December 2015

Year in review: 2015 featured challenging cultural issues

December 29 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Jan. 2 edition of the Biblical Recorder (BR) outlines news highlights that defined 2015. The stories, chosen by BR staff, communicate the events that affected the lives of North Carolina Baptists and others around the world. The year was loaded with news about important cultural events that Christians everywhere should consider.
 

Religious freedom

Tax exemption debatedTax exemption for religious institutions came under public scrutiny in 2015, in large part due to a TIME Magazine editorial, written by Mark Oppenheimer. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., hosted Oppenheimer on his podcast, Thinking in Public. Oppenheimer’s main concern is the burden that tax exempt institutions place – by not paying property taxes – on nearby middle and lower class residents. Mohler questioned the rights of government to lay claim on Christian institutions via financial obligations.
 
Court rules against religious groups in contraception case – The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 14 that religious employers must comply with federally mandated employee health coverage – which includes all FDA-approved contraceptive services – because the mandate does not present a substantial burden to religious exercise or violate First Amendment rights. The case was subsequently appealed and now awaits a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
Churches encouraged to tighten policies, avoid lawsuits – Christiana Holcomb, litigation counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said churches that do not have specific and clear policies leave “gray areas that can be exploited. The rapidly changing culture in America is placing an increasing amount of scrutiny on church policies, especially policies about membership, employment and facility use. Brian Davis, associate executive director-treasurer for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said courts might become involved any time a member is denied a specific right – such as the denial of congregational voting privileges in church discipline – especially if the process deviates from a church’s written procedures.
 

Marriage & sexuality

U.S. Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide – Supreme Court justices ruled in a 5-4 decision June 26 that same-sex marriage is a 14th Amendment right, effectively legalizing the practice in all 50 states. The ruling sparked a series of discrimination lawsuits against business owners and civil magistrates who oppose same-sex marriage for sincerely held religious beliefs.
 
Atlanta fire chief dismissed over pro-family book – Kelvin Cochran, Atlanta Fire Chief, was terminated in January for writing a book that claims homosexual behavior is immoral. A city investigation revealed no discriminatory wrongdoing in Cochran’s public service role but the mayor said his “actions and decision-making undermine his ability.” Cochran has filed a lawsuit against Atlanta saying his speech is protected under the First Amendment.
 
Charlotte City Council votes down LGBT ordinance – In a contentious meeting on March 2, the Charlotte City Council voted down a proposed city ordinance that would establish sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as legally protected categories. Opponents of the measure said it would place undue burden on privately owned businesses, exposing them to lawsuits and infringing upon their First Amendment rights.
 
Houston voters defeat controversial equal rights ordinance – An 18-month legal battle that included appeals and two Texas Supreme Court decisions ended with Houston residents voting against a measure called Proposition 1 that would have required businesses and public areas to permit individuals to use the restroom of the gender with which they identify.
 

Human rights

Racism discussed nationally – “The cross and the Confederate battle flag cannot coexist, without one setting the other on fire,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, at a first annual summit, held March 26-27 in Nashville, Tenn. Trip Lee, hip-hop artist and author, said, “You cannot love others if you dismiss or ignore their experience.” Joel Kurz, pastor of The Garden Church in Baltimore, Md., led cleanup teams after violent protests erupted in April. Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American, died April 19 of injuries sustained while in police custody. Coming after a string of high profile African-American deaths allegedly at the hands of law enforcement, Gray’s fate sparked outrage in Baltimore, which is known for its hostility between residents and law enforcement. Walter Strickland, special advisor to the president for diversity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “It’s time for God’s people to gather together and mend what Christ died to heal.” He addressed a crowd Jan. 22 at a community dialogue hosted jointly by SEBTS and The Town of Wake Forest.
 
Abedini’s imprisonment continues – American pastor Saeed Abedini remains in an Iranian prison, where he was detained for his Christian faith in 2012. In early 2015 Abedini witnessed six of his fellow prisoners being beaten and taken away for execution. Evangelicals petitioned the U.S. government to leverage a deal with Iran over nuclear proliferation to secure the release of Abedini and other American prisoners, but the detainees were left out of the agreement. Abedini’s wife suspended her highly publicized advocacy for his release in November due to marital difficulties, citing “physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse” by her husband.
 
Syrian refugee crisis sparks controversy – The Obama administration announced in September that U.S. refugee resettlement agencies would be accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria in 2016, due to the humanitarian crisis created by civil war in the country. A November terror attack in Paris, France turned the policy into a controversy when many began to oppose the resettlement of Syrians to the U.S. on account of potential terrorism on U.S. soil. Others, such as Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Nathan Lino, president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, took a more balanced approach that promoted mercy ministry toward incoming refugees while considering national security.
 

Disasters

Terrorism on the rise – Dylan Roof, a 21-year-old white male, entered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., during a prayer service, killing nine African-American Christians. Islamic terrorists organized a widespread attack Nov. 14 at more than a half-dozen locations across Paris, using automatic weapons and homemade bombs to kill nearly 150 and wound many more. A shooter, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, attacked a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., Nov. 27, taking the lives of three people and injuring nine others. Nearly 20 people were killed at a medical service facility in San Bernardino, Calif., Dec. 3 when two Islamic State supporters opened fire at a Christmas party.
 
Natural disasters strike – A 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal April 25, followed by another quake nearly as powerful just over two weeks later. Thousands of Nepali residents were killed and thousands more displaced. Southern Baptist relief teams responded immediately, providing medical and recovery aid. Hurricane Joaquin struck the coast of South Carolina in October, prompting disaster relief teams from across the nation to join rebuilding efforts. More than 2,500 North Carolina Baptist Men volunteers (or Baptists on Mission) utilized their skills and hard work to aid flood victims. 2015 also marked the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest disaster in U.S. history. The hurricane left its mark on the Gulf Coast and taught Baptist relief teams lessons they’ll never forget.
 

Sanctity of life

Planned Parenthood makes headlines for selling aborted fetal parts – Videos were released in mid-2015 that showed Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) representatives and personnel discussing the harvesting and sale of aborted fetal parts. A medical watchdog group, Center for Medical Progress, filmed the interactions covertly. Videos also included graphic images of PPFA staff examining dismembered fetuses.
 
North Carolina passes 72-hour abortion wait period – North Carolina legislators approved a bill June 3 in a 32-16 vote that extends the state’s abortion waiting period to 72 hours, joining four other states that have passed similar legislation. The bill also requires medical professionals to inform a woman before she obtains an abortion that alternatives exist.

12/29/2015 11:39:00 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Midwestern celebrates graduation, Hawkins Courtyard

December 29 2015 by T. Patrick Hudson, MBTS

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) launched the next generation of pastors, ministers and missionaries into service during its 58th commencement exercises on Dec. 18. The event was highlighted by the keynote address and the dedication of a commons area named after O.S. Hawkins, president and CEO of GuideStone Financial Resources.
 
Speaking to 88 graduates, their families and friends, Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen opened the service with a gospel presentation, and then added that the day was one of “hopeful seriousness” and yet “great celebration” as the next generation of graduates were being sent forth in the name of Christ to serve His cause, advance His Kingdom, strengthen His church and bring glory to His name.
 
Hawkins brought the commencement address from 2 Corinthians 10:13-18. He urged graduates to become “VIPs” or “Very Influential People.”
 
Acronyms, Hawkins said, are obsessively used in today’s communication culture, with one of the most commonly used being “VIP” or “Very Important Person.”

 
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Luz C. Quiroz marches in the recessional after receiving her master of arts in counseling degree during Midwestern Seminary’s December graduation exercises on Dec. 18.

“Perhaps no other acronym has muscled and maneuvered its way into our modern culture as much as the one, ‘VIP,’” Hawkins said. “There are people who are consumed with being important.”
 
Hawkins noted that from the earliest points in life, people crave being important and the center of attention. However, Hawkins proposed to graduates a new definition for the acronym “VIP.”
 
“It is a consuming factor, but I want to redefine the acronym for us today,” he said. “I do not think VIP should mean ‘very important person.’
 
“I think it should stand for ‘very influential person’ because people have a way of forgetting those who are perceiving themselves to be important, but they have a long memory when it comes to those who have influenced their lives.”
 
From 2 Corinthians 10:13, Paul speaks of an “area of influence God has assigned” to each believer. With increased faith, this area of influence is enlarged as well, Hawkins noted.
 
“This sets us free,” he said. “It does not matter whether you go from here to pastor in a rural area somewhere, a metropolitan area, to plant a church somewhere, go to some county seat town, God has assigned an area of influence for you.”
 
To obtain “Very Influential Person” status, Hawkins said, there are three traits that a person must possess: vision, integrity and purpose. Vision is vital to Christian ministry, he said. It is imperative to know where you are going, and how you are going to get there.
 
“Do you want to be a person of influence? Have a vision and make sure you get that vision from God. It will bring definition to your task,” Hawkins said. “It will define your task. It will bring design to what you are doing. It will bring direction. In ministry, if you have a vision from God you never have to wonder which way to turn when you get to the intersection.”
 
Secondly, Hawkins suggested that integrity is the most important aspect of ministry and of influencing people. He noted that a person lives in four worlds: private, personal, professional and public. It is in the private world – the place where only a person and God know his or her innermost thoughts – that integrity is rooted.
 
When one has a hidden life, which finds its foundation and growth in his or her relationship with God, then it will be reflected in the professional world and ultimately revealed for all to see, he said.
 
Thirdly, being a person of purpose is key for influencing others. People follow those who are driven by a passion of a purpose, Hawkins said.
 
“The Westminster Catechism says that our primary purpose in life ‘is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.’ There is a purpose in you,” Hawkins said. “That is why no one else has DNA like you. God made you that way – indescribably valuable to Him because somewhere there is something for you to do that no one else can do.”
 
Hawkins said the greatest epitaph he had ever read was Acts 13:36, where Paul said of King David, “David served God’s purpose in his own generation and fell asleep.”
 
“As you go forward from this place,” Hawkins said, “what better thing could ever be said of you when all is said and done, than you went out and you served God’s purpose and fell asleep? You can become a VIP – a Very Influential Person.
 

The Hawkins Courtyard

Prior to the address, Allen honored Hawkins and his wife Susie by dedicating a newly renovated commons area as “The Hawkins Courtyard.” In recognizing the Hawkins’, Allen said, the courtyard’s naming was made with “gratitude for your steady example, faithfulness and lifelong service to Jesus Christ in pastoring local churches, in authoring resources useful to ministers, and in serving the men and women of the Southern Baptist Convention through your efforts at GuideStone Financial Resources. You truly exemplify what it means to be ‘for the Church.’”
 
Additionally, Allen presented Wayne and Berna Dean Lee, of Southlake, Texas, with a plaque to thank them for their role in funding the Hawkins Courtyard. Wayne Lee has served on Midwestern Seminary’s Board of Trustees since 2006, including being chairman from 2010-2011.
 
Of Lee’s service, friendship and partnership with Midwestern Seminary, Allen noted, “We wish to express our heartfelt gratitude for the deep level of commitment and generosity you exhibited toward this institution and the completion of the seminary’s Hawkins Courtyard.
 
“Your generous personal support, your visionary leadership as a trustee, and your great encouragement – both privately and publicly – within the greater Southern Baptist and Christian community has been truly a providential blessing from God. It is with our most sincere thanks that we honor you for your passion, generosity and efforts toward enabling this courtyard project to move from a dream to a reality.”
 
The Hawkins Courtyard is surrounded by the newly completed Spurgeon Library, the newly renovated administrative wing, and the Midwestern Seminary library. It has a water fountain as its focal point, seating areas and table for use by the campus community.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – T. Patrick Hudson is executive assistant to the president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

12/29/2015 11:31:46 AM by T. Patrick Hudson, MBTS | with 0 comments



Iranian pastor Fathi freed from prison

December 28 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Iranian pastor Farshid Fathi has been freed after five years imprisonment in Tehran because of charges linked to his Christian faith, Middle East Concern announced Dec. 22, estimating nearly 100 Christians remain imprisoned there.
 
“We are so thankful to the Lord for his protection over Farshid while in prison,” Middle East Concern said in a press release. “It is our hope that the gospel will continue to spread throughout Iran.
 
Fathi was released Dec. 21 from Rajai Shahr prison, five months after prison authorities informed him he would be due for early release this month, although no reason for the early release has been reported. Previously, he was scheduled for release in December, 2017, after authorities arrested him Dec. 26, 2010 for “acting against national security through membership of a Christian organization, collection of funds, and propaganda against the Islamic Regime by helping spread Christianity in the country.” Sixty other Christians were arrested on the same day in Tehran while worshipping in a house church.
 
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) also expressed thankfulness for Fathi’s release.

 
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Farshid Fathi

“Fathi’s release is a testament to the power of prayer and international pressure. After years of aggressive advocacy from many players on the international stage, Pastor Farshid Fathi will get to spend this Christmas with his family,” ACLJ said in a statement posted on its website. “Fathi’s release also reminds us of the importance of our continued efforts to free the 91 other Christians who are imprisoned for their faith in Iran.” Fathi has a wife and two children.
 
Fathi’s original sentence of six years was extended by a year in December 2014 on false charges. He had been injured in an attack by Evin prison guards on April 17, 2014, and was transferred to the Rajai Shahr prison in August 2014 for unknown reasons.
 
In the attack on April 2014, the Thursday before Easter, an officer broke Fathi’s foot and toe and denied him medical treatment until Easter Sunday. With his foot in a cast, Fathi sent a message of forgiveness to Christians praying for his safety.
 
“Of course, we forgive them for all they have done to us because we are the followers of the One who says, ‘Father, please forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing,’” Fathi wrote, according to a letter posted on Elam Ministries’ website. “So my dear friends, please in these days pray for me that I may know Him and be found in Him and the power of resurrection.”
 

Saeed Abedini

Still imprisoned in Iran is American pastor Saeed Abedini, serving an eight-year sentence since January 2013 on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier. He had been under house arrest there since July 2012.
 
His wife Naghmeh Abedini, living in their Boise, Idaho home with their two children, had advocated widely for his release until she revealed in emails to friends that he had abused her during their marriage – a message for which she subsequently expressed regret. In November, she announced she was taking a break from public advocacy to spend time with her children, but she began posting new messages to her Facebook page Dec. 7, this time mentioning “dark parts” of their marriage.”
 
“The truth is that I still love my husband more than ever and my advocacy for him has taken a new form of interceding on my knees. The truth is I cannot deny Saeed’s love and passion for Jesus and that he continues to suffer in the Iranian prison because of his genuine love for Jesus and his refusal to deny Him,” she wrote on Facebook. “I cannot deny the amazing dad he has been to our kids and the spiritual truths he poured into their life until the moment he was arrested. But at the same time I cannot deny the very dark parts of our marriage and serious issues Saeed continues to struggle with.”
 
She continues to request prayer for her husband’s release.
 
The ACLJ said in November that Abedini remains in danger in prison.
 
“We know that Pastor Saeed remains in grave danger in prison where he continues to be beaten and psychologically abused by Iranian guards and remains in need of medical care,” the ACLJ said. “We continue to pray for Naghmeh, Pastor Saeed, and their family. We will continue our work – in this country and abroad – to secure the freedom of this U.S. citizen.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

Related Stories:

Iran grants imprisoned pastor Fathi early release
Naghmeh Abedini suspends public life, cites marriage woes

12/28/2015 12:58:41 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



IMB workers declare God’s glory in 2015

December 28 2015 by IMB

In many ways, 2015 was not significantly different from 2014. Terrorism, war and natural disasters dominated headlines. Newsfeeds were filled with images of refugees in flight – many of them children – seeking safety and shelter from militants and terrorists.
 
God often uses the displacement of people to bring them to a saving knowledge of Him, says Kevin Rodgers, an International Mission Board (IMB) strategist in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rodgers visited several camps in South Sudan and heard harrowing tales of people running from villages with only the clothes on their backs. While the destitution in these camps moved him, something else impressed upon him more.
 
“The thing that kept coming back to me over and over again as I was there was not so much how people were suffering, and they were, but just that people were asking the big questions of ‘Why?’ and ‘What are we going to do now?’” Rodgers said. “This time will be something that will be a defining moment in their lives and probably in the life of the kingdom of God for all of eternity.”

 
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IMB photo
With the encouragement and support of IMB missionaries and U.S. missions teams, Roma Christians are increasingly sharing the Gospel with other Roma. The Roma, who are often referred to as “Gypsies,” are scattered across almost every continent.

Though lives continue to turn toward Christ in global cities and extreme places like jungles, deserts and war zones, economic circumstances called for the retirement of 600-800 IMB missionaries and home office staff through a voluntary retirement incentive this year. See related story. Amid challenges, the IMB shared the following links to images, stories and videos that represent a sampling of the hope that IMB missionaries, students, church partners and local believers shared with a world in desperate need of a Savior in 2015.
 
HOPE …
 
In remote Amazonian villages
 
In a remote village in the Amazon region, the Jansen* family often sit outside their home to feel a cool breeze in the late afternoon. Four hours away from the nearest place to buy supplies, the family learned to depend on their adopted “family” – a tribal people group with less than 2 percent evangelical Christians.
 
See related story.
 
Among the Roma in Eastern Europe
 
With the encouragement and support of IMB missionaries and U.S. missions teams, Roma Christians are increasingly sharing the Gospel with other Roma. The Roma, who are often referred to as “Gypsies,” are scattered across nearly every continent. Students from across the United States have partnered with IMB missionaries in global ministry to the Roma, including an International World Changers team in Medgidia, Romania.
 
See related stories here and here.
 
In a Sudanese village
 
Shannon and Carrie Lewis, IMB missionaries among the Toposa people in South Sudan, taught young Toposa men to craft songs using the Word of God during a StoryTogether conference. Less than 5 percent of the Toposa can read or write, but clapping, singing and dancing are part of their culture. Songs created by Toposa believers draw the attention of many villagers as the young men sing stories of hope and of Jesus.
 
See related story.
 
Through missionary jobs you might never imagine
 
Would you be surprised to learn that most missionaries are NOT preachers? Missionary journalist Susie Rain writes, “Jesus was a carpenter … John a fisherman … Paul a tentmaker.” Some of today’s missionaries are scientists, mechanics and big game hunters. God uses the gifts and interests He gives people to reach the nations.
 
See related story.
 
As a missionary mom
 
Motherhood isn’t easy in the best of circumstances, but for missionary moms in South Africa, malaria, intensifying heat, cultural differences, sporadic power outages and bucket baths make the challenge of motherhood even greater. Still, missionary moms in South Africa often face these types of challenges with humor, wisdom and grit. They are living in obedience every day – through the good, the bad and the funny of motherhood in Africa.
 
See related story.
 
Through natural disasters and amid great human need
 
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal on April 25 affected more than 8 million people, according to estimates from the United Nations. More devastation came 17 days later with a 7.3-magnitude earthquake on May 12. One tiny Nepalese congregation of believers understands the greater magnitude of the disasters – more than 9,000 people died, and less than 1 percent of Nepal’s nearly 29 million people profess faith in Jesus. As a result, the congregation pledged to share God’s love even more diligently.
 
See related story.

In cultures that have “outgrown” the need for faith
 
Postmodern Norway is home to a people who are spiritual but not seekers of truth, said IMB church planter Zack Dove. “I would say people are very spiritual, and they’re open to spiritual things as long as they don’t feel restricted by those spiritual things, as long as they don’t feel like they’re being set up to follow a lot of rules and regulations,” Dove said. His strategy is to do evangelism not as an event but to live it as part of his everyday life. Zack and Jennifer Dove serve in the Norwegian town of Sandefjord, which is rich in maritime culture and tradition, as depicted by the fountain in the photo above.
 
See related story.
 
By mentoring Chinese believers to persevere in global ministry
 
Zhao Chang Pu,* Zhao Hui Fang* and their two daughters moved from China to minister in Southeast Asia. They noted it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. The Zhaos shared cultural stresses with Phil and Ruth Wardell,* who came from another Asian country to train believers. Just like Westerners, Chinese workers experience culture shock and struggle to adapt to a new environment. The Wardells encourage the Zhaos to persevere.
 
See related story.
 
Among the Deaf in Southeast Asia
 
There are more than 35.5 million Deaf worldwide, with 60 percent living in Asia. Most are not followers of Christ, and Deaf leaders and Deaf churches are sparse. IMB missionary Jon Valjean* says one clear reason for this is that they don’t have access to the Bible in their own language. Valjean makes words from the Bible into pictures so Deaf can visualize and contextualize the stories.
 
See related story.
 
Through the first missionaries sent by Cuban Baptists
 
Javier had never left the island of Cuba. But he and his wife Yaima answered God’s call to go to Ecuador on mission. “What I desire most in my life is to take the Gospel to the nations, to wherever God calls me,” Yaima said. They are among the first missionaries sent out from the mission boards of the island nation’s two Baptist conventions.
 
See related story.
 
Among Syrian refugees
 
In July, three recent college graduates were sent as Hands On student workers from their home church in Alabama to serve Syrian refugee families. The three women, who are health care professionals, learned that one of the main ways to minister is “to be where they are … being beside them, holding their hand.”
 
See related story.
 
In mountain villages in southern Mexico
 
When IMB missionaries Christy Willis and Rebecca Harrod met pastor Esteban Carrasco, he told them he had been praying for 15 years for someone to join him in planting churches in an unreached area of southern Mexico. “You are here. You are an answer to my prayers,” he told them.
 
See related story.
 
Through a former pro skateboarder
 
Freddy Sinarahua Apuela always pushes his limits, especially in executing skateboarding tricks. The former professional skateboarder from Lima, Peru, similarly desires that Christians get beyond the rough exterior common to many skateboarders to reach them for Christ.
 
See related story.
 
Through significant partnerships
 
Teamwork of churches in Panama, Colombia and the U.S. made possible the sending of two indigenous Panamanian missionaries to Colombia from the Emberá people group, which has a population in both Panama and Colombia. The photo link below shows a Panamanian couple’s grandchildren play in a hammock while IMB missionaries Kenny and Cheryl Morris share Bible stories with the couple.
 
See related story.

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled from IMB stories.)

12/28/2015 12:43:40 PM by IMB | with 0 comments



Send Conference among 2015 highlights for NAMB

December 28 2015 by NAMB

Looking back on 2015, the North American Mission Board released a list of the year’s highlights – spotlighting churches and individuals whose sacrificial giving and “life on mission” actions are changing lives and impacting North America with the gospel.
 
The following list for 2015 includes a brief description with each headline.
 

Send North American Conference

 More than 13,500 people gathered for the Send North America Conference in Nashville. NAMB and the International Mission Board called on churches and Christians to live life on mission every day, wherever God has placed them.

 
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Photo by John Swain
More than 13,500 people attended the Send North America Conference in Nashville. The August event was one of NAMB’s 2015 highlights.

See stories here and here.
 
NAMB announces formation of “Send Relief”
 
NAMB president Kevin Ezell introduced a new ministry area – Send Relief – for trustees at their October gathering in Salt Lake City. Trustees approved the ministry and a vice president, David Melber, to lead it. Ezell said NAMB will officially launch Send Relief at the June 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.
 
See stories here and here.
 
Ezell outlines “NAMB Phase II”
 
At the entity’s June trustee meeting, NAMB president Kevin Ezell outlined a vision for stepped up focus and quality related to NAMB church planting recruitment, assessments, training and coaching, as well as a more streamlined structure for how NAMB’s ministers are organized.
 
See story.
 
NAMB church planters join healing effort in Baltimore
 
After Baltimore erupted in violence when 25-year-old African American Freddie Gray died of injuries sustained while in police custody, local NAMB church planters were among the first to step forward with efforts to help the city heal.
 
See story.
 
Historic flooding in Houston, South Carolina among Southern Baptist Disaster Relief responses
 
Hundreds of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers responded with hot meals, warm showers, reconstruction and the love of Christ when residents of Houston and South Carolina were devastated by record flooding in 2015. The responses were among several Southern Baptists undertook in multiple states.
 
See stories here and here.
 
NAMB releases Spanish version of 3 Circles resources
 
Less than a year after its English language release, NAMB published a Spanish version of the 3 Circles Life Conversation Guide and related materials. The resources are designed to help believers turn everyday conversations into conversations about the Gospel.
 
See story.
 
Platt, Ezell explore “What if?” at Send North America luncheon
 
IMB president David Platt and NAMB president Kevin Ezell hosted a special luncheon for more than 2,600 pastors and other attendees at the 2015 SBC Pastors Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Ezell and Platt cast a vision for a new level of partnership between their entities with the goal of helping pastors encourage church members toward life on mission for Christ.
 
See story.
 
10 years past Hurricane Katrina Baptist Relief leaders look back
 
At the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, leaders looked back on how Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts impacted New Orleans residents and changed how Southern Baptists carry out relief initiatives today.
 
See stories here and here.

Luter, Pitman help NAMB call churches to spiritual needs of North America
 
To aid in the effort to keep Southern Baptists focused on the great spiritual needs of North America, NAMB named Fred Luter and Vance Pitman as special ambassadors who will speak and lift up the need for every church and every individual to live life on mission.
 
See stories here and here.

Engage 24 becomes evangelistic rallying cry for churches
 
What started as a student movement has now spilled over into a church-wide effort to make “Engage 24” a one-day evangelism emphasis designed to help believers realize that faith-sharing can become an everyday way of life.
 
See story.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story was submitted by the North American Mission Board.)

12/28/2015 12:33:00 PM by NAMB | with 0 comments



2015 prepared LifeWay for future

December 28 2015 by Marty King, LifeWay Christian Resources

For LifeWay Christian Resources, 2015 was a year of innovative ministry products and services for churches and their members, punctuated by ongoing developments in the sale of its 15-acre campus in downtown Nashville.
 
In November, LifeWay completed the sale of the property where it has been located for more than 100 years and announced it was close to deciding on a new piece of property, hopefully in downtown Nashville.

 

Also during 2015:

 
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Rainer outlines LifeWay future, reorganization – LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer outlined for LifeWay’s trustees a vision for the entity’s future that includes an organizational restructuring, leadership changes and relocation.
 
Beth Moore celebrates 20 years with LifeWay – This year LifeWay Christian Resources celebrated 20 years of ministry partnership with author and Bible study teacher Beth Moore. “Today we are honoring Beth Moore, but more important than that, we are giving glory to God for His work through this ministry,” LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer said at a special chapel celebration Feb. 11.
 
Gospel Project goes chronological – After three years and more than three quarters of a million weekly users, The Gospel Project changed its approach. Starting this past fall, LifeWay Christian Resources’ newest Bible study curriculum for all ages began going through the Bible chronologically.
 
Customizable Bible studies available for churches – Where can a church begin looking for the right Bible study materials? For some, it may be within the church itself. With help from a new web-based tool offered by LifeWay Christian Resources, a congregation can now have easier access to customizable content that accompanies a sermon series or undergirds a special church-wide campaign.
 
Lecrae’s ‘Unashamed’ to be published by B&H – Grammy Award winning hip-hop artist Lecrae has signed a book deal with B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources.
 
Releasing in May 2016, the book will be titled “Unashamed” and will discuss details of his difficult past, including childhood abuse, struggles with drugs and alcoholism, bouts of depression and a suicide attempt.
 
LifeWay Stores campaign provided Bibles in China – A campaign by LifeWay Christian Stores and Tyndale House Publishers allowed individuals and churches to purchase Bibles for people in the world’s most populous country.
 
2016 VBS to ‘submerge’ kids in God’s Word – Next summer, kids will have the opportunity to dive past the surface and go deeper into God’s Word with “Submerged,” the 2016 Vacation Bible School theme from LifeWay Christian Resources.
 
LifeWay Research, Billy Graham Center to release study – LifeWay Research and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College in Illinois have partnered to “facilitate the advancement of biblically faithful evangelism.” Ed Stetzer, executive director of Nashville-based LifeWay Research, will serve as senior fellow for the evangelism center.
 
B&H claims 20 awards from Christian Retailing – B&H at LifeWay Christian Resources claimed 20 awards from Christian Retailing Magazine’s 2015 Best. Winning products included Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church, The Study Bible for Women, The Big Picture Interactive Bible for children and Beth Moore’s Portraits of Devotion.
 
‘War Room’ prayer resources available from LifeWay – LifeWay Christian Resources partnered with filmmakers Stephen and Alex Kendrick to provide churches with resources to accompany their latest film, “War Room,” which spotlights prayer’s power and purpose. The movie, released in theaters Aug. 28, tells the story of a prayer warrior grandmother who mentors a young mom (Priscilla Shirer) facing a troubled relationship with her husband.

 

LifeWay Research

In 2015, LifeWay Research surveyed tens of thousands of Americans including pastors, church members and non-members on issues ranging from activities that influence discipleship to cultural and world affairs. Results were reported in national and international news outlets, both Christian and secular. Following are six of the most-read studies.
 
Survey: Evangelicals ready for immigration reform – When it comes to immigration reform, American evangelicals appear to have high expectations, a LifeWay Research study shows.
 
Islamic threat, religious liberty studied – Americans view Islam as a threat to their own nation’s religious liberty almost as strongly as they consider it a danger to religious freedom internationally, a new study shows.
 
Gay marriage gap widens for evangelicals & culture – Americans who have gay or lesbian friends are twice as likely to say gay marriage should be legal as those who have none.

Pastoral stress & ministry focus of LifeWay Research study – Though pastors are stressed about money and overwhelming ministry demands, only 1 percent abandon the pulpit each year, LifeWay Research finds.
 
LifeWay research study spotlights divorce among churchgoers – Before a divorce, churchgoers in troubled marriages look a lot like their happily married counterparts at church – participating, serving and leading at similar rates, a new study shows.
 
Abortion, women’s views of church focus of study – Many women with unplanned pregnancies go silently from the church pew to the abortion clinic, convinced the church would gossip rather than help, a study by LifeWay Research shows.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marty King is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/28/2015 12:16:27 PM by Marty King, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Vonette Bright, Cru co-founder, dies at 89

December 24 2015 by Cru Communications

Vonette Zachary Bright, co-founder of Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ) the world’s largest Christian ministry, died Dec. 23 due to complications from acute leukemia. She was 89.

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Photo courtesy of Guy Gerrard, Worldwide Challenge
Vonette Z. Bright, co-founder of Cru, died Dec. 23.

 
Fueled by a desire to help others meet Christ and learn to follow him, Vonette and her late husband William “Bill” R. Bright spent more than half a century leading and building Cru to its current size of more than 25,000 staff members and 300,000 volunteers working in 173 countries.
 
In 1951, the Brights launched Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of California at Los Angeles with the goal to “win the campus today, win the world tomorrow.” Though the Campus Ministry is still the largest branch of Cru, it is joined by other ministries like Athletes in Action, The JESUS Film Project, The Josh McDowell Ministry and FamilyLife.
 
However, Bright’s influence reached far beyond Cru. Her commitment to prayer led to the founding of the National Prayer Committee, a group of leaders who seek to motivate other Christians to unite in prayer for spiritual awakening in America. In 1988, she successfully petitioned Congress to designate the first Thursday of every May as the permanent day for the National Day of Prayer. Unanimously approved by both houses of Congress, President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation into law. She then served for nine years as chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The movement today includes more than 2 million people in 30,000 observances around the country.
 
In a 2011 letter from Billy Graham to Vonette, Graham wrote, “Your single-minded focus on the power of intercessory prayer has been both an encouragement to my life and a model for the church. Heavenly records will one day reveal the full impact of your prayer life and the teaching ministry in the lives of countless persons who have come to faith in Christ.”
 
In 1993 she launched Women Today International, a ministry responding to the needs of women as they grow in their relationships with Jesus Christ.
 
Vonette served as chairwoman of Bright Media Foundation, which strives to make the writings and teachings of Bill and Vonette Bright available to each generation. She authored more than a dozen books, most highlighting the themes of prayer, evangelism, walking with God and hospitality.
 
In 1973 Vonette was named Churchwoman of the Year by Religious Heritage of America. In 1982 she was honored as International Church Woman of the Year by Religion in America and named distinguished alumna of Texas Woman’s University. In 1988 the Brights were inducted into the Religion in Media International Communication Galaxy of Fame at the International Angel Awards, and in 1995 Vonette was named Christian Woman of the Year.
 
In 2000, the Brights received the Lifetime Inspiration Award from Religious Heritage of America Foundation. Vonette received honorary doctorate degrees from Los Angeles Bible College in 1979 and from King Sejong University, Seoul, Korea, in 1985.
 
Vonette Bright is survived by her brother, Roy Curtis Zachary; her sister, Deanne Rice; her sons, Zachary Dale and Bradley Randolph; her “daughters-in-love,” Terry and Katherine; and four grandchildren.
 
In lieu of flowers, the Bright children have requested that friends honor her memory through the Bill and Vonette Bright Legacy Trust to further the work to which she gave her life. For more information about her life and legacy, go to VonetteBright.com.
 
A Celebration of Life service will be held at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 8 at 10 a.m. Participants in the program will include Kay Arthur, Ney Bailey, Brad Bright, Steve and Judy Douglass, Howard Edington, David Swanson and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

12/24/2015 10:34:08 AM by Cru Communications | with 0 comments



Kids ‘Cwismus’ story video goes viral

December 23 2015 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

A video of kids telling the Christmas story produced by a Texas church has apparently gone viral, reaching unlikely audiences globally in the few days since it was posted online.
 
A Movie on Cwismus,” produced at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, has been viewed more than a million times and has logged more than 30,000 shares on Facebook.
 

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Image capture from 'A Movie on Cwismus'

The 8-minute video features kids from Mobberly Baptist telling the Christmas story in their own words as adults act out the scenes. The children surmise that Mary was wearing “a long, sparkly pink dress” while sweeping the floor or doing the dishes when the angel Gabriel appeared to her.
 
Joseph was a carpenter and “builded a big ship” with a hammer, a nail, a saw and wrenches, the kids say. A light-saber-wielding-shepherd is a Star Wars fan. But in the end, the children conclude that Jesus was a special baby, and “Jesus came because we needed Him.”
 
The church has heard stories of the video making its way into lives that otherwise might not be open to the Christmas story, including a Vietnamese sister-in-law who had not heard the gospel and was skeptical of Christianity.
 
“She is now sharing the Movie on Cwismus on Facebook with all her family, many of whom are in Vietnam or are first-generation Americans,” church member Chip Hodges said. “It’s pretty cool to see how God can use some good humor, children and the Gospel of Christmas in such a powerful way.”
 
Mobberly Baptist, with campuses in Longview and Marshall, is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
 
The video was inspired by the YouTube series “Kid History,” in which children tell family stories and parents act them out, Collins Pace, Mobberly’s technical director, told Baptist Press. A team of four people, including Pace and the church’s associate worship pastor, Will Bishop, oversaw the Christmas video project.
 
For two days, the team interviewed kids about the Christmas story, and then Pace and Bishop watched all of the footage.
 
“We wrote down who said what and came up with an Excel spreadsheet that logged every usable piece of audio,” Pace said. “We had 514 different clips organized on the spreadsheet. Some were full paragraphs. Some were single words or sounds.”
 
Pace compiled a narrative based on the clips, and then they took a couple of days to shoot footage of adults lip synching and acting out the words. They planned to use it as the church’s Christmas program this year and figured that’s as far as it would go.
 
“We thought it was funny, and it sort of went from an easy project we were doing for our Christmas show to a tremendous response online,” Pace said.
 
“We’re hearing from people all over the world that have seen it now, and we’re seeing people from all different backgrounds and viewpoints and walks of life and religions sharing it. I know some atheists who have shared it to their Facebook walls,” he said.
 
“It’s been a really cool thing to see how the disarming nature of comedy sort of opened that door to get the message out and for people to be open to hearing it that normally wouldn’t be,” Pace said. “That’s probably been the thing that’s made the biggest impression on me – not even the numbers of it but the variety of people and the places it has gone.”
 
On Dec. 20 Pace heard about a church member who got a text from a friend whose grandmother had recently died. This is the first Christmas without the grandmother, and the family has watched the video several times and has been blessed by it, Pace said.
 
“That’s the kind of stuff that as a tech guy or video guy you don’t hear about your work very often, and that’s been a huge encouragement to the whole team here, just knowing that something we worked on – sort of a silly project that we worked on – is having that kind of impact,” Pace said. “That can only be attributed to God, and we’re very grateful that He’s chosen to use this thing that we did in an amazing way.”
 
Believers can “get locked into a very narrow idea of how we should present the gospel,” but God made people to be creative, Pace said.
 
“Having the support of church leadership that allows us to be creative and open and different can do really amazing things,” Pace said. “God can really work through that. God is the ultimate creative, and He created us to be creative too. It would be wasted potential for us to ignore that.”
 
A Movie on Cwismus is available on the Mobberly Baptist Church Facebook page and on YouTube.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

12/23/2015 10:22:40 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Non-partisan Kentucky chaplain to serve state leaders

December 23 2015 by Kristen Lowry, Kentucky Today

When the Kentucky General Assembly directory was printed, it probably wasn’t intended as a prayer guide.
 

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Photo by Kristen Lowry
Steve Weaver, pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, serves as state minister to people working at the state Capitol.

But that is how Steve Weaver has been using the publication.
 
For weeks, Weaver has been studying the faces of Kentucky politicians to know them by name – and to pray for them as a minister to the state capitol.
 
Weaver is serving as a chaplain through the Capitol Commission, an organization that seeks to share the love of God with government leaders and legislators of every political persuasion across the country. The Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) contributes to the Capitol Commission’s work in Kentucky.
 
In 2014, Weaver served on the KBC Committee on Public Affairs, where he had the opportunity to get acquainted with lawmakers, many of whom requested that the convention provide a nonpartisan chaplain for spiritual counsel and prayer in the capitol.
 
Weaver plans to spend his first year on the job getting to know everyone from the janitor to the governor. “I want to show pastoral concern for everyone at the capitol,” he said.
 
Weaver is senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, where he has served for seven years. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and an undergraduate degree from Liberty University in Virginia.
 
In seeing his new role as an extension of his ministry, Weaver said he won’t need to “change hats” at the capitol because “I’m going to do the same thing I do as a pastor of a church, and that is preach the gospel and minister to all people.”
 
Paul Chitwood, KBC executive director, said he’s convinced Weaver will have a successful ministry at the capitol.
 
“He has all the gifts and talents needed for such a role as this,” Chitwood said. “I’m thrilled the Lord called Steve to this position. I think our lawmakers, our policymakers, every staffer in state government will be blessed as a result.”
 
Along with prayer, Weaver’s ministry will include a weekly Bible study open to everyone in the capitol.
 
Weaver wants people to know that he will not be pushing any political agendas while in the statehouse, saying he wants to be a voice of truth to both parties.
 
“I’m trying to minister to everyone and let each person know that I care about him or her as an individual, regardless of political party,” he said.
 
Weaver pointed out that Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God and need to be able to maintain their identity as Christians rather than being “co-opted by a political party.”
 
“I’m trying to meet with Republicans, Democrats and independents to let them know that I’m here to serve them,” he said. “I’m not asking anything from anyone – besides a few minutes of their time to get to know them so that I can pray for them.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kristen Lowry writes for the Frankfort bureau of Kentucky Today, a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

12/23/2015 10:02:39 AM by Kristen Lowry, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments



Suspended coach files discrimination complaint

December 22 2015 by Lynde Langdon, WORLD News Service

A Bremerton, Wash., high school football coach suspended for praying on the field after games has filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
 
Coach Joe Kennedy, assistant varsity and head junior varsity coach at Bremerton High School, claims the school district violated his rights by prohibiting him from kneeling at the 50-yard line and praying silently after games. The district also retaliated against him for exercising his freedom of religion, Kennedy claims.
 
Mike Berry, senior counsel at Liberty Institute, which represents the coach, noted, “All we are asking is for Coach Kennedy to be allowed to pray silently, for 30 seconds, at the 50-yard line after the game.”
 
“We are committed to defending his rights to private religious expression,” Berry said. “No one should be suspended from their job over a moment of silence.”
 
Kennedy began working part-time at Bremerton High School as an assistant coach in 2008. His personal, postgame prayer sessions eventually attracted players, fans and other coaches – all joining in voluntarily.
 
School officials in September told him he could pray, but his prayers should not be “outwardly discernible as religious activity.” Kennedy took a break from the prayers while he sought legal advice, but resumed them in October.
 
“Pursuant to my attorneys’ advice, I intended to pray privately and quietly after BHS football games, and at a time during which my private religious expression would not interfere with my coaching duties,” Kennedy said. He did so on Oct. 23, and was suspended with pay afterward.
 
The district issued a statement explaining the suspension by citing a U.S. Supreme Court case that found “a school district’s practice of simply allowing its facilities to be used for religious expression during a district-sponsored football game violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause because of the reasonable perception by students and attendees of district endorsement of religion.” But Kennedy and his lawyers pointed out that another assistant coach was allowed to do a Buddhist chant at the 50-yard line after games, while Kennedy’s behavior was prohibited.
 
In his complaint to the EEOC, Kennedy said he had excellent performance reviews as coach each year until now. In November, his superiors recommended he not be rehired for next year because of his “alleged failure to follow district policy and alleged failure to supervise students after games.”
 
“I believe the context makes clear that this recommendation was made because of my private religious expression at the conclusion of football games,” Kennedy wrote in the EEOC complaint. The complaint is a final, mandatory step Kennedy must take before filing a lawsuit against the district, according to Liberty Institute.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lynde Langdon writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

12/22/2015 9:32:44 AM by Lynde Langdon, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



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