Survey: Mature Christians unashamed of faith

August 23 2013 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – While not all churchgoers are particularly transparent or open about their faith, mature Christians are consistent in character and identity around non-believers, LifeWay research reveals.

The survey of Protestant churchgoers identifies “unashamed” as one of eight attributes of discipleship that consistently show up in the lives of maturing Christians. Being unashamed connotes a boldness to stand for one’s beliefs in conversation and lifestyle, LifeWay Research director Scott McConnell said.

“There are two elements to this discipleship attribute: being unashamed of Jesus Christ around nonbelievers and showing transparency among other Christians,” McConnell said. “This transparency is seen when a mature disciple is open to spiritual accountability and willing to share about challenges with other believers.”

Churchgoers also seem to think they live out their faith in a manner that is evident to others. Just 14 percent of churchgoers agree with the statement: “Many people who know me are not aware I am a Christian,” while 72 percent disagree with the statement.
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Churchgoers often leave important elements of faith unspoken, the survey shows. Nearly a third (29 percent) agree that “spiritual matters do not tend to come up as a normal part of my daily conversations with other Christians,” while 50 percent disagree.

According to the survey, 66 percent of American churchgoers believe Christians should seek out honest feedback about their spiritual life from other Christians. Similarly, 57 percent of churchgoers say they openly discuss their difficulties with Christian friends. Only 1 in 4 does not, according to the survey.

“It is easy for Christians to put their ‘church’ face on at church and pretend everything is fine,” McConnell said. “But without transparent interaction among followers of Christ, blind spots are left unattended and opportunities for change are unsupported.”

“The other temptation for Christians is to pretend to be ‘not-too-religious’ when they are around neighbors and co-workers,” he said. “Yet, Scripture calls believers to not be ashamed of the gospel and its work in our lives.”

“This research aligns with the biblical accounts of Peter’s three denials of Christ with the ever-present struggle and temptation believers face to hide their relationship with Christ,” he said.

The research uncovers several characteristics that best predict being unashamed, including reading the Bible frequently, spreading the gospel, being discipled or mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian, confessing sins to God and praying for fellow Christians, McConnell said.

Only 34 percent of churchgoers surveyed indicate they pray for fellow Christians they know every day. Ten percent say they do this “once a month” or “rarely/never.”

The survey of 2,930 American adults who attend a Protestant church once a month or more was conducted Oct. 14-22, 2011. 

To help pastors, churches and individuals measure spiritual development, LifeWay Research used the study’s data to develop a questionnaire for believers, called the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA). The online evaluation delivers both individual and group reports on spiritual maturity using the eight attributes of biblical discipleship, and gives helpful and practical suggestions on appropriate next steps for spiritual development.

To learn more about the transformational discipleship research visit LifeWayResearch.com. The TDA is available at tda.lifeway.com.
8/23/2013 12:30:27 PM by Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Mohler marks 20th by encouraging ministers to speak

August 22 2013 by Aaron Cline Hanbury, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Amid cultural pressures to remain silent, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told ministers to speak the truth because souls are at stake during an Aug. 20 convocation marking his 20th anniversary as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We are called to be, as scripture describes us, stewards of the mysteries of God,” Mohler said. “We are called to preach that which has been revealed. We are called to preach the Word in season and out of season. ... We are living in a time that may well be described as increasingly out of season. Thus, we speak of the sin of silence in a time of trouble.”

Mohler’s address, “Don’t Just Stand There: Say Something: The Sin of Silence in a Time of Trouble,” follows in the tradition of two previous convocation messages at significant moments in his presidency at the Louisville, Ky., seminary.

The first, in 1993, “Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There,” set his agenda to reclaim the seminary – a central concern during the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. He argued that the seminary had lost its way theologically and needed to commit with integrity to its foundational doctrinal confession, the Abstract of Principles. 

Ten years later, Mohler called the seminary – in a message oppositely titled, “Don’t Just Stand There: Do Something” – to re-engage in the task of the church by taking the gospel to the nations.
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SBTS photo by Emil Handke
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaks Aug. 20 to the seminary community in Alumni Memorial Chapel. The convocation address marked his 20th anniversary at the seminary’s helm.
 


Speaking to the seminary community on Aug. 20 at the beginning of a new academic year, Mohler said, “We know what we believe; that’s what we confess. We know what we must do, as the Lord Himself has commissioned us. And may we ever be faithful to speak what we’ve been commanded to speak.”

Mohler preached from Ezekiel 3:16-27, in which God gives the prophet responsibility for those to whom God calls him to speak. In the passage, God says to Ezekiel, “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”

Mohler asserted that the message God gave to Ezekiel is as applicable today as it was for the ancient prophet.

“The portrait given to Ezekiel is [one] we must hear and we must heed and we must own for our own time,” Mohler said.

Confronting a fear of truth-telling, Mohler said the scriptures present only two conditions that require silence: when in the presence of God and “when we do not know what to say because the knowledge is too far from us.” But, he noted, calls to speak are “far more prevalent in scripture” than calls for silence, noting that the call to speak is not generic, but a specific call to preach God’s revealed truth.

“Our task is not theological speculation; we are not called to doctrinal creativity; we are not summoned to invent a message; we neither market nor test this message, nor modify it. We receive it. And as we receive it, so we preach,” Mohler said.

But preaching God’s Word is often unpopular, he reminded the seminarians.

“The increasingly secular culture of the West, and specifically the United States, is poised to present the seriously Christian minister with serious challenges. And challenges bring temptations. One of the greatest temptations is for us to remain silent,” Mohler said.

“We are tempted to speak in terms that will be better received, we believe, than the terms of the gospel that scripture require. We are tempted to lower our voice when we should raise it, and to raise our voice when it should be lowered. The truth dies a thousand deaths of equivocation and is buried in a grave of evasion,” he said.

Even so, ministers cannot avoid trouble, Mohler said. “We will be in trouble with someone. So let us choose this day those with whom we will have trouble. The world says, ‘Remain silent,’ and God says, ‘Speak.’“

Mohler emphasized his desire not to spark a “new belligerence or a posture of defensiveness,” but to call the church to obedience to all that scripture teaches. “My concern is the mandate given to us by God and my concern is the church,” he said.

Silence in times of trouble is sin, Mohler said, noting the increasing cost of speaking the truth. “It will cost more every year to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the exclusivity of that gospel as a radical cause of outrage in this culture, to the moral teachings of God’s Word,” he said.

Mohler emphasized that consequences of speaking God’s truth span beyond cultural discussions of morality. The call to speak the truth in times of trouble today, as in Ezekiel’s day, carries eternal consequences.

“This is not merely about some cultural conflict over moral questions; it is about an eternal conflict over the souls of men and women. Nothing less is at stake,” he said.

“Together, may we be determined never to remain silent when we are called and commissioned and given opportunity to speak. May we end our days free and innocent of the blood of all men,” he said. “May Southern Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention and all of God’s people learn new skills of truth-telling and draw courage to speak the truth in love and resolve to speak as best we know in the time we are given to the people whose eternal destiny may hang in the balance.”

Audio and video of Mohler’s address, “Don’t Just Stand There: Say Something: The Sin of Silence in a Time of Trouble,” are available at the Southern Resource webpage: video and audio. Mohler’s two previous milestone convocation addresses also are available: Don’t Just Do Something: Stand There and Don’t Just Stand There: Do Something.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Cline Hanbury is manager of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.)
8/22/2013 5:27:43 PM by Aaron Cline Hanbury, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Students impact cities in path toward lifelong service

August 22 2013 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

NEW YORK – Student missionary Season Helms can pinpoint the day last year when she began to look at New York City and urban ministry differently. Traveling with friends on the subway, Helms spotted a young woman dressed less than modestly.

As Helms looked beyond her clothing to the puffy eyes, scrapes and bruises, she saw a girl obviously in pain. Helms and her friends soon learned the girl had been attacked at Coney Island and her phone, money and extra clothing had been taken from her, leaving her with only a swimsuit. Helms and her friends helped the girl find more clothing to wear, connect with her friends and begin to heal her wounds. 

“Then we got an opportunity to talk to her about God,” said Helms, who later wrapped up her term as a North American Mission Board (NAMB) student missionary. “She told us that God couldn’t love her. She had done too many bad things. Her perceived absence of the Lord in her life had led her to believe He wasn’t there and He didn’t love her.”

Over the next few months, they continued to minister to the girl and share with her about God’s love. To their knowledge she never made a profession of faith but Helms and her friends did what they could to move her closer to such a decision.

“That experience was monumental to me because it began to change my perception of what life and ministry here in New York City is about,” Helms said. “Ministry is how you live your whole life – not what I’ve scheduled from 9 to 5. It’s something that can be and should be integrated into all of my life so that you can’t tell where my job ends and my ministry begins.” 
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Photo courtesy of Season Helms
Season Helms spent the past 14 months working with the Metro New York Baptist Association and with Graffiti 2, a church plant in the city, as a North American Mission Board student missionary. In addition to working with children, she was involved in the church’s outreach and worship.


Helms is among 750 Southern Baptist student missionaries who serve in locations across North America throughout the year with NAMB. As many of these student missionaries build relationships in the community and serve on the front lines of ministry, NAMB believes they represent both the present and the future of Southern Baptist efforts to penetrate lostness throughout North America.

To reach NAMB’s goal of helping Southern Baptist churches start 15,000 new churches over the next decade, many more church planters and church planting team members will be needed. Student missionaries – along with interns and church planting apprentices – play a crucial role in the church-based “farm system” needed to get there. 

“The 15-year-old today is the church planter in the next decade,” said Chad Childress, NAMB’s director of missionary and church development. “So our desire is to see thousands of churches begin to discover next-generation missionaries within their own church and then deploy them into the greatest areas of lostness in North America. NAMB’s farm system promises to be a helpful tool to these churches as they develop those missionaries for a lifetime of missionary service.” 

Student missionary Sam Kim serves as the discipleship minister at a church plant in Vancouver, British Columbia. Now transitioning to a church planter apprentice with NAMB, Kim said God has used his time in student missions to open his eyes to church planting, particularly in Vancouver’s multiethnic context. 

Before being a part of The Point Community Church, a multiethnic collegiate congregation in Vancouver, Kim had been a part of Korean-language churches and collegiate ministries. 

“God really gave me a heart for Vancouver and multiethnic ministry,” Kim said. “The Point Church gave me a great opportunity to use those passions that God gave me.”

Helms, who served in New York City from the summer of 2012 through the end of this July, came to the city after graduating from the University of Georgia. While primarily serving with the Metro New York Baptist Association, she also led worship at Graffiti 2, an SBC church plant in the city. Though reluctant to go to New York City when she first applied as a summer missionary, it didn’t take long for her to “fall in love with the city” and she ended up staying an additional year.

Through Helms’ ministry at Graffiti 2, she developed a passion for helping low-income children. This fall she heads to Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., to work on a master’s degree in social work. She plans to return to an urban area after graduate school to work with inner-city children. 

“The need for the gospel [in New York], particularly in the neighborhood where I lead worship, is so overwhelming,” Helms said. “[The gospel] could do amazing things in that neighborhood. It could restore families. It could restore relationships. It could create a whole new sense of what community means.” 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. To learn more about student missions through NAMB, visit namb.net/mobilize-me while information about NAMB’s farm system is available here.)
8/22/2013 5:19:17 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Iorg: California moral drift ‘soon’ will be nationwide

August 22 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

SAN FRANCISCO – A seminary president on the West Coast is warning that the rapid loss of biblical values in California poses a substantial danger to the rest of the nation.

Healthy churches are part of the solution, Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press following a California Supreme Court decision to deny a petition to enforce Proposition 8, the voter-approved constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

The issuing of gay marriage licenses is among several controversial social changes in California, from passing a transgender restroom bill to banning conversion therapy for those with same-sex attractions.

“The challenges in California to biblical values are the vanguard of what is coming to the rest of the nation,” Iorg said. “Ground we lose here will soon be lost everywhere.”

Every step away from biblical values weakens the nation, Iorg said.

“In California, we are already overwhelmed with the results of these choices: rising alcohol and drug abuse, overcrowded prison system, social service organizations scrambling to help distressed persons, etc.,” Iorg said.
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BP photo
Jeff Iorg


Amid the downward spiral, “the most hopeful signs are the rising tide of church planting and growing concern for pastors to revitalize existing churches through biblical preaching and teaching,” Iorg said.

The California Supreme Court, in a brief, unanimous ruling Aug. 14, did not address the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and left supporters of traditional marriage few legal options in defending the initiative approved by 7 million California voters in 2008.

Austin Nimocks of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the legal group that filed the petition along with ProtectMarriage.com, said elected officials should enforce the law.

“Though the current California officials are unwilling to enforce the state constitution, we remain hopeful that one day Californians will elect officials who will,” Nimocks said in a written statement.

Nimocks maintains that Proposition 8 is still the law of the land in California despite public officials who refuse to enforce it and have proceeded with issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The court’s decision, he said, “does not end the debate about marriage in California.”

Andy Pugno of ProtectMarriage.com said the decision “leaves grave doubts about the future of the initiative process” in California. 

“Now voters will be less confident than ever that their votes will mean something,” Pugno said. “When politicians disregard the law, and the courts refuse to get involved, what are we left with?”

Ron Prentice of the California Family Council said, “Homosexual marriage is now being allowed in California precisely because California’s governor and attorney general were unwilling to defend the will of the people and our state’s constitution. 

“The Supreme Courts of California and the United States have also neglected their duties to protect the authority of law and the people’s right to direct democracy through the initiative process,” Prentice said. 

“This decision marks an extreme period of lawlessness that can only be countered by a response from voters, to take from office those whose ideological agendas deny the existence of moral absolutes, and who aggressively seek to destroy the liberties of conscience and religious faith,” Prentice said.

Proposition 8 supporters point out that when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that ProtectMarriage.com did not have legal standing to appeal a U.S. district judge’s opinion striking down the amendment, the nation’s high court did not rule on Proposition 8’s constitutionality.

The district court order did not apply statewide, ADF said, meaning that no qualified body has yet ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. California’s governor, attorney general and other officials, therefore, lacked proper authority when they instructed counties to begin issuing marriage licenses in conflict with Proposition 8.

“Article III, section 3.5 of the California Constitution prohibits government agencies and officials from declaring state law unenforceable, or declining to enforce state law, on the basis that the law is unconstitutional, unless an appellate court has first made that determination,” ADF said.

Among other controversial social changes in California recently, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law Aug. 12 giving transgender K-12 students the right “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” based on their perception of their gender regardless of biology. 

Last year Brown signed a bill banning efforts by therapists to help teenagers overcome same-sex attractions. The law was put on hold by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals pending a resolution on its constitutionality. 

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the California Senate that would penalize youth organizations, including the Boy Scouts, that discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Such organizations could lose their tax-exempt status.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
8/22/2013 5:11:46 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Are atheists smarter than believers? Not exactly.

August 22 2013 by Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service

A new study of almost a century’s worth of data shows that the smarter you are, the less likely you are to believe in God.
 
The study, conducted by Miron Zuckerman, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, examined the findings of 63 earlier studies – one dating back to the 1920s – that measured intelligence and religiosity. The majority of those studies found that more intelligent people were more likely to lack religious beliefs.
 
“The relation between intelligence and religion is negative,” Zuckerman said. “It was very early in the study that we realized that.”
 
But Zuckerman is careful to point out that his work – known as a “meta-study” because it examines a range of other studies – does not mean only dumb people believe in God.
 
Rather, he said, it shows only that more intelligent people may have less need for religion.
 
“It is truly the wrong message to take from here that if I believe in God I must be stupid,” he said. “I would not want to bet any money on that because I would have a very good chance of losing a lot of money.”
 
Rather, Zuckerman and co-authors Jordan Silberman and Judith Hall write that more intelligent people may find certain basic needs – “functions” in psychology-speak – fulfilled outside of religion. These functions include self-esteem, a sense of community and a sense of purpose, among others.
 
“We say it is possible that having a high level of intelligence provides similar functions to what religion provides” for people who adhere to a religion, Zuckerman said.
 
The study also concludes that more intelligent people are less likely to believe in God because they are more likely to challenge established norms and dogma. They are also more likely to have analytical thinking styles, which other studies have shown undermine religious belief.
 
The news is not bad for believers, Zuckerman insists.
 
“The functions we cover imply that in many ways religious people are better off than those who are nonreligious,” he said. “There are things about self-esteem and feeling in control and attachment that religion provides. In all those things, there are benefits to being religious, and that is the take-home message for those who are religious.”
 
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said he has “great concerns” about the study.
 
“This kind of study points to a very clear issue for believing Christians,” he said. “We do not draw support for our faith from scientific reports. Anyone whose faith is shaken by the claim that research proves that higher intelligence leads to lower levels of religious belief has a misplaced faith.”
 
Lillian Daniel is a Congregationalist pastor and author of the recent book When ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ is Not Enough. She said many intelligent people are comfortable with “the metaphor and mystery” of faith.
 
“It’s not that intelligence leads to atheism, or education leads to loss of faith,” she said. “But I think there is a certain peer pressure as one moves up the educational ladder to dismiss all religion as fundamentalism. It’s one of the last acceptable biases in an environment that prides itself on being open-minded.”
 
The study appeared in the online version of Personality and Social Psychology Review, an academic journal, and will appear next year in the print version.
8/22/2013 5:07:21 PM by Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Movements of Muslims turning to Christ largest in history

August 22 2013 by IMB

NORTHERN AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST – Omar Aziz walked all the way from one country to the other — across minefields and mountains and deserts — for the funeral of a friend’s teenage son.
 
At the funeral he sat between the parents, Nik and Ruth Ripken.
 
And what he saw was shocking.
 
“People were singing. People were crying. But everyone there seemed to know that Tim was in paradise,” said Aziz, a devout Muslim. “Why can’t we Muslims know that our loved ones are in paradise when they die? Why is it that only these followers of Jesus know exactly where they are going after death?”
 
It’s thoughts like these that are getting Muslims to ask the right questions, said Nik Ripken, the world’s leading expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts.
 
And David Garrison said those questions are leading to a revival in the Muslim world like never seen before.
 
“Movements to Christ are occurring in virtually every corner of the Muslim world,” said Garrison, the International Mission Board’s global strategist for evangelical advance.
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This is coming from the work of the Holy Spirit and the spread of the gospel alongside the dissatisfaction Muslims say they have from their own religion, Garrison said.
 
“They speak of feeling lost, empty inside, without assurance of salvation. Many are weary of terrorism, fundamentalism and discrimination against women and non-Muslims,” he said. “It is also striking how many cultural Muslims, those whose faith was nothing more than a nominal identity, are finding in Christ a living Lord who hears and answers their prayers.”
 
It’s remarkable, said Garrison, who is currently writing a book called A Wind in the House of Islam set to be published later this year. “We have researched this and can say with confidence that no generation in history has ever seen so many Muslim movements to Christ.”
 
It’s a unique event across 1,400 years of Christians and Muslims interacting, Garrison said.
 
“The sad truth is that over the past 14 centuries, Christianity has lost tens of millions to Islamic advance.”
 
But during that time, the Christian response was often avoidance or conflict, Garrison said. In the past couple of decades, the strategy has moved to prayerful, intentional witnessing, he explained.
 
“The results should not surprise us. After 13 centuries without a single uncoerced Muslim movement to Christ, we are now witnessing scores of movements with thousands of born-again, baptized, Bible-believing, Muslim-background followers of Christ to show for it,” Garrison said.
 
Exactly how many there are, no one knows, he said. Security issues don’t allow for thorough counts.
 
“Certainly there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps even a few million,” Garrison said.
In his research, Garrison has limited his surveys to movements of at least 1,000 baptisms or 100 new church starts over the past decade or two. At present, he said he is tracking 73 movements that fit this description.
 
“Several of these movements have tens of thousands of baptized believers from Muslim backgrounds,” he said.
 
What is causing these Muslims to turn to Christ?
 
“God is using many things,” Garrison said. “Answered prayers, dreams, massive seed sowing through New Testament distribution, one-on-one evangelism, gospel satellite TV and the Jesus Film have all been reported in Muslim encounters with Christ.”
 
Garrison asked Christians to pray that believers in Jesus “will take advantage of this great turning of Muslims to Christ” by praying for Muslims, sharing with them more frequently and “resisting the temptation to repay evil for evil when we are mistreated by them.”
 
He asked for prayers for Muslims who turn to Jesus, that they would be protected from the persecution “that inevitably follows” and that they will be bold in sharing their faith despite that persecution.
 
“Pray for an increased harvest of Muslims into the kingdom of God,” Garrison said. “This is truly their day of salvation.”
 
For more information about how you can pray for and reach Muslims for Christ, including a group study guide, visit lovingmuslims.com. To read more of Nik Ripken’s stories of the persecuted church in Muslim contexts, visit nikripken.com.
8/22/2013 4:58:04 PM by IMB | with 1 comments



Egypt, U.S. pastors urge prayer for faith to rise from mayhem

August 21 2013 by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press

CAIRO – “Anger. Killing. Blood.” These are words that currently describe Egypt, said Mounir Sobhy Yacoub Malaty, pastor of First Baptist Church, Cairo.

“Attacks have not stopped. Innocent people are being killed. Big numbers of protesters themselves are dying,” he lamented.

But a fragile calm seems to be settling across Cairo as life slowly returns to normal. In spite of the presence of armored personnel carriers, traffic once again moves along the city’s major thoroughfares, and people are returning to work.

Just days before, Egyptians experienced violent clashes that left nearly 900 people dead and more than 4,000 injured.

On Aug. 14 the Egyptian government used force to remove tens of thousands of supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi from two protest camps in Cairo. The deadly confrontation sparked violence that lasted for days.

Among the ousted president’s supporters is the Muslim Brotherhood, and it had vowed to take revenge by attacking Egypt’s churches.
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IMB file photo
Egyptian Baptist church members join in prayer in this 2011 photo.


By the end of the week, more than 75 churches across the country had been attacked, looted, burned or destroyed. Among them were Minya Baptist Church, 150 miles south of Cairo in Minya, a city of 200,000, and Beni Mazar Baptist Church in the Egyptian governate (province) of Minya.

In addition, one of Egypt’s oldest churches, the fourth-century Virgin Mary Church, a historical landmark in Minya, was torched and destroyed.

“I learned of the tragic news in Egypt on Thursday,” said Hugh Carson, a South Carolina Baptist pastor who ministered at Beni Mazar Baptist Church in 2011. “It was a shock to hear that dozens of churches had come under a coordinated attack.

“Even in reflecting on this tragedy, the Father has convicted me that I hear this kind of news all too casually,” Carson said.

“But this story coming out of Egypt is different because it involves a church that I know – people, names, faces that are real to me,” he said.

“I visited one of the churches that recently came under attack,” Carson, pastor of Renewal Church in Greenville, said. “I remember hearing of their fears of coming under persecution from the community and even under the government with changes in leadership.”

Carson recalled the pastor and his wife were especially concerned for their safety and the safety of their children because they lived in the church building.

At the time pastor John Amin* said, “We live here at the church, so if someone attacks our church, they attack our home. The kids are afraid.”

“I was told they got out safely, but watched helplessly as their church and home burned,” Carson said.

Since the attack, Carson was able to contact the young man who served as his translator at the church in Egypt. “He was discouraged by the attack that has come upon these churches,” Carson said, “but full of faith reminding me that the Father is in control of all this.”

Carson’s visit to Egypt was part of a partnership that started in 2011 between the Baptist churches of Egypt and the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

“The churches involved in the partnership are praying for their sister churches in Egypt during these difficult days,” said Tim Rice, director of the state convention’s missions mobilization group.

“In 2011 persecution was a daily challenge, even as it is today,” Rice said. “Our pastors learned so much from the leaders of the churches in Egypt – about being faithful under persecution, about trusting God for their daily provisions and needs for their church family.”

Rice said that as South Carolina Baptist churches pray, they pray particularly for followers of Jesus living in Egypt and going through this time of persecution.

“We pray that God will protect them and give them many opportunities to live out their faith in the midst of this crisis,” he said. “We pray they will cling to God and find peace and safety in Him.”

One Egyptian Baptist pastor, who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, said, “The situation is volatile. Our country is in desperate need for prayers. ... Our main concern at this point is that we overcome those relentless attempts to place the future of this nation into the hands of radicals.”

Malaty, the Baptist pastor in Cairo, said, “Fear is the dominating feeling here” but he added that the church has much to learn from the current crisis in Egypt.

“Church buildings have always been of great importance to Egyptians,” Malaty said. “It is good to hear how the believers are now encouraging each other that the church is not a brick and sand building, but a spiritual building of believers.”

He called for Christians to respond to the crisis with forgiveness, as a witness to non-believers.

Margie Harris*, a Christian worker in Cairo, reflected on one positive aspect that has emerged from the crisis. “My close friend Fatima, a Muslim, has realized that people who follow the Son are a peaceful people,” Harris said. “One day she told me, ‘We like to fight, but you love one another.’”

Two bookstores of the Egyptian Bible Society were looted and destroyed on Aug. 14 – one in Minya and the other in Assuit, the two largest cities of southern Egypt.

In a report filed with the United Bible Society, Ramez Atallah, the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt, said, “The attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire.”

Atallah said pro-Morsi supporters had called for nationwide protests. “In response to these calls, Muslim fundamentalists all over Egypt have gone on a rampage of violence; some of it aimed at Christian targets.”

He said one of the reasons why the government had been “reticent” in dispersing the pro-Morsi supporters’ camps in Cairo was because of threats of retaliation. “So most Egyptians expected the violence,” he said.

On Aug. 19, The Daily Star, Lebanon’s English-language newspaper, said, “The campaign of intimidation appears to be a warning to Christians outside of Cairo to stand down from political activism.

“Christians have long suffered from discrimination and violence in Muslim majority Egypt,” the paper said.

The paper said attacks on churches coincided with assaults on police stations, leaving most police “pinned down to defend their stations or reinforcing others rather than rushing to the rescue of Christians under attack.”

“The attacks served as a reminder that Islamists, while on the defensive in Cairo, maintain influence and the ability to stage violence in provincial strongholds with a large Christian minority,” the paper said.

In a speech on Aug. 18, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s defense minister, warned that the military would not allow further violence, the BBC reported.

“We will not stand by silently watching the destruction of the country and the people or the torching of the nation and terrorizing the citizens,” the news agency reported the defense minister as saying on the Egyptian military’s Facebook page.

But el-Sisi also appeared to strike a conciliatory tone toward his opponents, urging them to join in the political process, the BBC said.

“There is room for everyone in Egypt, and we are cautious about every drop of Egyptian blood,” el-Sisi said.

Mike Turner*, a senior missions strategist for North Africa, said, “From a geopolitical perspective, the current situation in Egypt is a mess, for sure.

“The images on TV and the Internet are disturbing, and one could easily become consumed by them and think there is absolutely no hope for the people of Egypt.”

Even though there has been unprecedented violence and loss of life, Turner said there is good news.

“The good news is that there is hope for the people of Egypt. Even in the midst of chaos and mayhem, we believe and know with certainty that God is at work in the hearts and lives of countless Egyptians,” Turner said.

“Thankfully, we, as the body of Christ, do not have to succumb to the rhetoric of the media and their analogies and opinions of the situation,” he said.

“Instead, we as the body of Christ can cling to the promises of God and know that He has yet to be taken by surprise in any of the latest tragedies.”

Turner said that Christians have unprecedented opportunity to be salt and light in a place that is experiencing darkness.

“As the country of Egypt trudges through this dark, desolate valley, the people of God should raise the banner on their behalf and stand in the gap for them like never before,” he said.

“We pray for the many who still don’t know Jesus as Savior,” said a Christian worker in Egypt who asked not to be identified. “We pray they would come to know Him as true peace – the Prince of Peace – so that we may experience peace in the land.

“To pray this is like praying for a mountain to be moved from one place to another, but that is the power of the God we serve,” she said.

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Charles Braddix is a writer for the IMB based in Europe.)
8/21/2013 12:39:08 PM by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



N.J. governor signs ban on teen therapy for same-sex attraction

August 21 2013 by David Roach, Baptist Press

TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law Aug. 19 that bans state-licensed counselors from trying to help children under 18 reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction, a practice known as reparative or conversion therapy.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore called Christie’s action “disappointing” and said it threatens religious liberty.

“This really isn’t about reparative therapy, but about religious liberty and personal freedom,” Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said.

Moore said the bill is “broadly and haphazardly written in a way that endangers, among other things, the teenager who seeks counsel for how to live a chaste life with same-sex attractions. His counselor, upon threat of losing a license, can only parrot the state-approved line rather than dealing with him or her as an individual.

“I like Chris Christie and admire much about him,” Moore said, “but this is a disappointing move.”

The bill prohibits any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker “or a person who performs counseling as part of the person’s professional training for any of these professions” from trying to change the sexual orientation of anyone under 18 years old. The legislation does not apply to clergy or counselors not licensed by the state, but licensed offenders risk losing their licenses.

Prohibited therapy techniques include “efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender,” according to the bill.

Christie, a Republican, said in a statement that he has “concerns about government limiting parental choice on the care and treatment of their own children.” But he said he signed the bill based on research by the American Psychological Association that conversion therapy can lead to “depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.”

“I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,” Christie said. “Based upon this analysis, I sign this bill into law.”

Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group, said it will sue to overturn the law and argued that medical research is not as conclusive as Christie suggests.

“Gov. Christie has reportedly said that he is siding with the ‘experts,’ referring to the American Psychological Association’s 2009 Task Force Report cited by the legislature in support of the law,” Liberty Counsel said in a news release. “But that Task Force Report specifically states that there is evidence of benefit of such counseling, and any such reports to the contrary were only anecdotal. The Report also states that there is no research – none – regarding the effects of change therapy involving minors.”

Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver said Christie “is putting himself in every counseling room, dictating what kind of counseling clients can receive. This bill provides a slippery slope of government infringing upon the First Amendment rights of counselors to provide, and patients to receive, counseling consistent with their religious beliefs.”

Denny Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., called the bill “Chris Christie’s broadside against religious liberty.”

“The law ... means that licensed service providers who also happen to be Christian will have to choose,” Burk wrote in a blog post at DennyBurk.com. “They can either abandon Christian teaching or they can abandon their profession. The law now prohibits them from doing both. You just watch. Any counselor or therapist who tries to buck the system on this one will lose their credentials from the state. There will be no religious liberty exception.”

California passed a similar law last fall banning conversion therapy for minors. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the law from taking effect until it could hear arguments on the measure’s constitutionality. Oral arguments occurred in April, with a ruling expected this year. Liberty Counsel represents reparative therapy practitioners and recipients in the case.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky.)
8/21/2013 12:35:54 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



NAMB’s Caison receives VOAD Spirit Award

August 21 2013 by Joe Conway, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Longtime Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leader Mickey Caison has received the inaugural Spirit Award of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).

Caison, who said he was “honored and humbled” by the award, has been in the middle of SBDR since he accepted the role as the ministry’s national director in 1994, a position he would hold for 18 years. Caison continues to serve as a disaster relief recovery coordinator for the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

“I could not be more pleased that Mickey has been honored in this way,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said. “He has worked tirelessly to serve disaster survivors and Southern Baptist partners throughout the years. He is a great champion for this cause.”

Fritz Wilson, NAMB executive director for disaster relief, praised Caison for the very characteristics for which the award was bestowed. Wilson accepted the reins as SBDR’s national point man from Caison in 2012.

“Mickey has been a leader in not just SBDR but also in the volunteer community and among emergency management across the nation,” Wilson said. “In 2011-12, he served as both chairman and interim director of National VOAD, guiding the organization through a difficult transition. There is no one more deserving in the disaster volunteer community to receive the inaugural National VOAD Spirit Award.”
08-21-13caison.jpg

NAMB photo by John Swain
Mickey Caison, right, surveys portable food containers, called cambros, with North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in May 2011 following the devastating outbreak of tornadoes. Caison, serving as national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief director at the time, is the recipient of the first-ever Spirit Award from the National Voluntary Organizations Assisting in Disasters. 


National VOAD is a nonprofit membership-based group that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle – preparation, response and recovery – to help disaster survivors and their communities. National VOAD, which holds its annual meeting in May, fosters more effective service to people affected by disaster through the cooperation among member groups.

Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm, which struck South Carolina in 1989, was Caison’s introduction to SBDR. He had been a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician since 1973 while serving as a pastor for churches in the state’s low country. Caison’s experience as a fire chief and EMT as well as his pastoral role were invaluable in the Hugo response.

That work led to a volunteer role with the South Carolina Baptist Convention as an SBDR coordinator. Caison served in both the 1993 Midwest floods and 1994 Northridge earthquake responses as a “Blue Hat,” the ranking volunteer coordinator in a multi-state SBDR response. His work in those ministry efforts led to the national director’s role.

Caison also has been active in national disaster response leadership, advising both the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and the White House. Caison has served as a National VOAD board member since 1995 and was chairman of the board from 2010-12.

“I’ve been fortunate to be blessed by the Lord to be involved in this ministry,” Caison said. “FEMA has great respect for Southern Baptists because our volunteers are so committed. They make the difference as they live out their faith in Christ in how they serve. It has been my privilege to serve with them.”

Volunteer recognition was on the agenda at the annual SBDR Round Table, Aug. 12-15 at Ponderosa Retreat and Conference Center in Colorado. In addition to planning and networking, state and national leaders commended the work of individuals who have contributed to disaster relief ministry over the past year.

This year’s Robert E. Dixon Lifetime Achievement Award recipient was Jim Parrish of the Northwest Baptist Convention. Joel Phillips Outstanding Service Awards were presented to Sarah Jo Trimble of the Florida Baptist Convention and John Lucas of the Kansas/Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists.

Distinguished Service Award recipients were Marvin Corbin, Florida Baptist Convention; K. Ray Helms, Tennessee Baptist Convention; Harold Patterson, Texas Baptist Men; Steve Reavis and Steve Stancil, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina; and Evangeline Yacuk, Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Convention.

Much of Caison’s time now is spent in New York where he directs the Hurricane Sandy Rebuild efforts in the region, including arrangements for college dorm housing for Sandy Rebuild volunteers.

“We need more volunteers,” Caison said. “There is still much work and ministry to be done.”

To learn more about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, visit namb.net/disaster-relief.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)
8/21/2013 12:30:55 PM by Joe Conway, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Latin American leaders discuss theology

August 21 2013 by Benjamin Hawkins, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – Nearly 60 church leaders and educators from Latin America gathered at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to help enrich theological education among Baptists around the world.

The summit was organized by Southwestern’s Global Theological Innovation (GTI) program, and leaders came from Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Honduras, Uruguay, Guatemala, Columbia, Venezuela and Cuba.

Speakers at the Aug. 6-10 event included Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, and Southwestern faculty.

Page urged the leaders to cooperate with one another and with Southern Baptists in their mission to train the pastors and missionaries of the future.

“I believe God is calling us to do the mission that we do together,” Page said. “That is why I am so glad that you are here. I have a vision for reaching the world, but it will only happen when we understand each other and work together.... Let us remember that we have a mission, and that mission is best done when we work together.”
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SWBTS photo by Jason Davis
SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, right, encourages Latin American pastors and seminary educators during a theological education summit at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Daniel Sanchez, left, is a missions professor at the seminary.  


Statistics show an explosive growth of Christianity in the global south, Keith Eitel, dean of Southwestern’s Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, said. According to some researchers, as many as 83,000 people convert to Christianity every day in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America, while only 4,000 become Christians in North America and Europe each day.

Theological education, however, has lagged behind the expansion of Christianity, Eitel said. Schools around the world have expressed a need for library resources, faculty development and greater recognition of their degrees by accrediting agencies and other schools.

Brent Ray, associate director of Southwestern’s GTI program, said the shortage of theological education around the world has left church leaders without the training they need for the tasks they face.

“Over the last decade many of our international Baptist seminaries have declined measurably,” Ray said. “In fact, in many countries we have watched as many Baptist seminaries have been forced to shut down.

“There is now a critical need and appeal for our Southern Baptist churches, mission agencies and seminaries to join Baptists worldwide in reaching, teaching and equipping the next generation of Baptist leaders,” Ray said.

To help solve the problem, Southwestern is working with the International Mission Board and Southern Baptist churches to organize a global network of theological schools and seminaries.

“We are moving quickly,” Ray said, “toward the formation of a global Baptist theological alliance, or consortium, whose Kingdom impact will only be measurable in God’s eternal economy.”

While the initial GTI summit at Southwestern involved educational leaders from Spanish-speaking nations, Ray said Southwestern is committed to the development of similar alliances among likeminded Baptist institutions throughout Asia, Africa and Europe.

To that end, during the summit, Paige Patterson, Southwestern’s president, awarded a presidential scholarship to Dennis Dhlula, principal (president, in U.S. terminology) of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe. The scholarship will augment Dhlula’s ministry in Zimbabwe by helping him study at Southwestern.

Daniel Sanchez, a professor of missions at Southwestern, said the seminary has worked alongside Baptist educators in Hispanic nations for more than 20 years. But the summit, Sanchez said, set a milestone in global cooperation among Baptist schools.

“What is historic about this meeting,” Sanchez said, “is that this is the first time this many seminaries from Latin America and Spain have come together to become better acquainted with one another, share information, discuss ways of cooperating, and initiate the process of forming a Baptist seminary consortium.”

The GTI network “can have a great impact in evangelism, discipleship and church planting, resulting in the growth of the Kingdom throughout the world,” Sanchez said.

Page reminded the leaders that their labor for theological education ultimately is for the Lord.

“All of this is because we have a Master, and His name is Jesus Christ,” Page said. “Great seminaries point to Christ. Great churches point to Christ. So let us love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. ... This conference, I hope, will always point to Jesus Christ. He is the reason we are here. And so we do what we do for His glory. Gloria a Dios!”

Page, a graduate of Southwestern, commended the seminary for encouraging the cooperative task.

“The Apostle Paul talked about the partnership in the gospel in Philippians 1, and I feel like this is a similar partnership, as we join seminaries from Latin America,” Page said. “It was energizing to me to see the energy in the room, the spirit of partnership ... I am thankful for the partnership for the gospel that we see exemplified here.”

Also at the summit, educational leaders from Spanish-speaking nations learned about an opportunity to benefit from Southwestern’s new online Spanish-language master of theological studies degree. According to Craig Blaising, Southwestern’s provost, the online degree program offers advantages for theological institutions and students alike.

“Our desire,” Blaising said, “is to get education to those who strategically need it.”

While Southwestern’s Spanish MTS is available to anyone for a promotional tuition of $100 per course, students at schools within the GTI network can earn their complete master’s degrees at the reduced rate.

Through the network schools, students can gain access to personal contact with professors, libraries and ministry opportunities. Additionally, network schools can give students practical ministry training that cannot be provided online.

The Spanish MTS degree offers additional advantages to schools within the GTI network, Blaising said. Undergraduate schools, for example, will be able to offer a master’s degree to their students, and faculty members can gain further graduate training. By partnering with Southwestern, the schools may take steps toward accreditation and toward the ability to offer their own graduate programs.

For Southwestern, Blaising said, the Spanish MTS degree is “part of a strategic global outreach” – part of Southwestern’s vision to make disciples in every nation.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Benjamin Hawkins writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
8/21/2013 12:26:08 PM by Benjamin Hawkins, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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