions are already scheduled for Sanford (Feb. 5-6), Hamptonville (Feb. 19-20), Charlotte (March 4-5), Statesville (April 8-9) and Roxboro (April 22-23). Additional trainings are also being planned for the remainder of 2016.
 
The registration fee for the classes ranges from $15-$20 per person for the basic class, and $25 per person for the advanced class. The fee for attending both the basic and advanced classes range from $40-$50. Early bird registration rates are available. More information, including a detailed schedule and registration information, is available online at worshipAUDIO.org.

7/28/2015 10:49:05 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



First Choice delivers hope for unplanned pregnancies

July 27 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Emotional shockwaves rolled over many Americans when an undercover video surfaced that revealed a Planned Parenthood executive discussing the organization’s practice of selling aborted fetal parts. Again many were stunned when a second video showed former president of the Planned Parenthood Medical Directors’ Council negotiating prices for baby organs.
 
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Amber Lehman, chief executive officer of First Choice Pregnancy Solutions, a faith-based organization in Wake Forest dedicated to supporting those affected by unplanned pregnancies.
 
“Whether they are donating or selling the fetal parts is really a non-issue to me,” she continued. “The problem is that there’s a human child being destroyed …
 
“It should awaken our senses” that Planned Parenthood is harvesting hearts, livers and lungs “because those are the organs of a person.”
 
First Choice cares about people – babies and mothers alike. “We believe that every life is precious, including the mother,” said Lehman.
 

Offering real choices

The goal of First Choice is to communicate accurate and truthful information to those affected by an unplanned pregnancy and to provide them with physical, emotional and spiritual support, according to its website. Staff members do not pressure pregnant women into doing anything they do not want to do, Lehman specified. “We provide a safe haven for her to be able to work through her pregnancy decision.”

 
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Amber Lehman

A “decision tool” is used to help pregnant women determine – in their own handwriting – what they want, whether they’re faced with a decision to abort their pregnancy, decide which obstetrician to use, determine where to live or whether to stay in a relationship with a child’s father.
 
The clinic encounters some women intent on aborting. “We ask the question of each of them,” Lehman explained, “If your circumstances were different, what is your heart’s desire?” First Choice has only encountered one woman who wished to abort, no matter the circumstances; the rest wanted to carry their child to full term. First Choice says to these women, “If that’s your heart’s desire, that’s our heart’s desire too.”
 
Pregnancy centers like First Choice are often characterized as manipulative and not concerned about the interests of mothers. The clinics can be perceived as anti-choice. Lehman contends the opposite is actually true.
 
“You hear woman after woman say her heart’s desire is to have her baby, but she doesn’t know how,” Lehman said. “She doesn’t see how she can do it. Her boyfriend isn’t supportive, or her mom is threatening to kick her out, but she’s saying, ‘I don’t want to abort.’
 
“We’re accused of taking away choice but we actually give women the space and the resources to choose what they really want to choose instead of what they feel trapped to choose.”
 

Helping women overcome obstacles

Of the pregnant women that came to First Choice for help so far in 2015, approximately 50 percent of them were considering abortion but decided to carry the pregnancy to full term. Another 36 percent – whose life circumstances suggested they were likely to abort – decided to carry the pregnancy to full term as well. The remaining 14 percent includes abortion-minded women and pregnant women that were not considering abortion, but came to First Choice for testing, ultrasound and support services.
 
When a pregnant woman visits First Choice, they meet with a nurse, receive a test and ultrasound to determine pregnancy. Nurses educate clients on procedure risks and fetal development, said Lehman. Clients are also assigned a care coordinator that oversees initial and ongoing visits. Staff members begin assessing her “heart’s desire,” risk factors and major obstacles to carrying the pregnancy to full term. These obstacles are often financial, relational, related to housing or the loss of a dream or goal, according to Lehman.

 
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First Choice mobile clinic

“Often times they are faced with utilities being cut off, rent not paid or close to being evicted,” said Lehman. So, First Choice begins providing various kinds of support to help the client overcome each of the obstacles, starting with what’s important to the client.
 
First Choice wrote a check recently for more than $900 to keep a client from being evicted because she was nearing her due date and facing a housing crisis, according to Lehman.

First Choice also operates a daily mobile clinic that visits regions with high abortion rates. The two- or three-person unit is also available to women who seek medical services but cannot travel to the office clinic.
 
Lehman said the mobile clinic recently drove from Wake Forest to Durham at 6:30 a.m. to meet a woman – at her request – before her scheduled 9:30 a.m. abortion appointment. She cancelled the abortion, according to Lehman. “We deploy any hour that we need to.”
 

Taking the next steps

Most First Choice workers are paid medical professionals, said Lehman. “We have to have high levels of training; we need the best of the best.”
 
They also depend on volunteers for many non-medical aspects of their work. “Our volunteers usually engage in ongoing mentoring called ‘Next Steps,’” Lehman said, which offers workshops on childbirth preparation, infant safety, parenting skills, money management, basic car care and meal planning.
 
Other consultation services include post-abortion care. First Choice also provides sexually transmitted disease and infection testing, by hosting Wake County Health and Human Services on site. The organization faces a daunting task in its community.
 
“Well, we always need money,” said Lehman, when asked how others can help. “The abortion industry is a multibillion dollar industry … our competitor is a big competitor. Filling a baby bottle with some change is not enough. There has to be some sacrificial giving into all of the pregnancy centers.”
 
“We also need prayer,” Lehman said. “This is not an easy work. My staff members see children on an ultrasound machine screen, and they confirm the death of that child. That’s part of their job, and that’s hard to live with.”
 
Another difficult aspect of the ministry, according to Lehman, is counseling women who regret having an abortion.
 
The organization also receives slanderous attacks from those who oppose the ministry. Lehman said their staff had recently been reported to the Board of Nursing for investigation. The case was open and closed in the same day, she added, because First Choice medical staff members are certified medical professionals. “Nonetheless, we need discernment, wisdom and perseverance.”
 
One of the pressing issues, she continued, “is for the local church to rise up in support of these girls after they choose life.” The help a local church offers one pregnant woman can become known throughout her community.
 
“When her neighbor becomes pregnant, she says ‘You know what? My neighbor got help from these people – I think they’re called Christians – maybe they’ll help me too, and I don’t have to abort.’”
 
Lehman believes churches must “leave their apathy and silence. Talk about the issue. … Take a woman into your home. Help her get on her feet. It is hard but it is worth it.”
 
Visit firschoicenc.org for more information. To see a list of pregnancy centers across North Carolina visit cpcflink.org/member-directory.php. For more resources go to brnow.org/life.
 

Related Stories:

Planned Parenthood accused of selling aborted fetal parts
New video shows PPFA doctor negotiating prices
Obama admin to ‘review’ Planned Parenthood, CMP

7/27/2015 12:45:09 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Obama admin to ‘review’ Planned Parenthood, CMP

July 27 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Obama administration has agreed to “review all the information” surrounding two videos that show Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of baby parts obtained through abortion. The administration also said it will not agree to defund America’s largest abortion provider.
 
On the 2016 presidential campaign trail, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton defended Planned Parenthood as providing “essential services for women.”
 
Meanwhile, two Southern Baptists – a Colorado pastor and a Texas seminary administrator – have offered theological perspectives criticizing Planned Parenthood.
 
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said of the controversy July 22, “I’m aware of those matters generally from the media, and from some inquiries that have been made to the Department of Justice, and again at this point we’re going to review all the information and determine what steps, if any, to take at the appropriate time,” The Hill reported.
 
The promise to investigate came after Senate Republicans sent a letter to Lynch requesting an investigation of Planned Parenthood. House Democrats also sent a letter requesting an investigation of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the group which filmed and released the videos.
 
An NPR report said Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Zoe Lofgren, Jerry Nadler and Yvette Clarke wrote to Lynch requesting an investigation of CMP and calling the group’s investigation of Planned Parenthood an “elaborate scheme” using “fake identification” that did not obtain appropriate approval from the personnel who appear on video.
 
In a separate letter, 48 senate Republicans and one Democrat – Joe Manchin of West Virginia – asked Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to investigate Planned Parenthood.
 
Some observers have suggested Lynch’s investigation could focus on CMP more than Planned Parenthood. Politico reported July 23 that Lynch will “look into whether the group that released the sting videos obtained the footage legally.” The Federalist similarly reported, “The U.S. Department of Justice announced plans to investigate the group that produced undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood employees admitting that they harvest and sell organs ripped from the bodies of aborted babies.”
 
The Department of Justice did not respond before Baptist Press’ (BP) publication deadline to a request to clarify the focus of the investigation.
 
CMP also did not respond to BP’s request for comment before its publication deadline but released a statement July 22.
 
“Planned Parenthood [is] trying to use the power of their political cronies to shut down free speech, to silence the freedom of the press, to persecute [senior investigator] David Daleiden, and to save their half-a-billion in taxpayer money and avoid accountability to the law and the American people,” said the CMP statement, which appeared to be written by Daleiden.
 
“Planned Parenthood and their political allies know our investigation has revealed the truth about the gruesome and horrific practices of partial-birth abortions and selling baby parts taking place throughout their organization,” the statement said. “They will attack me and my organization all day long, but that does not change the facts about what our investigation has uncovered and what the American people now know – that Planned Parenthood is engaged in an enterprise-wide operation that traffics and sells baby body parts.”
 
A reporter asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest July 20 whether the administration would reconsider its stance that federal funding should not be withdrawn from Planned Parenthood. Earnest responded, “No,” and turned away from the reporter, according to a video of the exchange posted online.
 
Earnest said July 17 he had not viewed the first CMP video or spoken with President Obama about it. Earnest said he “did read news reports,” adding, “Planned Parenthood said they follow the highest ethical guidelines,” LifeSiteNews reported.
 
Clinton defended Planned Parenthood during a campaign stop July 23 in South Carolina.
 
“I don’t have all the facts but Planned Parenthood has apologized for the insensitivity of the employee who was taped and they will continue to answer questions for Congress and others, but for more than a century Planned Parenthood has provided essential services for women,” Clinton said according to LifeSiteNews. “Not just reproductive health services, including access to affordable family planning, but cancer screenings, for example, and other health checkups.”
 
Clinton continued, “I think it is unfortunate that Planned Parenthood has been the object of such a concerted attack for so many years and it’s really an attack against women’s rights to choose, to make the most personal, difficult decisions that any woman would face based on her faith and her medical advice that she is given. So I am hoping that this situation will not further undermine the very important services that Planned Parenthood provides.”
 
Boyce College professor Denny Burk responded to Clinton’s comments in a blog post, “Secretary Clinton defends an organization that routinely kills babies in utero, harvests their body parts, and sells them to buyers. The only moral outrage she musters is against the people who produced the video. This is the indifference toward innocent human life that must end. Any politician who cannot summon the resolve to oppose the barbarism of Planned Parenthood is not morally serious.”
 
At least eight states have launched investigations of Planned Parenthood along with two U.S. House committees.
 
In related news, two Baptist commentators have drawn parallels between Planned Parenthood’s actions and events recounted in the Old Testament. Calvin Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in the Denver area, contrasted the lack of moral outrage in America with the Israelites’ reaction in Judges 19 when a woman was cut into 12 pieces.
 
“It is a sad day when this kind of evil does not get people up in arms,” Wittman told BP in written comments. “In Judges 19 a woman was cut up and her body parts were sent throughout all of Israel. But even Israel, during the time of the judges, when every man did what was right in their own eyes, was incensed and punished the persons responsible. Can it be that America is worse off morally than Israel was during the time of the Judges?
 
“All Americans should be disgusted and incensed by the revelation of this evil,” Wittman wrote of Planned Parenthood’s organ trafficking.
 
“Christians should not only be outraged, we should also be brokenhearted that our country has become so desensitized to evil,” he noted. “Clearly we can see what more than 40 years of ‘abortion rights’ have done to the moral fiber of our country: they have robbed us of the understanding that life is precious.”
 
The sale of body parts from aborted babies, Wittman said, “is the direct result of a naturalistic worldview that has intentionally absented God from the scene. This is what happens when you teach a generation that humans are just another animal; that human life is no more valuable than that of a dog or a cat. We can never truly know who we are [until] we know who God is. Only in light of who He is can we see ourselves, not only as sinners, but as those endowed with sacred life, as those who are created in His image.”
 
Wittman called for prayer for America and an aggressive gospel witness “amidst the moral decay.”
 
Charles Patrick, vice president for strategic initiatives at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the abortion industry “a modern day Molech,” referencing an ancient Ammonite deity who required child sacrifice.
 
In biblical times, “a couple sacrificed their firstborn by burning the child on a metal idol of Molech, believing that Molech would ensure financial prosperity for the family and future children,” Patrick, a former research scientist in the field of tissue engineering, wrote in an online commentary. “The Israelites were strictly forbidden to practice this form of worship (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10; and Jeremiah 32:35) as it is in stark contradiction to the sanctity of life espoused throughout the Bible. Today’s Molech is the abortion industry, sacrificing babies for the idol of financial greed, veiled in the hopes of the development of new cures through biomedical research.”
 
Reacting to the first video released by CMP, Patrick said most biomedical research is “ethically sound.” But research associated with harvesting parts from aborted babies “is ethically, morally, and biblically wrong.”
 
Watching a Planned Parenthood doctor “casually eating her meal while she describes the grotesque manner in which organs and body parts are harvested illustrates the supply and demand economics of the [abortion] business” and “how Planned Parenthood knowingly is skirting if not breaking the law.”
 
Patrick continued, “The modern day Molech should be well pleased – in addition to the untold millions received in selling aborted baby organs and body parts, Planned Parenthood receives over $500 million from U.S. taxpayers from government grants and reimbursements.”
 
The church must “destroy the idols” and “take down the high places,” Patrick wrote, through prayer, appropriate legal action and upholding the sanctity of life.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

 

Related Stories:

Planned Parenthood accused of selling aborted fetal parts
New video shows PPFA doctor negotiating prices

7/27/2015 12:38:28 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘God Before Government’ goes viral

July 27 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Rit Varriale thought raising the Christian flag above the American flag at Elizabeth Baptist Church on July 5 would get the attention of people in Shelby and the surrounding North Carolina mountains. He did not expect the explosive attention that catapulted the event and the discussion of religious freedom into the national limelight.
 
The Biblical Recorder first published the story about the church’s flag raising service in the July 4 edition. Pastor Rit Varriale led the church to install their first-ever flagpole and hoist the Christian flag above the American flag.
 
Three Charlotte area television stations ran stories prior to the event. One invited Varriale and another pastor to appear in a live interview format. Baptist Press picked up the story on July 6, as did many newspapers across the country. Before the flag raising was 24 hours old, the story hit the viral meter on the Internet. Varriale was interviewed by Elisabeth Hasselbeck live on the “Fox and Friends” television show July 7.
 
For more than a day the story ranked number one on Facebook. A spokesman for Baptist Press said it was the most frequently read story on the Baptist Press website for more than two weeks.
 
 “It’s been surprising to see how fast the conversation took off,” Varriale said. He believes this speaks to the importance of religious rights.
 
“It says that a lot of people want to talk about this very issue. It’s an issue that we as ministers have to be prepared to address for years to come as we fight for our religious rights.”
 
Public response has been very favorable, according to Varriale. Approximately 75 percent of those who offered their comments by emails, Facebook and phone messages were favorable. Most of those who opposed the action thought the church was unpatriotic.
 
“We continue to put forward our patriotism and our love for our country,” he said. “To me it’s a sad indictment when we’ve come to the place as a nation where you say that if you put God first, then family, then country, that somehow your patriotism comes into question.”
 
Questioning patriotism in this way “shows how much of an advance secularism has made,” Varriale added. “We are very proud to be Americans. We’re proud of our nation and our history, but we’re also concerned about where we are [as a nation]. We really believe the solution to turning this nation back around is the church.”
 
He asks churches to remember that they serve God first, and churches must live that commitment beyond the walls of the church facilities.
 
That will be the beginning of changing the direction of the nation, he said.
 
“When you look at the way the left portrays people who believe in God and country – it’s almost as if you’re backwards if you believe in God,” Varriale said.
 
“That’s the narrative the left has tried to create. We are for God and country, in that order. That’s what it means to be a person who understands the historic values of America.”
 
The popularity of the story “speaks to the fact that Christians are begging to have this conversation. I think they are also looking for us as leaders in the church to lead,” he added.
 
Varriale does not want the flag to be the issue.
 
Flying the Christian flag above the American flag is only an illustration of the priorities that churches must demonstrate in the present anti-Christian, cultural environment, he said. The greater battle is with the courts in the United States.
 
“Our battle is not with the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] agenda,” he said. “Our battle is not with Freedom from Religion or Americans United for Separation of Church and State organizations. Our battle is with the courts.
 
“In the near future we have to start addressing how the church can lead in a peaceful resistance to the courts – standing up peacefully to the coercion of the courts, because ultimately that is where our battle is. The Christian baker is not afraid to stand up against an LGBT couple – the Christian baker is afraid of the courts. Likewise a principal that would like to lead a prayer in school does not have in the back of his mind the atheist family that will be upset about the prayer. What’s really in his mind is the U.S. court system. And the list goes on and on.”
 
Varriale said the Supreme Court marriage ruling is a classic example. “They forced the majority of Americans to accept [same-sex marriage]. This is not something the majority of Americans wanted.”
 
The struggle to regain religious freedoms will be a “community-by-community process – getting communities to stand together,” he concluded. “It’s going to have to start with small towns and move out from there. Communities need to stand together.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE –  Follow the movement at GodBeforeGovernment.org and Facebook.com/godbeforegovernment.)

7/27/2015 12:32:41 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments



Students experience ‘More’ at summer Youth Weeks

July 27 2015 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Thousands of students attending youth weeks at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell this summer are learning that following Christ is so much more exciting than anything the world may promise.
 
“More,” taken from Ephesians 3:20, is the theme for the 2015 summer youth weeks at Fort Caswell, where approximately 7,000 middle and high school students will attend one of the seven weeklong camps held throughout the summer.
 
“God can do so much more in the lives of students, and He wants to do so much more in their lives than they even think about asking Him for,” said Merrie Johnson, consultant for youth evangelism and discipleship with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina who has conducted summer camps at Fort Caswell for 15 years. “During camp, we’re trying to help them understand that Jesus is better than any other thing that they want to seek after.”

 
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BSC photo
Students divide into prayer circles during worship at Fort Caswell.

So far this summer, Johnson has seen God move in the lives of students, as many have trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior, recommitted their lives to Him, or surrendered to God’s call to vocational ministry.
 
“You don’t realize what a week can do in a teenager’s life,” Johnson said. “This week at camp might be what sets them on a path that will lead them on a different trajectory for life.”
 
Each week at camp, students are challenged to grow in their faith through personal and small group Bible study, and powerful worship services that challenge students to go deeper in their walk with Christ through the proclamation of God’s Word. Campers are also given an opportunity to participate in global missions by packing meals and giving to an offering that goes toward sharing the gospel with children and families in Jacmel, Haiti, through a partnership with Change This World, a ministry that helps meet physical and spiritual needs in the lives of individuals in developing countries.
 
During one of this summer’s youth week services, pastor and evangelist Mike Satterfield challenged students to boldly live out their faith in their day-to-day lives, while sharing the message of hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ with their friends and family members.

“What are you doing with the rest of our life?” Satterfield said. “At the end of the day what will you show God as a result of your journey? Since we cannot count our days, we need to make every day count.”
 
Youth leaders from various churches said they’ve seen God at work in various ways in the lives of the students who attend the summer youth weeks.
 
“We all come back home with life-changing experiences,” said Michael Logan, who has attended camp as a chaperone with students from Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Sandy Ridge for several years. “We learn a lot, we grow a lot and we come back home and share that with others.”
 
Matt West, a youth pastor from Buffalo Baptist Church in Buffalo Junction, Va., said he appreciate the camp’s emphasis on discipleship.
 
“We want the kids to have fun, but we’re here to help them see the Bible more clearly, to see who Christ is and how to follow him more,” West said. “The camp staff want the kids to have a great camp experience, but they are also interested in equipping them to follow through on the decisions they make while they are here.”
 
Johnson said her prayer is that God would continue to do more in the lives of students as they continue to seek Him in the days after camp concludes.
 
“Remember that God still wants more of you,” Johnson told campers during one of the closing sessions at a recent youth week. “I pray it doesn’t stop for you, and it doesn’t have to. God goes with us wherever we go. We don’t leave Him here when we leave camp. He asks us to be His hands and His feet.”

7/27/2015 12:26:28 PM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Inner-city church experiences revitalization

July 27 2015 by Bonnie Pritchett, The TEXAN/Baptist Press

Faith Memorial Baptist Church was a small country church in a large urban area. And it was dying.
 
Literally.
 
Within his first eight months as pastor, Andrew Johnson presided over 14 funerals. Two years later, 14 more died to sin and death and publicly proclaimed their Christian faith in a makeshift baptistery at the church’s parking lot in Houston, Texas.
 
In its almost 75 years of existence, Faith Memorial has seen the ebb and flow of membership. At its peak, between the 1950s and ‘70s, the rolls held as many as 1,200 names. But when Johnson arrived in 2012 at age 22 with a freshly minted bachelor’s degree from Houston Baptist University (HBU), only between 60-80 people remained in the half-Hispanic, half-white congregation.
 
The pews could hold a lot more, Johnson thought. And the congregation should look more like the inner-city neighborhood it served.
 
Since then membership is up to around 300, and the faces in the congregation and behind the pulpit look like those across the street and around the block.
 
“All things have become new,” said Sherman Nong, following a worship service in late May, paraphrasing 2 Corinthians 5:17 and its relation to the changing complexion of Faith Memorial Baptist Church.

 
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Photo by Bonnie Pritchett
Longtime members at Faith Memorial Baptist Church and friends Derwood Radican, 93, and Frankie Atkins, 72, are both retired postal workers and widows.

Gathered to share their unique perspective on the growing pains at Faith Memorial were Nong; Frankie Atkins, a 72-year-old African-American retired postal worker; and her 93-year-old friend Derwood Radican, who is white and also a retired letter carrier.
 
“There is something special about this church,” said Nong, the lone Asian member in the rapidly growing and changing congregation. “What’s special about this church is everybody is really warm. They try to get to know you. I have a lot of people supporting me in prayer.”
 
Raised in a local Vietnamese Baptist church, Nong – a 2015 Houston Baptist University pre-med graduate – wanted to broaden his perspective of Christian fellowship and worship beyond what he knew in a Vietnamese-centric expression of that same faith.
 
Atkins could relate. More than 40 years ago she transferred her membership from an all-black church to the nearly all-white Faith Memorial in 1972. Aside from her husband and their children, only one other black family graced the pews back then.
 
Some members were not as welcoming, Atkins recalled, but her family was grateful for those who were especially loving. An admitted “hugger,” she said, “There were a few who weren’t having any of that.”
 
But a mutual love for the Lord and his people transcended the racial tensions – a reality that still holds true today, Johnson said.
 
Atkins and Nong agreed that individual Christians willing to immerse themselves in a congregation where they are not the majority – where the only commonality is a shared faith in Christ – have so much to learn.
 
“True learning happens when we have little to no comfort or control,” Johnson told the TEXAN. “This can’t just be a cute, pithy idea – a tip of the hat to multi-ethnic churches.”
 
He noted the gospel united a fiercely divided culture in first-century Jerusalem as Jews and Gentiles found common ground in their mutual faith in Jesus Christ.

 
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Photo by Bonnie Pritchett
Derwood Radican drove one of the church buses for nearly 30 years. Some of his passengers were his friend, Frankie Atkins, and her grandkids. Atkins began attending Faith Memorial in part because of the bus ministry.

“It proved that the gospel was for the whole world. If we fail to see that, we’re going to miss out on how big our God is,” Johnson said.
 
Having served as youth pastor at an all-black church Johnson understood, like Atkins and Nong, what it was like to be the odd man out.
 
“It was intimidating at first,” he said of his two-year stint with Alief Baptist Church in Katy while in college. “I was the only white face in the crowd. You learn something when you’re the minority.”
 
Although the doctrine was the same, the worship was very different for a boy raised in a white Southern Baptist church in Luling. Empathy for those in the minority and an appreciation for the differences in worship were significant takeaways for Johnson.
 
The lessons from Alief guided Johnson at Faith Memorial. Although he felt called to pastor a multi-ethnic church and believed the rejuvenation of Faith Memorial would require such a course, Johnson recognized his place as the new pastor – only the third in the church’s history. Some members had been there even longer than Atkins and had grandchildren older than the new pastor. So he gave it a year, preaching and establishing relationships in order to create a unified vision for the whole church.
 
And as expected, when this change came, not everyone was pleased. However, Johnson was fueled by the reality that creating a multi-ethnic church was not simply change for change’s sake. The survival of the church depended on the congregation reaching out to their predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood, which is steeped in poverty and entrenched in self-destructive ways. Still, Johnson believed, the church would be better for it.
 
Some of his opponents – his “biggest headaches” – became his greatest allies during the course of the transition that began in 2014 with building renovations that included removing barbed-wire fencing around the property, repairing broken windows and painting an exterior wall with art unique to the neighborhood.
 
“We invested in a graffiti art mural, something that looks like a calling card to the community,” the pastor said.
 
And it served its purpose. The once nondescript, drab-grey building caught people’s eyes, and their curiosity drew them inside.
 
But most of the new members came because of family.
 
“Being an old church we are filled with grandparents. Their kids started coming back,” Johnson said.
 
After the May 31 worship service, Atkins and Radican joked about the changes. Different people. Different music. And the differences between the two of them.
 
“That was one of the most healthy things – to laugh at your differences,” Johnson said. “It was one of those things that put people at ease.”
 
The neighborhood of Atkins’ youth was half-black and half-Hispanic (she speaks fluent Spanish) so the transition came a little easier for her as the congregation began to reflect the neighborhood – race, ethnicity, tattoos, piercings and all.
 
Radican, too, seems nonplussed by the shakeup. For nearly three decades he drove one of the church buses through the neighborhoods of the historically black 5th Ward and predominantly Hispanic Denver Harbor picking up all who wanted to learn about the “risen Savior.” The spritely men’s Sunday School teacher took all the changes in stride, even offering to pitch in to pay for a new graffiti mural.
 
Staff members brought on since Johnson’s arrival also reflect the faces of those in the congregation and the community. Music director Moses Gonzalez is Hispanic and works to blend contemporary choruses with hymns and black gospel music. Andre Turner, who fills in with preaching and plays keyboard in the praise band, is black and coming into his own as a preacher, according to some members. Luke Dorr is white and works with the youth. All three men work full-time outside the church and are compensated with a small stipend from the church each month. Johnson is a part-time employee and is working on his master’s in theological studies at HBU.
 
Although the congregation was small upon Johnson’s arrival, there was a deeply rooted bond of care and affection for one another perhaps because of and not in spite of their differences. Members demonstrated that love for believers from differing backgrounds cannot be devoid of an appreciation for their cultural differences. “If you can speak their [cultural] language,” Johnson said, “that’s the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t let their culture be the line you can’t cross.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at  texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/27/2015 12:18:28 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, The TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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