December 2015

Moore’s ‘Onward’ wins Book of Year award

December 18 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore’s latest book – Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel – is Christianity Today’s Book of the Year.

 
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The leading evangelical magazine announced Dec. 16, its editorial team had selected Moore’s book as the winner of its first-ever “Beautiful Orthodoxy” award as the release during 2015 that best exemplifies the magazine’s “pursuit of truthfulness and loveliness.” Christianity Today also named the book by the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) as the winner in the politics and public life category.
 
B&H Publishing Group, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, released Onward in August.
 
Jennifer Lyell, B&H Trade Book publisher, said the publishing group is thankful for the book’s recognition by Christianity Today and believes “it is very much deserved.”
 
“Dr. Moore is uniquely gifted to speak to the issues of our day,” Lyell said in a news release. “[His] perspective is grounded by biblical truth, rooted in theological depth and seasoned by the people he’s met through decades of gospel ministry. This all combines with the pen of [a] writer as gifted as any I have ever met, to produce messages that have the potential to shape a generation.”
 
In Onward, Moore urges evangelicals to engage the culture with hope and boldness. The demise of nominal Christianity in the United States is actually good for the church, he writes. His book encourages evangelicals to embrace the strangeness of Christianity and to recognize they are a “prophetic minority” that should speak with “convictional kindness.” Such kindness – marked by faithfulness to the gospel with a gracious tone – is actually an “act of warfare,” Moore says.
 
Harold Smith, president of Christianity Today, said in the magazine’s online article about the Book of the Year award, “Moore provides a primer on how our commitments to Christ and his kingdom (as opposed to our political, social, and cultural agendas) should shape not only how we live our lives, but also what our lives should say to a watching, listening world. Combining the beauty of what he calls the ‘true gospel’ with a biblical orthodoxy that will inescapably mark Christians as ‘strange,’ Moore holds forth on the charged issues defining the 21st century.”
 
In the magazine, Alan Noble, editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture and English professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, said Moore’s response to the power slippage of conservative Christianity and to the skepticism by younger evangelicals about the church’s engagement in politics “is not bitter or frantic, but measured and confident. We need this book. I only wish we had had it 20 years ago.”
 
In November, Moore’s book received recognition from Publishers Weekly as a top five religion title for the year.
 
Among other books honored this year by Christianity Today as ones “most likely to shape evangelical life, thought and culture” were George Whitfield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas Kidd, history professor at Baylor University, in the history/biography category and Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by social critic Os Guinness in the apologetics/evangelism category.
 
Other books by Moore, the ERLC’s president since 2013, include Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches and Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ.
 
Onward is available at LifeWay Christian Stores, among other booksellers, and Amazon.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/18/2015 11:22:19 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Coats for the City gives gospel witness in NYC

December 18 2015 by Emily Rojas, BSC communications

On Saturday, Nov. 14, the day after terrorists executed an attack in Paris, North Carolina Baptists partnered with New York Baptists to hand out coats in primarily Muslim communities in New York City.
 
Coats for the City, the name of the distribution event, had been planned long before the terrorist attacks, but the timing could not have been better for Christians to show their Muslim neighbors an act of love. That day thousands of people lined the streets of New York City with the hope of receiving a free coat to keep them warm during the city’s winter months. What they did not expect was to also receive a message about the good news of the gospel in the process.

 
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Doug Huttleston, pastor of Panther Creek Baptist Church in Asheboro, said many of the Muslim men he met on the trip wondered why the group was ministering to Muslims in light of the attacks the day before.
 
“I told them, Isa al-Masih (the Arabic name for Jesus the Messiah) tells us that we need to love our neighbor, so that’s why we’re here,” Huttleston said.
 
The Coats for the City team handed out coats at 14 different distribution sites in New York City. They had received upwards of 7,000 coats from churches in North Carolina and New York to hand out – more than double the amount they received last year. The group also had copies of the New Testament in various languages on hand to give to those who were willing to take one.
 
“Even if there’s that one conversation that happens where somebody either comes to Christ or is interested, it’s worth it,” said Lauren McCall, ministry assistant at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), who participated in the coat distribution.
 
Some in the group continued ministering to people they met in New York after the trip had ended. Abby Edwards, a ministry assistant at BSC, connected on social media with Raashid*, a Muslim storeowner who offered the team his storefront as a coat distribution site.
 
“There are avenues to still share (the gospel) even from afar,” Edwards said. “Sometimes I think we go and do missions and think we’re not going to be able to communicate past that point, but we really can.”
 
Huttleston also had the opportunity to continue a relationship with someone he met in New York. Aamir*, a Muslim man with whom Huttleston had shared the gospel, came to know Jesus as his Lord and Savior shortly after the trip. The two text about scripture frequently and have weekly, gospel-centered phone conversations.
 
Huttleston hopes this discipling relationship will have an echo effect — that Aamir, having experienced God’s love, will go and share it with others.
 
“I want (Aamir) to be able to be safe and share the gospel and see people’s hearts turned,” Huttleston said. “I’m just praying that God will use him to talk to people that will never talk to me. They’d never talk to an American, but they’ll talk to a Bengali who used to be Muslim.”
 
* The names of these individuals have been changed to protect their identities.

12/18/2015 11:16:59 AM by Emily Rojas, BSC communications | with 0 comments



WRAP-UP: 23 states increase CP for SBC missions & ministry

December 18 2015 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Twenty-three state conventions voted to increase the portion of Cooperative Program (CP) receipts being forwarded to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missions and ministries in the coming year, continuing a trend inspired by passage of the Great Commission Task Force recommendations five years ago. This year, Florida Baptists made the largest shift, moving from 41 to 51 percent allocated to SBC causes.
 
“This epic, pacesetting decision will set a precedent in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Michael Tatem, president of Florida’s State Board of Missions. “We are doing what the Southern Baptist Convention was called to do in 1845 – to take the gospel to the nations.”
 
Iowa Baptists celebrated an 11 percent increase in giving to the CP after messengers voted last year to boost the SBC portion from 20 to 50 percent, while Nevada Baptists reported a 13 percent increase after moving from 35 to 50 percent for SBC causes last year.

 
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Photo courtesy KNCSB
Some 287 registered messengers and 80 visitors attended the annual meeting of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists Oct. 12-13 in Overland Park, Kan.

“Several Iowa churches have significantly increased their financial support to missions through the Cooperative Program,” Tim Lubinus, Baptist Convention of Iowa’s executive director/treasurer, said. “I think it is likely that our decision last year to increase our giving to the Executive Committee from 20 percent to 50 percent provided us with momentum and incentive to give through the Cooperative Program.”
 
In addition to Florida, other state conventions voting to increase by more than 1 percent the portion of their budgets sent beyond their borders include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maryland-Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah-Idaho.
 
Meanwhile, state conventions in Arkansas, California, Dakotas, Kansas-Nebraska, Mississippi, New England, New Mexico, Northwest, Pennsylvania-South Jersey and West Virginia voted to increase the SBC portion in amounts ranging from .005 to 1 percent.
 
The four conventions that forward half or more to the SBC without a “shared ministries” calculation are Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (55/45), Florida (51/49), Iowa (50/50) and Nevada (50/50). State conventions in Florida and New England quit designating any items providing dual benefit to the state and national convention. While 15 state conventions continue to use the classification, five reduced the portion designated as shared.
 
Two state conventions – the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) – let churches customize what they label Texas CP or Cooperative Missions 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 (CBF) 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. The BGAV giving plan World Mission 1 allocates 34 percent of gifts given through this plan to SBC worldwide missions and ministries.
 
The actual dollar amount of a state convention’s allocation fluctuates annually depending on how well cooperating churches in the state are able to fund their respective budgets. On the positive side, more than 4,400 Southern Baptist churches met or exceeded the 1% CP Challenge last year, increasing their CP giving by at least 1 percentage point of their budgets from undesignated gifts by their members and visitors.
 
The total undesignated CP receipts received by the state conventions are projected to decrease by $5 million as total giving to churches remains in decline, and yet, with more than half of the state conventions increasing the SBC portion, the national allocation is likely to increase by more than $5 million.
 
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 2016. Those serving as president are:
 
ALABAMA – Travis Coleman Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church, Prattville
 
ALASKA – Todd Burgess, pastor of First Baptist Church, Eagle River
 
ARIZONA – Bret Burnett, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, Tucson
 
ARKANSAS – Gary Hollingsworth, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, Little Rock
 
CALIFORNIA – Randy Bennett, a member of Daybreak Baptist Church, Bakersfield
 
COLORADO – Mike Routt, pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church, Colorado Springs
 
DAKOTAS – Doug Hixson, pastor of Connection Church, Spearfish, S.D.
 
FLORIDA – James Peoples, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Keystone Heights
 
GEORGIA – Thomas Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church, Alpharetta
 
HAWAII/PACIFIC – John Endriss, pastor of Engage Church, Hilo, Hawaii
 
ILLINOIS – Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church, Rochester
 
INDIANA – Darin Garton, pastor of Oak Creek Church, Mishawaka
 
IOWA – Ken Livingston, pastor of First Grace Baptist Church, Sheffield
 
KANSAS/NEBRASKA – Joe Stiles, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Lawrence, Kan.
 
KENTUCKY – Kevin Smith, teaching pastor of Highview Baptist Church, Louisville
 
LOUISIANA – Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church, Haughton
 
MARYLAND/DELAWARE – Bill Warren, pastor of Allen Memorial Baptist Church, Salisbury, Md.
 
MICHIGAN – Charles Turner, a member of Kaleo Church, Lansing
 
MINNESOTA/WISCONSIN – Paul Fries, pastor of Blue River Valley Church, Muscoda, Wis.
 
MISSISSIPPI – Doug Broome, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Natchez
 
MISSOURI – Neil Franks, pastor of First Baptist Church, Branson
 
MONTANA – Darren Hales, pastor of Big Sky Fellowship, Helena
 
NEVADA – Greg Fields, pastor of Nellis Baptist Church, Las Vegas
 
NEW ENGLAND – Gary Rowe, member of Island Pond Baptist Church, Hampstead, N.H.
 
NEW MEXICO – Jonathan Richard, pastor of First Baptist Church, Estancia
 
NEW YORK – Scott Gillette, pastor of Amherst Baptist Church, Amherst
 
NORTH CAROLINA – Timmy Blair, pastor of Piney Grove Chapel Baptist Church, Angier
 
NORTHWEST – Steve Bryant, member of Highland Baptist Church, Redmond, Ore.
 
OHIO – Jeremy Westbrook, pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church, Marysville
 
OKLAHOMA – Hance Dilbeck, pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church, Oklahoma City
 
PENN/SOUTH JERSEY – Brian King, pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa.
 
SOUTH CAROLINA – Tom Tucker, pastor of Sisk Memorial Baptist Church, Fort Mill
 
TENNESSEE – Roc Collins, pastor of Indian Springs Baptist Church, Kingsport
 
TEXAS (BGCT) – René Maciel, president of the Baptist University of the Américas, San Antonio
 
TEXAS (SBTC) – Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Baptist Church, Humble
 
UTAH-IDAHO – David Kite, pastor of four cowboy churches in Idaho
 
VIRGINIA (BGAV) – Nancy Stanton McDaniel, pastor of Rhoadesville Baptist Church, Rhoadesville
 
VIRGINIA (SBCV) – Bryan Smith, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Roanoke
 
WEST VIRGINIA – Ron McCoy, director of missions for the Upper Ohio Valley Baptist Association, Moundsville
 
WYOMING – David Grace, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Laramie.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)

12/18/2015 11:07:26 AM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Fed’s decision to raise rates addressed

December 18 2015 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources

The Federal Open Market Committee’s announcement Dec. 16 of an incremental increase in the target Fed Funds rate and potential gradual increases should mean little for long-term investors, such as those investing for retirement, according to analysts for GuideStone Financial Resources, the financial services arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.
 
But the decision, they noted, could have an impact on individuals with variable interest rate debt as well as short-term and institutional investors.
 
Federal Reserve governors were unanimous in this decision to increase the Fed Funds rate by 0.25 percent, bringing it to a range between 0.25 and 0.50 percent. The Fed, citing improvements in the economy since 2008, indicates it will make future rate increases gradually. Prior to the announcement, the rate had sat in a range between zero and 0.25 since 2008 and has not been raised since 2006.
 
David S. Spika, global investment strategist at GuideStone Capital Management, LLC, said the question at this point is how rapidly rates will rise.
 
“The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation remains below the desired level of 2 percent, so the pace of hikes will be subject to an increase in this measure,” Spika said. “We believe this is good news for investors in that it removes the likelihood of rapid and aggressive rate hikes that could derail the current economic expansion and create additional volatility for the financial markets.”
 
While analysts will comb through the Federal Reserve’s comments, along with the news conference offered by Fed Chair Janet Yellen on Dec. 16, long-term investors should continue to focus on their objectives and not on headlines that may trigger short-term market fluctuations.
 
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, said “retirement investors should consider their time horizon and their investment objectives.”
 
“There are many experts out there with opinions on steps for institutional and short-term investors,” he said. “As we remind our participants anytime there is significant news, the performance of your retirement account moving forward will be determined based on results of the financial markets in the future, not the past.”
 
Spika noted rising interest rates are normal at this point during an economic cycle.
 
“The economy has been in expansion since mid-2009 and no longer requires emergency monetary policy to support it,” Spika said. “We believe that the onset of a gradual and cautious rate hike cycle is good news for investors and do not expect the Fed Funds rate to reach more than 2.0 percent to 3.0 percent in this cycle, a level that could take up to three years to attain.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/18/2015 10:59:23 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments



GOP debate: Trump’s proposed Muslim ban challenged

December 17 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Donald Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States drew critique at the first Republican presidential debate since Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
 
Following opening statements by the nine top GOP candidates, moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN asked Trump about his proposal.
 
“We’re not talking about religion,” Trump said. “We’re talking about security. Our country is out of control.”

 
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Screen capture from CNN.com
Donald Trump, left, defended his proposal to temporarily halt Muslim immigration against Sen. Ted Cruz and other critics during a Dec. 15 GOP presidential debate.

Among candidates to take issue with temporarily barring Muslims from entering America were Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
 
Cruz, who leads Trump in at least one Iowa poll despite trailing the businessman nationally, said the U.S. should not ban Muslims but “suspend all refugees for three years from countries where [the terrorist groups] ISIS or al-Qaida control substantial territory.”
 
Cruz noted “there are millions of peaceful Muslims across the world in countries like India,” where ISIS does not control territory. America must “focus on the problem and defeat radical Islamic terrorism. It’s not a war on a faith. It’s a war on a political and theocratic ideology that seeks to murder us.”
 
Rubio said some Republicans support Trump’s proposal as a reaction to President Barack Obama’s failure to keep America safe. But he predicted the proposed ban “isn’t going to happen.”
 
Bush said temporarily halting Muslim immigration would be counterproductive in the fight against ISIS because it would push Muslim allies away from America “at a time when we need to re-engage with them to be able to create a strategy to destroy ISIS.” A Muslim ban, Bush said, “will make it harder for us to do exactly what we need to do.”
 
Later in the debate, Bush added, “If we want to destroy radical Islamic terrorists, we can’t disassociate ourselves from peace-loving Muslims.”
 
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was asked about his proposal to monitor mosques where worshipers articulate anti-American sentiment.
 
Carson responded that he wants to monitor “any place” – “whether it’s a mosque, a school, a supermarket, a theater” – where “there are a lot of people getting there and engaging in radicalizing activities.”
 
“We have to get rid of all this PC stuff,” Carson said, using the acronym for “political correctness.” “And people are worried about, ‘Somebody’s going to say that I’m Islamophobic,’ or what have you. This is craziness because we are at war.”
 
Carson claimed a document written by the radical Muslim Brotherhood said the group would “take advantage of our PC attitude to get us.”
 
Cruz agreed that excessive political correctness poses a threat to America’s national security. He claimed the Obama administration, “because of political correctness,” failed to investigate public calls to jihad by one of the San Bernardino attackers and by the brothers who detonated a bomb at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
 
At one point, Trump was asked about his statement earlier this month that the U.S. should “take out” the families of terrorists. Based on the context of the Dec. 2 comment, it appeared Trump may have been referencing family members used by terrorists as human shields against military strikes.
 
In response to the question, Trump said he “would be very, very firm with families” because terrorists “may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”
 
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul took issue with that proposal as well as Trump’s openness to shutting down portions of the Internet, if necessary, to combat ISIS.
 
“If you’re going to close down the Internet,” Paul said, “realize, America, what that entails. That entails getting rid of the First Amendment. ...If you are going to kill the families of terrorists, realize that there’s something called the Geneva Convention we’re going to have to pull out of. It would defy every norm that is America.”
 
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said the fight against terrorism would be improved by seeking help from technology companies in the private sector. Asked whether companies should be forced to cooperate with the government, Fiorina replied, “They do not need to be forced. They need to be asked.”
 
During one of the debate’s final segments, candidates were asked how they could “justify not accepting refugees” in light of biblical commands to help the needy and not to fear. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich both responded by speaking of the need to keep the American people safe.
 
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore tweeted multiple warnings during the debate about encroaching on religious liberty, though he did not specify any candidates at whom the tweets were directed.
 
“If you won’t stand up for religious liberty for everyone, stop talking about religious liberty,” tweeted Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “And sure stop raising money off of it.”
 
Moore, who has criticized Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, also tweeted, “In colonial America, Baptists were lumped in with anti-social forces. Lots of talk about surveilling churches, closing state borders to us.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/17/2015 11:07:24 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Secret Church announces upcoming event at Hickory Grove

December 17 2015 by Emily Blake, BR editorial aide

Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., plans to host the next Secret Church gathering on April 29, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.
 
Secret Church was brought to life by International Mission Board President David Platt after he witnessed the passion for biblical learning by underground churches in countries where Christianity is persecuted. In previous years Secret Church, now hosted by the resource ministry of David Platt called Radical, has reached an audience of more than 60,000 in the United States and many international countries.
 
It represents a version of the “house churches” that exist in countries where can Christians have limited biblical resources or opportunities to gather and learn. The participants meet for an intense time of Bible study, lasting more than six hours, including a time of prayer for Christian brothers and sisters across the globe who are facing persecution and for those who still have not heard the gospel. Platt describes it as a “drink from the fire hydrant of God’s Word … digest later.”
 
Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove, said, “Secret Church has become a bellwether for us of robust theology fueling missional intent. Our people look forward to it every year. To have David lead Secret Church at Hickory Grove is a real gift.”
 
This year the event will address the multiplicity of religions that exist in the world, all claiming to hold the truth (or at least some truth) about who people are, how people got here, what people are doing and where they are going. Billions of people believe in Christianity, while others embrace Islam. Some are Hindu and others are Buddhist. Still others are atheist, or at the very least agnostic.
 
These questions will be addressed in response to the many diverse religious climates around the world:

  • How are we to think, and what are we to do in this massive marketplace of religious ideas?

  • Is there one right way to believe or are there many right ways to believe?

  • Is there one right way to live or are there many right ways to live?

  • Specifically, how does the gospel of Christ compare and contrast with other world religions?

  • And if we believe this gospel, then how should we share it specifically with people of other faiths?

  • For that matter, why would we share it specifically with people of other faiths?

Secret Church will explore the claims of Christ in the gospel and consider how these claims inform the way we understand religions and cults in the world and impact the way Christians live when surrounded by varied believers with diverse belief systems.
 
Tickets for the live gathering of Secret Church at Hickory Grove (main campus) will be available at 10 a.m., Jan. 11, on the Secret Church website. Registration is open for localized simulcast events.
 
Visit radical.net/secret-church/live-gathering.

12/17/2015 11:02:35 AM by Emily Blake, BR editorial aide | with 0 comments



Akin to graduates: Be dangerous for Christ

December 17 2015 by Harper McKay, SEBTS

In his charge to graduates, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin encouraged them to give their whole lives to Christ because of the grace Christ has provided.
 
Southeastern Seminary awarded 184 undergraduate and graduate degrees during its fall graduation ceremony on Dec. 11.
 
“Because of this amazing grace that truly is a sweet sound, we give,” said Akin, who spoke from 2 Corinthians 8:9 during his message. “So here is my very simple four-fold challenge: We will go where others will not go because He came. We will do what others will not do because of what He did. We will serve where others will not serve because of how He has served us. And we will give what others will not give because look at what He has given to you and to me.”

 
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Photo by Maria Estes
During fall graduation, Southeastern President Danny Akin and Provost Bruce Ashford present David Rogers with his doctoral degree and regalia for completing his Ph.D in philosophy. Rogers is a former International Mission Board missionary to Spain and currently teaches Spanish at an inner city Memphis high school. He has also served with Love Worth Finding Ministries, the broadcasting and resource ministry of his father, Adrian Rogers.

Akin quoted martyred missionary, Jim Elliot: “Oh that God would make us dangerous.”
 
“And by the way, I have prayed that prayer for all of you,” Akin said as he turned to graduates seated on the front rows. “I have prayed that God would make you dangerous. ... I want the demons to run and flee because of the power of God that is vibrant in each of your lives.”
 
Among the fall graduating class were Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project curriculum at LifeWay Christian Resources, and David Rogers, former missionary to Spain and current high school Spanish teacher.
 
Wax graduated with a doctor of philosophy in applied theology. Through The Gospel Project, Wax creates Christ-centered Bible curriculum for all ages. He plans to use his doctorate to continue to equip the church and train younger generations of believers.
 
“I plan to serve the church as long as the Lord gives me the opportunity,” Wax said. “Through a combination of past and future ministries, I want to equip the church with theologically sound resources while also teaching and building up the next generation of teachers and scholars.”
 
Southeastern Provost Bruce Ashford served as major professor for Wax during his time at the seminary. “It has been a joy to supervise Trevin’s work in Southeastern’s Ph.D. program,” Ashford said. “He is extraordinarily bright, hard-working and theologically perceptive.”
 
Christianity Today recently named Wax as one of 33 millennials leading the next generation of evangelicals. He writes daily for Kingdom People, a blog hosted by The Gospel Coalition. Wax also regularly contributes to publications including The Washington Post, Religion News Service, Christianity Today and WORLD magazine.

 
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Photo by Maria Estes
Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, plans to use his doctoral degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to write resources to equip the church and build up the next generation.

Wax said he chose to study at Southeastern because of the seminary’s focus on missions. “Southeastern is a Great Commission seminary,” he said. “[The school’s] heartbeat of missions is very much aligned with my own.”
 
David Rogers, son of Adrian Rogers, spent 18 years with the International Mission Board as a missionary to Spain. Now living in Memphis, Tenn., Rogers is a high-school Spanish teacher in an inner-city public school. He also serves on the leadership team at The Pursuit Church, an intentionally multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church plant in Memphis.
 
Rogers entered the Ph.D. program at Southeastern through a special partnership with the seminary and the IMB. He also studied under Ashford for his doctorate of philosophy.
 
“David Rogers is an exemplary Southeastern graduate in every way,” Ashford said. “Before starting the Ph.D. program at Southeastern, he served faithfully with the International Mission Board for years. During the Ph.D. program, in addition to his full-time research and studies, he also served Love Worth Finding Ministries, which is the broadcasting and resource ministry founded by his father.”
 
Rogers plans to use his degree from Southeastern to write on missiology, culture and theology and to teach people to fulfill the Great Commission in both the classroom and the local church.
 
“The teaching I have received at Southeastern has given me a greater depth of understanding of the theological basis of the Great Commission and the mission of the church,” Rogers said. “The faculty and fellow students have encouraged me to be a better scholar and a more faithful disciple of Jesus.”
 
Twenty-four students from the seminary’s Global Theological Initiative cohort in Brazil will also be awarded master of theological studies degrees for the fall 2015 semester. The awards ceremony for these students will be held in Brazil in February.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Harper McKay is a news and information specialist for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

12/17/2015 10:50:54 AM by Harper McKay, SEBTS | with 0 comments



South Carolina Baptists tap reserves to send $1M gift to IMB

December 17 2015 by Scott Vaughan, South Carolina Baptist Convention

The South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) has pledged to send a $1 million year-end gift to the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention at a time when the missions entity has announced a reduction in its worldwide force due to budget shortfalls.
 
The IMB announced earlier this year that it would need to reduce its total number of missionaries and staff by 600-800 due to expenditures that exceeded revenues by $210 million over the past six years.
 
And even though the SCBC did not meet its budget in 2013 and 2014, the convention’s Executive Board reached into the state’s fund balance – after agreeing to send $450,000 from the budget – to provide the $1 million gift to IMB.

 
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Speaking to the Executive Board during its year-end meeting Dec. 10 at the state convention building in Columbia, Marshall Blalock, chairman of the board’s Budget, Finance & Audit Committee, said, “We won’t meet our convention budget this year, but projections show that we will be closer than we have been to our budget goal – close enough to send $450,000 from the budget rather than from the fund balance.”
 
“As our committee looked at that gift,” Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, added, “we unanimously decided to take an additional $550,000 from the fund balance and make a $1 million year-end gift to the International Mission Board.”
 
David Platt, president of the IMB, responded to the news: “My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy when I heard that South Carolina Baptists voted to approve a $1 million gift to the International Mission Board. This extremely generous gift will go a long way in helping the IMB get to a healthy financial place in the present so that we can move forward into a future marked by more missionaries sent, more disciples made, and more churches planted among unreached peoples than ever before. I praise God for the generosity of South Carolina Baptists and trust God will use these resources for Gospel advance to the ends of the earth.”
 
Richard Harris, interim executive director-treasurer of the state convention, who has led the SCBC staff this year in keeping missions mobilization as a priority of its work, said, “The giving of an additional $1 million to the International Mission Board by our Executive Board speaks volumes about our commitment to fulfill the Great Commission.
 
“The smaller portion of the gift comes from the great management of the budget by state convention staff and generosity of SCBC churches to create a budget overage,” he said. “The majority of the gift comes from reserve funds. This [year-end gift] is in addition to the $400,000 given to IMB in January of this year, with $275,000 coming from reserves.
 
“All these additional dollars express the priority of the Executive Board and South Carolina Baptists to take the gospel to the ends of the earth while trying to assist in sending more missionaries and slowing the hundreds of IMB missionaries being brought back home. I am proud to be identified with a state convention placing such a high priority on intentional missionary deployment.”
 
D. Ray Davis, IMB’s associate vice president for church and partner connections, said, “At a time when David Platt is urging Southern Baptists not to pull back [on giving], we thank South Carolina Baptists for giving above and beyond. The Great Commission demands our best, and we praise God for our partners in the gospel.”
 
In 2014, the Southern Baptist Convention’s international missions force included 214 missionaries with ties to South Carolina. Through the South Carolina Global Connections partnership with WMU, the state convention has relationships with 175 of those missionaries.
 
Tim Rice, director of missions mobilization for the SCBC, said, “So much of our missions strategy revolves around field personnel. We have been actively connecting our churches with South Carolina missionaries worldwide in the last two years. These missionaries are depending on our partnership, prayers and financial support to make disciples of all nations. I am glad we can give to the IMB at a time when it is so desperately needed.”
 
South Carolina Baptists’ roots regarding international missions support run deep for Baptists in the oldest state convention within the SBC.
 
It was in 1815 that Hephzibah Jenkins Townsend of Edisto Island sold baked goods to support the mission work of Edisto Island Baptist Church. She was the founder of the Edisto Female Mite Society, the first organization of its kind in the South to raise funds for foreign missions. The first Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for foreign missions in January 1889 raised $3,315 – one-third of which came from members of South Carolina Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union.
 
Fast-forwarding to 2011, South Carolina Baptists approved new state budgeting measures by adopting a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) initiative that gave special attention to supporting global missions through IMB. In addition to funding IMB through normal Cooperative Giving channels, GCR also provided for a direct year-end gift to IMB from any state budget overages.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Vaughan serves as interim director of communications for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.)

12/17/2015 10:42:59 AM by Scott Vaughan, South Carolina Baptist Convention | with 0 comments



‘Christmas’ censorship attempts recur annually

December 17 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

At least four public attempts to censor the use of the term “Christmas” and the display of related decorations such as Christmas trees have been reported this year in the United States, specifically in New Hampshire, Virginia, New York and Tennessee.
 
Such censorship attempts occur annually at Christmas, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told Baptist Press.
 
“Every year, we see several of these challenges pop up around the country. We see efforts to censor the inclusion of religious songs in school Christmas programs or to take down a nativity scene included in a Christmas display at the town hall,” ADF senior counsel David Cortman said. “Thus, every year, it is necessary for ADF and citizens across our nation to continue to take a stand for Christmas and to work to ensure that its religious origins are not white-washed from the celebrations.”

 
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Pew Research photo by Matthew Roberts
Displays like this nativity scene and Christmas tree in the public square are protected by the U.S. Constitution, but draw objections from a minority of Americans each year.

In New Hampshire, the elementary School Administrative Unit 29 (SAU 29) required the sponsor of an annual community Christmas tree lighting to remove the word “Christmas” from flyers distributed at schools promoting the Dec. 6 event, recommending instead the use of the word “holiday,” the New Hampshire Union Leader reported. Superintendent Robert Malay apologized days later for offending event organizers, but did not amend the school policy.
 
Two weeks earlier, the Salem, Va., Veterans Affairs Medical Center banned the display of Christmas trees and the singing of religious Christmas carols in the center’s public spaces. After public outcry, the center amended the ban to allow Christmas trees and carols as long as other holidays were represented, including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, Fox News reported.
 
In New York, a Brooklyn principal in her first year on the job made headlines for apparently banning Santa Claus, religious symbols including stars and angels, The Pledge of Allegiance and Thanksgiving. But school officials told the NBC New York the principal had simply misinterpreted a school policy. The school stipulates that holiday symbols or decorations must reflect more than one belief or custom.
 
“We work to foster inclusive communities in our schools that welcome students and families, and celebrate the diverse values and traditions of all New Yorkers,” NBC New York quoted New York City Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye. “This principal continues to work closely with her school community to ensure PS 169 is an inclusive school, meet students’ and families’ needs, and celebrate the values that make her community and New York City great.”
 
ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco defended the free expression of Christmas in a Dec. 9 letter to SAU 29 board members and Malay, saying such censorship violates the U.S. Constitution “because it impermissibly singles out religious speech for unfavorable treatment.”
 
“It is firmly established that school officials may not suppress private speech simply because it is religious or contains a religious perspective,” Tedesco wrote in the letter. “Rather, the Constitution ‘affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.’”
 
Lawmakers have taken steps to protect the free expression of Christmas in the nation. Legislatures in at least two states, Texas and Tennessee, have passed what lawmakers call “Merry Christmas laws.” The 2013 Texas law proclaims a school district’s right to educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations, allows students and school staff to exchange such traditional greetings as Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and happy holidays, and allows the display of such decorations as Christmas trees and nativities, as long as more than one religion is represented and a particular belief is not encouraged, the law states.
 
Such state laws help undergird the constitutional protections already in place and consistently affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Cortman said.
 
“These states’ laws work [to] counteract those efforts by raising awareness about and reinforcing the liberties already guaranteed in the Constitution,” he said. “Celebrating the religious origins of Christmas is not only perfectly constitutional, it has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Unfortunately, groups like the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] and Freedom From Religion Foundation have had some success in wrongly convincing people that the religious aspects of Christmas must be censored.”
 
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado introduced a congressional resolution Dec. 11 “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.” Lamborn’s resolution is cosponsored by 35 representatives from 27 states, and has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
 
Lamborn introduced a similar resolution in 2014, noting in comments from the House floor that the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit against school officials for supporting student-led participation in the Operation Christmas Child outreach of Samaritan’s Purse and a Christian mission trip co-sponsored by Adventures in Missions and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The Colorado School District reached a settlement with the Humanists to refrain from encouraging student participation in Operation Christmas Child, the Patheos faith-based website has reported.
 
“According to a recent poll, 9 out of 10 Americans celebrate Christmas,” Lamborn said in 2014. “Sadly, however, there is a troubling effort in America, by a vocal minority, to remove the symbols and traditions of Christmas from the public arena.”
 
In a statement on its website, the ADF clarifies seven questions regarding the celebration of Christmas in public schools. According to the ADF:

  • The U.S. Constitution protects the right of students to sing religious carols along with secular ones if the school “has a secular purpose for including the religious songs; for example, advancing students’ knowledge of society’s cultural and religious heritage;”

  • School officials are protected by law in referring to school break as a Christmas holiday;

  • Schools are protected in choosing religious days as legal school holidays;

  • Schools do not have to recognize a religious holiday simply because it coincides with a school holiday;

  • Teachers have the right to greet students with the words “Merry Christmas” without violating the teachers’ roles as “agents of the state”;

  • When schools teach courses on the Holy Bible, they can avoid violating the Constitution by connecting “the study of the biblical account of the birth of Jesus to a secular, educational purpose and root it in a greater study and understanding of history, literature, art, or culture;”

  • Schools may display the Christian nativity “for legitimate secular purposes, such as to celebrate the holiday and to depict the origins of the holiday.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

12/17/2015 10:37:46 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Noise citation draws RFRA lawsuit from Louisiana church

December 16 2015 by Brian Blackwell, Louisiana Baptist Message

Vintage Church, a Louisiana Baptist congregation, has filed a lawsuit against the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and Jefferson Parish in a dispute over sound levels during Sunday worship services in a tent serving as the congregation’s temporary meeting area.
 
The tent, erected in August, is intended to be a short-term arrangement while the church expands attendance capacity in its permanent building – a project estimated for completion in less than a year.
 
The petition filed jointly by local attorney Roy Bowes and the Liberty Institute, a nonprofit law firm which focuses on religious liberty issues, accuses Sheriff Newell Normand and his officers of intimidation tactics in attempting to essentially shut down Vintage Church’s weekly worship services because of noise complaints by a single individual. The suit also describes the noise level ordinances as flawed.
 
On the other side, by allowing musicians to warm up as early as 7 a.m. on Sundays, and she claims she is not alone in opposing the noise levels coming from the tent.
 
“The 911 calls will show that it’s not just me,” said Lisa Caracci, who lives next door, according to a Dec. 11 report in the New Orleans Advocate. “We have this really quiet little street here, and we had never had an issue with this church until the tent came.”

 
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Facebook photo

Vintage Church, a growing church plant started in 2008, merged with the former Highland Baptist Church, original owners of the property, in 2010.
 
Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, whose district includes the Vintage Church campus, said in a NOLA.com/Times-Picayune report that several people had complained about the noise.
 
“It’s not about the worship,” Lee-Sheng said. “It’s about being a good neighbor.”
 
But pastor Rob Wilton said the church has been trying to do just that – hiring technicians to ensure sound levels would not exceed 60 decibels, the limit being imposed on the church, and also, for instance, by moving to acoustic guitars with no amplification.
 
Still, the phone complaints continued and the constant visits from the sheriff’s office have had a negative effect on the congregation, Wilton said.
 
“It’s a difficult thing in church work just to get a congregation to be faithful week to week on a normal regular Sunday with normal circumstances,” Wilton told the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
 
“If you can imagine, we are meeting for worship in a tent, on a property where construction is happening, and top that off with every single week police coming out to visit, engaging my church staff and even on certain weekends giving us criminal summons, that’s just not a friendly thing for a congregation to see. And that has certainly not helped us in keeping people around.”
 
Wilton said even faithful volunteers have informed him it’s very difficult to attend “out of fears.”
 
The pastor also said he was vexed by the complaints, given the welcome the church has received from the community overall.
 
“For the most part, the majority of the neighborhood around us loves Vintage Church,” Wilton said. “They love us being here.” He said neighbors are excited about the growth of the church and the expansion of the facilities.
 
The protracted conflict began Aug. 9, the second Sunday when services were held in the tent. Since then:

  • The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office sent officers to the church to investigate a complaint but did not issue a citation, according to the church’s lawsuit. Complaints continued through the month, but there were no legal ramifications, only a warning to keep sound levels below 60 decibels before 8:50 a.m.

  • The church had been operating in the tent during August under a special events permit, which was renewed in September, but with the caveat of no drums or electric guitars. So the church switched to acoustic guitars for services, according to the legal filing.

  • Later in the month, Jefferson Parish required Vintage Church to reduce its tent footprint because of parking requirements, and the congregation complied.

  • During the first week in October, a parish official warned the church to cease playing music or risk being shut down.

  • Sheriff’s deputies continued to show up during services in October and November, and twice issued a summons to Executive Pastor Matthew Brichetto and actually fingerprinted him both times in the greeting area.

Liberty Institute argues that the government’s actions have placed a substantial burden on the church’s exercise of religion without a compelling government interest, and it calls the criminal sanctions against the church “unwarranted hostility.” The legal group also claims the sheriff’s office and parish violated Louisiana’s Preservation of Religious Freedom Act and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
 
“We want Vintage Church to be treated fairly,” Justin Butterfield, senior counsel for Liberty Institute, told the Baptist Message. “The noise ordinance that the parish is enforcing against them permits much louder volumes for jackhammers, construction noise and lawnmowers.”
 
Butterfield said he only wants the local government to hold Vintage Church to the same standards it allows for these other activities on Sunday mornings.
 
Wilton said Vintage Church’s legal cause is not just for the congregation.
 
“I really do pray that this would be a time that maybe the Lord would use to protect our churches moving forward to be able to carry on the mission God has called them to here in New Orleans,” the pastor said. “We are not one church here. We are part of a church that is connected among a bunch of different churches, churches of different denominations as well as our Baptist churches here in New Orleans.
 
“We have a strong brotherhood and we stand with each other,” Wilton said. “If our time of challenge can be a time that helps us move forward together in accomplishing the mission God has called us all together to do, then we’ll thank Him for that.”
 
Caracci, in the New Orleans Advocate report, said her complaints are not an issue of religious liberty, but simply respect for neighbors.
 
“This has nothing to do with religion. It has nothing to do with their faith,” Caracci said. “It has everything to do with the noise level and the nuisance that tent has created.”
 
In the same article, Sheriff Normand said his deputies will continue enforcing the sound ordinance until it is struck down or changed.
 
“I don’t get to pick and choose what laws I want to enforce based upon my own feeling of something, and basically, at some point, that’s what [the church] asked me to do,” Normand said. “The law is the law.”
 
For his part, Wilton is hoping to move past the legal troubles to get back on focus.
 
“Our church’s mission is to live the gospel, serve the city and be the church,” the pastor said. “This time has been a very challenging time for us in trying to accomplish this mission in our community.
 
“We are praying through this lawsuit that we are pursuing, through bringing a resolution to this, that not only our church but all the churches in Jefferson Parish would be protected by law to carry out the mission that God has called them to,” Wilton said.
 
“We are praying this would happen as fast as possible so we can go back into a Christmas season that should be filled with much more joy and excitement.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell is a staff writer with the Baptist Message at baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

12/16/2015 12:06:51 PM by Brian Blackwell, Louisiana Baptist Message | with 0 comments



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