April 2014

Anti-Semitism card overplayed in Ukraine

April 18 2014 by Abraham H. Foxman, USA Today/Religion News Service

While Ukrainian Jewish leaders recognized the flier as a political dirty trick, it caused widespread outrage here in the United States, where just about everyone – from Jewish community leaders to the State Department – was immediately struck by its echoes of the Nazi policies that led to the Holocaust in Europe.
And yet unfortunately, this was just the latest escalation in a series of political maneuvers in Ukraine where the anti-Semitism card has been repeatedly overplayed.
Manufactured incidents of anti-Semitism have been cynically used to discredit political opponents as anti-Semites, whether they are, or not. In recent years, some Ukrainian political operatives have spread rumors that opposing candidates are Jews, likewise whether they are, or not.
Last year, political operatives, presumably of deposed former President Viktor Yanukovych, sent a dozen young men to an opposition rally with T-shirts that read “Beat the Jews!” on one side, and “Svoboda,” the name of the ultra-nationalist opposition party, on the other.
Both classical political anti-Semitism and the manufactured, manipulative version rely on a common assumption, that a significant number of Ukrainian citizens do not consider their Jewish compatriots to truly be part of the Ukrainian nation.
That attitude, unfortunately, continues to play a significant role in the Ukrainian nationalist movement. The Svoboda party has a history of anti-Semitism and venerates Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Bandera allied with the Nazis during World War II when he thought it was in the interest of his movement and was complicit in mass killings of Jews and Poles by Ukrainian partisans.
When Jews are considered a natural part of the Ukrainian nation, anti-Semitism in Ukraine should wane and the temptation to use anti-Semitism in politics should follow.
And that will be a relief, because anti-Semitism is a big enough problem without having anyone with a political ax to grind to add to it artificially.
A positive first step was taken in today’s statement from the U.S., the European Union, Russia and Ukraine, with the firm, clear and direct condemnation of “all expressions of extremism … including anti-Semitism.”
To change Ukraine’s atmosphere of insecurity, political, civic and religious leaders in Ukraine and Russia must continue to reinforce this message.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.)

Related story:

Jews ordered to register in East Ukraine
4/18/2014 4:40:08 PM by Abraham H. Foxman, USA Today/Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Jews ordered to register in east Ukraine

April 18 2014 by Oren Dorell, USA Today/Religion News Service

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Israeli media.
Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.
Donetsk is the site of an “anti-terrorist” operation by the Ukraine government, which has moved military columns into the region to force out militants who are demanding a referendum be held on joining Russia.
The leaflets bore the name of Denis Pushilin, who identified himself as chairman of “Donetsk’s temporary government,” and were distributed near the Donetsk synagogue and other areas, according to the report.
Pushilin acknowledged that flyers were distributed under his organization’s name in Donetsk, but denied any connection to them, Ynet reported in Hebrew.
Emanuel Shechter, in Israel, told Ynet his friends in Donetsk sent him a copy of the leaflet through social media.
“They told me that masked men were waiting for Jewish people after the Passover eve prayer, handed them the flyer and told them to obey its instructions,” he said.
The leaflet begins, “Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,” and states that all people of Jewish descent over 16 years old must report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and “register.”
It says the reason is because the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta, a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement that fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk,” a name adopted by the militant leadership.
The leaflet then described which documents Jews should provide: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”
Consequences for non-compliance will result in citizenship being revoked “and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property.” A registration fee of $50 would be required, it said.
Olga Reznikova, 32, a Jewish resident of Donetsk, told Ynet she never experienced anti-Semitism in the city until she saw this leaflet.
“We don’t know if these notifications were distributed by pro-Russian activists or someone else, but it’s serious that it exists,” she said. “The text reminds of the fascists in 1941,” she said referring to the Nazis who occupied Ukraine during World War II.
Michael Salberg, director of the international affairs at the New York City-based Anti-Defamation League, said it’s unclear if the leaflets were issued by the pro-Russian leadership or a splinter group operating within the pro-Russian camp.
But the Russian side has used the specter of anti-Semitism in a cynical manner since anti-government protests began in Kiev that resulted in the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych. Russia and its allies in Ukraine issued multiple stories about the the threat posed to Jews by Ukraine’s new pro-Western government in Kiev, Salberg said.
Those stories were based in part on ultra-nationalists who joined the Maidan protests, and the inclusion of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda party in Ukraine’s new interim government. But the threat turned out to be false, he said.
Svoboda’s leadership needs to be monitored, but so far it has refrained from anti-Semitic statements since joining the government, he said. And the prevalence of anti-Semitic acts has not changed since before the Maidan protests, according to the ADL and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, which monitors human rights in Ukraine.
Distributing such leaflets is a recruitment tool to appeal to the xenophobic fears of the majority, to enlist them to your cause and focus on a common enemy, the Jews,” Salberg said.
And by targeting Donetsk’s Jews, they also send a message to all the region’s residents, Salberg said.
“The message is a message to all the people that is we’re going to exert our power over you,” he said. “Jews are the default scapegoat throughout history for despots to send a message to the general public: Don’t step out of line.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Oren Dorell writes for USA Today.)

Related Story:

Anti-Semitism card overplayed in Ukraine
4/18/2014 9:36:25 AM by Oren Dorell, USA Today/Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Gov. Bobby Jindal to keynote Liberty’s commencement ceremony

April 18 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, widely considered a rising star in the Republican Party and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, will be the commencement speaker at Liberty University on May 10.
“Many believe (Jindal) could hold the highest office in the land someday,” Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a statement on Wednesday (April 16).
In an interview, Falwell was hesitant to give his personal opinion of Jindal since the two men have never met. Instead, he deferred to Liberty’s law school dean, Mat Staver.
“He’s a committed Christian,” Falwell said. “Mat Staver said he heard him speak and he sounded like a Baptist preacher.”
Liberty’s annual graduation ceremony has become a sought-after stage for Republican candidates seeking to build bridges to Christian conservatives, including former President George H.W. Bush and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In 2006, Sen. John McCain used the speech to patch over old wounds after calling founder Jerry Falwell Sr. an “agent of intolerance” during the 2000 campaign.
Jindal is Roman Catholic, and Jerry Falwell Jr. said that every year, the school gets questions about inviting nonevangelicals to speak at commencement. He estimated that just eight of their past keynote speakers have been evangelicals.
“Every year, I explain that it’s always been our tradition to have speakers of other faiths,” he said, noting addresses by Glenn Beck and Mitt Romney, who are Mormons. He said Liberty always has at least one evangelical also give remarks.
Liberty, based in Lynchburg, Va., prides itself as being the largest private, nonprofit university in the country, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world.
The school has been in hot water in recent weeks related to other issues.
Ronald Godwin, Liberty’s senior vice president of academic affairs and provost, appeared in a video discussing what appeared to be a partnership with controversial televangelist Benny Hinn. Falwell called the conversation “a mistake,” and the university later said there would be no partnership between the two going forward.
Another controversy erupted earlier this month when the school hired artist Geoffrey Goldberg, who is also an openly gay activist, to choreograph an upcoming “Mary Poppins” show on campus.
“We have strict requirements for our faculty to make sure their doctrine is sound, but we’ve never applied that same policy to part-time help,” Falwell said. “You couldn’t operate if you made sure all the goods and services every day came from born-again Christians. You’d be out of business in a few days. It’s silly for people to make that argument.”
Also, late last fall, the university changed its student honor code to allow men to wear collarless shirts, like T-shirts, in classrooms. Students were split on the issue, according to a report in the student newspaper.
Students must adhere to a 20-page student honor code, including rules that prevent them from watching R-rated movies, gambling or attending dances. “Hair should be no longer than the middle of the ear and should be cut in such a way that it will not come over the collar or eyebrows,” the section on men’s dress says.
Falwell said most of the changes made to the code, including allowing jeans and flip-flops, happened when his father was still alive in 2007.
“Girls were able to wear shirts without collars, so we did this because the guys thought it was unfair. It was more of a gender thing,” Falwell said. ”The changes my father made 10 years ago are still relevant and still workable, and they work well for us, so we don’t have any plans to change them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes for the Religion News Service.)
4/18/2014 9:25:33 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Moore, Obama meet on immigration reform

April 18 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore and other religious leaders have met with President Obama to discuss the continuing effort to pass immigration reform this year.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president joined Obama and others in an oval office meeting April 15 as the attempt to reform the immigration system awaits action in the U.S. House of Representatives. Flaws in both the system and its enforcement have resulted in an estimated 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States.

“I disagree with the President on some serious issues of human life, marriage, and religious liberty,” Moore said in a written statement after the meeting, “but this is one issue where the country isn’t divided up into red and blue.

“I don’t know anyone who thinks the status quo immigration policy is working,” Moore said in the statement released by the Evangelical Immigration Table, a group of religious leaders advocating for immigration reform consistent with biblical values. “Our border isn’t secure, we don’t know who is and who isn’t in the country, and we have families torn apart by an incoherent and capricious system.”

White House file photo by Pete Souza
Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell D. Moore, second from right, is shown in a Nov. 13, 2013, immigration reform meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and religious leaders. In a Tuesday (April 15) meeting with Obama and other religious leaders, Moore said disagreements should not stop evangelicals from collaborating with Obama on immigration.

He reminded the president of their differences during the meeting, Moore said. Obama joked, “You don’t have to list them all,” Moore said later.

“Though I have all sorts of disagreements with the president, I think we should express those disagreements while at the same time working to honor and pray for him as our nation’s leader, as Scripture calls us to do, and working together where we can for the good of the nation,” Moore told Baptist Press.

Moore said he encouraged Obama “to work with Republicans to get beyond partisan bickering and fix this broken system.”

The president and a House Republican leader clashed, however, over immigration reform the next day.

In a statement released Wednesday (April 16), Obama pointed to the failure of the GOP majority in the House to act, saying Republicans are “seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform.”

The House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, reacted sharply in a written release, describing the president’s statement as an attack “which indicated no sincere desire to work together.”

The Senate passed broad reform legislation last year, but the ERLC has said it needs changing. So far, House committees have approved bills dealing with such matters as strengthening border and national security, providing visas for guest workers and requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check employees’ eligibility. The full House has yet to pass those bills, however.

The ERLC and other evangelical organizations have called for reform that would provide border and workplace security, uphold the rule of law and respect family unity. The ERLC and other evangelicals also want laws to establish a path to legal status and citizenship to those who want to live in this country permanently and are willing to pay penalties and meet certain requirements.

Moore’s meeting with Obama occurred while his administration is studying its deportation processes for illegal immigrants, in the face of allegations those methods are harming Hispanic families, according to The Wall Street Journal.

After the meeting, religious leaders told the president “about the impact the failure to fix the immigration system has on families in their congregations and communities,” the White House reported. Obama voiced “deep concern” for the pain many families are experiencing from being separated, according to the White House.

Other religious leaders attending the meeting were Noel Castellanos, chief executive officer of the Christian Community Development Association; Luis Cortes, president of Esperanza; JoAnne Lyon, general superintendent of the Wesleyan Church; Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Dieter Uchtdorf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Moore also participated in a November oval office meeting on immigration reform with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other religious leaders.

In 2011, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and hold businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
4/18/2014 9:18:44 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Easter story’s overlooked facets explored

April 17 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In AD 33 Jerusalem was a political powder keg ready to explode. More than ever, Jews expected a Messiah who would overthrow their hated Roman oppressors. In turn, the Roman Empire was spring loaded to pounce on any rivals to Caesar at the first sign of trouble.
Into that milieu came an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, riding into town for Passover on a donkey and being proclaimed by the crowds as the promised Messiah. Within days one of two things would surely happen: either he would overthrow the Romans or suffer a brutal death.
This is one of many dramatic and theologically rich moments from the Passion Week highlighted in The Final Days of Jesus, a harmonization published by Crossway of the Bible’s four accounts of the week leading up to Easter. Drawing material from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Andreas Köstenberger and popular blogger and publisher Justin Taylor present the last week of Christ’s earthly life as a single, unified story. They dub it “the most important week of the most important person who ever lived.”
They explain the theological significance of key events and highlight Passion Week facts often overlooked by Bible students.

Image courtesy of LifeWay Christian Resources
Though different, Scripture’s four Easter narratives are not contradictory and give unified witness to the truth of Christ’s resurrection, Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor contend.

“As a biblical scholar, and as a Christian, I want to know what I can know about the Bible and about the life of Jesus as precisely as possible,” Köstenberger said in an interview with pastor and author Chris Brauns. “On the one hand, I want to be honest with the limitations we have with regard to the available evidence, but on the other hand, I want to use the evidence we have to the fullest extent possible to determine a given piece of information, such as the dates for Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.”
A moment of particular significance during the Passion Week came at the crucifixion, Köstenberger and Taylor note, where Jesus’ promise that a repentant thief would be with Him in Paradise illustrated salvation by grace through faith.
“Jesus’ acceptance of the man powerfully illustrates the opportunity for forgiveness and eternal life that will soon be proclaimed to all people on the basis of his sacrificial death for sin,” the authors state in the book. “The robber has no time or ability to do any good works – he could not possibly make up for the wrong he had done if that were even possible – but he does have the strength to believe in Jesus and ask him for salvation. That is all that is needed, and the man’s eternal destiny changes decisively from separation from God to spending eternity with Jesus in Paradise.”
When it comes to the resurrection, Köstenberger and Taylor propose three scenarios of how the Gospel accounts – which are all slightly different – could fit together. Matthew, Mark and Luke each record a group of women going to the tomb on Easter morning while John tells only of Mary Magdalene going. The narratives make it clear that John is describing a different event than the other three.
Perhaps, Köstenberger and Taylor note, a group of women went to the tomb, and upon finding the stone rolled away, Mary Magdalene fled to tell the disciples while the others entered the tomb and discovered angels. After telling Peter and John that Jesus’ body had been moved, Mary returned to the tomb and saw Jesus.
Alternately, Mary may have gone to the tomb by herself before the other women arrived, found it empty and fled to tell the disciples, with the other women arriving later. Or Mary could have gone to the tomb alone initially and made a second visit with the rest of the women.
However the events unfolded, Köstenberger and Taylor turn the tables on critics who argue that the Bible’s resurrection accounts are contradictory and cannot be true.
“While the Gospel narratives are different, they are not contradictory. They reflect exactly what we would expect from eyewitness accounts of such an unexpected and supernatural event. Their very differences confirm the truthfulness of the resurrection,” Köstenberger and Taylor contend.
The book’s commentary on the Easter narratives highlights other often neglected details. Among them:
  • Judas likely was seated next to Jesus at the Last Supper, explaining how Jesus was able to give him a morsel of bread.
  • Between Jesus’ teaching in John 14 and its continuation in John 15, He and the disciples probably moved from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane. That explains the final sentence of John 14, “Get up; let’s leave this place.”
  • Pilate did not normally live in Jerusalem. He governed from Caesarea, along the Mediterranean coast, but came to Jerusalem during major festivals like Passover to keep order.
  • Mark’s reference to Jesus’ crucifixion occurring at the “third hour” is probably not a precise reference to nine o’clock. Ancient time designations were very general and based on observing the sun’s position in the sky. Mark likely was making a general reference to the quarter of the day surrounding 9 a.m. – anytime between about 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. References to darkness at the “sixth hour” and Jesus’ death at the “ninth hour” are also general rather than precise indications of noon and 3 p.m.
  • Jesus probably repeated the Great Commission many times during the 40 days between His resurrection and ascension. That accounts for the different versions of it spoken on different occasions in different books of the Bible.
In the end, Köstenberger and Taylor note the Passion narratives are intended not merely to fill readers’ heads with historical knowledge, but to call them to faith in Jesus.
“Will you and I believe?” they write. “Will we place our faith once and for all in the one who came and died and rose again so we can be forgiven and have eternal life? If so, our Easter has dawned, and God’s Morning Star has arisen in our hearts.
“For true believers, every day is Easter, and we can celebrate Easter joyfully, thanking God for his amazing salvation and looking forward expectantly to the day when our Lord will return and summon us to spend eternity with him, for his glory and for our eternal happiness.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is Baptist Press’ chief national correspondent.)
4/17/2014 9:49:44 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Churches challenged to start 100,000 new Bible study groups

April 17 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

LifeWay Christian Resources is challenging churches to start 100,000 new Bible study groups by the end of this year.

The new groups initiative is a partnership between churches, state conventions and LifeWay.

It’s designed to help longtime churchgoers jumpstart their faith and to help new believers grow spiritually, Bruce Raley, director of church education ministry for LifeWay, said.

Whether they meet on Sunday mornings or during the week, small groups are the best way to learn the habits of faith, such as prayer, Bible study and serving others, Raley said.

“Discipleship takes place best in the context of a relationship,” he said. “And relationships are most likely to develop in a small group.”

So far, about 17,000 new groups have been registered at GroupsMatter.com, which includes guides for starting new groups, resources for new leaders, and promotional materials.

Raley and other organizers say the new groups can be started at any point in the year. But they suggest the first Sunday in September as one of the best options. That way, he said, churches can spend the summer months getting ready.

“We believe thousands of new groups will kick off on that day,” he said.

The idea of starting 100,000 new groups began as a grassroots effort.


LifeWay Christian Resources photo
LifeWay Christian Resources hopes to help churches start 100,000 new groups in 2014.

About three years ago, Bob Mayfield, a small groups expert at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and some other state small groups leaders were having breakfast at a denominational meeting and talking about ways to draw more people into groups.

“We needed something dynamic – something our people could grab hold of,” he said.

Not long afterwards, Mayfield and the others met with Raley, who brought up the idea of starting 100,000 new groups, as part of the Groups Matter campaign. It was just what they needed to hear, Mayfield said.

“This is something people have been waiting to do,” he said. “But nobody had said, ‘This is what we are going to do.’“

The new initiative piggybacks on existing small group ministries that most churches already provide, Mayfield said.

“It’s the one strategy virtually all of our churches have – either they call it Sunday School, life groups or community groups,” he said. “It’s already the largest organization in most churches.”

And small groups are often their most effective discipleship program. Small group members read the Bible more, give more and are usually more spiritually mature.

A study of 3,500 Protestant churchgoers in North America from LifeWay Research found that those who belong to a Bible study group are more likely to go to church at least four times a month (79 percent) and to read the Bible daily (28 percent). Being in a group helps them feel closer to God (69 percent) and understand the Bible better (74 percent), and become more loving in their relationships (47 percent).

Group members also develop deep friendships, often staying together for years.

The LifeWay Research study, which was published in a new book called “Transformational Groups,” found that half of current group attendees have been in the same group for at least two years. A quarter (27 percent) have been in the same group for more than five years. But having tight-knit groups has a downside, Raley said. It’s often hard for new people to join.

“The reality is that many groups close after a few years,” he said. “Relationships in a group go from being social to being personal. That’s good for the group but bad for people trying to get in the door.”

Launching new groups means more space for new people, Raley said.

Mayfield agrees. A good small group will form a tight social circle, he said. That’s hard for newcomers to break into.

“But in a new group, the social circle is wide open,” Mayfield said.

That was the case for Tommy “TJ” Thresher of First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla. Being part of a small group has been crucial in helping him learn the Christian faith, he said.

Thresher, a sergeant in the Oklahoma National Guard, didn’t grow up in a church-going family, and had little interest in faith. In the summer of 2012, he said his wife decided to give church a try.

“She woke up one day and said, ‘I’m going to church. You can go if you want to,’“ he said.

Thresher did, and said he was hooked from the first Sunday. A few weeks later, he gave his life to Christ. That fall, he decided to help start a small group – which his church refers to as a “life group” – on Sunday mornings, with other newcomers to the church.

“The best way for a follower of Christ to learn is to really get in there with believers,” he said.

Churches will find a welcome audience for new groups, according to LifeWay Research. The LifeWay small groups study found that many churchgoers who aren’t part of a group are open to joining one.

Two out of three (63 percent) of those not currently in a small group said they’d been part of one in the past. Most of those left their group either because of a change in their life situation (51 percent) or because the class ended (32 percent).

Among the types of changes in life situation that lead to no longer attending are family responsibilities (26 percent), general busyness (26 percent) or work responsibilities (25 percent) kept them from attending.

About a third (33 percent) said they are busy when groups are offered at the church. One in five (22 percent) said groups are offered at an inconvenient time.

Churches should offer groups at a variety of times and in a number of settings to attract as many people as possible, Raley says.

Cross Point Church in Nashville has already started 140 new groups this year as part of the new groups initiative. Most of those groups meet in homes. But they hold the first meeting at a church campus.

Chris Surrat, Cross Point’s missions pastor, says that approach makes it easier for new members to plug in.

“We have all the hosts and leaders in a room, at tables, and we walk people through the first week,” he said. “We tell them, this is what it will be like for the next five weeks. It’s less scary to experience small groups at a church for the first time.”

Thresher said being in a small group has changed his life. It’s helped him grow as a disciple.

“Without a life group, I think my faith would have become stagnant by now,” he said.

To find out more about the 100,000 groups initiative, log onto GroupsMatter.com.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is a senior writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
4/17/2014 9:37:30 AM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Food, tea aid couple’s ministry

April 17 2014 by Sara O’Hara, Baptist Press

It took trips to three different stores, an all-day wait for the dough to rise, and clever planning to use the electric oven despite the daily power outages. But Reece and Justina Dehn* knew it was all worth it when they watched a tiny Nepalese grandmother eat her first slice of pizza.

She scraped off the cheese and ate that part first. Then she scooped up the tomato sauce and ate it. Last, she finished off the crust, leaving nothing on the plate.

When Justina served homemade orange sherbet, the grandmother downed two full bowls.

America Day” – when the Christian couple invited some Nepalese friends to their home to eat American food – had been a success.


IMB file photo
“America Day” – when Reece and Justina Dehn (names changed) invite close Nepalese friends to their home to eat American food – has been a success. Living in Nepal has shown the couple the significance of relationship and hospitality. “We drink a lot of tea and visit a lot of homes,” Justina says with a laugh.

Living in Nepal has shown the Dehns the significance of building relationships and showing hospitality to those around them.

“We drink a lot of tea and visit a lot of homes,” Justina says with a laugh.

Sometimes friends invite them over. Sometimes they are invited by people they meet while walking along the street.

Often the Dehns wait in a room by themselves while their hosts head to the market to purchase tea and cookies. In Nepal, guests can never leave a house until they’ve had something to drink and something to eat.

“In the beginning they will never partake with you, because you’re the honored guest,” Reece says. “So if we get invited for tea or a meal, we sit and eat and they sit and watch.” But after a relationship has developed, it’s different, they say. Then “when we go to their house it’s like family. We all sit down and eat together. It’s really cool. It really touches your heart.”

Their hosts sometimes offer them black tea with milk, sometimes spiced with delicious cinnamon and cardamom. Other times they offer black tea sprinkled with pepper. Another type of tea is made from a leaf that tastes like ocean water (not the Dehns’ favorite).

Spending time with these gracious, soft-spoken people has allowed the Dehns, they say, to build lasting relationships.

But sometimes it’s not so easy.

On one occasion, the Dehns took their family to visit a local church planter’s home village.

The villagers refused to look them in the eye. No one offered tea. Normally hospitable people seemed hostile and strange, the Dehns thought.

So the couple began to pray. They decided to return with a team of volunteers to prayerwalk through the village.

The morning of the trip, everything seemed to go wrong. The encountered a variety of distractions. A couple of those unexpected obstacles included their young daughter falling and cutting her lip, and every toilet in the house breaking down at once.

Despite feeling heavy in spirit, the family and four American volunteers went to the village, planning to walk and pray for an open door.

Instead, as soon as they arrived, dozens of men and women appeared, eager to talk to them – a complete change from the earlier visit. The Dehns and others explained Bible stories, talked with children and eventually led six people to Christ, starting a new church.

They later drank tea with the new believers.

The family often travels to spend the night with local believers in the villages, walking beside them and spending one-on-one time with them. Reece trains a small group of about 11 believers to go out and work with their own people, to disciple new believers and start strong, healthy churches.

Justina says, “Our heart is in South Asia.”

*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susan O’Hara was an IMB summer intern.)
4/17/2014 9:26:36 AM by Sara O’Hara, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Blood moon’ lunar eclipses not a sign, Baptist professors say

April 16 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Televangelist John Hagee’s prediction that a series of “blood moon” lunar eclipses signals a “world shaking event” is a misinterpretation of the Bible, two Southern Baptist professors said.

Hagee’s prediction “ignores” a common style of writing in the Bible known as “apocalyptic literature” that “frequently contains cosmic imagery” to describe significant spiritual events. In apocalyptic literature such figures of speech are not meant to be interpreted “in a literalistic manner,” Ben Merkle, associate professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., told Baptist Press.

A rare sequence of four consecutive complete lunar eclipses – known as a tetrad – began April 15 and will conclude in September 2015. There were no tetrads between 1600 and 1900, though several will occur in the 21st century. A complete lunar eclipse is called a “blood moon” because the earth blocks direct sunlight from striking the moon, leaving the moon illuminated by refracted light which gives it a red hue.

Hagee, founder of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, drew on biblical references about the moon turning to blood and said the tetrad signals an approaching event of major cosmic significance. This tetrad is especially significant, he said, because each eclipse will occur on a Jewish holy day: April 15, 2014 (Passover), Oct. 8, 2014 (Feast of Tabernacles), April 4, 2015 (Passover) and Sept. 28, 2015 (Feast of Tabernacles). Previous tetrads coincided with expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, Israel’s statehood in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967, Hagee said.

National media outlets reported Hagee’s prediction, including USA Today, CNN, the Houston Chronicle, the New York Daily News and Christianity Today.

Hagee has a history of making controversial statements, as when he suggested Hurricane Katrina was an expression of God’s wrath toward New Orleans. He also holds to “dual covenant theology,” the belief that Jews can be saved by keeping the Old Testament “Law of Moses” unlike Gentiles, who must trust Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Hagee, 73, said he has been preparing for the tetrad for years and published a book titled Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change. An accompanying online television special aired April 15.

In a sermon posted on YouTube, Hagee quoted Joel 2, Acts 2 and Mark 13 – passages that speak of the moon being “darkened” or turned “to blood” – and claimed Christians would be foolish not to view the tetrad as a sign from God.

“The heavens are God’s billboard, and when something big is about to happen, He gives planet earth a sign in heaven,” Hagee said. “It’s a signal that something significant is about to happen. Pay attention. NASA has said this is coming. God has said through Joel and Saint Peter, ‘Listen! When this happens, it’s unusual.’“

But Merkle said such cosmic imagery commonly occurs as a figurative way of describing God’s action in human history.

Isaiah 13:10, for example, says the stars “will not give their light,” the sun “will be dark when it rises” and the moon “will not shine.” But context makes clear that the prophecy was fulfilled in the sixth century B.C., when the Babylonians took Judah into exile, Merkle said. It did not reference a literal darkening of the sun, moon or stars.

Merkle said a similar interpretation applies to Acts 2:20, a key passage in Hagee’s interpretation of the tetrad. In that verse, Peter quotes the Old Testament prophet Joel on the day of Pentecost – including Joel’s talk of God turning “the moon to blood” – to describe God’s giving of the Holy Spirit to the church.

“Peter (and Luke) had no difficulty in affirming that the prophecy given by Joel was fulfilled in the coming of the Spirit” at Pentecost, Merkle said. “Peter specifically states that the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost ‘is what was spoken by the prophet Joel’ (Acts 2:16 NASB).

“Peter could have omitted the references to the sun and moon by ending his quotation from Joel earlier. But he specifically includes them as what has been fulfilled. Peter knew that such cosmic language should not be interpreted literalistically. Rather, he knew that such language meant that God would sovereignly intervene in history and do something miraculous. He knew that this marked a key event in the history of redemption. It was a sign that they were living in the end times.”

Saying that Acts 2 encourages believers to be on alert anytime the moon literally takes on a red hue represents a misunderstanding of Scripture, Merkle said.

“Hagee has a history of putting forth teaching that is later retracted and his interpretation of the four blood moons may fall into that category,” he said.

Bruce Gordon, associate professor of the history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University, agreed. Apart from the star God placed over Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, “the whole business of discerning ‘signs in the heavens’ related to human affairs smacks either of astrology or pointless speculation about eschatological prophecies in Scripture,” he said in written comments to BP.

“If you want a prediction about the future, I predict that Hagee’s claims will either meet the embarrassing fate of Harold Camping’s eschatological pronouncements or he’ll attempt to salvage them by claiming their association with some coincidental historical event that he can present as significant enough to save face. I think my prediction has a much greater chance of being correct than John Hagee’s,” said Gordon, who also is a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that focuses on science and public policy.

Christians “should not assign any theological significance to lunar eclipses (or other similarly predictable astronomical phenomena) beyond the general hand of divine providence that is evident in the natural regularities of our universe,” Gordon said.

Christians should remember though that Jesus will truly break into history at His second coming, an event with far greater cosmic significance than a lunar eclipse, Gordon said.

“Of course, Christ will return someday and creation will be made new,” he said. “The wise course of action is not to speculate about various ‘signs of the times,’ however, but rather to keep your spiritual house in order and give stronger emphasis to Jesus’ pronouncement that ‘about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Matthew 24:36).”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is Baptist Press’ chief national correspondent.)
Image Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Brian Day
4/16/2014 11:54:18 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Warrens help others 1 year after son’s suicide

April 16 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

On the first anniversary of their son’s suicide, Saddleback Church founders Rick and Kay Warren are using the painful experience to uplift others, incorporating Facebook, YouTube, a mental health seminar and worship services scheduled at Saddleback campuses this Easter weekend.

“The old Rick and Kay are gone. They’re never coming back,” Kay Warren wrote in a March 13 Facebook post with more than 3.2 million views and more than 10,000 supportive comments. “We will never be the same again. There is a new ‘normal.’ April 5, 2013 has permanently marked us. It will remain the grid we pass everything across for an indeterminate amount of time … maybe forever.”

Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren referenced the experience in encouraging viewers to attend services scheduled April 17 through Easter at the church’s 12 campuses in Southern California. The Warrens’ son Matthew killed himself at age 27 in his Mission Viejo, Calif., home after a lifetime of mental illness. He had spent the previous evening with his parents, giving no indication, they’ve said, of the impending suicide.

“During the past year I’ve often been asked, ‘How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?’ And I’ve often replied, ‘The answer is Easter,’“ he said in a video posted to YouTube. “You see, the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter, that Sunday, was the day of hope and joy and victory. Here’s the fact of life. You will face these three days over and over.

Photo screen-captured from Saddleback Church video.
A Facebook post Kay Warren wrote in advance of the first anniversary of her son Matthew Warren’s suicide drew 3.2 million views and more than 10,000 favorable comments. Saddleback Church, based in Lake Forest, Calif., and pastored by Kay’s husband Rick Warren, hosted a March 28 seminar to mobilize churches in mental health ministry.

“And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking, as I did, three fundamental questions,” the pastor said. “Number 1, what do I do in my days of pain? Two, how do I get through my days of doubt and confusion? Three, how do I get to the days of joy and victory? The answer is Easter.”

On Facebook, Kay Warren wrote of her difficulty in dealing with those who have expressed expectations that she should have been able to put the suicide behind her.

“As the one-year anniversary of Matthew’s death approaches, I have been shocked by some subtle and not-so-subtle comments indicating that perhaps I should be ready to ‘move on,’“ she wrote.

While thousands offered ‘utterly amazing support’ through prayer and an ‘unbelievable volume of cards, letters, emails, texts, phone calls, and gifts,” she wrote, many seemed to wonder when things would return to normal.

“Because these comments from well-meaning folks wounded me so deeply, I doubted myself and thought perhaps I really am not grieving ‘well’ (whatever that means). I wondered if I was being overly sensitive – so I checked with parents who have lost children to see if my experience was unique. Far from it, I discovered.”

In an April 7 follow-up post, Warren thanked readers for their supportive comments.

“I don’t know how to interpret the volume of response other than to say it confirms what I suspected,” she wrote. “Grief is a long, arduous, slow process and it deserves to be respected and supported, not minimized and condemned.”

The responses comforted Warren, she wrote, but also broke her heart that so many are experiencing similar pain.

“So many of you have said, ‘This is my story too; you’ve put into words what I feel.’ You’ve told me about your sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, best friends, grandparents, cousins, neighbors and co-workers and how their deaths created such a well of pain and grief in your hearts; how the grief remains fresh and raw, and how much you wish ‘comforters’ had been more sensitive to your grief.”

Saddleback hosted March 28 the seminar “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church,” with speakers including interdenominational clergy, mental health professionals and educators, including Eric Johnson, professor of pastoral care at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Charles Hannaford, a practicing psychologist and adjunct professor of psychology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

The seminar was designed to mobilize the church on behalf of those living with mental illness, equip lay and pastoral leadership to minister to those affected, and stand side-by-side with those who suffer. At least half of the 3,000 registered for the conference had a family member living with a mental illness, Kay Warren said during the 5th plenary session.

She compared her son’s suicide, and God’s restoration, to the Ezekiel 36 story of God’s promise to deliver the Israelites from Babylonian captivity.

“I don’t know for sure how God is going to take the calamity of my son’s mental illness and his death and use it victoriously; it’s only been a year,” she said in a video of the seminar posted on YouTube. “But what I am certain of is this. God’s love is still working.”

“I believe God wants us to spread this word. God is not helpless among the ruins,” she said. “Matthew too is already experiencing the ruins being rebuilt in his life. He has already experienced the complete restoration. And if you were to use the Scriptural metaphor from Ezekiel 36, the fields have begun to bear fruit again. The cities have been rebuilt and they’re fortified and it’s more inhabited.

“His life is better than it has ever been for a single day in this lifetime and all of God’s promises to him have come true. And I thought to myself, I can go on.”

The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, at its February, 2014 meeting, voted to “continue to seek ways to work in cooperation with SBC entities and others to address the severe challenges imposed by mental illness.”

SBC Executive Committee president Frank Page has announced plans to name a volunteer advisory body of professionals in the mental health field to advise him on possible ways of better informing Southern Baptists about available mental health service providers and resources.

Page authored the 2013 book, Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide, chronicling his daughter’s 2009 suicide and offering hope to those in despair.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
4/16/2014 11:39:18 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Islam examined at SBC seminaries

April 16 2014 by Baptist Press

With 1.6 billion adherents, Muslims make up nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Seminary president R. Albert Mohler describes Islam as the “great rival system of belief.”

In response to Islam’s growing influence, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., has launched a new center for the study of Islam, with J.D. Greear and Michael Youssef as two of its founding fellows.

Southern is among five Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminaries that offer courses or degrees focused on the study of Islam.

Southern’s Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam, named for donors Connie and Bill Jenkins, will study and engage Islam, with an emphasis on evangelism and apologetics. A team of fellows who are experts in Islam will lead the center in conducting research, offering seminars and publishing literature. The center will also host conferences and summits with Islamic scholars from around the world.

Faithfulness to the Great Commission requires ministers to study Islam “not merely to understand [it] as others might seek to understand it, but to achieve a Christian understanding of Islam,” Mohler said.

The dedication coincided with the seminary’s annual Great Commission Week in February. The four-day event included panel discussions with veteran missionaries and church planters, outreach projects in Louisville and evangelistic training sessions.

“I am personally grateful for the generosity of the Jenkins family and believe that this center will be significantly instrumental in the effective training of future generations of gospel ministers,” Randy Stinson, Southern’s provost and senior vice president for academic administration, said.

The center opens with four fellows, two of which cannot be announced for security reasons related to their work. The other two, Greear and Youssef, live in the United States.

Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., studied Islamic theology during his doctoral work at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and served as a missionary among Muslims prior to pastoring in the United States.

“In many ways, Islam represents the ‘great frontier’ for the Christian church,” Greear said. “How exciting to see God bringing together such a high caliber team of gospel-saturated, faith-filled believers at Southern Seminary … for the salvation of Muslims. I am excited about the discussions and the future together. Might our generation be the one that sees this vast network of unreached peoples turned for the gospel?”

The Egyptian-born Youssef is an author, founding rector of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Ga., and founder and president of Leading The Way, a worldwide media ministry. The seminary planned for Youssef to present the inaugural Jenkins Center lecture in conjunction with the launch. However, inclement weather prohibited his traveling to Louisville. Youssef was scheduled to give the inaugural lecture at a later date.

In place of Youssef, Mohler addressed the topic, “Monotheism Is Not Enough.” Speaking from James 2:19, he objected to the common classification of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the three “Abrahamic religions.”

“We often hear ... the idea that there are three Abrahamic faiths. I can only imagine what Abraham would say to that,” Mohler said, referencing an exchange in John 8, where Jesus said the true children of Abraham are men and women who believe in Him.

While Abraham was certainly a monotheist, Mohler said, he “learned to look forward and trust God for his unilateral provision for salvation,” he said. “Monotheism is not enough.”

Mohler described “two great rival systems of belief,” arguing that Islam represents the “main rival” to Christianity around the world.

“In the West, that main system of belief is modern secularism – which is a complete worldview system. But almost everywhere else in the world, Islam is the main rival in terms of the belief systems that take a hold of humanity,” he said.

Mohler outlined challenges Islam presents to the church, starting with demographics. He pointed out that the vast majority of unreached people live in Islamic nations or in regions where Muslims are the majority, explaining that increasingly the task of Christian missions requires engaging Islam. Understanding Islam is a “non-negotiable” for 21st century ministers, he said.

Loving Muslims is among the most important challenges facing Christians, Mohler said. Love requires engaging Muslims in “honest and accurate” and “loving and respectful” ways, he said.

“Jesus ordered us to go into all the world and to find all the world as our neighbor – a neighbor we are to love,” he said. “And if we do love, we will seek to understand what they believe and we seek to confront them with the gospel.”

The Jenkins family attended the Jenkins Center dedication service and ribbon-cutting ceremony. Bill Jenkins is co-founder and manager of Mainstream Investments and Advisors in New Albany, Ind. Connie Jenkins is a graduate of the Women’s Ministry Institute at Southern Seminary and an active participant in women’s ministry.

The Jenkins Center website – jenkins.sbts.edu – provides information about and resources for the engagement of Islam.

Among the ways other SBC seminaries engage Islam:
  • Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, offers a master of arts in Islamic studies, a concentration in Islamic studies within its master of divinity degree and a minor in Islamic studies within its Ph.D. program.
  • Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., offers courses on Islam for students in various master’s-level programs. The seminary’s annual missions conference focused this year on Christian movements in the Muslim world.
  • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., offers two master’s degrees with opportunities for a focus on Islamic studies. Anthony Greenham, associate professor of missions and Islamic studies, worked in Jordan, Iran and Israel as a South African diplomat in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary offers two graduate certificates in Islamic studies and a master of divinity with specialization in Islamic studies, including courses in Islamic theology. Master of arts students in two degree tracks may opt for an Islamic studies concentration.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on reporting by Southern Seminary’s Aaron Cline Hanbury and writers at the other SBC seminaries.)
4/16/2014 11:27:28 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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