December 2012

Group suggests church accountability measures to senator

December 6 2012 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A commission examining several church-related tax issues – such as the limitations of the pastoral housing allowance and the IRS’ power to investigate churches – submitted a 91-page report to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley Dec. 4.
 
The report by the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations said its 43 recommendations to increase accountability would not impose excessive legislation, giving careful attention to the preservation of religious freedom.

“The vast majority of religious and other nonprofit organizations in America operate with a genuine commitment to financial integrity and appropriate accountability,” Michael Batts, a CPA and chairman of the commission, wrote in the report. “Occasionally, we see a few exceptions.”

When nonprofits spend money in ways that the public perceives as extravagant – such as leaders of television ministries with ties to the “health and wealth gospel” – it raises the risk that all nonprofits will face increased scrutiny, Batts noted.

In the wake of a mostly unsuccessful investigation of six of those ministries and in an effort to discourage questionable spending, Grassley of Iowa, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Finance Committee, asked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) to examine the issues. The ECFA created the commission which submitted the report after nearly two years of work.

Federal policy, Batts wrote, should continue to encourage the public to financially support religious and other nonprofit organizations and should not burden the organizations with harsh or excessive legislation or regulation.

Regarding the pastoral housing allowance, the commission addressed concerns that a small number of ministers live in employer-provided homes with high values or receive allowances to live in high-value homes. They also considered the fact that the clergy housing exclusion is being challenged in federal court by some who claim it violates constitutional provisions.

“Additionally, observations have been made that some religious organizations consider significant portions of their workforce to be ministers,” the report stated. “Accordingly, they treat them as ministers for income tax purposes, which may include providing housing or a housing allowance. Observers have expressed concerns that practices in this area by some organizations may be abusive.”

The commission encouraged all religious organizations to “help raise the bar of reasonable and ethical conduct” in determining who should participate in the clergy housing allowance.

Congress should not apply a dollar limit to the housing allowance because attempting to do so would create more challenges than it would solve, the commission said. For example, some clergy members are required, due to the location of their houses of worship, to live in high-cost locales.

Also, “an effort by Congress to expand the clergy housing exclusion in an attempt to protect its constitutionality would be counterproductive,” the report said. “Legal experts advised the Commission that there is good reason to believe the clergy housing exclusion can withstand a legal challenge to its constitutionality. Further, we are concerned that expanding the exclusion ... could actually enhance the risk to the law’s constitutionality.”

Regarding the IRS’ power to investigate churches, the commission said Congress should never pass legislation requiring churches to file the highly detailed Form 990 that other nonprofits must file because it would place an unnecessary burden on churches and the government.

“The fact that some may take offense over a particular church’s practices does not justify eroding the freedom from government interference that is so central and inherent in our country’s framework,” the report said.

“... As the U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously stated, the First Amendment ‘gives special solicitude’ to the rights of religious organizations,” the report said. “Those rights should be protected, defended, and preserved.”

The commission recommended that ultimate accountability for churches in America be placed not with the federal government but with “their God or their faith” and with “their denominations, congregations, members, donors, directors,” etc.

“Healthy engagement by those who provide financial support provides a powerful incentive toward self-regulation and is arguably one of the most effective methods of addressing the practices of the few religious leaders who otherwise would have little interest in self-regulation,” the report said.

Regarding whether the current IRS audit protection for church leaders should be repealed, the commission recommended that it be preserved.

“An audit of a church leader’s transactions with his or her church is essentially an audit of the reasonableness of the church’s compensation practices with respect to that leader, and inevitably raises the same kinds of entanglement concerns as an audit of the church itself: close scrutiny of internal procedures for setting compensation, review of minutes and other confidential documents, IRS interviews of key decision-makers, etc.,” the report said.

The commission also examined whether legislation is needed to make clear that “love offerings” – paid by church attendees to ministers – are taxable.

“Religious organizations should carefully assess their roles in facilitating payments by individuals to or for the benefit of leaders of their organizations and in reporting taxable payments to the leaders of their organizations, to help ensure that their leaders are knowledgeable about, and compliant with, applicable tax law,” the report said.

Donors, meanwhile, should carefully evaluate the tax treatment of payments made and should ensure that amounts deducted as charitable contributions on their individual tax returns qualify for such designations, the report said.

“The religious community would benefit greatly from a higher degree of clarity in the guidance surrounding payments commonly referred to as ‘love offerings,’” the commission said, recommending that the IRS provide clearer guidance but deciding against added legislation.

“The law on this subject is rather well-settled. Application of the law, however, is often not simple, which is why we are not suggesting a change in the law, but rather clearer guidance in its application,” the report said.

As an example of how easily the tax law regarding love offerings is misunderstood, the commission referred to a wedding ceremony after which the father of the bride makes a payment to the minister for officiating.

“The payment is not deductible by the father as a charitable donation, but it represents taxable income to the minister because it is remuneration for services rendered,” the report said.

The commission and its panels include leaders from virtually every faith group in America and top attorneys experienced in the areas of exempt organization law and constitutional law with a specific concentration in the arena of religious freedom, Batts, the chairman, said.

In a “highly transparent process” involving multiple meetings, media communications, public input, position papers, presentations at national conferences and a virtual town hall meeting, the commission developed its recommendations “with an extraordinarily high degree of agreement among those participating,” Batts said.

“This Commission’s work demonstrates that cooperation across faith lines and across different sectors for the public good is a realistic and achievable goal,” Batts wrote.

“By working together to improve self-regulation, donor engagement, administration of the law, education about the law, and certain elements of the law itself, we can make real progress toward enhanced financial accountability in the religious and broader nonprofit sector.”

The full report is available at religiouspolicycommission.org.

Sometime in 2013, the commission plans to submit to Grassley a second report addressing the increasingly controversial topic of political expression by religious and other nonprofit organizations.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
12/6/2012 1:34:42 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Algerian faces prison time for sharing faith

December 6 2012 by Baptist Press, Open Doors USA

ISTANBUL – Accusers who say an Algerian Christian insulted Islam provided no evidence to a judge hearing the Christian’s appeal of his original sentence, according to a report in Open Doors USA.
 
Karim Siaghi, a convert to Christianity, was sentenced in May 2011 to five years in prison and fined 200,000 Algerian Dinars, or about U.S. $2,500, even though prosecutors had brought no evidence or witnesses before the court.

More than a year later, in mid-November, Siaghi’s appeal hearing was held in the coastal city of Oran, in the northwest of Algeria. It was the first time he had faced his accuser in court.

Authorities arrested Siaghi in April 2011 after he purportedly gave a CD about Christianity to a Muslim. Siaghi had gone to a phone shop to buy airtime minutes for his mobile phone, and the merchant there initiated a conversation on religion. Unhappy with Siaghi’s non-Muslim answers, the merchant tried to force him to pay homage to Muhammad and to recite the Muslim shahada: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”
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When Siaghi refused and said he was a Christian, the merchant filed a complaint that the convert had belittled Muhammad, and in the absence of further witnesses, charges were brought against him.

The merchant was said to have seen Siaghi give a CD to someone, but never appeared in court to testify to that effect. Siaghi’s lawyer said there was no evidence of the charges against the Christian.

Local Algerians as well as international observers expressed dismay when the judge handed down the sentence. The prosecutor reportedly had sought a two-year sentence and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars, or about U.S. $690.

Experts on Algeria’s treatment of Christians say that Algerian courts customarily have preferred to delay deciding in favor of Christians, so as not to aggravate local Muslim sentiments. They say judges also have been slow to pronounce final verdicts in order to keep from provoking international criticism over religious freedom.

According to the online news source Liberation Algerie, the judge demanded the November hearing to complete any information missing from the case, and to allow the court to confirm whether the accusations merited the given sentence.

Siaghi “categorically denied, once more, having pronounced the least insult against the Prophet,” according to Liberation Algerie, to the satisfaction of his defense lawyer. Siaghi was accompanied by his wife and young daughter.

The judge has not yet fixed a date for the next court hearing, when a ruling is expected to be issued. Protesters who gathered in front of the Criminal Court of Oran on the day of the hearing, however, expressed concern that Siaghi may face another drawn-out legal ordeal, according to Algerian daily L’Expression.

Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church of Algeria, said he hopes during Siaghi’s next hearing to mobilize Algerians in protest.

“We are planning on mobilizing the maximum amount of people, Christian or not, to protest the arbitrary character of Law 06-03 of 2006, which in effect allows a person who does not share the values of ‘certain Islamists’ to be condemned based on word of mouth,” Krim said.

Law 06-03 outlaws proselytism of Muslims, as well as the distribution, production and storing of material used for the purpose. It is often cited in court cases against Christians. The law also prohibits churches from operating without registration.

In 2010 four Christian leaders in Tizi Ouzou were sentenced to several months in jail for worshipping without a permit, but the jail time was suspended. In 2008 a Christian leader in Tiaret, Rachid Essaghir, received suspended sentences in two separate cases against him for sharing his faith. Though Christians appeal these verdicts, the outcome rarely is conclusive.

In recent years many Algerians have converted to Christianity, partly because of Christian TV broadcasting in the country. Backlash is common.

Last month a man was beaten into a coma by his cousin for watching Christian TV programs. His name and location have been withheld for his security. A Protestant church in Ouargla, in southern Algeria, was attacked in February resulting in damage to the exterior of the building. In October, four people threatened to burn down the church building.

In a historic move, the Algerian government in the summer of 2011 officially recognized the Protestant Church of Algeria, authorizing it to act as the council of the country’s Protestant churches. The church was established in 1972, though until 2011 only the Catholic Church had government recognition. Despite the recognition of the Protestant Church of Algeria, churches still are required to obtain their own registration.

Algeria was ranked 23rd in the Open Doors’ 2012 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The list cited increasing pressure on Christians, including discrimination by the state and family members. The World Watch List said Islamist groups are becoming more active in their pursuits to influence government and are monitoring the activities of Christians.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from reports by Open Doors News, a news service based in Santa Ana, Calif., focusing on persecuted Christians worldwide.)
12/6/2012 1:27:04 PM by Baptist Press, Open Doors USA | with 0 comments



Senate defeats treaty opposed by family groups

December 5 2012 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate fell short in its bid to ratify a treaty critics charged could subvert parental authority and American sovereignty, as well as expand abortions.
 
Senators voted 61-38 Dec. 4 for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD) but failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required in the Senate to approve a treaty. The CRPD’s foes had expressed hope they had the votes to prevent ratification, but they acknowledged senators were under intense pressure to support the controversial treaty.

The treaty’s opponents applauded its failure.

“I’m delighted that this ignominious treaty has been sent to the ash heap of history where it belongs and that even a lame-duck Senate understood the intrusions upon American sovereignty that were unacceptable,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), described the treaty’s defeat in an email to supporters as “a great victory for parental rights, homeschool freedom, and children with special needs.”

Senate ratification would have meant the treaty would become law under the U.S. Constitution, supersede state laws and be considered binding in the courts, HSLDA warned before the vote.

HSLDA, which led opposition to the treaty, listed the following among its concerns with the treaty in a recent letter to senators endorsed by Land and 39 other pro-family and conservative leaders:
  • An article in the treaty making the “best interests of the child” a “primary consideration” could usurp the “traditional fundamental right of parents to direct the education and upbringing” of a special needs child.
  • A 1989 New Zealand law that is considered to comply with the CRPD permits the secretary of Education to require a disabled child to attend a government-operated school if he thinks it best for the student, implying the same thing could happen in the United States.
  • The U.S. could surrender its sovereignty to a committee – the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – established by the treaty.
The treaty’s inclusion of the term “reproductive health” – sometimes a euphemism for “abortion rights” – drew concern as well. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee failed to allay those concerns when it defeated an amendment that sought to clarify “reproductive health” does not include abortion.

Sen. John Kerry, D.-Mass., who promoted the treaty as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, rejected the charges leveled by its foes. He denied the CRPD would either usurp American law or change abortion policy. Kerry also said the committee established by the treaty has “very, very limited powers.”

The treaty’s foes acknowledged the need to expand protections for disabled people in developing countries but said the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) already provides such safeguards in this country.

All of the Senate’s 51 Democrats, as well as the chamber’s two independents, voted for the treaty’s ratification. Eight Republicans joined them.

President Obama signed the CRPD in 2009, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved it in a 13-6 vote in July of this year. Three Republicans joined the 10 Democrats on the panel in supporting the treaty at that time.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
12/5/2012 2:17:41 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Cooperative Program has strong showing

December 5 2012 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) – Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee are 7.59 percent over the same period last year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page. The total includes receipts from state conventions and fellowships, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2012-13 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

As of Nov. 30, gifts received by the Executive Committee for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget totaled $30,586,021.68, or $2,158,294.66 above the $28,427,727.02 received through November 2011.
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“I am greatly encouraged at this positive report,” Page said. “It is too early to speculate whether this is a sign that our ‘1% CP Challenge’ is beginning to make an impact, is the result of an improvement in the economic prospects of our people and churches, is the effect of the state conventions that are moving closer to a 50/50 division between the state portion and the SBC portion of the Cooperative Program, or is merely the timing of the monthly gifts from the churches and states. Whatever the cause, I am thankful for this increase in gifts through CP.”

A Cooperative Program survey conducted by LifeWay Research (see the Winter issue of SBC LIFE, mailed this week, with a follow-up BP story slated for next week) showed that 7 percent of pastors accepted the “1% CP Challenge” in their churches’ current budget year, with another 8 percent of pastors planning to lead their churches to accept the challenge in the next budget year.

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am not into building a denomination. But I am very much into extending the Kingdom,” Page said. “Each gift through the CP increases the number of missionaries we can appoint, the number of churches we can help launch and revitalize, the number of students we can help train for leadership in our churches, and the impact we can make on Capitol Hill advocating for biblical morality and religious liberty. This is why I am excited about and committed to the Cooperative Program.”

For the month, a total of $16,983,721.04 was received for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

Meanwhile, year-to-date designated giving of $6,765,332.93 is 6.79 percent, or $492,938.20, below gifts of $7,258,271.13 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities.

The CP and designated giving totals represent money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of each month. Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions and the timing of when state conventions forward the national portion of their CP contributions to the Executive Committee.

For the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget, the year-to-date total of $30,586,021.68 is 97.61 percent of the $31,333,333.33 budgeted to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state and regional conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Cooperative Program total includes receipts from individuals, churches, state conventions and fellowships for distribution according to the 2012-13 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund and other special gifts.

State and regional conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program to support work in their respective areas and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution is at the discretion of each state or regional convention.
12/5/2012 2:04:22 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Nepalese believer ‘ready’ for God’s call

December 5 2012 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 2-9 with the theme of “BE His heart, His hands, His voice” from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to www.imb.org/offering.)

KATHMANDU, Nepal – No one wanted to hear his words, Agni Amrit* says, hanging his head so low it almost rests on his checkered tie.

Amrit asked 10 people in Kathmandu, Nepal, if he could share a story about his God. Everyone he approached told him to scat. No one wanted to hear about another God – they already have plenty in Hinduism.
 
Drew Neely*, an International Mission Board (IMB) representative and church planting trainer, repeats what Amrit has told him.

Amrit nods.

“I hope that gives you joy,” Neely says, pausing for Amrit to meet his gaze.

“Brother, when those 10 people rejected you, you shared in the suffering of Christ and that should be cause for rejoicing.”

Called to serve

Both Neely and Amrit feel called by God to be His heart, hands and voice and see new churches start in Nepal.
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Agni Amrit (name changed), a Bible college student in Kathmandu, Nepal, is being trained by IMB representative Drew Neely (name changed) to plant churches in areas of the country where Christ is still an enigma. Amrit is a former drug addict who wants to minister especially to friends in the drug culture.


Neely met Amrit at a Bible college in Kathmandu where the IMB worker was invited to teach on how to plant new churches effectively.

Neely hopes that a few of the students as a result of training will take up the calling to see the Great Commission fulfilled in Nepal.

Neely doesn’t intend to train the Bible college students and depart. The training is designed to help him spot those called as church planters, those he’ll continue to disciple.

At the training, he found Amrit.
 

Following Jesus

Amrit, a former drug addict, spent many days, many he can’t remember, ignoring his future.

He grew up in a Hindu and Sikh family. His mother was healed after she believed in God.

“I went to church, but I never believed in God because I thought that was my responsibility to go, just because of my mother,” Amrit says.

A pastor asked Amrit if he knew about the sin in his life. Amrit didn’t realize his sin condemned him. He soon made a commitment to follow Christ.

Now, he’s a little older, has a faint shadow of a moustache and hopes to plant a church to minister to his drug-addicted friends.

Amrit says Neely’s training showed effective ways to share the gospel with his friends, how to find someone to invest in and how to disciple in a way that leads to church multiplication.

Journey of joy

During a training session, Neely invited Amrit and his classmates to join him in a journey of joy.

“I’m pleading to you, for your joy, and the joy of those people who will come to know Christ ... take this and make it a part of your life and for the glory of God,” Neely tells the students.

Accepting the call to plant churches, Neely says, sometimes will lead to unfamiliar territory and far-flung villages.

“I’m going to warn you, the Jeep ride is going to be hot and bumpy and long and your dahl bat [a popular Nepalese dish made from lentils] isn’t going to taste like what your momma makes. It’s going to be difficult and the culture is going to be different and you are going to suffer,” Neely says.

“But in exchange for that suffering, you get to tell someone who has never heard the gospel about Jesus Christ.”

At the end of the training, Neely reiterated his call to the students.

“Are you the grain that’s willing to fall to the ground and die to self so that a great harvest could emerge from your life and influence?” Neely asks as he looks around the room at each student.

The room is silent, save for the whirring of the fan. Amrit nods his head yes. He understands the gravity of the situation. Although he’s been rejected 10 times, he knows it’s worth it.

“God, I am ready to obey Your Word, even if it costs my life, I don’t care,” Amrit says he told God. “If You think I am worthy of suffering for You ... worthy to suffer for the gospel ... You can use me anytime.”

Learning by obeying

Finding joy in the midst of suffering is something both Amrit and Neely learned through radical obedience.

Amrit says it’s sometimes hard to be around his friends because they don’t understand his new life. There have been taunts and teases, but Amrit’s resolve hasn’t changed. He sees the struggles as a cause for joy because he gets to tell his addict friends about Jesus.

Like Amrit, Neely has found joy in obedience and perseverance.

At the close of a rest period in the U.S., Neely knew God wanted him to return to southern Asia to serve. Neely and his family packed their suitcases and boarded a Pacific-bound plane.

Because of the family’s obedience, Amrit and dozens of other Nepalese now have a vision and a plan to reach their people with the gospel.

Equipped by Neely’s training, the third-year Bible college student is going home to embark on a 14-month internship in church planting out in a region of Nepal where Christ is still an enigma.

Even if he runs into more rejection, Amrit says he has joy because he’s becoming more like Jesus.

*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is an IMB writer living in Asia. Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.)




12/5/2012 1:45:34 PM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Sonny’ Tucker named Ark. executive director

December 5 2012 by Tim Yarbrough, Baptist Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – J.D. “Sonny” Tucker was elected executive director-treasurer of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) at the Dec. 4 meeting of the ABSC Executive Board. He officially begins his duties Jan. 1.

Tucker, 53, replaces Emil Turner, who announced Aug. 2 his intention to retire in 2013. Tucker has served as team leader of the convention’s evangelism and church growth team since 1997. Turner has served as executive director since 1996.
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J.D. “Sonny” Tucker was elected executive director-treasurer of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.


Don Blackmore, discipleship pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, who serves as chairman of the ABSC Operating Committee, said Tucker possesses qualities the committee was looking for in a new executive director.

“We were looking for someone who would continue to serve the churches of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention,” he said, adding, “A second quality we looked for was somebody that would continue with an evangelistic zeal, keeping [with] Dr. Turner’s theme, ‘More people in heaven and less people in hell.’ So we wanted to continue that focus as well. Another quality that we were looking for was someone who understood the churches of Arkansas.

“[We] felt very confident that after that interview process with him that he was God’s person.”

Following his election, Tucker received a standing ovation from members of the Executive Board. Members of the Operating Committee surrounded Tucker and his wife Nicki as Blackmore prayed.

“I think the Operating Committee and the board made a wonderful choice. Sonny is quintessential Arkansas,” Turner said following Tucker’s election. “He is an Arkansas pastor’s pastor. He loves Arkansas churches. He’ll lead well, and he’ll set a great tone for the state convention.”

Gary Hollingsworth, president of the ABSC Executive Committee and pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, said Tucker knows Arkansas well.

“In addition to his experience and his knowledge of the churches and the leaders around our state, it struck me very clearly that – while he has done a wonderful job leading evangelism – he has a real vision for where we need to go in the future,” Hollingsworth said.

“He also has great relationships built around our larger Southern Baptist Convention family, which is important because he’ll be a part of that network of the other state conventions,” he continued. “He was a wise choice because of the fact that he knows Arkansas, but he’s already well-respected around our convention.”

“These are challenging times for conventions,” said Rex Horne, president of Ouachita Baptist University, where Tucker received an undergraduate degree. “It is a challenging time for our country, and he’ll come in and give us good leadership, strong leadership, collaborative and creative leadership; that, I think, is going to really set us up well for years to come.”

Tucker said following his election he wants to continue “the great foundation that Dr. Turner has laid” working with Arkansas Baptist churches.

He said he wants to see Arkansas Baptists make “big strides” in evangelism, missions and church planting.

“Arkansans know Arkansas Baptist convention churches are kind, gracious and caring. I want [them] to know that we stand for Jesus and the Word of God and that we really, really love folks,” Tucker said. “We want to stay focused on Arkansas, with a strong sense of family and a strong sense of partnership with the churches.”

Tucker told the Arkansas Baptist News in a story published Jan. 26 that evangelism and church growth has always been his passion.

“I perfected a proficient system of cold call or door-knocking evangelism,” Tucker said. “It involved friendship making, praying for spiritual needs and sharing the gospel.”

Tucker said he believes Arkansas Baptists must develop personal evangelism skills, as well as reach out through event evangelism, to effectively reach people in the 21st century with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In addition, he said while it is necessary to affirm the cultural diversity of today’s society, some methods will reach across those boundaries.

“The most effective vehicle [for reaching people today] is through ministry, service, friendship and acts of love and kindness,” he said.

All of Tucker’s pastoral experience has been in Arkansas churches. Prior to joining the ABSC staff, he was pastor of Second Baptist Church in Monticello from 1994 to 1997. His other pastorates were at West Helena Baptist Church, West Helena, 1991-94; Fair Oaks Baptist Church, Fair Oaks, 1988-91; and Shady Grove Baptist Church, Sparkman, 1981-88. He was youth director at Antioch Baptist Church in Hot Springs from 1980-81.

Tucker completed a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in 1998. His major field of study was missiology with a focus on evangelism and church growth. Tucker also received a master of divinity degree from Mid-America in 1992. He completed undergraduate degrees in pastoral ministries and speech and communications from Ouachita Baptist University in 1983.

He and his wife are members of First Baptist Church in Benton and have two grown children, Megan and Curt.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Yarbrough is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.)
12/5/2012 1:37:22 PM by Tim Yarbrough, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Public invited to vote on Christian music nominations

December 5 2012 by FrontGate Media

ORANGE COUNTY, CA  (RNS) – Christian entertainment’s largest website, NewReleaseTuesday.com, has announced nominations for the debut WE LOVE CHRISTIAN MUSIC AWARDS.  Fans of Christian music are invited to help choose the winners by voting now through January 14 at http://www.theWELOVEAWARDS.com.
 
Nominations in 24 categories represent an eclectic mix of the best Christian music artists and projects in the calendar year 2012, as determined by the nominating committee of industry professionals. Winners will be announced in early 2013 as part of an exciting live web-based event.
 
The power now shifts to the people, as public voting is now open at www.theWELOVEAWARDS.com. Voters can support their favorite nominees in all categories, as well as write in their own selection for a runner-up in each category. 
 
Also, voters can write in the artist who has most impacted them this year in "The 2012 Award," a fan-powered impact award.
 
One lucky voter will be randomly chosen to win an iPad Mini and five voters will win a $25 iTunes or Amazon gift card.
 
Voters aren’t the only ones with a chance to benefit from the We Love Christian Music Awards. NewReleaseTuesday.com will be donating $1,000 to charities selected by the artists who win in the eight standard categories: Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Artist of the Year (Male), Artist of the Year (Female), Group of the Year, New Artist of the Year, Video of the Year and The 2012 Award.
 
Pop/rock/hip-hop pioneer TobyMac leads the nominations with 11, including nods for Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, The Hook Award (Best Pop Artist or Group), and this year’s “trending” category award devoted to “Best Lecrae Collaboration”.
 
Inspirational rock group Tenth Avenue North follows with six nods including Album of the Year, The Inspo Award (Best Adult Contemporary Artist or Group), Group of the Year, Song of the Year and Video of the Year.
 
Lecrae, urban/dance duo Group 1 Crew and newcomers for KING & COUNTRY all weigh in with five nominations each. MercyMe, Thousand Foot Krutch and Family Force 5 each received four.
 
EMI Label Group, anchored by top nominee TobyMac, leads record labels with 23 nominations. Word Label Group receives 19 nods, while independent artists account for the third-most nominations with 13.
 
For a complete list of nominations and to vote in the 25 categories, please go to www.theWELOVEAWARDS.com.
12/5/2012 1:29:06 PM by FrontGate Media | with 0 comments



N.C. firefighter called to serve as IMB worker in Central Asia

December 4 2012 by Don Graham, IMB, Baptist Press

Christopher Ryan’s* world was going up in flames – literally. Engulfed by pitch-black smoke and scorching heat, the North Carolina firefighter was battling an intense blaze on the second floor of a townhome when he and his partner, a veteran firefighter, realized they couldn’t find the way out.
 
“I heard my partner screaming … [telling] us to get out as fast as we could,” Ryan remembers. But he couldn’t see a thing. Worse, his fire hose was stuck somewhere in the building and couldn’t be freed. Still green from firefighters’ school, his instructors’ words echoed in Ryan’s mind: “Never leave the hose – it’s your lifeline.”
 
And in that moment, Ryan says, time stood still. 
 
“I had [what seemed] like an hour-long conversation right there with God,” he explains. “He pretty much affirmed that I wasn’t saved and that if He were to allow me to die right then in that fire, I would be burning in hell that instant.”
 
So Ryan dropped the hose. He and his partner escaped the burning building, their protective gear a charred, molten mess. Ryan was hospitalized for burns on his face, neck and shoulders. Though God would heal his body, Ryan’s spirit was broken. He didn’t yet understand the plan the Lord had set in motion during that fiery confrontation, one that would lead Ryan to risk his life again — this time to share the gospel in Central Asia.   
 

Uncertain salvation

Ryan grew up in a small North Carolina town deep in the Bible Belt and “got saved” at 15.
 
“One Sunday, my mother and my brother walked down the aisle, and they got saved. I got caught up in the emotion, so I walked down the aisle, too. I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said. When the pastor visited to talk about their decisions, he was more interested in Ryan’s music skills than the teenager’s new faith in Jesus. 
 
“They talked me into playing drums in this gospel group. There was nothing really shared regarding the gospel or any questions or affirmation about the decision I had made or why I made it. That started a very long and confusing process for me.
 
“I always heard the pastor say, ‘You should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are saved.’ And I never did,” Ryan says. No one seemed to offer any real help.
 
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Photo by Joseph Rose

Boys loiter at an open-air market in the Central Asian city where Christopher and Tabitha Ryan (names changed) are sharing the love of Christ. “They’re awfully curious about what we believe because they don’t really know what they believe,” Ryan says of many of the Muslims he encounters.


He was still questioning his salvation when he married his high school sweetheart, Tabitha,* and joined the fire department, a job Ryan expected to make his career.
 
“I lived one way during the week at the firehouse, and on the Sundays I wasn’t working, I was at church living a different way. It was almost like living two lives,” he says. Ryan still wondered whether he was saved, but said he no longer gave the question much thought.
 
That is, until the day he nearly died in that townhouse fire. Still, there was no dramatic conversion experience that followed, just the sobering realization that Ryan did not know the God he claimed to love.
 
“Being the sinful person that I was, it still took me several years to address that,” Ryan said.
 
And when that moment came, it echoed the first time Ryan “got saved” – one Sunday at church. Sitting in his usual back-row pew with Tabitha, Ryan suddenly felt the Holy Spirit pushing him to truly surrender his life to Jesus. As soon as the service ended, Ryan walked forward and grabbed the pastor.
 
“And he pretty much had to grab hold of me because the experience immediately drained me,” Ryan said. “I felt like all that sin just washed away from me right then. I could barely stand up.”
 
He was 27, and it had been 12 years since he first walked the church’s aisle. “God changed so much in me that day — my language, my desires, my behavior — everything changed,” Ryan says.
 

Surrendered expectations

Years later after Ryan and Tabitha married, Ryan got his first taste of missions work during a short-term trip to Honduras. There was an immediate connection, and two months later, he went back — this time, with Tabitha.
 
“I hadn’t seen much of the world, so it was a very eye-opening trip for me,” she says. “When we came back, we … knew that in some way we would be doing missions.”
 

A call 

By 2006, their pastor began telling the congregation about his vision for sending a team of church members through the International Mission Board (IMB) to work in Central Asia.  
 
“We didn’t have any idea where Central Asia was,” Ryan admits, but he and Tabitha met with church leadership anyway. The couple told them about their passion for missions and their willingness to explore serving in that region of the world.
 
The Ryans didn’t waste time. They sold their home plus a spec house that Ryan’s contracting business had built, as well as their “toys” — two campers and an ATV. Scouting trips in 2006 and again in 2007 confirmed the specific Central Asian country where they wanted to serve. It was a dangerous place, very poor and politically unstable, where Christians were frequently persecuted: cast out of families, jailed, tortured, even murdered. But it also was a place in dire need of the gospel. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the country’s population knows Jesus as Lord and Savior.    
 
“I knew that this is where God wanted us to be. We had fallen in love with the country and the people in that short time,” Tabitha said. “This was the right choice. This was His choice, where He wanted us as a family to go serve these people.”
 
“It’s not easy for people to give it all to God,” said Tabitha, who has been serving as an IMB worker for three years now with Ryan and their two daughters. “I still find myself every now and then trying to hold onto certain things, or ideas or plans. And then God reminds me of the blessing of handing it all over.”
Sharing Christ in Central Asia
 
Living and working in Central Asia has been a challenge — especially with two little girls. 
 
“I lived in three houses my whole life until I came over here, and we are now in our fifth house in three years,” Ryan said. Beyond convenience-related hardships like unreliable electricity or the occasional dust storm, Ryan says security precautions are the single greatest challenge, sometimes leaving his family feeling trapped in their home. Getting away on the weekend isn’t possible, and one date-night might require weeks of planning. Support from their home church has been critical, through prayer, friendships and even visits from short-term volunteer teams.   
 
“I don’t think there’s one thing that’s happened security-wise that makes me think, ‘What in the world are we doing here?’” Ryan said. “A lot of times, I feel safer here than I did in the States.”
 
Above all, the Ryans say they are in this for the long haul.
 
“We’ve pretty much decided we want to be here for the next 30 years, plus,” Ryan said. “We prayed that God would break our heart for these people, and that’s what He’s done. … He never told us it was going to be easy, but He’s promised to be faithful. And we need to be faithful to the call that He’s placed in our life.”
 
“This is our home,” Tabitha adds. “We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
 
Every penny given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is used to support nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the gospel overseas. Visit imb.org/offering.
 
* Names have been changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is a senior writer for IMB. This week, Dec. 2-9 is the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering emphasis week. This year’s national goal is $175 million.)
12/4/2012 2:28:15 PM by Don Graham, IMB, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Zig Ziglar gets ‘See You at the Top’ farewell

December 4 2012 by Tyra Damm & Roger Howerton, Baptist Press

PLANO, Texas – Hundreds paid tribute to Zig Ziglar during a memorial service Saturday (Dec. 1) at Prestonwood Baptist Church, which pastor Jack Graham called a “See You at the Top celebration.”

Thousands more online viewed the service for the legendary motivational speaker who touched countless lives throughout his four decades on the speaking circuit and through his 30-plus books, including the best-selling “See You at the Top.” Ziglar died Nov. 28 of complications from pneumonia. The husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather was 86.

“We’ve gathered not only to mourn,” Graham said, “but also to worship and draw our hearts near to the Christ he loved, to the Savior he followed.”

More than a decade ago, Ziglar had approached Graham about his own memorial service, specifying songs and Scriptures. Graham read from Ziglar’s written directions, quoting, “‘I believe the major objective of my funeral should be to serve as an evangelistic occasion for the lost and as an encouragement for other Christians. If based on your experience my choices of songs and procedures are not the most conducive for persuading others to join me in eternity, please make whatever changes you deem advisable.’
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Prestonwood Baptist Church photo

Hundreds paid tribute to motivational speaker Zig Ziglar during a memorial service Saturday at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Thousands more watched online.


“We didn’t change a thing,” said Graham, Ziglar’s longtime pastor and friend, who delivered the message.

The service included worship songs such as “Because He Lives,” “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” and “Victory in Jesus” and words of remembrance from Ike Reighard, pastor of Piedmont Church in Marietta, Ga., and Ziglar’s son Tom.

Reighard spoke about how his own life has been influenced by Ziglar. The two met years ago after Reighard preached a sermon on David and Goliath at First Baptist Church in Dallas. In the middle of the message, Reighard quoted Ziglar: “‘You can never consistently perform in a manner that’s inconsistent with the way that you see yourself.’”

He finished the sermon then visited with members of the congregation. Ziglar had been in the audience that day and waited in line to meet the young preacher.

“I squealed like a 12-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert,” Reighard recalled.

One Saturday morning after their meeting, Ziglar called Reighard and asked if he would be his “on-call preacher.”

They started visiting on Saturday mornings, Ziglar asking scriptural questions and Reighard answering. Their friendship grew.

“He had that uncanny ability to inspire better than anyone I’ve ever known,” Reighard said.

“In a lot of ways,” he said, “this is my last Saturday morning with Zig.... All of the things that Zig Ziglar accepted by faith, he’s now seeing with his sight. No longer does he walk by faith, now he walks by sight.”

Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar, Inc., spoke on the four characteristics that gave rise to the impact his father has had: hope, identity, brokenness and love. Tom spoke about an especially poignant moment with his father after a day of golf, something they enjoyed doing together.

“So I drive him home, get his bag out of trunk, and I’d turned around to get back in the car, and he said, ‘Son, wait a second.’ I turned around and said, ‘What, Dad?’ He said, ‘I need to tell you something.’ And he came up and put his hands on my shoulders and looked me right in the eye. He said, ‘Son, I don’t think I’ve told you enough how proud I am and how much I love you.’ And we hugged. From that day forward, every time we met, we hugged.

“Eternity is around the door; we don’t know when,” Tom Ziglar said. “I can remember Dad looking into my eyes. I know I will look in his eyes again, in the blink of an eye.”

Longtime friends such as Dale Dodson, a Prestonwood member and chairman of the Ziglar board, were among the many in attendance.

“There was no fake to Zig Ziglar,” Dodson said. “He was as real as could be.... He truly lived to inspire others. When he said something, it went right to the heart. It came from the heart.”

Bill Porter, a member of the Encouragers class that Ziglar taught for nearly two decades at Prestonwood, said the first Sunday he attended he was excited to meet Ziglar. He was amazed that Ziglar actually approached him first and wanted to know all about him.

“The void is huge,” Porter said, “but the impact he made is even bigger.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tyra Damm and Roger Howerton are writers in Prestonwood Baptist Church’s communications ministry.)

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12/4/2012 2:17:23 PM by Tyra Damm & Roger Howerton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Survey: Most back contraception mandate

December 4 2012 by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The majority of adults in America believe businesses and organizations, even those with conflicting religious principles, should be required to provide coverage of contraception and birth control for their employees, according to a survey by LifeWay Research.

At issue is a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate under the health care law (a.k.a. “ObamaCare”), which requires the coverage, even if it violates the employer’s religious convictions.

About 40 business and religious organizations have filed suit claiming the HHS mandate violates the Constitution under the First Amendment and also conflicts with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

According to the LifeWay Research survey, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of American adults agree businesses should be required to provide their employees with free contraception and birth control, even if it runs counter to the owners’ religious principles. Twenty-eight percent disagree and 10 percent selected “Don’t Know.”
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The opinions change somewhat when taking into consideration religious affiliation of the organization. Fifty-three percent agree Catholic and other religious schools, hospitals and charities should be required to provide the coverage, while 33 percent disagree.

In considering whether nonprofits should be required to provide the coverage, 56 percent of adults agree and 32 percent disagree they should be required to follow the mandate even if it goes against their religious beliefs.

“It is easy for Americans to desire to protect the freedoms of individuals over unnamed business entities,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “However, such generalizations may overlook the fact that more than 90 percent of businesses with employees are family businesses. Recent lawsuits contend that the religious freedoms of these families conflict with healthcare choices desired by individuals.”

Stetzer clarified the wording of the LifeWay Research poll, which asks about “contraception” and not specifically “abortifacient contraception,” a main point in many of the suits. Abortifacient contraception includes “the morning-after pill,” which induces abortion of a fertilized embryo.

“We chose the wording to reflect what is widely reported in the news as a ‘contraception mandate,’“ Stetzer said. “Catholic organizations were quick to point out the conflict of the mandate with the religious teachings of the Catholic church, but the details of this mandate concern many other religious groups whose religious beliefs specifically oppose abortifacient contraception. At this point, however, the vast majority of news reports describe this as a contraception issue and the majority of Americans are not supportive of companies, nonprofits or Catholic charities opting out.”

On Nov. 16, a federal court ruled in favor of faith-based Tyndale House Publishers, which filed a lawsuit against the government to halt enforcement of the mandate. But three days later another court ruled against the suit brought by the Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby retail stores, stating the owners’ beliefs were only “indirectly” burdened by the mandate’s requirement that they provide free coverage contraception and birth control in Hobby Lobby’s self-funded insurance plan. Hobby Lobby, which filed an appeal, faces millions of dollars in fines if it does not comply.

Demographically, responses to the LifeWay Research poll show Americans who never attend religious services are more likely to “Strongly Agree” (45 percent) that nonprofits, Catholic and other religious schools, charities and hospitals should be forced to follow the mandate. The percentage rises to 55 percent when considering businesses in general.

The survey shows women are more likely than men to “strongly agree” that all three organizational categories: businesses (48 percent vs. 37 percent); nonprofits (37 percent vs. 29 percent); Catholic and religious schools, hospitals and charities (36 percent vs. 26 percent) should provide the coverage.

Younger Americans are the least likely (less than 10 percent) to “strongly disagree” with businesses and organizations being required to follow the mandate.

“The religious freedom that the United States pioneered is not a freedom of belief, but a freedom to practice that faith,” Stetzer said. “The American public appears unaware or unconcerned that some religious organizations and family businesses indicate fear of losing the freedom to practice their faith under the new health care regulations.”

The survey was conducted online Nov. 14-16 among 1,191 adults.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russ Rankin is a writer for the communications office of LifeWay Christian Resources.)
12/4/2012 2:03:23 PM by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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