April 2012

Atheist shocked when church helps with bills

April 3 2012 by Sharayah Colter/Southern Baptist TEXAN

ATHENS, Texas (BP) – The man who threatened to sue a Texas county for placing a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn has had a shift in perspective, dropped the lawsuit and now plans to move to the county with his wife and cat.
Patrick Greene, an atheist cab driver from San Antonio, had said he found the placement of the nativity unconstitutional and intended to use the legal system to force a judge to order its removal – that is, until he began losing his vision because of a detaching retina.

With surgery on the horizon, no health insurance and a job that he could no longer maintain with his deteriorating eyesight, Greene realized he needed to focus his energies and finances on life’s necessities, leading him to withdraw his lawsuit.

When Jessica Crye, a member of Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens, Texas, found out, she called her pastor, Erick Graham, to see if he had heard the news – not only about the dropped suit but about Greene’s health. Crye asked Graham if their church could help him. Graham’s answer was simple.

“Sure we can help him,” Graham told her.

Graham said he didn’t need to take time to pray about the matter or to mull it over because Christ had already provided an answer.

“We don’t need to pray about it,” Graham said. “We’ve already been given the command to do it.”

Athens Daily Review photo

Patrick Greene, an atheist, said he was shocked when a church began raising money to help battle a detaching retina. Greene previously had fought to have a nativity scene removed from a courthouse lawn.

Crye began to organize an effort to send support to the Greenes, and Graham explained to the church that they had an opportunity to show Greene the love of Christ.

Greene did not accept the offer of the church to pay for his eye surgery, but eventually agreed to let the church help him with bills and rent, which were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain with medical costs stacking up and no job to bring in income.

Greene said when he agreed, he and his wife never thought the church would actually follow through and send money.

“My wife said, ‘We’ll never see that,’” Greene said. “Two days later, a check for $400 came in the mail. We are totally flabbergasted.”

Donations have not ended there, though.

“The money continues to come in for him as it’s been made more public,” Graham said, explaining that Greene then asked them not to send any more. “But I can’t keep the people from giving. The money keeps coming and it’s not ours to hold onto.”

In the meantime, Greene has changed his mind about accepting help in funding his eye surgery, saying the Christians from Athens have worn down his resistance to outside help. He even set up a website http://gofundme.com/i5htw) to receive donations, publicly thanking Graham, Crye, and the Sands Springs church family.

Greene said in his entire life, he never has had a Christian treat him the way the Christians in Athens treated him. (Athens is the county seat.) The so-called Christians that Greene had encountered had refused to pay their fare in his cab because they did not want their money going to the “devil.” They also had also refused to lease him apartments because of his disbelief in God. But they had never loved him, he said.

“No Christian at all that we’ve ever met in our lives, had ever been nice to us,” Greene said. “No Christian has ever done anything for us. Our own families have totally forgotten our existence, and strangers – Christians and atheists all around the country – are helping us. One of the things Jesus said to was love your neighbor as yourself. These people are acting like real Christians.”

Greene said he and his wife have received enough money to get caught up on rent, bills and taxes and that the surprise of the Christians’ generosity and selflessness has not worn off.

“We are literally still in a state of shock,” Greene said. “I feel like we’re in the Twilight Zone.”

Shock or not, though, the Greenes are moving forward, with plans to make Athens their permanent home with the help of Sand Springs Baptist Church and others who have heard about Greene’s story and wanted to help. In Athens, where the cost of living is lower than in San Antonio, the couple has found an apartment within walking distance to Walmart, meaning they will not need to drive anywhere to get their groceries.

Greene said when he gets to Athens, he plans to become friends with the very people he once fought against.

“I’ve already invited [Jessica] and her family to dinner,” Greene said. “I want to get together with everybody. We are not isolated anymore.”

Though Greene has not changed his beliefs, Crye said Greene told her he would come to some of her church’s services when he and his wife move to town.

So taken by the generosity was Greene and his wife that they purchased and gave a star to Henderson County for the very nativity scene they sought to remove.

The Greenes said they expected the Christians only to help them if and when they decided to convert to Christianity and were surprised by their unconditional gifts. Crye said Jesus has called Christians to love not just their neighbors but also their enemies – and to love both without condition.

“That’s what God called us to do,” Crye said. “It’s very against our nature to one, love people, and two, to love them unconditionally. If we’re not, the world is not seeing what Jesus is like. They’re seeing that view that Patrick has always seen.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sharayah Colter is correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)
4/3/2012 3:43:58 PM by Sharayah Colter/Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 1 comments

IRS allows churches to endorse marriage initiatives, attorney says

April 2 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

RALEIGH – Conventional wisdom might hold that churches can never legally get involved in politics, but when it comes to issues – and specifically for 2012, ballot initiatives dealing with the definition of marriage – churches actually have wide latitude, says an attorney well-versed in IRS law.
Voters in up to five states this year will vote on the definition of marriage – North Carolina’s vote on May 8 is the first – and many churches already are involved, urging their members to stand up for the biblical definition of marriage as being between one man, one woman. Still, many churches are hesitant to speak up, fearful that doing so is a violation of IRS law and could endanger their tax-exempt status.

Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), says that pastors and congregations have nothing to fear. Under IRS law, churches cannot endorse candidates but they can lobby for specific legislation – here, ballot initiatives – provided that the time and money spent doing so is less than 5 percent of their overall operation and budget, Stanley said.

“I cannot foresee any situation where a church would come anywhere close to violating that prohibition,” Stanley told Baptist Press of the 5 percent limit. “Essentially, a church would have to devote itself almost wholeheartedly to lobbying efforts in order to be at risk.”

Stanley went one step further, saying that churches not only are allowed to take public stands on ballot initiatives, but they should do so. The Alliance Defense Fund (800-TELL-ADF) is a Christian legal group.

“Without the voice of the church, marriage as it stands between one man and one woman is going to be lost in these five states and others,” Stanley said. “This is just simply an area where churches don’t need to be afraid of the IRS. The IRS allows them to be involved”

After North Carolina votes in May, Maine and Minnesota will follow in November. Maryland and Washington state likely will be added to that November list when signature drives – expected to be successful – conclude. The North Carolina and Minnesota amendments seek to define in the state constitutions marriage as between a man and a woman. Maine’s vote is being promoted by gay groups and could legalize gay “marriage.” In Maryland and Washington, church groups and others are gathering signatures to try to reverse recently enacted laws that legalized gay “marriage.” Those laws have yet to take effect.

Pastors and churches, Stanley said, can legally:

– gather signatures for petitions, even within the church building itself.

– urge members to support or oppose an initiative.

– hand out literature for or against an initiative.

– hold meetings geared specifically toward the initiative.

– preach sermons on the issue, urging members to vote a certain way.

Thirty-one states have voted on the definition of marriage, and congregations in each state have been involved. But each time a new state considers the issue, Stanley said, confusion about church involvement reigns.

Churches are categorized as 501(c)(3) organizations under IRS code, and as such are restricted in what they can do politically. They are absolutely prohibited from endorsing candidates, Stanley said, but are allowed to do an “insubstantial” amount of lobbying for issues. Although “insubstantial” is not defined, one court defined it as 5 percent, another as 15 percent. To be safe, Stanley said, churches should stay within the 5 percent range.

“People think that a church is prohibited from doing anything that’s considered lobbying, and that’s just not true,” Stanley said. “Churches can do a lot of things to support marriage amendments and other issues. They’re not absolutely prohibited from doing that.

“Essentially, they can do anything, and the only restriction is that it remain an insubstantial amount of what the church does overall,” Stanley said. “Consider everything that a church does, in terms of meeting time – just counting all the hours that a church meets every year, and then take 5 to 15 percent of that to devote to legislative and lobbying activities. No church is going to come anywhere close to that.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Learn more about the Alliance Defense Fund at TellADF.org.)
4/2/2012 3:28:41 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Cleveland project creators hope potato idea spreads

April 2 2012 by Kathryn Hamrick, Special to the Recorder

In small potato patches across Cleveland County and in the hearts of the hungry who receive the potatoes, Christ’s followers are planting hope.
Since potatoes are a viable crop across North Carolina, the leaders of the Cleveland County Potato Project hope this highly successful project will take root across the state.
The project began in 2009 with a vision arising from a men’s Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Shelby. Doug Sharp and Bill Horn left the class that Sunday, burdened about the needs of the hungry and believing a simple idea – planting potatoes – was something they could do.
Sharp and Horn spoke to agricultural agents and local farmers and then went to Charles Reed, ministry support team leader of the Greater Cleveland County Association, who encouraged them to proceed because of the tremendous need for food.

Contributed photo

Volunteers gather potatoes last fall for the Cleveland County Potato Project.

When the first plot of land was made available for planting in the spring of 2010, Reed prayed with the advisory group on the wind-chilled site, asking that God “bless the talent and spirit of people who want to do something about hunger in this county.” Sharp says, “Bill Horn and I are given credit for starting this potato project, but God started this. We don’t claim any credit.”
In the spring of 2010, 10 donated plots were planted – and that first year 30,000 pounds of white and sweet potatoes were harvested and distributed through the association, church food pantries and other relief agencies.  
In 2011, 84,000 pounds of potatoes were harvested from 22 donated plots. The goal for 2012 is to grow 100,000 pounds.
Baptist individuals and groups have been heavily involved in the project from the outset. Sharp says the support of the association has been critically important, especially in the distribution phase.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has helped fund the project each year with gifts from the Hunger Relief Fund. The N.C. Baptist Men’s Shelby Mission Camp has made a plot of land available. The area’s Spanish-speaking ministry has raised a crop of potatoes. Gardner-Webb University students help with soil sampling and are a consistent source of volunteers.
Local Baptist churches are participating in the project. One of the churches involved is Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Shelby, led by Jimmy Black. He sees the project as a way for the church to carry out its mission. “We literally had children and church members all the way up to 80 years of age out there,” Black said.
Seven Cleveland County churches have also had potato plots: Elizabeth Baptist, Shelby; Patterson Grove Baptist, Kings Mountain; Zion Baptist, Shelby; Second Baptist, Kings Mountain; Getsemani Hispanic, Lawndale; Washington Missionary Baptist, Shelby; and Lafayette Street United Methodist, Shelby. New Life Baptist Church in Madison in Rockingham County has also had a plot.
More information about starting a similar project can be found online at ccpotatoproject.com. For questions about the project itself, call Sharp at (704) 480-1608 or Reed at (704) 482-3472.
4/2/2012 3:18:08 PM by Kathryn Hamrick, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

Q&A: ‘October Baby’ actress shares about her experience

April 2 2012 by Megan Basham, Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – When producer/directors Jon and Andrew Erwin asked Shari Rigby to consider a small but crucial role in their film “October Baby,” none of them realized how closely the script about a young woman who discovers she survived an abortion attempt paralleled Rigby’s own life.
Rigby, who turns in an emotionally wrenching performance as the young woman’s biological mother, recently spoke about the experiences she brought to the part and what she hopes audiences will take away from October Baby, which is entering its second weekend in theaters.

QUESTION: What was your reaction when you first read the script and realized how much of it resonated with your own life?

RIGBY: When Jon called me and said please read the script, the first thing I saw on the front cover was Rachel Hendrix [the main character]. And my husband said to me, ‘Wow she really looks like you – she could be your daughter,’ which made it even more intriguing. Then halfway through the script I realized it paralleled my life 20 years ago. [The character I play] was in the profession I worked in – I was a paralegal. I, too, had had an abortion. Then when the character goes and speaks with her husband and shares with him what she’d done – that same exact thing happened in my life when my husband and I were probably in the sixth or seventh year of our marriage. So it was really intense to read something so close to my life that not that many people knew about. Certainly the Erwins had no idea that this was part of my past.

Shari Rigby

QUESTION: You could have taken the part, turned in a wonderful performance, and never mentioned the personal pain that allowed you to bring so much authenticity to the role. Instead you told the Erwins about your own experience with abortion and decided to talk about it while promoting October Baby. Why?

RIGBY: The Erwins asked me if I would be interested in sharing my testimony and they were so great about it, telling me to pray about it and assuring me that they didn’t want to push me into anything. But I kept feeling this urging that this wasn’t about me, that this was God’s film. I’m a woman who’s post-abortive, and if I could do anything with this film it would be to love on other women and be an encouragement to them to say I know you’ve gone through a lot emotionally, physically and spiritually, but there’s healing for it. And I think that’s why God gave me this part.

QUESTION: Obviously putting yourself out there in such a vulnerable way must impact your husband as well. How has he felt about your willingness to share your story while promoting the film?

RIGBY: My husband is an amazing, godly man, and one of the hardest things for me was when I had to tell him that I had had an abortion because I really didn’t know what that conversation would sound like. But much like in the movie, he put his arms around me and held me and told me he loves me. And in all of this, he’s been my biggest fan and supported me. He’s held me when I’ve cried and constantly tells me that I’m brave and courageous.

QUESTION: What do you think people should know about the personal experiences behind abortion statistics?

RIGBY: We’re such a health-conscious society – we preach constantly about what we’re putting in our mouths and what we’re doing to our bodies so that we’ll be healthy. And yet, most people that you talk to really don’t know anything about abortion. They don’t know what goes on or what the physical or mental or emotional ramifications are. So I think they need to be better educated on that. One out of three Christian women say they have had an abortion and many of them say they have had more than one. We’ve got to do a better job of talking to the next generation and helping them cope with the emotional and physical pain that comes when this has been a part of their life.

QUESTION: That’s one of the things I so enjoyed about October Baby – it wasn’t just about the young woman who survived the abortion, it was also about the woman who tried to end her life. It wasn’t political, it didn’t cast one of them as the good guy and one of them as the bad guy, but it follows the pain both of them go through.

RIGBY: Yes, I really love that you can go into October Baby and put your political talking points aside. You’re going to go on a journey with a young couple and experience their personal story. Jon Erwin said it so well when he said, “We didn’t create October Baby to draw lines in the sand. We created it to draw circles.” They’re trying to get people talking about [abortion] and look at it from different perspectives.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Megan Basham writes for World News Service, where this story first appeared.)
4/2/2012 3:12:35 PM by Megan Basham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

2012 VBS to teach ‘God’s Awesome Power’

April 2 2012 by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nearly 4,000 people attended Vacation Bible School (VBS) preview events this winter to prepare for “Amazing Wonders Aviation: Encountering God’s Awesome Power.”

Jerry Wooley, VBS specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, described VBS previews as “great moments of bringing people together from all across the country” to build momentum for this summer’s outreach.

“We host classes on crafts. We sing all the music. We teach high-tech and low-budget decorations and we look at the Bible content,” Wooley said. “We do everything in VBS in a compact 24-hour period.”

In aviation-styled costumes at the VBS preview in Nashville, youth venture into “Amazing Wonders Aviation: Encountering God’s Awesome Power.”

This year’s VBS theme is drawn from Psalm 147:5: “Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite” (HCSB). The curriculum uses 1930s and 1940s aviation to help VBS participants encounter God and His power by exploring some of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
VBS 2012 will immerse participants in daily worship before sending them on a make-believe journey from the Amazing Wonders Aviation airstrip to such wonders as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Victoria Falls in Africa, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, the polar Northern Lights and Paricutin volcano in Mexico.

In addition to learning of God’s power in nature, VBS participants will learn of His power over sin, death and life by exploring Bible stories with similar themes and lessons, with Wooley noting, “We want everyone who attends VBS to know the power of our awesome God.”

Prayer & VBS
During the VBS preview at LifeWay’s home office in Nashville, Tenn., discussion leaders encouraged attendees to pray that VBS students will personally experience God’s power.

Cindi White, minister of preschoolers at First Baptist Church in Smyrna, Ga., who has been a part of VBS at the local church level for 15 years, said she was pleased with the prayer aspect of the preview.

Describing prayer as foundational to VBS success, White said, “We should be praying first and foremost for the children. God already knows who is coming to our Vacation Bible School. We need to bathe them in prayer.”

Dawn Tucker, early childhood minister at CrossPoint church (SBC) in Trussville, Ala., and a first-time preview attendee, said she “especially loved the information about the prayer guides and brochures” which gave prayer helps for before, during and after VBS.

“We can give these to the parents, teachers and volunteers to encourage them to participate by praying,” Tucker said. “If we don’t emphasize prayer, then our volunteers may run the risk of just going through their checklist of things to do for that day.”

Additional 2012 VBS preview events were held at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and First Baptist Church in Kissimmee, Fla.

Pastors & VBS
In his session titled “Pastoral Leadership During VBS,” Mike Smith, LifeWay’s leadership and evangelism specialist, exchanged creative ideas for increasing prayer for VBS sessions, such as giving prayer lists to homebound church members, hosting a prayer room each Wednesday night leading up to VBS, and writing workers’ names on rubber band bracelets as prayer reminders.

Smith’s session also touched on how pastors can encourage and enhance their churches’ VBS through intentional participation.

“Pastors can be great cheerleaders for VBS,” Smith said. “It’s so crucial that pastors be team players. Interact with those kids. You will learn things about the kids, and they will learn things about you and the church.

“Once you’ve interacted and gotten to know some things about the kids, then you can intercede and pray more specifically for them,” Smith said.

Eternity & VBS
“VBS is worth it,” Smith said. “Because of VBS, eternity is going to be changed. Kids’ lives are going to be changed. Families are going to be changed.”

Rhonda VanCleave, LifeWay’s VBS editorial project leader, said VBS continues to be “the flagship event for many churches across the country. [The numbers indicate] about 25 percent of reported baptisms [in Southern Baptist churches] are a direct result of VBS.”

In 2010 (the latest figures available), more than 25,000 churches hosted VBS, enrolling more than 2.8 million children, students and adults. More than 88,000 people made professions of faith in Christ.

Slaughter & VBS
Jeff Slaughter this year ends his journey with Lifeway’s VBS team after 17 years of writing, traveling, performing and teaching the curriculum.

“For the past 17 years, millions of children and families through VBS have benefitted from a talented and enthusiastic music minister whose name is synonymous with VBS,” Wooley said. “Jeff’s contribution has helped shape VBS as it is known today.”

Wooley presented Slaughter a framed plaque signed by many of his music ministry co-workers and containing logos of all of the VBS themes to which Slaughter has contributed. During his VBS career, Slaughter produced more than 22 themes and 133 songs.

“The VBS team appreciates Jeff. God has not only used Jeff to impact the lives of millions, but he has impacted each of us here at LifeWay,” Wooley said. “[Slaughter’s] music has reached into the hearts of kids and the motions he choreographed have helped the lyrics become personal and the message of Christ memorable.”

Slaughter will continue as a creative team member of LifeWay’s CentriKids camps and a writer for the LifeWay Worship music area.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon D. Wilke is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
4/2/2012 3:04:41 PM by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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