December 2014

Commencement speakers share words of wisdom

December 29 2014 by Emily Blake, BR Editorial Aide

Every May and December universities across the state celebrate the success of their graduates and invite commencement speakers to deliver some final words of wisdom. Students sit in cap and gown in the midst of their peers. There is usually an air of hope in the room as people nervously shift in their seats, or look out to find proud family members in the audience. After years of effort students gather to receive their diplomas, and listen to one final speech on behalf of their school.

“The primary purpose of the commencement speech is to inspire students,” said Jeff Atkinson, director of marketing and communications at Wingate University. “This is the last time that a class of students will be together, and it is our final opportunity to collectively offer words of wisdom to the class. “We take this opportunity seriously and want this moment to be very meaningful to our graduates and their families.”

None of the North Carolina Baptist affiliated schools – The College at Southeastern and Fruitland Baptist Bible College, along with Campbell, Chowan, Gardner-Webb, Mars Hill and Wingate universities – have a requirement that the speaker must be Baptist.

For many graduation offers not only a rite of passage into a new beginning, but a farewell from an institution that may have changed lives.

This year, from the spring semester alone 1,986 students graduated with bachelors, associates and certificates from universities and colleges with North Carolina Baptist ties.

N.C. Baptist affiliated schools take a variety of strategies when choosing a commencement speaker, but most would agree that choosing a speaker who reflects the school’s values is one of the top priorities.

 “We try to have individuals [speakers] who appreciate higher education, value faith and are interested in service,” Atkinson said, “someone who cares deeply about students and our mission.

“We want to invite someone who will invoke our students to live out the faith, knowledge and service mission of our university in their lives beyond Wingate.”

Chowan University often alternates between guest and student speakers. They invited Sen. Richard Burr to speak at their 2013 commencement and in 2014 some of the best and brightest students were chosen to highlight the vast range of majors and talents at the university.

At Gardner-Webb University students are recommended every semester by the faculty, department chairs and deans. From the recommendations three or four are chosen from varying areas and levels of study to write speeches reflecting their educational journey and experience.

Britt J. Davis, vice president of institutional advancement and assistant to the president at Campbell University said, “We are generally looking for someone who we believe has the character and qualities of someone who represents Campbell as a Baptist university and community. Speakers in the past have included military leaders, government officials, church leaders, Campbell officials, benefactors and alumni.”

The commencement speaker is meant to inspire the graduates “to go out and change the world for Christ,” said Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president, Daniel Akin. The school also keeps in mind the lost people who attend services in support of friends and family, and makes a point to communicate the gospel clearly on their behalf.

12/29/2014 1:50:12 PM by Emily Blake, BR Editorial Aide | with 0 comments



IMB’S top stories: Great challenges, new opportunities

December 29 2014 by IMB/Baptist Press

Baptist Press asked the International Mission Board (IMB) to select 10 of its key news and feature stories of 2014 as the year comes to a close. The following list for 2014 includes a brief description each of those stories.
 
IMB’s key stories for 2014:
 
IMB names David Platt as its new president
 
David Platt, 36, a Southern Baptist pastor and author of Radical, succeeded 70-year-old Tom Elliff as president of IMB on Aug. 27, 2014. The 169-year-old organization is the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals.
 
The trustee chairman said the search committee was excited by the influence Platt can have among thousands of Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, especially to an emerging generation of young missionaries and new givers to global missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
 
Responding to the refugee crisis in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan)
 
IMB launched a campaign in 2014 to encourage Southern Baptists to “help refugees now,” utilizing the technology of a text to give $10 (by texting imbrelief to 80888) to help those in dire need in Syria and Iraq after being run out of their homeland by militant extremists. Also, believers around the world joined in a prayer emphasis for Afghanistan, Sept. 1-11.
 
The appeals to look beyond the headlines to the people affected by them and to get beyond any prejudices that Americans might have about peoples of the Middle East struck a chord with a Southern Baptist named Lisa.* Lisa once wanted nothing to do with the Middle East, calling it “a forsaken land.” Then, she realized that it was she who had forsaken it – not God. Her heart became burdened by the plight of refugees who’ve lost loved ones and who struggle to make it through a single day. She began to pray that the church would rise up and do something to help those who are being forced out of their homeland. At first she thought the solution was the church in the Middle East rising up in obedience. But she said the Lord responded to her, “You are the church.” So she went, volunteering to distribute aid to refugees who had fled Syria.

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IMB photo by JoAnn Bradberry
Pastor Tolbert Alochi is embraced by a young man who received help at Faith Baptist Church in Nimule, South Sudan.
 

Ukraine-Russia conflict escalates amid year of Berlin Wall anniversary and Winter Olympics
 
A Malaysian airliner being downed in Ukraine brought home the reality of how most modern-day conflicts can quickly become global in scope and impact.
 
On one hand, this year, the free world commemorated that it has been 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain era. On the other hand, factions in Russia and Ukraine spent much of the year battling over territory and independence.
 
Cities in eastern Ukraine that had been held for months by pro-Russian separatists struggled to recover economically and emotionally from the attacks and occupation of the cities. Southern Baptist disaster relief representatives, including a team of IMB workers, were there to help residents recover in both ways with humanitarian aid and with spiritual counsel.
 
Christians in Ukraine, including a Baptist preacher who served as interim Ukrainian president, also were active in urging prayer and peace. “We are standing on our knees,” evangelical pastor Sergey Kosyak said. “The only weapon that we have is prayer.”
 
As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia began to escalate, an event designed to bring the world together in Sochi, Russia, was coming to an end: the 2014 Winter Olympics.
 
But for IMB’s Engage Sochi team, the core of their endeavor was just beginning: follow-up. During the Olympics, three people committed their lives to Christ and more than 130 people expressed a desire to learn more about Him.
 
Praying for peace in ‘the Holy Land’
 
While airstrikes, cease fires and the end of cease fires seemed to follow an endless loop in Israel, the biggest tragedy is the cycle of revenge fueled by hate, a Christian in Israel said.
 
Ben Martin,* a Southern Baptist representative in Israel, emphasized that this conflict isn’t between the Jewish and Palestinian peoples but between Israel and Hamas, the hardline Islamist terrorist organization controlling Gaza.
 
“Terrorism comes because people give their hearts over to hate. They hate their enemy more than they love their own people,” Martin said. “My prayer is that people on both sides of the conflict would not fall into the trap of hate, which is a dark prison.”
 
Baptists respond to Ebola with education in West Africa
 
To combat false beliefs about the spread of Ebola in West Africa, IMB missionaries in conjunction with Baptist Global Response, started a campaign in Togo to distribute 15,000 Ebola information brochures across the country.
 
Lily Ronaldo,* a Christian worker in Guinea, said she uses storying and role-playing as a means to teach Africans about Ebola prevention.
 
“We have been hosting workshops, teaching the believers in our church a story of two women who react very differently about Ebola,” Ronaldo said. “Through the story and the discussion that follows, we are able to share what Ebola is, how it is transmitted, simple things people can do to protect themselves from being infected, and how to help stop the spread of the disease.”
 
Nigerian Christians find hope amid persecution, violence of Boko Haram
 
“Parts of Nigeria are in crisis due to the violence of Boko Haram and their attacks on churches and schools. They also kill other Muslims who do not agree with them. However, the work of the gospel goes on and goes forward,” Aaron Bryson,* an IMB worker in Nigeria, said.
 
Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group, is responsible for the abduction of more than 200 girls, ages 16-18, from a Nigerian school.
 
In a country with such harsh religious and tribal strife, it’s inspiring to see believers there working together to follow Christ in the face of difficulty, said Charlotte Cearley, IMB prayer strategist for sub-Saharan Africa.
 
Christians in South Sudan help their countrymen amid worst famine in world
 
An escalating civil war prevented humanitarian aid from reaching those most affected by famine in South Sudan.
 
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, its neighbor to the north, in 2011. There are nearly 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) because of conflict in South Sudan, according to U.N. sources.
 
South Sudanese Christians are taking a lead role in helping the refugees.
 
“We took their burdens to be ours – we are crying with them,” said Tolbert Alochi, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Nimule, South Sudan, a border town that refugees travel through to flee to Uganda.
 
Among the changes in Egypt: Openness to gospel because of forgiveness
 
A year after more than 85 churches and Christian institutions across Egypt were destroyed and burned, and three years after the country’s longest serving president stepped down in the wake of nationwide protests, Christian workers there are finding an openness rarely experienced before.
 
Some workers noted that forgiveness – along with persistence in sharing the gospel – shown by local Christians toward Muslims has played a large role in the change.
 
World Cup outreach: Yellow card illustration causes people to stop and think about faith
 
Hold up a yellow card and a Brazilian will typically respond, “What did I do?” In soccer, a yellow card is displayed as a warning that a player’s bad conduct could lead to expulsion from the match.
 
In Brazil during the World Cup, Brazilian Baptists led American volunteers to use the illustration among the matches’ attendees and in surrounding neighborhoods, including in a drug-infested area called “Crack-land,” to talk about Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (HCSB).
 
Overall, they estimate they’ve led more than 100 people to faith in Jesus Christ, simultaneously connecting new believers with local churches where they can be discipled. Many more have heard the gospel, some for the first time.
 
Long haul to healing begins in Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan
 
Throughout 2014, disaster relief volunteers from numerous states worked alongside IMB and Baptist Global Response workers in the Philippines to help residents rebuild after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Southeast Asia country on Nov. 8, 2013. Southern Baptists’ giving to Global Hunger Relief provided the resources to reestablish access to clean water and to help rebuild schools and homes.
 
Because IMB missionaries already were serving year-round in the country, their presence there supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the disaster relief response was not only able to start immediately but to continue steadily.
 
“In disaster relief, we often sort of race to the event. It’s Southern Baptists who stay. It’s Southern Baptists who continue to work,” said Larry Thomas, a disaster relief representative from the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists.
 
Though much has been accomplished through national and international relief organizations, IMB missionary Carl Miller said full recovery is still a long way away.
 
“Long-haul healing is needed,” he said.
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Story submitted by International Mission Board staff.)

12/29/2014 1:14:13 PM by IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Gospel conversations’ among NAMB’s 2014 highlights

December 29 2014 by NAMB staff/Baptist Press

As 2015 rolls in, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) reflects upon a year that included an increasing emphasis on helping Southern Baptists develop evangelistic conversations, the kickoff of its Send North America Experience Tour, and the launch of a new book designed to help believers see that “every life on mission matters.”
 
NAMB introduces 3 Circles ‘Gospel conversation’ guide
 
Kevin Ezell urged attendees of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Baltimore to make gospel conversations a regular part of their lives. To help Southern Baptists do that, Ezell introduced a new tool, called 3 Circles, that makes it easy to do so with simple resources typically at their disposal, such as a pen and a napkin. Ezell also reported to Southern Baptists on the progress of Send North America, including the adding of 1,105 Southern Baptist congregations in 2013.
 
Boston kickoff for NAMB’s Send North America Tour
 

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Photo by Susan Whitley/NAMB
Participants of the Boston Send North America Experience tour stop join in a time of directed prayer. Aaron Coe, North American Mission Board vice president for mobilization and marketing, led the gathering, made up of many Bostonians, and scores of people from around the northeast, to pray for the city, its leaders and for Jesus to be known in the region.

More than 1,100 people attended the first Send North America Experience Tour stop in Boston. The tour debuted in the historic Tremont Temple Baptist Church, which has hosted some of the most significant preachers of the past 200 years, including D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. The tour, which includes stops in a variety of cities throughout North America, leads up to next summer’s Send North America Conference, which organizers say could be among the largest missions gatherings in the history of North America. The event will be held in Nashville, Tenn., Aug. 3-4, 2015.
 
SBC leaders, missionaries pray for gospel advancement
 
On Oct. 2, Southern Baptist leaders and missionaries throughout the world came together through a webcast to pray for gospel advancement. Participants gathered at 10:02 a.m. to pray in the spirit of Luke 10:2 and Jesus’ command to “pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
 
Send North America Luncheon participants ‘tour’ Baltimore, discover the story of ‘their town’
 
More than 3,000 Southern Baptist leaders participated in a virtual tour of Baltimore during the Send North America Luncheon at the annual Southern Baptist Convention last June. The luncheon introduced Southern Baptists to a 200-year story of how God has moved in the city. Participants were also urged during the luncheon to look beyond Baltimore to a similar story of God at work in their own towns and cities. The luncheon previewed a Send North America Experience Tour that kicked off in September and will conclude with the Send North America Conference.
 
Pastor task force addresses declining baptism rates
 
In May a pastor task force, first convened by NAMB in 2013, announced a series of recommendations designed to turn around declining baptism rates among Southern Baptist churches. The recommendations touched on a variety of issues but mostly revolved around an urgent call for spiritual renewal along with an increased commitment to personal evangelism and discipleship. NAMB convened the task force after the 2012 Annual Church Profile showed a decrease in baptisms of 5.52 percent, confirming a two-decade downward decline.
 
Michigan flooding, other opportunities, draw disaster relief volunteers
 
In August Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers served homeowners impacted by Michigan floods. NAMB/SBDR coordinator Eddie Blackmon said the Michigan flood damaged more homes than any other incident during his 15 years serving in Disaster Relief roles. Southern Baptists also responded to historic fires and a mudslide in Washington State, tornadoes in Arkansas and Oklahoma and played an integral part of a baptism in Colorado.
 
Pastors use 3 Circles tool to share gospel, train members
 
Less than two months after NAMB launched its new 3 Circles tool, designed to help Southern Baptists share their faith using just a pen and a piece of paper, pastors throughout the convention were integrating it into sermons and using it to share Christ on local and international mission fields. By the end of 2014, NAMB had distributed more than 1 million copies of the 3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide and 25,000 downloads of the Life On Mission smartphone apps that both teach people to use the 3 Circles method.
 
Busy mother of four discovers how God can use her in everyday life
 
Atlanta-area mom Stephanie Copenhaver started a four-week Bible study to reach her fifth-grade son’s friends with the gospel. By the end of the study 30 kids had been introduced to the biblical stories of the Good Samaritan, the Armor of God, biblical values and Jesus. Copenhaver’s expression of a life on mission for Jesus exemplified NAMB’s effort to help Southern Baptists embrace the truth that “every life on mission matters” through a new book, called “Life On Mission.”
 
Hispanic church plants overcome generational challenge
 
With the United States’ Hispanic population expected to double by 2060, churches like Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla., have been turning to church planting to reach this growing ethnic group. To help in this effort, NAMB worked with Baptist leaders throughout North America to create a map showing where new Hispanic churches are needed. Similar maps have been developed for Chinese and Korean people groups.
 
Prayer cards connecting churches and chaplains
 
California pastor Mark Standridge used NAMB chaplain prayer cards during a children’s sermon to highlight heroes around the world who are sharing God’s Word with those serving on the U.S. military front lines. As he did so, he highlighted one particular heroic father in an unforgettable way. NAMB sent a 50-card pack of chaplain prayer cards to every Southern Baptist church in May. Extra packs of prayer cards are still available for free by ordering at nambstore.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Story submitted by North American Mission Board staff.)

12/29/2014 12:55:28 PM by NAMB staff/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The Bible’s Christmas accounts ‘complementary’

December 23 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A historian named Julius Africanus was among the first Christians to wonder why the stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke differ slightly.
 
Around the year 200, Julius apparently sought Jesus’ living relatives to ask them why the genealogies of Christ in the two Gospels aren’t exactly the same. Was one of the accounts in error?
 
Jesus’ ancient relatives explained, according to the third-century church historian Eusebius, that the lineage of Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, included a Levirate marriage – the Old Testament practice by which the brother of a man who died childless would marry the widow and father a child who was legally considered the descendant of the deceased man. One of the Gospel genealogies apparently follows the biological line and the other the legal line, Eusebius reported.
 
Though the Levirate marriage explanation has been debated by scholars, at least one thing is certain: for the nearly 1,800 years since Julius’ inquiry, disciples and skeptics alike have continued to wonder why the Bible’s two accounts of Jesus’ birth report the story in slightly different ways.
 
In response, three seminary professors have explained that the narratives do not contradict one another at any point and tell the story in different ways to highlight different aspects of Jesus’ person and work. Matthew and Luke “are complementary and make different points,” Bill Warren, director of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for New Testament Textual Studies, told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments.

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Adoration of the Shepherds painting by Gerard van Honthorst

 

“For example, in Matthew we can see the temptation of feeling threatened by Jesus and wanting to retain control even at the cost of doing ungodly things like Herod did. And we can see how we need to be sensitive to God’s leadership as the magi were, offering their best based on God’s message to them,” Warren said. In Luke’s account God first reveals His Son’s birth to “common folks, the shepherds. And God still uses common folks to carry His message forward.”
 
All professors at Southern Baptist Convention seminaries pledge their agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message, which states that the Bible has “truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter” and “is totally true and trustworthy.”
 

Conflicting stories?

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth is famous for its presentation of the wise men, or magi in Greek; King Herod’s murderous extermination of male children in Bethlehem; and the flight of Jesus and His parents to Egypt. Luke omits those details but reports the visit of shepherds following Jesus’ birth; Mary’s song of praise known as the “Magnificat,” named for the first word in the song’s Latin translation; and angels proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest.”
 
Theologically, Matthew highlights Jesus’ status as King of the Jews while Luke depicts Him as the Savior of all people regardless of their social standing.
 
“If we focus on the different details the Gospel writers report, we may miss the amazing similarities,” Rob Plummer, chairman of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s New Testament department, told BP in written comments. “Both report that Jesus’ mother was named Mary and His adoptive father was named Joseph, both report Jesus was supernaturally born of a virgin, both identify Jesus as a descendent of David, both say Jesus was born in Bethlehem, both report that He eventually ended up in Nazareth.”
 
Plummer used an example from his own life to explain why it is unreasonable for skeptics to conclude that Matthew and Luke contradict.
 
“When my students get hung up on different details in the Gospel accounts, I encourage them to consider the complexity of their own lives,” Plummer said. “Life is full of surprising coincidences and unexpected turns. My senior year in college, I roomed with a young man also named Rob who went on to study at seminary (like me) – but he went to Princeton, while I went to Southern. A skeptical later historian might wrongly conclude that there was only one original Rob, whom some later followers attached to a ‘Princetonian’ tradition and other followers connected to a ‘Southern Seminary’ tradition.”
 
Plummer continued, “But wait! Imagine that after you read this article you run into someone I knew in college. He says, ‘Rob Plummer roomed with a guy named Eric his senior year in college.’ Or you meet another former acquaintance who says, ‘Rob Plummer had a single dorm room his senior year in college.’ “Am I a liar? In fact, all of those statements are true. I roomed in a single dorm room half of my senior year, and then switched to co-renting a house with two roommates – one named Eric and one named Rob.”
 
Analogous to the various accounts of his college days that are all true but may seem conflicting, Plummer noted, “The biblical authors often choose to focus on part of this historical account and do not give exhaustive details.”
 
The Gospels are not “exhaustive raw footage of events,” Plummer wrote, but “inspired documentaries” that are “historical and accurate” yet “are also written from the vantage point of the inspired human authors.”
 

Why different characters?

The different characters included in the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke align with the two authors’ doctrinal emphases, Thor Madsen, professor of New Testament, ethics and philosophy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told BP.
 
“Matthew wants us to notice how, by the grace of God, the ‘wrong’ people can understand who Jesus is, while the ‘right’ ones do not,” Madsen said. The magi were “pagan star-gazers from the east who see the supernatural star and come a great distance to worship Jesus,” but “the locals in Jerusalem” did not recognize the Savior’s birth.
 
Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus further demonstrates God’s willingness to accept the “wrong” people as His own by including three women – Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba – whose sinful pasts would have caused Jews to regard them as outsiders.
 
“Sometimes wicked characters and their evil deeds play a role in Matthew’s narrative, as we find with Herod,” Madsen said. “His rage against the boys in Bethlehem causes the weeping in Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15) that gives way to the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). No one appears in Matthew’s Gospel merely for the record.”
 
In Luke “God is the Ultimate Promise-Keeper whose Word never fails,” Madsen said.
 
“Accordingly, John the Baptist becomes everything predicted by Gabriel, being filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb.... Even the census in 2:1-4 highlights God’s promise-keeping power: He will move the whole earth, so to speak, in order to put Mary in Bethlehem on schedule for the birth of her Son. Angels tell shepherds that a time of peace has come, the sign of which is a baby in a manger – a sign which they eventually see, as God had promised. The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would see the Messiah before his death; and he does, just as God had promised. We gather that something similar occurred in Anna’s case. Thus, the importance of Luke’s characters is their availability to show God’s faithfulness to His promises.”
 
Warren said the wise men’s appearance in Matthew authenticates “the kingly role of Jesus.”
 
The magi were “king-makers, almost certainly from the ... Parthian Empire (an Empire that Rome had not yet conquered at that time),” Warren said.
 
“Prior to Herod the Great claiming the throne, he had to battle the Parthians, who were trying to put their own choice of a person in as the King of the Jews. So they are now coming to do so again it appears, with Herod well aware of the threat as seen in the text’s mention of the fear that arose when the magi came to Jerusalem: ‘oh no, here we go with another war again’ would have been the feeling, only this time it would be a different type of king.”
 

Timeline of events

Warren proposed a timeline of how the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke might fit together:

  • Mary miraculously becomes pregnant (Matthew and Luke).

  • Joseph decides not to divorce her due to the visit of the angel (Matthew and Luke).

  • The birth of John the Baptist happens (Luke).

  • The star appears to the magi and they begin their journey (Matthew).

  • Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem (Luke).

  • Jesus is born in a cave where the animals were kept below the house in Bethlehem (Luke) (7 to 4 B.C.).

  • The shepherds get the notice about Jesus’ birth and visit Him in the birth cave (Luke).

  • The magi arrive in Jerusalem and then go to Bethlehem to see Jesus at the house (Matthew).

  • Herod realizes that the magi are not going to return to Jerusalem and orders the killing of the babies in Bethlehem (Matthew).

  • Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt with Jesus (Matthew).

  • Joseph and Mary return to Nazareth (Matthew) (after Herod’s death in 4 B.C., but prior to A.D. 6 since Archelaus is still in power in Judea – he is replaced in A.D. 6).

However believers think the two accounts fit together, it is illogical to say they contradict, Madsen said.
“Matthew’s infancy narrative would contradict Luke’s only if, in some respect, Matthew says ‘A’ and Luke says ‘not A,’” Madsen said.
 
“But the two accounts don’t differ in that kind of way. What we see, rather, are differences arising from the standards by which Matthew chooses to include information not given by Luke, and vice versa.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.) 

12/23/2014 10:00:09 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



23 states strengthen global missions

December 23 2014 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Baptist Press

Twenty-three state conventions have increased the portion of Cooperative Program (CP) receipts forwarded to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missions and ministries in moving toward the goal of a 50/50 allocation between in-state and SBC causes, continuing an upward trend spanning several years.
 
At the forefront this year: Messengers in Iowa and Nevada adopted budgets projected to generate a combined $1.4 million in additional support for the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, six seminaries, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and SBC operations by the Executive Committee.
 
With the Baptist Convention of Iowa to mark its 20th year in 2015, Executive Director Tim Lubinus justified increasing the SBC portion of the state’s Cooperative Program budget from 20 to 50 percent, stating, “A sign of this maturing of our convention isn’t measured by our independence of our national mission [entities], but by the strength of our support for them.”
 
The Nevada Baptist Convention, founded in 1979, raised its allotment to SBC causes from 35 to 50 percent of CP gifts from the state’s churches. A major reorganization begun four years ago envisioned a “lean and visionary” strategy to make Nevada Baptists “more self-sufficient financially and less dependent on ‘outside’ funding sources,” according to the plan that merged the state convention and four associations into one entity.

 
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Messengers to the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, with “Together” as their theme, gather at Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

Other state conventions whose actions will increase by more than 1 percent the percentage of their budgets sent beyond their borders include Arizona, Dakotas, Minnesota-Wisconsin, New England and South Carolina. Meanwhile, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Indiana, Kansas-Nebraska, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Northwest, Penn-Jersey, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming are increasing the SBC portion in amounts ranging from .02 to 1 percent.
 
Iowa and Nevada join the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as the only state conventions that forward half or more of CP receipts from local churches to the SBC without a “shared ministries” calculation. The SBTS, formed in 1998 with a 50/50 division from the start, moved to allocating 55 percent of undesignated receipts to the SBC in 2008. The SBC of Virginia, while in the process of phasing out its shared ministries category, currently allocates 51 percent of the resulting balance for SBC ministries and promotion and 49 percent for Virginia ministries.
 
Joining the 24 other state conventions that do not designate any items as dually beneficial to the state and national convention, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma this fall removed the designation of shared ministries, a category which accounted for 13.21 percent of the BGCO budget last year.
 
Only 15 of the 42 state conventions classify any budget portion as shared ministries and nearly a third of those made reductions in the portion they consider shared, including New England (35.77 to 8 percent), New Mexico (22.97 to 2.52 percent), Wyoming (18.75 to 13.7 percent) and Alaska (11.28 to 9.21 percent).
 
Two state conventions – the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia – let churches customize what they label Cooperative Program giving. BGCT’s preferred giving plan retains 79 percent of undesignated receipts from affiliated churches for in-state use and 21 percent for one of three worldwide partners – the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or BGCT Worldwide. Churches may customize further by specifying the portions for in-state and out-of-state allocations. BGAV has pre-set giving tracks that a church can customize to fund causes of the SBC and/or CBF.
 
While most state conventions are increasing the percentage of their budgets for missions and ministry around the world, only a fourth are projected to actually contribute more dollars to SBC causes in the coming year. The actual dollar of a state convention’s allocation fluctuates annually depending on how well cooperating churches in the state are able to fund their respective budgets. Helping offset that impact are churches that adopt the “1% Percent Challenge” to increase the Cooperative Program portion of their undesignated receipts through their state conventions.
 
Analysis of financial data is based on information supplied by Baptist Press and state convention reports with projections for 2015 calculated or in some cases estimated by SBC Executive Committee staff.
 
Each state convention elected officers to leadership for 2015. Those serving as president are:
 
ALABAMA – Travis Coleman Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church in Prattville.
 
ALASKA – Todd Burgess, pastor of First Baptist Church in Eagle River.
 
ARIZONA – Bret Burnett, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church in Tucson.
 
ARKANSAS – Archie Mason, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro.
 
CALIFORNIA – Randy Bennett, director of missions for Kern County Southern Baptist Association.
 
COLORADO – Michael Atherton, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Lone Tree.
 
DAKOTAS—Jeff Musgrave, pastor of First Baptist Church in Langdon, N.D.;
 
FLORIDA – James Peoples, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Keystone Heights.
 
GEORGIA – Don Hattaway, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville.
 
ILLINOIS – Odis Weaver, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Plainfield.
 
INDIANA – Darin Garton, pastor of Oak Creek Church in Mishawaka.
 
IOWA – Lloyd Eaken, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Anamosa.
 
KANSAS-NEBRASKA – Andy Addis, pastor of CrossPoint Church in Hutchinson, Kan.
 
KENTUCKY – Tom James, pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green.
 
LOUISIANA – Steve Horn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lafayette.
 
MARYLAND/DELAWARE – William Warren, pastor of Allen Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury, Md.
 
MICHIGAN – Chuck Turner, director of missions at Central and Lendale Baptist Associations.
 
MINNESOTA-WISCONSIN – Rick Schulze, pastor of Graceway Fellowship in Green Bay, Wis.
 
MISSISSIPPI – Larry Young, pastor of Spangle Banner Missionary Baptist Church in Pace.
 
MISSOURI – Neil Franks, pastor of First Baptist Church in Branson.
 
MONTANA – Bruce Speer, pastor of Cross Point Community Church in Missoula.
 
NEVADA – Greg Fields, pastor of Nellis Baptist Church in Las Vegas.
 
NEW ENGLAND – Neal Davidson, pastor of Hope Chapel in Sterling, Mass.
 
NEW MEXICO – Jonathan Richard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Estancia.
 
NEW YORK – Scott Gillette, pastor of Amherst Baptist Church in Amherst.
 
NORTH CAROLINA – Timmy Blair, pastor of Piney Grove Chapel Baptist Church in Angier.
 
NORTHWEST – Dale Jenkins, pastor of Airways Heights Baptist Church in Airways Heights, Wash.
 
OHIO – Mark Stinson, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Cambridge.
 
OKLAHOMA – Hance Dilbeck, pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
 
PENN/SOUTH JERSEY – Brian King, pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
 
TENNESSEE – Michael C. Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church in Memphis.
 
TEXAS (BGCT) – Kathy Hillman, a member of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church in Waco and director of special collections at Baylor University.
 
TEXAS (SBTC) – Jimmy Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Forney.
 
UTAH-IDAHO – Jim Panagopolos, pastor of First Baptist church in Roy, Utah.
 
VIRGINIA (BGAV) – Ann Brown, a member of First Baptist Church in Gretna.
 
VIRGINIA (SBCV) – Brad Russell, pastor of Old Powhatan Baptist Church in Powhatan.
 
WEST VIRGINIA – John Freeman, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Chapmanville.
 
WYOMING – Mike Cooper, pastor of College Heights Baptist Church in Casper.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)

12/23/2014 9:50:44 AM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



States embrace religious liberty, spiritual awakening

December 23 2014 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Baptist Press

Still alarmed by subpoenas of sermons and correspondence for pastors who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, resolutions on religious liberty and free speech were passed in more than a dozen state Baptist convention meetings this fall.
 
State conventions also took a larger view of America’s spiritual need, with many committing to pray for spiritual awakening and revival in sync with the ongoing emphasis of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd. Various states also provided time in their schedules to set forth Floyd’s appeal to come to Columbus, Ohio, to pray for spiritual awakening during the SBC’s June 16-17 annual meeting and to participate in the preceding Crossover Columbus evangelistic outreach.
 
A resolution passed by Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists, for example, expressed a prayer that “before we meet again ... we will witness a great revival and renewal throughout our two-state convention.”
 
In addition to religious liberty issues, resolutions upholding a traditional definition of marriage and opposing a redefinition of gender identity also drew consensus from messengers in numerous states.
 
Those topics were introduced in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah-Idaho, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and West Virginia.
 
Southern Baptists in New Mexico, for example, with a meeting theme of “Standing Strong,” expressed their resolve to pray for neighboring Texans fighting the violation of First Amendment rights in Houston. They pledged to “stand in like fashion in the event that similar legal action be taken against pastors or ministers in the state of New Mexico.”
 
Alabama Baptists embraced the Baptist Faith & Message “as an expression of our unity in doctrine and practice,” joining numerous states that affirmed the Southern Baptist Convention’s doctrinal statement in years past.
 
Messengers meetings in Tennessee and Nevada joined the list of 22 other state and regional conventions that have elected non-Anglos to serve as state convention presidents – Michael Ellis and Greg Fields, respectively. Mississippi Baptists also made history by electing Larry Young as the first African American convention officer.
 
Alaska Baptists elected the first African American as a state convention president in 1972, while the first Hispanic to serve as a state convention president was elected in New Mexico in 1993. Among other ethnic backgrounds among state convention presidents over the years: Korean-American, Native American, Japanese-American, Chinese-American, Hawaiian-American, Jamaican and Filipino.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)

12/23/2014 9:40:08 AM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Race relations panelists: Learn ‘each other’s story’

December 22 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

Four decades after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, a diverse group of pastors gathered at the historic Lorraine Hotel – now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum – to discuss the state of race relations in America.
 
Called “A Time to Speak,” the Dec. 15 discussion was inspired by the national debate over race relations, sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York.
 
Evangelicals have been largely missing from that conversation, said Bryan Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis, a multiethnic congregation.
 
“Where are the conservative evangelical voices?” Loritts asked in his opening remarks to an audience of about 100 people in person and more than 6,000 viewing a webcast at live.kainos.is.
 
Loritts invited two diverse panels of conservative pastors and writers to Memphis for straightforward and sometimes pointed conversation about race and the church.

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Screen capture
Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research (right) moderates the "Time to Speak" race relations panel discussion at the National Civil Rights Museum.

 

Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, served as moderator. He began by presenting new research about Americans’ views on race.
 
A survey of 1,000 Americans found many (75 percent) say the country has come a long way on race relations, Stetzer said. But more than 8 in 10 (81 percent) agree with the statement “We’ve got so far to go on racial relations.”
 
African Americans in particular feel strongly about the need for change. Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) strongly agree that relations have a long way to go. That drops to less than half (39 percent) for whites.
 
Loritts said whites and African Americans remain largely disconnected in churches and society, so they can’t hear one another’s stories.
 
“At the end of the day, we don’t know each other,” Loritts said. “We don’t know each other’s story.”
 
Many relationships between whites and minorities are unequal, the panelists said. People from diverse backgrounds often don’t talk to each other except when they need something. Minorities are often in a position of need, Loritts noted. Such a position distorts their relationships.
 
Speaking to white Christians, Lorritts said, “You need relationships with minorities who don’t need you.”
 
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church, a multisite church in Texas, said his views on race have changed because of his friendships with African American Christians. He blogged earlier this year about white privilege, a post that sparked controversy online.
 
Chandler has become concerned about racial injustice because of those friendships. When injustice happens to his friends, he said, “I want to fight.”
 
John Piper of Desiring God ministries encouraged pastors of all ethnicities to “start from the Bible, end with the Bible” to confirm multiethnic relationships.
 
“The gospel mandates reconciliation, in terms of when two people are brought to Jesus, they’re brought to each other, period,” Piper said. “That is the most important relationship on the planet ... more important than any of their blood relationships.”
 
Perhaps the most pointed moments of the discussion focused on systematic injustice, white privilege and the death of Michael Brown, stemming from a controversial piece Voddie Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, had written in late November saying Brown reaped what he had sown.
 
During the start from the Bible, end with the Bible discussion, Baucham talked about growing up in Los Angeles during the height of the war on drugs, when tensions between police and gangs ran high. He said older women in the community pointed to gang members who were killed as a harsh warning on how not to live.
 
Baucham said he was told, “That’s why you don’t live like that” – and those warnings kept him from being caught up in gang violence. He voiced concern for those who “lionize” Brown. And he argued the idea of “white privilege” is an insult to African Americans who have overcome racism.
 
“I come from a proud people who have gotten there in spite of [prejudice],” he said.
 
Thabiti Anyabwile, a blogger and assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that many African Americans have overcome adversity. But he also said churches have to face the reality of systematic injustice.
 
Anyabwile described growing up in difficult circumstances and said he had been involved in criminal behavior as a young man. But God’s grace changed his life.
 
“What I want for the Mike Browns is for them to survive their teenage years,” said Anyabwile, who wore a shirt bearing the names of Emmitt Till and other young black men who died violently at the hands of white men.
 
Christians can play a role in creating a just society for everyone of every race, Anyabwile said. “I want us to work really hard to live up to our best ideals,” he said. “I want us to work really hard to figure out and pursue justice, equality, love for neighbor.”
 
Several panelists said change has to happen on a personal level as well as a societal and church level.
 
Trillia Newbell, author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, said she had been surprised by friends who reacted angrily when she talked about the racial tension in the country.
 
Reconciliation and conversations about race take place better out of the spotlight and away from social media, she said, recounting that someone had left a comment on her blog saying that Michael Brown “deserved” to die.
 
Newbell took exception to that comment. His death was still tragic, because all lives matter to God.
 
“He’s a person. Aren’t we supposed to mourn?” she asked.
 
The video feed from A Time to Speak was recorded and will remain available for viewing online at live.kainos.is in a partnership with LifeWay’s Ministry Grid service.
 
Other sponsors of Tuesday’s event included the Kainos Conference – which is organized by Loritts – and The Gospel Coalition. The conversation continues on Twitter with the hashtag #ATimeToSpeak.
 
More information about LifeWay Research’s recent report on race relations is available at LifeWayResearch.com.
 
Loritts said he was pleased by Tuesday’s conversation and hopes it continues.
 
“The world heard us speak,” he said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine [FactsandTrends.net].)

12/22/2014 10:21:11 AM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Gift of ultrasounds reaps life-saving benefits

December 22 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

An Arizona woman's unambiguous response to the first view of her baby offers only one of many life-saving reasons for the existence of the Psalm 139 Project.
 
The client of New Life Pregnancy Center in Tempe, Ariz., was non-committal at best when she received a positive pregnancy test, Debbie Gillmore, the center's director, told Baptist Press. The woman declined the center's gift of a baby hat, saying, “No. I'm not so sure I want to go through with this,” Gillmore recalled.
 
Though she scheduled an ultrasound appointment, the center's attempts to contact her with a reminder failed. Yet, the woman, acknowledging her anxiety, arrived on time for her appointment.
 
The ultrasound technician displayed on the monitor her unborn child, arms and legs moving. When the beating heart appeared on the monitor, the woman blurted out, “There it is,” Gillmore reported in a written account. The technician gave the pregnant woman a model of an unborn baby about the developmental age of hers that she had just observed. Holding the fetal model, the woman looked at the face and paused before telling the technician, “Well, I guess I'd better start thinking about a name.”
 
Gillmore said of the woman's experience, “Being able to see life on an ultrasound monitor was the decision point for this client.”

 
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Photo from Arizona Baptist Children's Services
The Arizona Baptist Children's Services mobile unit travels to pregnancy resource centers in the Phoenix metro area to offer exams with an ultrasound machine provided by the Psalm 139 Project.

That decision was made possible through gifts to the Psalm 139 Project, a ministry of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The project provides ultrasound machines to pro-life pregnancy resource centers throughout the country, including the one used to show the Arizona woman her child's image. This year, the Psalm 139 Project reached its 10th anniversary of supporting centers that not only seek to help women and to save babies but to share the gospel of Jesus.
 
The anxious woman in Arizona is only one of many across the United States who have benefited from an ultrasound machine placed through Psalm 139, which gets its name from the well-known chapter in the Bible in which David testifies to God's sovereign care for him when he was an unborn child. David wrote in verse 13 of that psalm, “You knit me together in my mother's womb.”
 
Quantifying how many decisions for life have been made through viewing images on the Psalm 139-donated machines is difficult. Earlier this year, the eight centers that have such machines, or have had such machines in the past, reported nearly 650 choices for life by mothers while the Psalm 139 machines were in use. Three centers reported decisions for life by abortion-minded women, while others reported the total number of babies born to clients while the Psalm 139 machines were being used. Some said it is difficult to track the decisions made by their clients.
 
The ERLC has provided ultrasound equipment through Psalm 139 to centers based in San Marcos, Texas; New Albany, Ind.; Denver; Corinth, Miss.; Lakeland, Fla.; Phoenix; Louisiana and Houston. It announced in June its next gift of a machine would be to a center in Woodbridge, Va.
 
All the centers strongly affirmed in written interviews with BP the importance of ultrasound technology to their work.
 
“Having ultrasound capabilities has made all the difference in saving lives,” Martha Jobe, executive director of the Oasis Medical Center in Corinth, Miss, said. “The Holy Spirit and ultrasound are a powerful combination.”
 
The ultrasound machine “is the 'window to the womb,’” said Cheri Martin, executive director of Central Texas Life Care in San Marcos. “The opportunity for a mother to see her baby and hear the baby's heartbeat has made a tremendous impact on our mothers to choose life.”
 
Rose Condra, director of Choices for Women Resource Center in New Albany, Ind., said, “Ultrasound makes all the difference for many women and their families.” It is not only the pregnant woman but “the others in the room who fall in love with the beating heart on the screen,” she said. “This may mean that a young woman who could have been swayed (or pressured) into aborting may now be supported in a choice for life. Although women in this day and age could Google ultrasound images to see fetal development, when that child is growing inside you, it makes the image more impactful.”
 
Dennis Flierl oversees the work of Riverside Pregnancy Center in his role as director of community ministries for Riverside Baptist Church in Denver. Providing ultrasounds “allows us to minister to clients who would never set foot” in the church, he said. “When we do get an abortion-minded client, it makes a huge difference when they see the heartbeat and the baby move.”
 
Karen Snuffer, whose Care Net center in Northern Virginia was granted a machine this year through Psalm 139, said, “Aside from the gospel, ultrasound is the most effective tool pregnancy resource centers have to reveal the precious life in the womb.”
 
Estimates on how many women reject abortion after seeing ultrasound images of unborn children vary. Care Net – a nationwide network of Christian pregnancy resource centers – reports statistics indicate abortion-minded women are 50 percent more likely to give birth after viewing images of their unborn babies on an ultrasound monitor. Others estimate the success rate is about 80 percent.
 
Some centers report even more dramatic results.
 
Mary Lou Hendry, sanctity of human life director for the Florida Baptist Children's Home, said every woman who has agreed to an ultrasound exam in its mobile unit and has viewed an image of her child has chosen life. Cheri Martin said the success rate of ultrasound at the San Marcos, Texas, center is 95 percent.
 
Many pregnancy resource centers still are operating without the advantage of ultrasound technology. About 60 percent of Care Net's 1,100 affiliated centers do not have sonogram machines, said Vincent DiCaro, its chief outreach officer.
 
The Psalm 139 Project – like similar efforts within the pro-life movement – seeks to reduce the number of centers operating at a handicap.
 
“Psalm 139 is our attempt to help these centers acquire ultrasound technology so young mothers can see an image of their unborn baby and make an informed decision,” Daniel Darling, the ERLC's vice president for communications, said.
 
“Pregnancy resource centers are in the trenches of the pro-life movement, applying the gospel to the everyday realities in communities around the country,” Darling told BP. “Most of them operate on a shoe-string budget, reliant on donations for support. And yet the work they do is remarkable. Studies have shown that their presence in a community drops the abortion rate significantly.
 
“What's more,” he said, “a pro-life center is not partisan. You find loving volunteers who care for the young pregnant girls and their unborn children in a way that's redemptive and full of grace.”
 
The centers that receive ultrasound machines through Psalm 139 report not only infant lives saved but women saved by grace through faith in Christ.
 
A single mother with two children, a painful past and apparent bitterness toward “hypocritical churchgoers” visited the Oasis Medical Center, reported Julia Taylor in an article for the March 2013 newsletter of the Corinth, Miss., ministry. Taylor is a registered nurse with Oasis.
 
When her pregnancy test proved positive, the mother said she did not know what she would do about “it,” Taylor said. But when she viewed an image of her child on the ultrasound monitor, she asked, “Is that my baby?” And when her baby's heartbeat filled the room, tears poured down her face.
 
Taylor then shared the gospel with her, helping her understand she did not need to “first clean herself up.” After a few minutes, the mother prayed to receive Christ. “The bitter lines of defeat disappear from her countenance, and are replaced with smiles of joy and hope,” Taylor wrote.
 
The mobile unit operated by the Florida Baptist Children's Home parked next to a Planned Parenthood abortion center in Orlando on Mother's Day weekend this year in a partnership outreach with a pregnancy center.
 
A woman arrived at Planned Parenthood intending to abort her baby, but a counselor persuaded her to enter the mobile unit for an ultrasound exam and additional information, Mary Lou Hendry told BP.
 
“It was a battle for life and death,” Hendry said. “When she saw the baby in her womb, she chose life that day for her unborn child. The most important decision she made that day was to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.”
 
In the last five years, the ERLC has provided ultrasound machines to centers near the location of the SBC's annual meeting and donated them not only for typical centers but for mobile units in Florida, Arizona and Louisiana. The mobile units meet a variety of needs:

  • The unit operated by the Florida Baptist Children's Home has been used to combat the outreach of abortion clinics during natural disasters as part of the state convention's disaster relief outreach. The children's home also partners with the pregnancy center of the First Baptist Church in Orlando in “going-out” events to reach pregnant women, Mary Lou Hendry said.
  • The van used by the Arizona Baptist Children's Services serves five to seven pregnancy resource centers in the metro Phoenix area, reported Mona McDonald, statewide director of pregnancy care for ABCS.
  • The mobile unit for the Louisiana Baptist Children's Home goes throughout the state, providing its services at such events as parish fairs, health fairs, state park festivals and block parties, said Cindy Kouf, director of nursing for the LBCH's Mobile Pregnancy Care Center. The center also sets up at such locations as church and business parking lots, colleges and universities, and pregnancy resource centers without ultrasound machines.

The ERLC increasingly has worked over the past decade with Baptist state conventions – as well as associations and churches, when possible – to place machines, maintain support and help with accountability, said Bobby Reed, the entity's vice president for business and finance.
 
Pregnancy resource centers from throughout the country contact the ERLC with hopes of receiving machines, but the entity is unable to help all of them, Reed told BP.
 
“We are hopeful that in the future we will be able to increase the number of machines we place,” Reed said, “branching beyond the cities/states where they are holding the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting with the dream of having one placed in every state convention, maybe one in every SEND city that has been identified by the North American Mission Board [as the 50 cities in which its work will be prioritized], as well as other areas we can identify as those with the greatest need and opportunity for ministry.”
 
All gifts to the Psalm 139 Project go toward purchase, delivery and installation of ultrasound machines, as well as training for staff members, since the ERLC's administrative costs are covered by the SBC's Cooperative Program.
 
Information on the Psalm 139 Project and how to give toward providing ultrasound machines through the ministry is available at http://psalm139project.com/.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

12/22/2014 10:07:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Southern Baptist grads reminded to proclaim the gospel

December 22 2014 by Compiled by BR Staff

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary

“God is sending you into a difficult world,” Jeff Iorg explained to the 75 graduates at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s (GGBTS) winter commencement ceremony. He continued, “But don’t be dismayed, because He did the same thing to Jesus.”
 
During his charge, Iorg preached from the second chapter of Luke. “When the president of the country arrives in a city, the airport is closed, the roads are shut down, and the hotels are secured and prepared,” Iorg said during the Dec. 12 ceremony held at Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif. “Jesus did not enter our world with a reception like that.”
 
The world Jesus entered was one of political turmoil, confused priorities and spiritual indifference. “Herod ordered the murder of infants. There was no space at an inn for a woman about to give birth. A number of Old Testament prophecies pointed to Christ’s birth and only a small number of people were able to recognize it,” Iorg said.
 
“The world God is sending you into is similar in many ways,” Iorg said. “The world you are entering is full of political turmoil, represented by ISIS, South American dictatorships, and the actions of Russia’s government in Ukraine. A world in which athletes and entertainers make millions of dollars and even churches have descended into materialism is a confused world. We very well may have gone beyond spiritual indifference in our world to spiritual opposition.
 
“God didn’t make a mistake in sending Jesus into the world, and He isn’t making a mistake by sending you into this broken world.”
 
Iorg’s instructions to the graduates were to apply the gospel in their own lives, in their communities, and in their churches. “True transformation requires people who live as if God is real,” Iorg said. He continued, “I receive emails from time to time from a graduate who pastors a church in a small town in central California. He told me he was sure of one thing in ministry: sharing the gospel in the community is very important. Today, nearly a hundred students walk across the street from the local high school every Wednesday night for a meal and a gospel presentation. Lives are being transformed.”
 
Iorg also shared a story about the church he planted in Oregon. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. “This church started with 4 families and is now up to 900 members. It has grown because the members are committed to living out the Gospel in the community.”
 
Iorg ended his message by telling the graduates to “do these things and make a change in the world. It will be challenging, but it needs you desperately.”
 
Pastor Jae Myung Shin was awarded the William O. Crews Leadership award, the Seminary’s highest honor for students. to Jesus.”
 

 
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) and Leavell College, the school’s undergraduate program, celebrated as 250 students earned degrees.
 
Seven of the graduates were recipients of a full scholarship from the Caskey Center for Church Excellence, launched by NOBTS earlier in 2014.

 
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NOBTS Photo
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professors Adam Harwood, left, and Dennis Phelps enjoy a few laughs following the commencement service Dec. 13.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley began his Dec. 13 commencement address to the graduates with a story from his days as an undergraduate student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
 
“When I first got to college, I learned what being homesick meant. I didn’t know a soul on campus,” Kelley said. “I went home every other weekend. It was a tough first semester.”
 
By his second semester, Kelley had forged some new friendships and even met Rhonda Harrington, whom he would later marry.
 
“I just didn’t go home quite as much,” Kelley recalled of his second semester.
 
He spent the following summer involved in a camp and arrived back on campus the following fall semester as an official ‘Joe College,’” Kelley said.
 
“I never went home,” he said. “I had dates and went to football games. I had a great semester. I was so rooted in college life.”
 
Kelley recalled getting a late start to the Christmas break that semester, thanks to an English professor who “believed in going by the book” and not giving his class its exam early. The exam was set for Dec. 23.
 
“I stayed up all night studying. I went in to take that test and left the motor running in my car,” he said. “I was so ready to be home.”
 
With Waco in his rearview mirror, Kelley set off for Beaumont, only to break down somewhere en route. What was usually a four hour trip actually took eight hours.
 
“I will never forget turning the corner onto Infinity Lane and there was our house, driveway filled with cars because everybody was home already. I was the last one,” Kelley said. “In the driveway, my mom had made sure there was one space left for the ‘only boy’ to park, because he was coming home.”
 
Kelley said he sat in the driveway, watching the sparkle of Christmas lights inside, knowing that his family would be excited to see him and that there would be a plate waiting for him.
 
“It was the first time in my life that I understood what being home meant,” he recalled. “There in that car in that driveway, ‘Joe College’ melted and that sense of home became a part of who I am.”
 
Kelley said that experience helped bring new significance to the imagery and concept in the Bible of “coming home,” and the relationship to God that “coming home” language conveys. Kelley read Psalm 139, which begins, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! ... Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? ... For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”
 
“The Bible says God is the creator of us all. That he knows your name,” Kelley said. “He knows the color of your eyes. Ladies, he knows the real color of your hair. Guys, he knows how many hairs you used to have.”
 
And it is entering into a relationship with that God who knows each person so intimately that carries with it that ultimate sense of coming home, he said.
 
“And whenever we bring someone to a connection with God, we are bringing them home to a heavenly father who created them,” Kelley said. “That is what we do here. We bring people home.”
 
Kelley said he sometimes envisions a time in heaven for each person when God will usher in everyone who is there due, in part, to the witness of that person.
 
Kelley imagined the line of people saying, “You came and found me when I wasn’t even looking, and you brought me [home]” or “When I told you don’t ever bring up the name of Jesus again, you kept gently bringing Him into our conversations until I came to Him.”
 
Kelley said St. Augustine described in “Confessions” each person’s search for God this way: “You have made us for yourself. Our hearts are restless, until they find rest in thee.”
 
“That’s what we know about everybody. Whoever you are and whatever you do. Whatever you’re like. Whatever your interests or hobbies. Whatever your religious background or lack of religious background. However much you ignore, hate, love or cherish God and His ways, we know this about you: He loves and cherishes you,” Kelley said.
 
“I want you to remember that you have one very simple responsibility. You’re to spend the rest of your life doing all you’re able to do to bring them home to the Father,” Kelley said, calling that challenge each graduate’s ultimate job description. “The job description is nothing more or nothing less than this: Bring them home.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tyler Sanders is coordinator of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Frank Michael McCormack is assistant director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

12/22/2014 9:55:05 AM by Compiled by BR Staff | with 0 comments



Midwestern, filmmaker partner for Spurgeon documentary

December 19 2014 by T. Patrick Hudson, SWBTS/Baptist Press

A new documentary on the life and legacy of 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon, was released Dec. 18, prominently features two Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary leaders and the Kansas City-based school’s Charles H. Spurgeon Library.
 
The film entitled, “Through the Eyes of Spurgeon,” was directed and produced by Canadian filmmaker, Stephen McCaskell. He said the goal of the documentary is to introduce a new generation to Spurgeon in the hopes that their relationship with God will be challenged and deepened as they learn more about “The Prince of Preachers,” who was radically transformed by the gospel.

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A new documentary – “Through the Eyes of Spurgeon" – on the life and legacy of 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon, is set for release Dec. 18.

 
Midwestern Seminary president, Jason Allen, and curator of the Spurgeon Library, Christian George, were interviewed at-length by McCaskell’s film team in October, offering insight into the life of Charles Spurgeon, who is considered among the greatest gospel preachers of the English language.
 
“Charles Spurgeon may be in full bloom right now in the Baptist and broader evangelical world,” Allen said. “Through his writings, he lives now more than ever, and this documentary will bring greater exposure to Charles Spurgeon, a greater exposure the church desperately needs.”
 
Allen added that because of the school’s 6,000-volume Spurgeon Library and recently announced Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, Midwestern Seminary was the natural partner for this Spurgeon documentary.
 
“In God’s kind providence, the timing of this new, groundbreaking documentary could not be better,” Allen said. “It coalesces perfectly with Midwestern Seminary’s current construction project to build the Spurgeon Library and the recent launch of the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching. As an institution, we are grateful to have been asked by Mr. McCaskell and proud of our participation in Through the Eyes of Spurgeon.”
 
On October 21, Allen announced the launching of the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, which will include a $2.5 million construction project to house the Spurgeon Library; an initiative called The Spurgeon Scholars, which offers a limited number of scholarships to exceptional, full-time residential students called to pastoral ministry; online digitized portions of Spurgeon’s library, correspondences, annotations, handwritten pulpit notes, and sermon galley revisions; and hosting the annual Charles Spurgeon Lectures on Biblical Preaching.
 
George, who has devoted his life to studying Spurgeon and who has seen many of the other available films about the great preacher, noted that Through the Eyes of Spurgeon is highly worthy of its subject.
 
“This documentary is unmatched in caliber and will offer visitors to the Spurgeon Center a glimpse into the life of this great preacher,” George said. “At Midwestern Seminary, we are interested in allowing the past to inform the present about the future, and this documentary is a reminder that God has done great things in the past and still has great things to do in the future.
 
“Out of all the Spurgeon documentaries that have been produced, Stephen has managed to create the most professional one on the market,” George said. “His quest to create a film of excellence launched him on a pilgrimage throughout Britain and continental Europe. Very few people have been able to accomplish this. Stephen and his crew have achieved a masterpiece that is worthy of the subject on which it centers.”
 
McCaskell, who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada, grew up as a pastor’s son and accepted Christ as his Savior at age 17. He said Spurgeon’s book, All of Grace, impacted him in many different ways and led him to read more of Spurgeon’s books and sermons.
 
Finding that he couldn’t help but share the things he learned with family and friends, he compiled his first book, Through the Eyes of C.H. Spurgeon, a collection of quotes sorted by different topics. This same thought process motivated his decision to produce the documentary.
 
“My desire to create a film about Spurgeon really stemmed out of the same desire I had to share his quotes with others,” McCaskell said. “My goal in all of this is to continue spreading the words of a man who lived and was powered by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
 
The early planning for the film took place in October 2013, with all filming being completed this past September. McCaskell’s teams traveled to England, Ireland, France, Switzerland and Kansas City, Mo., to shoot footage. All of the locations in Europe were places Spurgeon had been.
 
“For example,” McCaskell said, “We were able to visit Artillery Street Chapel, where Spurgeon was converted. The pews you see in the film are the original ones from Spurgeon’s day.”
 
After obtaining all the information about Spurgeon’s life through multiple readings of his autobiography and other helpful resources, McCaskell contacted churches with Spurgeon ties and made filming arrangements. While in Europe, the team also shot segments involving the documentary’s narrator, Jeremy Walker, who pastors Maidenbower Baptist Church in England. Additionally, McCaskell interviewed one of Charles Spurgeon’s descendants, Richard Spurgeon, in Ireland, calling it among the project’s most special moments.
 
McCaskell said his primary desire for the film is that as people watch it, they will come to know Spurgeon at a more personal and human level.
 
“I say ‘human’ because it’s so easy for us to think that these giants of the faith didn’t wrestle with the same things we do,” McCaskell said. “In showing Spurgeon’s human side, I hope that the gospel he proclaimed is shouted even louder. And that’s really what this documentary is about. It’s about a man who lived and died in light of the gospel.”
 
George, who also serves as assistant professor of historical theology at Midwestern Seminary, echoed McCaskell’s sentiments about Spurgeon.
 
“Charles Spurgeon struggled with the same temptations, dilemmas, and challenges as we do,” he said. “Even though he exchanged this world for the next in 1892, God is still using Spurgeon’s life to bring encouragement to Christians around the world. He teaches us of the importance of following hard after God, reading and loving his Word, living faithfully even under persecution, and making much of the Name that is above every name.”
 
Of his interaction with Allen, George, and the Midwestern Seminary community, McCaskell expressed gratitude and a sense of God’s moving in a great way.
 
“I think God is doing great things at Midwestern Seminary,” McCaskell said. “With the recent addition of new faculty and staff, and the announcement of the Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, it’s exciting to see how God will use that school to equip and train the next generation of church leaders.
 
“It was an honor to have the opportunity to associate with the institution that houses the Spurgeon Library, and I think it lends credibility to the film,” he noted. “Additionally, I hope it causes people who watch the film to learn more about what Midwestern Seminary is doing with the Spurgeon Center and to visit it when it opens.”
 
George said, “This documentary will be a continuing reminder of the clear vision that Midwestern aims for. It is a documentary about the church and for the church – a visible legacy that equips us, encourages us, and holds us accountable to the standard of Christ-like excellence.”
 
Through the Eyes of Spurgeon is available for online streaming at www.throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com. There is no cost to view it. McCaskell’s desires for the film’s future include having the documentary available on Netflix and other widely-used public services for anyone who would like to own a personal copy of it.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– T. Patrick Hudson is the executive assistant to the President at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
12/19/2014 9:34:26 AM by T. Patrick Hudson, SWBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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