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Registration opens for SBC ‘Great Awakening’

March 18 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Registration for messengers and local hotels has opened for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio’s capital city.

 
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The June 16-17 sessions, to be led by SBC President Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas, will be themed “Great Awakening: Clear Agreement, Visible Union, Extraordinary Prayer.”
 
Registration for the Columbus meeting once again will offer an online opportunity for churches to register their messengers at sbcannualmeeting.net.
 
Through online registration at the website’s Messenger tab, each messenger will receive an eight-digit registration code to present at the annual meeting’s Express Registration lane in Columbus, preferably a printout of the church’s credential. The code will be entered into a computer at the SBC registration area and a nametag will be printed. The appropriate church-authorized representative must complete all online registrations.
 
Registration also is open for preschool childcare and children’s and youth programs in conjunction with the annual meeting.
 
Floyd, in preparing for the Columbus annual meeting, has said it will be “a national gathering of Southern Baptists to pray for the next great move of God in America and to reach the world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
 
Distinctive facets of the annual meeting will include:

  • a Tuesday evening session to be permeated by prayer, building on the convention’s Great Awakening theme.

  • a Wednesday morning “church and missionary sending celebration” of Southern Baptists’ work toward fulfilling the Great Commission – and a call to heighten their efforts even more to reach the nations for Christ.

  • a Wednesday afternoon panel discussion on “The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage: Preparing Our Churches for the Future.”

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, has released an ebook to provide spiritual preparation for the annual meeting. Titled Pleading with Southern Baptists To Humbly Come Together before God in Clear Agreement, Visible Union, and in Extraordinary Prayer for the Next Great Awakening and for the World to Be Reached for Christ, the ebook is available for free download at pray4awakening.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

3/18/2015 11:49:36 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Church plants: 5% gain in 2014

March 18 2015 by Kevin Ezell, NAMB President

Southern Baptists planted 985 new churches in 2014 – a 5 percent increase over 2013 church starts.
 
This is very good news as we work toward diminishing the church-to-population deficit that steadily grew larger over the last century in the United States and Canada. It is also good because new churches, on average, reach people for Christ at a higher rate than existing churches.

 
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NAMB photo by John Swain
Sioux Falls, S.D., church planter Jonathan Land preaches at a Connection Church worship service. The church is part of the North American Mission Board’s church plant class of 2014, having launched on Easter last year.

These are churches like Mosaic in Alberta, Canada. They launched on Easter 2014 and have already seen 200 people give their lives to Christ, with 40 of them being baptized. They started giving to the Cooperative Program shortly after they launched.
 
Southern Baptists also saw 208 new churches affiliate with our convention in 2014. In all, that means 1,193 new congregations were added to the SBC.
 
And there are good reports in regions outside the South where Southern Baptists have not traditionally been as strong:

  • In Ohio 37 churches were planted in 2014, up from 17 in 2013.

  • In New York 42 churches were planted, up from 20 in 2013.

  • In the Northwest Baptist Convention, which includes Oregon, Washington and some parts of Idaho, 27 churches were planted, up from three in 2013.

We celebrate when a new church is planted anywhere, but increases in these areas are especially encouraging.
 
More than 58 percent of the churches Southern Baptists started in 2014 were non-Anglo. This must continue as our society grows more diverse – especially in and around large cities where more than 80 percent of North Americans live. Our churches must reflect the communities they serve.
 
There is much more work to be done. We need many more churches and we must continue to make our existing churches healthier and more outwardly focused. My prayer is that the growth we saw in 2014 will be the starting point for a Southern Baptist church planting wave and that more churches and individuals will become personally involved in this effort to evangelize North America.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. For more information about the North American Mission Board’s mobilization efforts, go to namb.net/mobilize-me.)

3/18/2015 11:31:55 AM by Kevin Ezell, NAMB President | with 0 comments



The real St. Patrick: ‘incredible’ missions zeal

March 18 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Emphasizing missions may be a more fitting way to observe St. Patrick’s Day than wearing green and hailing Irish culture. That’s because the March 17 celebration marks the traditional death date of Patrick of Ireland, the fifth-century Christian who was instrumental in spreading the gospel to the Irish.
 
Patrick’s “incredible understanding of the Great Commission and his passion for mission and evangelism” were “in western Christianity in the fifth century almost completely unique,” said Michael Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Some Patrick scholars actually go so far as to say it is unique.”
 
When William Carey launched the modern mission movement in the early 19th century by setting out for India, he cited Patrick’s work in the British Isles as one of his inspirations, according to Haykin’s book Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact.
 
W.A. Criswell compared Patrick in a 1958 sermon to pastor Charles Spurgeon and evangelist D.L. Moody. Though Criswell differed from Haykin in his depiction of some details in Patrick’s life, Criswell and Haykin agree that Patrick possessed a unique missionary zeal.
 
Patrick “had a missionary, strategist intuition,” Criswell, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said according to a sermon transcript at wacriswell.com. “If he could win the king and the chief and the head of the clan, he’d win the whole country! And that’s exactly what Patrick did. He went to the king’s court, he went to the chief clansman, he went to the head of the tribe, and he preached the gospel in power, and they were converted! And all through the life of Patrick, there are recorded baptisms by the thousands and the thousands and the thousands!”

 
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St. Patrick

Who was Patrick?

Historians don’t know the precise date of Patrick’s birth, but they believe it occurred in the late 300s to an upper-class Christian family in Roman-controlled Britain.
 
When Patrick was 16, Irish raiders took him into captivity and sold him as a slave in Ireland. Though he had heard the gospel growing up, he finally understood it and trusted Christ for salvation during his captivity, according to Patrick’s autobiographical work “Confession.” His devotion to Christ increased as his captivity progressed.
 
“In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night,” Patrick wrote, “and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountains; and I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me – as I now see, because the Spirit within me was then fervent.”
 
After six years as a slave, Patrick had a dream in which a voice told him, “Soon you will go to your own country.” Prompted by the dream, he travelled 200 miles to find a ship that could take him home to Britain across the Irish Sea, according to Haykin’s book.
 
Back home, Patrick experienced another unique dream – this time calling him back to Ireland to preach the gospel to a nation with little Christian witness and steeped in animistic religion, including human sacrifice, ceremonial bestiality and idol worship. After pursuing theological training for several years, he returned to Ireland.
 
Knowledge of the native Old Irish language gleaned during his captivity contributed to Patrick’s evangelistic success as he saw thousands of former pagans commit their lives to Christ as Lord and Savior. Patrick became bishop of Ireland and spent some three decades preaching, baptizing and discipling Irish converts. He died during the mid to late fifth century.
 
Thanks to Patrick’s influence, the Irish Christians – known as the Celtic Church – led the way in evangelizing Europe for a hundred years following his death. By the end of his life, Patrick could write, “In Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they are lately become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God.”
 
Not until the 1800s did St. Patrick’s Day become an official feast among Catholics, Anglicans and other Christian groups. In the mid-1900s, the Republic of Ireland began using St. Patrick’s Day to showcase Irish culture.
 
Among the fictional legends associated with Patrick are that he rid Ireland of snakes and that he taught about the Trinity using a shamrock – though he did emphasize the doctrine of the Trinity, Haykin said. The true legacy of Patrick is evangelism and orthodox Christian teaching.
 
Patrick’s passion for the Great Commission “gets passed down into the DNA of the Celtic Church,” Haykin said. “The Celtic Church is without a shadow of a doubt the most evangelistic body in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.”
 

Patrick’s legacy

Nik Ripken, a Christian author and international missionary, said Patrick serves as a reminder that a faithful gospel witness can lead to multitudes being saved, even in countries dominated by non-Christian worldviews. He compared the gospel’s victory over non-Christian religions in Patrick’s day with its battle to deliver people from Islam today.
 
“The only places where Muslims are not coming to Christ are places where we are not going,” Ripken said. “... We can’t reap what we don’t sow.”
 
Like the Irish came to Christ and abandoned their brutal practices, even terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) can be saved and delivered from their sin, Ripken said. To work toward that end, Christians must pray for social stability in Muslim lands, create a “right” to be heard by serving Muslims and then proclaim the scriptures.
 
But western Christians have not yet laid the foundation for evangelistic work among ISIS, he said.
 
Someone who tries to witness to ISIS terrorists today “is just going to get killed when they get off the plane,” Ripken said. “We don’t have the stability there to do what St. Patrick did in Ireland.” ISIS is “out of control.”
 
Winning entire families to Christ in Muslim lands like Iraq and Syria will lead to an organic, indigenous network of Christian witness that could permeate the population and eventually reach ISIS, Ripken said.
 
Even if terrorists do not come to Christ in mass, a gospel witness in unreached nations will help prepare believers there for persecution, Ripken said, like Patrick’s witness helped Irish Christians remain steadfast in their faith amid the fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic tribes in the fifth century.
 
“Anytime we have a break in the chain of witness and being obedient to Jesus’ command to go to all the nations, then we do not prepare ourselves for times of persecution,” Ripken said.
 
Jason Duesing, provost of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, agreed that Patrick should inspire missions.
 
“The relevance of Patrick of Ireland for modern missions lies in a sacrificial heart motivated by the Great Commission and burdened for the lost,” said Duesing, who has written on Patrick.
 
“In his ‘Confession’ Patrick shares that he went in response to the call of God to ‘come to the Irish people to preach the gospel ... so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others.’ This selfless motivation is as timeless as the Apostle Paul’s desire to become all things to all people that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22), and as relevant for the 21st-century family from Bolivar called to live among the people of Bhutan,” Duesing said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/18/2015 11:15:04 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Churches feed hungry, share love of Christ

March 18 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist churches of various sizes and in various settings are feeding the hungry in the U.S. And a sizable number of Americans remain in need of such help. Nearly 50 million Americans, or nearly one in six, live in “food insecure households,” according to Feeding America, a nationwide network of two hundred food banks.
 

Local church ministries

Many people turn to churches in their need. More than two in 10 Americans (22 percent) say their family has received help from a church-run food pantry, LifeWay Research reported in November 2014.
 
Southern Baptists staff and stock thousands of local church and community-wide faith-based hunger ministries across the nation. Some have in-house food pantries. Some cooperate with community food banks. Some work with local ministries or agencies. Some provide after-school meals. Some place food in school children’s backpacks for the weekend. Some assist with community gardens.
 

Global Hunger Relief

In addition, the Southern Baptist Convention created a fund, Global Hunger Relief (GHR), through which Baptists (and others) can contribute to hunger needs in North America and around the world. Gifts to GHR annually fund numerous hunger projects, with 80 percent going to overseas hunger needs, administered through the International Mission Board, and 20 percent going to North American hunger needs, administered through the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Because of Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program, 100 percent of GHR funds help relieve hunger, with none used for administrative costs.

 
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Photo by Angie Kretschmar
Pictured are some of the 80 elementary-age children from a nearby school who receive snacks daily through Heaven's Windows at New Seasons Church.

Last year, more than 1,000 ministries in North America – mostly local churches with active food ministries – received hunger funds through NAMB.
 
Meeting hunger needs opens doors for volunteers to proclaim the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has encouraged Southern Baptists to participate in GHR “not simply as an act of charity, not simply as an expression of our love, certainly not as a bare humanitarianism, but because we are a gospel people who as we feed and as we clothe are speaking and preaching a message that Jesus is Himself the Bread of Life.”
 
Whether receiving funds through NAMB or not, Southern Baptist churches are feeding the hungry. Here is a look at how three churches help relieve hunger in their communities:

 

New Seasons Church

New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif., uses a nonprofit ministry on its property to distribute tens of thousands of meals each year to people in its poor neighborhood 11 miles east of San Diego.
 
The multi-ethnic church, which averages about 700 in attendance, was already running an active food ministry when it established the non-profit, Heaven’s Windows, in 2009. Its outreach to the hungry consists of:

  • A five-day-a-week food pantry that served more than 12,000 households in 2014.

  • A monthly community distribution that provided food for about 5,000 households last year.

  • A child nutrition program at 13 sites after school and during the summer. About 80 students from a nearby elementary school receive snacks daily at the church. New Seasons Church in El Cajon feeds about 125 children a day. Heaven’s Windows served nearly 75,000 meals or snacks to children last year.

  • A hot meal each Wednesday for community residents, many of whom are homeless. About 2,500 were fed last year in this outreach.

  • A hot meal that is delivered each Thursday to the homebound and disabled. More than 2,000 such meals were provided in 2014.

  • A block party – known as Season of Love – on the Saturday before Thanksgiving that welcomed 3,600 guests last year and gave away 700 turkeys and 20,000 pounds of food.

New Seasons Church, which is about 50 percent African American at its two campuses, provides funding for Heaven’s Windows, which also receives donations and grants, said Angie Kretschmar, the ministry’s executive director. The food pantry receives many items from two San Diego food banks through a federal government program, as well as fresh produce, milk, eggs and bread donated by such retailers as Walmart, Big Lots and Sprouts Farmers Market.
 
Of the people whom Heaven’s Windows serves, some “aren’t saved; they don’t know any churches,” she told SBC LIFE. “When they go through a crisis, they’ll remember that church, and that opens a door for ministry.
 
“I can make you a long list of volunteers I have now that came to volunteer [before they were saved and joined the church],” Kretschmar said. “They got baptized. [They’re] in church. [They’re] in ministry.”
 
A. B. Vines, New Seasons’ senior pastor, said the hunger ministry builds “a bridge to the community.”
 
“Once [people] see the love of Christ is real and there’s no gimmick,” they are receptive to hearing the gospel, said Vines, former president of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship.
 

Trace Creek Baptist Church

Trace Creek Baptist Church in New Johnsonville, Tenn., ministers to the needy in a town of fewer than 2,000 people about a 90-minute drive west of Nashville.
 
Trace Creek, which averages about 150 in Sunday worship, helps with the county’s church-run food pantry and stands ready to provide food when the pantry cannot, said pastor Mark Warren.
 
The church also cooperates in a weekend backpack ministry with four other churches. The combined effort provides snacks and other food items for students whom teachers have identified as likely having a need for nutrition. The backpack ministry serves about 60 elementary and junior high students, Warren estimated.
 
The church’s Wednesday night Awana ministry also has resulted in feeding needy children. A significant portion of the 80 to 90 children who participate in Awana during the school year are unchurched, Warren told SBC LIFE. After learning some children arrived at Awana without eating dinner, the church now feeds about 70 children each Wednesday evening.
 
Hunger ministry is “an obedience thing more than anything, because there’s probably not a lot of fanfare with it. ... [Y]ou don’t want to bring embarrassment to people through it,” Warren said.
 
A note goes to families whose children are part of the backpack ministry to inform them churches are cooperating to provide the food. “So naturally, to those families who are affected, it shows we care and aren’t just about getting you into our building,” he said. “We want to be obedient to need.”
 

The Summit Church

The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area primarily meets hunger needs as part of its multi-pronged outreach approach. The church has many members it can mobilize – attendance at its eight campuses averages around 8,000 each weekend.
 
While the church’s benevolence pastors help with emergency food needs, The Summit’s five outreach initiatives – the homeless, orphans, prisoners, unwed mothers, and disconnected youth – focus on relationship-building that enables those who are receiving ministry to recognize what God is like.
 
“The church is God’s demonstration community,” said Matt Mig, The Summit’s pastor of local outreach. “So He’s putting on display His feeling, His desire for them, and His character through how our people act.”
 
The Summit tends to feed the hungry and do other ministry “through the infrastructure or framework” of organizations that excel in meeting needs, he told SBC LIFE.
 
For instance, providing meals happens through the work of Summit teams at homeless shelters in both Durham and Chapel Hill. Some of the ministry to disconnected youth involves providing food in backpacks.
 
“The local schools will organize it and say they need help doing it,” Mig said. “We get our teams out there and help them pull it off.”
 
This kind of relational approach to ministry, Mig said, can be a “first step” for many, who ask: “How am I going to go outside my comfort zone right here where I already live and intentionally engage someone whose path I wouldn’t have otherwise crossed, unless I was pursuing them, because the gospel changed my life?”


 

How to start a hunger ministry

Preparation is vital for churches that want to launch a hunger ministry, say those with expertise in feeding the needy.
 
“It’s a lot more than just handing out food,” says Angie Kretschmar, executive director of a thriving ministry to the hungry based at a Southern Baptist church in San Diego County.
 
Here are some recommendations gleaned from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and Kretschmar for congregations considering hunger ministry:

  1. Recognize the need. This includes discovering which churches and organizations already are feeding the hungry. A cooperative effort with others may be best. “The key is commitment to serve others in the name of Jesus,” according to NAMB.

  2. Find the food. Locate the sources of food for the ministry. Check out food banks. Investigate the availability of surplus food, possibly from supermarkets or government agencies. Determine how much food can be provided through the church.

  3. Identify the volunteers. Discover how many people are able to serve. A hunger ministry requires a “very, very reliable volunteer base,” Kretschmar says.

  4. Select a ministry. Decide what kind of hunger ministry the church should initiate. It might be food pantry distribution, after-school feeding, weekend backpacks for students, or another approach. Some choices require a place for storage and a plan for distribution.

  5. Plan for the Gospel. Resolve what the practice will be in sharing the Good News of Jesus. NAMB’s steps for starting a hunger ministry are available at namb.net/beginning-a-hunger-ministry.

It’s possible, however, that God may drop a hunger ministry on a church. That’s what happened to Trinity Church, a church plant in Portland, Ore.
 
Trinity’s planter/pastor, Clay Holcomb, was visiting one day in the office of the elementary school that would be home to the church’s worship services. School officials were discussing Backpack Buddies, a program to provide meals for needy children, but were uncertain who would conduct it, since the school could not.
 
“We hadn’t even had our first service yet, and I said, ‘Well, we’ll do it,’“ Holcomb recalled in a NAMB video. He is NAMB’s SEND city coordinator for Portland.
 
Trinity provided food for the backpack ministry for three years, serving 100 to 125 students in that time.
 
“The ministry helped build into our church a vision for the community,” Holcomb told SBC LIFE, “and it helped us build credibility in the eyes of the people involved in the school.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

3/18/2015 10:54:38 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Do You Believe?’ stars born-again Bosworth

March 17 2015 by Ginny Dent Brant

After the phenomenal success of God’s Not Dead (110 million worldwide), which explored the existence of God, Pure Flix will release a follow-up that takes Christianity to another level – the Cross. The movie leaves each viewer with the question, “Do you believe?” And if you do, “What are you going to do about it?”
 
With an award-winning cast, another appearance by The Newsboys singing “We Believe,” and the largest production budget of Pure Flix to date, “Do You Believe?” will also feature former professional football player Brian “The Boz” Bosworth.
 
Producer David A.R. White desires to bring people to the cross through this film. He said, “The Cross is critical, relevant and often debated in today’s culture. It has always incited passion, conviction and controversy, and most of all … it changes lives.” This film is written by the same team that wrote “God’s Not Dead,” Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon. Dove has given its family seal of approval for ages 12 and up.
 
"Do You Believe?" tells the story of a dozen lives that intersect on the streets of Chicago. Ted McGinley, of “The Love Boat” and “The West Wing,” plays the pastor who’s been shaken to the core by the dedication of an old street preacher who carries a large cross and challenges him to act out what he really believes. His response ignites a faith-fueled journey that impacts many.

 
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Golden Globe award winning actress Cybill Shepherd and veteran actor Lee Majors (“Six Million Dollar Man”), portray a couple in his church who are dealing with the loss of their only daughter.  Sean Astin (“Lord of the Rings,” “Rudy”) plays a doctor who doesn’t believe in miracles and takes the credit for saving lives. His wife and an attorney, Andrea Logan White (“Mom’s Night Out”), believes those who trust in a cross must pay for it.
 
Some of the most stirring scenes occur when Brian Bosworth (“The Longest Yard,” “Revelation Road”), who plays a transformed convict, reaches out to a troubled youth and a homeless mom and daughter. Brian Bosworth, also known as “The Boz,” signed the largest rookie contract in National Football League history with the Seattle Seahawks in 1987 at $11 million.
 
Bosworth reluctantly entered the film business at the insistence of his inner circle that believed he could play football and be a movie star in the off-season. “My advisers created ‘The Boz,’ and that was never who I really was. I felt stuck in a rabbit hole that I couldn’t crawl out of,” he said. After his agent gave him the script for Pure Flix’s "Revelation Road," he wanted to do the role because it spoke to him.
 
“That was the first script I ever read where I realized that dark, angry and resentful character was exactly who I had become,” said Bosworth. “It made me reflect on this person and what was I going to do about it. All the hidden frustration and anger resonated within me through this character and forced me to look at myself naked. I chose to do it because it spoke to me. That film sparked the flame that changed my life.”
 
Bosworth’s spiritual journey began on March 3, 2013, when he was saved on a speaking tour with "Revelation Road" in Chickasha, Okla. He finally set aside what had cost him his dream football career – his pride and ego – and let Jesus carry his burdens. “The wall I had made that imprisoned my heart and life came crumbling down,” Bosworth said. “I started a new life and from that moment, life has been nothing but a blessing.”
 
He admits his newfound faith has enabled him to play the role of Joe – a former convict more concerned with helping others than he is with the fact that he is dying of Leukemia. 
 
Bosworth also revealed that for many years, he took the credit for his successes and blamed the failures on God. He was angry and blamed God when he saw his football career being ripped out from underneath him. “I lived for 30 years and could not forgive myself for looking at the fishbowl and realizing that I was to blame for ruining what I loved so much – my football career.” “We must be willing to look in the mirror and point the finger to ourselves,” he warned. “Our pride is the shield that we hold in front of ourselves that is so powerful and difficult to penetrate.”
 
Bosworth compared himself to a kid riding a bike with training wheels. When he achieved success and the admiration of many, he took the training wheels off and said, “God, I don’t need you anymore – I’ve got it from here.”
 
On March 3, 2013, he realized he was forgiven. “God freed me from the guilt of my mistakes and Jesus wiped the mountain away that existed between Him and me.”
 
Since his conversion, he has a peace that he’s never experienced before, and he’s prayerfully seeking God’s will for the rest of his life one day at a time. The “New Boz” hopes that believers will bring others who are hurting to see this film. Each viewer will identify with one of the characters. For Christians this film will motivate them to match their walk with their talk.
 
Bosworth desires for this movie to shed light and provide a mirror for all to reflect. He hopes that viewers see that, “everyone matters and everything we do matters, whether selfishly or unselfishly.” Do You Believe? opens in theaters March 20, 2015.
 
Visit doyoubelieve.com.  

(EDITOR'S NOTE – Ginny Dent Brant is an author, speaker, counselor and soloist. Author of "Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World." Brant is editor at large for Sonoma Christian Home Magazine.)

 

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3/17/2015 2:06:57 PM by Ginny Dent Brant | with 0 comments



80,000-plus Bibles shipped to Cuba for churches

March 17 2015 by Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist convention

Three 40-foot containers packed with 83,723 Spanish-speaking Bibles to be distributed among Baptist churches in both Western and Eastern Cuba are expected to arrive in Havana March 25.
 
The shipment, slated to leave South Florida during the week of March 15, is the third Southern Baptists have sent to the island nation since 1999. This latest effort brings the total number of Bibles sent to nearly half a million, said Kurt Urbanek, International Mission Board (IMB) strategy leader for Cuba since 1997.

 
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IMB Photo by Wilson Hunter
Three 40-foot containers packed with 83,723 Spanish-speaking Bibles to be distributed among Baptist churches in both Western and Eastern Cuba are expected to arrive in Havana March 25. While worshippers at Calvary Baptist Church in Havana proudly hold up their Bibles in this file photo, an IMB missionary says many more are needed.

However, this represents the first time Bibles were shipped directly from the United States. The extensive process of seeking permission from the Cuban government to ship Bibles required a great deal of negotiation with government officials and the Cuban Bible Society, Urbanek explained. Clearance for this effort was given late 2014.
 
“We are grateful the Cuban government opened the doors for the Bibles,” Urbanek said.
 
In 1992 the Cuban government officially changed its status from an atheistic to a secular society, helping pave the way for the Bible distribution.
 
The shipment of the Bibles and Bible resources, coordinated by IMB, represents a collaborative partnership between IMB, LifeWay Christian Stores, Florida Baptist Convention, Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Fla., and other individuals and groups.
 
Last year, LifeWay customers across the country donated funds to purchase 144,000 Bibles for distribution in several Central American and Caribbean countries. Of those Bibles, 60,000 were designated for Cuba. IMB provided $100,000 for the project. Florida Baptists contributed $2,000 from the Maguire State Mission Offering to purchase 600 leather-bound Bibles. Others provided funding for additional Bibles and resources, as well as the cost of shipment.
 
In the past, the Cuban government required Bibles to be distributed to all evangelical denominations in the country. But this time 75 percent – or 64,000 – of the Bibles will be allocated to the Havana-based Western Cuba Baptist Convention and the Santiago-based Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, resulting in each group receiving 32,000 Bibles.
 
With the Eastern Convention reporting 29,063 professions of faith in 2014, Urbanek said the Bibles potentially will cover the new Christians and only a few more. The eastern churches also will endure a logistical challenge getting the books across the rough Cuban terrain to Santiago, about an 18-hour drive from Havana.
 
Urbanek reported the Eastern Convention added 1,300 new house churches and missions in recent years.
 
“The growth is so incredible, that’s why Bibles are so important,” he said, noting Western Cuba churches have expanded likewise.
 
The shipment also includes Bible commentaries, study Bibles and giant-print Bibles for the visually impaired.
 
Florida Baptists, who have an 18-year partnership with Cuba Baptists, have participated in other shipments of Bibles to Cuba, said John Holloway, team strategist with the Convention’s Partnership Missions.
 
He asked Southern Baptists to pray for “unhindered delivery; no problems at customs in Cuba; immediate distribution; and the salvation of many.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.)

 

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3/17/2015 1:48:00 PM by Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist convention | with 0 comments



Evolutionists kill academic freedom bills

March 17 2015 by Dick Peterson, World News Service

Lawmakers in four states tried this year to introduce academic freedom bills to protect teachers for questioning theories like Darwinism, shielding them from discipline, demotion or termination. But opponents killed the bills before they could get a fair hearing, raising concerns among educators who might not fully embrace the theory of evolution.

 
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“There are a number of incidents around the country where teachers have been threatened or fired,” said Casey Luskin, research coordinator for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “They simply cited some of the problems with Darwinism.”
 
Most, if not all, of the bills were modeled after an academic freedom statute drafted by the Discovery Institute, which advocates for intelligent design as a better scientific explanation for driving the mechanism of life. Critics claim the proposed legislation is a way to introduce intelligent design and creationism in the classroom.
 
But in two states that already have academic freedom laws, that hasn’t happened.
 
As the first to pass an Academic Freedom bill into law in 2008, Louisiana has had enough time for any unintended consequences to surface. None have. In 2012 Tennessee became the second state to protect teachers who challenge students to think critically by discussing opposing sides of controversial topics.
 
The Louisiana Science Education Act “wasn’t limited to the evolutionary science question,” said Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, a driving force for academic freedom legislation in Louisiana. “It was one of four controversial subject matters that were listed to include the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning,” he said. The forum argued that declaring a position “settled science” doesn’t dismiss opposing arguments and clear the way for any public policy based on it – not in the media, the state legislatures, or the schools.
 
“If we can discuss it in the media or at the legislature, then a child or a student may ask a question or a teacher may propose an alternative theory on any of these controversial subject matters and discuss it freely as part of an academic freedom effort,” Mills said.
 
Opponents to the Louisiana and Tennessee laws, and the bills that failed in South Dakota, Montana, Indiana, and Oklahoma, say academic freedom measures are a backdoor attempt to introduce intelligent design and creationism into the classroom. But Mills noted provisions written into the laws make that impossible. The legislation prohibits promoting religion, which would block creationism, and it prohibits teaching subjects outside of an approved course of study. To his knowledge, intelligent design is not a part of any curriculum in any public educational institution in the country.
 
Still, opponents continue their attempts to overturn existing academic freedom laws and block the passage of new legislation, claiming science shouldn’t be questioned. But science is never settled. Discoveries beget questions that research and more discoveries answer in a continuing quest for knowledge. Luskin and Mills say that cycle can only survive where scientists are free to pursue it and teachers are free to debate and teach it.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dick Peterson writes for World News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com.)

3/17/2015 1:31:24 PM by Dick Peterson, World News Service | with 0 comments



Publishers sue Family Christian Stores over bankruptcy plan

March 17 2015 by Lynde Langdon, World News Service

A group of Christian publishers that stands to lose $20 million is fighting back against part of Family Christian Stores’ bankruptcy plan. Twenty-seven companies filed a joint lawsuit in federal bankruptcy court Friday to protect products Family Christian Stores has on its shelves but hasn’t yet paid for.
 
The companies provided the so-called “consignment inventory” to Family Christian Stores (FCS) under a contract that required it to pay for their products after customers buy them from stores. Under a traditional retail arrangement, retailers buy products first, then resell them. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit–a who’s who of Christian publishers, including Baker Book House, David C. Cook, and Intervarsity Press–say they still own some of the books and other products in FCS locations.

 
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The dispute arose because in its bankruptcy petition, filed last month, FCS stated it wants to include the consignment inventory–at least what it had on hand before the bankruptcy filing – when it sells off its assets to pay creditors. According to court documents, FCS owes banks and vendors about $97 million, not including the $20 million in consignment inventory.
 
“What is happening ... is that Family is basically saying that they will take ownership of that product so that they can sell it,” said Mark Kuyper, president of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), which has been monitoring the bankruptcy for member publishing companies and keeping them informed of issues that affect them.
 
The plaintiffs have asked the bankruptcy judge to order Family Christian Stores not to include the consignment goods in its proposed asset sell-off and to either pay for the products or return them.
 
The dispute over consignment items is just one piece of the complex financial puzzle in the Family Christian Stores bankruptcy. The nation’s largest Christian bookstore, FCS has 266 stores in 36 states. The bankruptcy case pulls Christian publishers in two different directions. As creditors, they want to recover money the bookstore chain owes them, but as suppliers, they want the stores to stay open and profitable so they can sell their products in the future.
 
“The publishers would like to see Family succeed,” Kuyper said. “The challenge is the financial situation is also significant.”
 
A representative of Family Christian Stores said the company would not comment on the bankruptcy case while it remains in progress. Attorneys for the plaintiffs also declined to comment on a pending case.


Related Story:

Family Christian Stores seeks bankruptcy protection

3/17/2015 1:23:35 PM by Lynde Langdon, World News Service | with 0 comments



Lesbian speaker at Bapt. college prompts protest

March 17 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A historically black college that used to have ties with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has drawn criticism for inviting three gay marriage proponents to address students.
 
Forrest Harris, president of American Baptist College in Nashville, specifically defended his decision to invite a lesbian bishop to speak by denouncing those who use “idolatry of the Bible” to discriminate against homosexuals. Harris defined idolatry of the Bible as “when people say [the Bible] is synonymous with God and the truth.” He added, “We can’t be guided and dictated by a first century worldview,” the Tennessean reported.
 
Among the critics of Harris and the college is a coalition of pastors who minister at congregations in cooperation with the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. (NBC USA), America’s largest predominantly African American Baptist denomination. Known as the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors, the coalition objects to American Baptist College’s speaking invitation to Yvette Flunder, an open lesbian and United Church of Christ bishop, Delman Coates, a pastor who led a campaign in Maryland to legalize gay marriage, and Allan Boesak, a South African minister and politician who urged the South African Dutch Reformed Church to affirm same-sex marriage.
 
The 150 members of the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors asked in a news release that Harris rescind Flunder’s invitation, that NBC USA Inc. President Jerry Young release a statement expressing his position on Flunder’s invitation and that Flunder’s addresses be moved from the American Baptist College’s facilities.
 
Dwight McKissic, a co-coordinator of the conservative pastors group whose church cooperates with both the NBC USA Inc. and the SBC, told Baptist Press that Harris, who teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School, is taking American Baptist College “down a liberal Vanderbilt trail.”
 
“The issue with the college is, how did the board of trustees allow this to happen?” McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, said. “That’s the focus of what we’ve been looking at. The board of trustees has allowed Forrest Harris to take the school down a liberal Vanderbilt trail against the theological beliefs of the pastors of” the NBC USA Inc.
 
Randy Vaughn, pastor of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas, and the other co-coordinator of the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors said, “As a Baptist body believing that the scripture really governs and dictates to us what our convictions are about God and our Christ, the very fact of Yvette Flunder’s being in a lesbian same-sex marriage is a violation of what we believe. And certainly her preaching in our sacred sanctuary is much of an abomination for us. And as a result, that requires an objection.”
 
In a March 15 worship service at the college, those in attendance participated in a responsive reading that affirmed, “We are committed to a love and justice ministry that shuns all forms of oppression and hates based on race, class, gender and sexual orientation. We are committed to fostering leaders who uphold cultural and racial diversity, gender justice and developing effective leadership for a more inclusive church and society,” according to a copy of the reading provided by McKissic.
 
The NBC USA Inc.’s website describes American Baptist College as “an independent college for the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.” But Monchiere Holmes-Jones, a spokeswoman for the college, said it “is not directly correlated” with the convention. She did not know whether the NBC USA Inc. contributes any money to the college.
 
Harris did not respond to Baptist Press’s request for comment by press time.
 
American Baptist College’s governance has long been “shrouded in mystery,” McKissic said. Though National Baptists have been told the school is “owned and operated” by the NBC USA Inc., it is unclear who appoints trustees or whether the convention funds the college. McKissic believes Young, who was elected as NBC USA Inc. president last year and opposes same-sex marriage, will help clarify questions about American Baptist College’s governance.
 
Young was not available to comment by press time but may provide comments for a follow-up article, his assistant said.
 
Harris has not responded to emails or phone calls from McKissic and other concerned pastors, McKissic said. The college’s spokeswoman said Harris has decided not to respond but to let his supporters respond on his behalf. Open letters from supporters are posted on the American Baptist College website.
 
The controversy over Flunder and other gay-affirming speakers at American Baptist College may help generate discussion about a larger “tension” within the NBC USA Inc. regarding same-sex marriage, McKissic said.
 
The NBC USA Inc. has not taken a position on same-sex marriage as a convention, but Young announced in January that he would appoint a resolutions committee to develop a position statement on same-sex marriage for National Baptists to vote on later this year, according to McKissic’s blog. Last year, the NBC USA Inc.’s Home Mission Board released a statement instructing board-endorsed military chaplains “not to participate in any activity that implies or condones same sex marriage or same sex union.”
 
Founded in 1924 as the American Baptist Theological Seminary, American Baptist College was organized “for the training of Negro ministers and religious workers” and was jointly owned by the NBC USA Inc. and SBC. The SBC financially supported the college until 1995, when as a part of the Covenant for a New Century the SBC decided that the school was a “legacy of an age of racial discrimination, when African-American students were not allowed to enroll in the convention-supported seminaries.”
 
The SBC moved further toward racial inclusion by granting sole responsibility for the institution to the NBC USA Inc., noting that Southern Baptists “are convinced that this is no longer the appropriate structure for Southern Baptist support of African-American Baptist leadership.”
 
Deeds for the college’s property drafted in 1977 and 1982 specified that the school “may not use or allow the use of the property other than exclusively for the purpose of training persons in Christian theology as interpreted by Baptist doctrine.” A violation of that condition would have resulted in the property being transferred back to the SBC.
 
In 2011, the SBC’s Executive Committee waived the convention’s rights to 55 acres on which American Baptist College sits, property appraised at $1.7 million at the time.
 
(EDITOR’S  NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/17/2015 1:16:02 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Supreme Court: lower court’s mandate decision lacking

March 16 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court appears to be indicating the White House and some judges still don’t get it when it comes to protecting religious liberty.
 
The justices’ latest act regarding the increasingly contentious issue of free exercise of religion came as a rebuke to an appellate ruling in support of rules implementing the administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.
 
In a March 9 order, the high court vacated a ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals against the University of Notre Dame and told it to reconsider its decision in light of the justices’ ruling in support of the religious freedom of for-profit companies. The Seventh Circuit will re-examine its February 2014 ruling against the Roman Catholic school in view of the June win by Hobby Lobby and another business at the Supreme Court.
 
The abortion/contraception mandate, which was part of the implementation of the 2010 health-care law, requires employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is on its eighth revision of rules in response to complaints it failed to protect the conscience rights of employers. None of those amendments has satisfied the concerns of religious liberty advocates.
 
The high court’s latest action elicited approval from defenders of free exercise of religion.
 
“The Supreme Court took a big step in the direction of liberty and justice,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “I pray that the present administration will stop its reckless disregard of soul freedom and liberty of conscience.”
 
Religious freedom lawyer Mark Rienzi called the justices’ order “a strong signal that the Supreme Court will ultimately reject the government’s narrow view of religious liberty.”
 
“This is a major blow to the federal government’s contraception mandate,” said Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has led the diverse effort challenging the mandate. “For the past year, the Notre Dame decision has been the centerpiece of the government’s effort to force religious ministries to violate their beliefs or pay fines to the [Internal Revenue Service].”
 
The Seventh Circuit’s ruling against Notre Dame left the South Bend, Ind., university the only non-profit religious ministry in the country without legal protection from the abortion/contraception mandate, according to the Becket Fund.
 
Four months after the Seventh Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court upheld the objections of Hobby Lobby, the nationwide retail chain owned by evangelical Christians, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet-making company owned by pro-life Mennonites. The justices ruled the HHS mandate did not protect the conscience rights of “closely held” for-profit companies, such as family owned businesses.
 
While that opinion did not address the many non-profits with objections to the mandate, the Supreme Court acted in a non-profit case in July. It blocked enforcement of the mandate against Wheaton College, a Christian school in suburban Chicago, until the appeal process is complete. The justices’ order said the school – and, by likely extension, other objectors – need only inform HHS it is a religious non-profit with religious objections and not fill out a form required by the government.
 
In August, HHS issued its eighth rules revision in three years following the Supreme Court actions. The latest regulations provide a non-profit with the option of notifying HHS in writing of its religious objection to providing coverage of all contraceptives or those that are potentially abortion-causing. In response, the federal government will notify the insurer or a third-party administrator it is responsible for providing employees of the non-profit with payments to cover the services. The new version no longer requires the non-profit to authorize the government to contact its insurer.
 
The ERLC and other foes of the mandate and its failure to protect the conscience rights of employers strongly criticized the latest revision.
 
The new option does not eliminate the moral objection by religious organizations, Moore said in October comments filed with HHS. “Non-exempt religious organizations which object to providing abortifacients on moral and religious grounds are still the conduit by which employees receive the drugs and devices,” he wrote.
 
“Non-exempt organizations are unable to comply with the rules, and, at the same time, maintain fidelity to their religious beliefs,” Moore said. “The new accommodation is merely a reshuffling of the paperwork and does not resolve the concerns of non-exempt religious organizations: their actions are ultimately providing abortifacients to their employees.”
 
In recent months, some federal appeals courts have upheld the HHS’ latest regulations. The most recent decision came in February in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia against Geneva College, a Christian school in western Pennsylvania.
 
The abortion/contraception mandate, which was part of the implementation of the 2010 health-care law, requires coverage of such drugs as Plan B and other “morning-after” pills that appear to possess a post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of a child.
 
HHS provided an exemption to the mandate for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, non-profit organizations that object. The result has been federal lawsuits by 140 non-profit parties in 56 cases, according to the Becket Fund. In addition, more than 190 for-profit plaintiffs have filed suit in 49 cases.
 
The Southern Baptist Convention’s health and financial benefits entity has filed its first-ever lawsuit against the federal government in a legal challenge to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.
 
GuideStone Financial Resources, the Southern Baptist convention’s health and financial benefits entity, has sued the federal government because of its objection to the mandate. Its case is under consideration by the 10th Circuit Court in Denver.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/16/2015 11:45:11 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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