December 2015

‘Engage Ohio’ initiatives garner convention’s focus

December 9 2015 by State Convention of Baptists in Ohio

“Engage Ohio: All for Him” was the theme of the Nov. 3-4 annual meeting of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio (SBCO) at the Columbus-area Jersey Baptist Church in Pataskala.
 
SBCO President Mark Stinson, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Cambridge, called the 62nd annual meeting to order, with host pastor John Hayes, a former SBCO president, welcoming messengers and guests, who numbered 257 and 28, respectively, by the end of the meeting.
 
Each session expanded on the “Engage Ohio: All for Him” theme, reflecting the Mission Ohio cooperative effort of Southern Baptists to engage all the residents of Ohio with the gospel of Jesus Christ:
 
Session one: “Engage Ohio: All for Him through Cooperation”; session two: “Engage Ohio: All for Him in Communities”; session three: “Engage Ohio: All for Him through His Churches”; session four: “Engage Ohio: All for Him in Culture.”
 
“All that is done,” Jack Kwok, SBCO executive director, said of the theme, “is because of Him and for Him.” In his report to the convention, Kwok drew from the apostle Paul’s account of his preaching and his mission in Acts 20:17-24 to encourage the state’s Baptists to fully “Engage Ohio.”
 
Quinton Moss, SBCO church planting resource group leader, led in a celebration of 30 church starts in Ohio to date this year and recognized church planters who are serving in the state.
 
In the convention’s focus on IMPACT (Intensive Mission Projects to Affect Community Transformation) and its concentration on evangelistic outreach and ministry in one of the state’s Baptist associations – Metro Columbus Baptist Association for 2015 – director of Missions Rich Halcombe reported on the Crossover Columbus outreach in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting in Columbus in June. More than 3,300 volunteers helped the churches of metro Columbus with Crossover evangelism and ministry projects, with 345 known professions of faith, Halcombe said. More than half of the volunteers came from Ohio Southern Baptist churches, he noted.
 
The 2016 IMPACT association will be the Greater Dayton Baptist Association. Steve Stiglich, the association’s director of missions, challenged members of Ohio Southern Baptist churches to assist in their major evangelistic outreach on July 16, 2016. To volunteer, visit www.scbo.org and search 2016 IMPACT or visit the Greater Dayton Baptist Association website.
 
The 2015 report on mission council actions included the 3-Way Partnership with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, New England Baptist Convention and State Convention of Baptists in Ohio; the creation of a committee to recommend a plan to move toward a 50-50 distribution of Cooperative Program receipts from Ohio’s churches; and the creation of the missions support and mobilization resource group.
 
Kwok elaborated on the creation of the new resource group, which was occasioned by the retirement of Cathy Pound, leader of the women’s missions and ministries resources group. Finances prevented the hiring of a successor for Pound. The new group is a combination of the women’s missions and ministries group and the ministry evangelism section of the evangelism resource group, with Duane Floro as the new group leader.
 
In a resolution honoring Pound, messengers said she has “joyfully and faithfully served the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio” as women’s missions and ministries director for 13 years, and she and her husband Jeff helped start the Columbus-area Spring Hills Baptist Church in Granville. Messengers also noted that she had served five years in the Philippines with the International Mission Board.
 
In “On Marijuana Use,” among other resolutions, messengers stated that the convention will “continue to advocate against the legalization of marijuana use.” Messengers called on Ohio Baptists to “continue to educate and minister to those trapped in bondage with the freedom of the gospel and the hope of Christ” and “continue to support and promote biblically based addiction recovery ministries.” In Ohio’s Nov. 3 balloting, a state constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana was rejected by a 64-36 margin.
 
In a resolution “On the Cooperative Program,” messengers celebrated its 90 years of forwarding Southern Baptists’ financial support to state, national and international missions and ministries. The resolution lamented the downsizing of 600 to 800 International Mission Board missionaries and staff due to budget shortfalls and the SBCO’s 33 percent reduction in staff over the past 10 years. An increase in Cooperative Program giving, messengers noted, “will keep and put more missionaries on the field, facilitate church planting, fund evangelism in our state and around the world, [and] assist in equipping churches to be healthy.”
 
Messengers also passed resolutions underscoring the biblical definition of marriage as one man and one woman; the importance of Christian participation in elections and prayer for elected officials; and appreciation and prayer for first-responders.
 
The resolutions can be viewed at the convention’s scbo.org website.
 
Messengers approved the proposed 2016 Mission Ohio budget, which anticipates $3,960,706 in Cooperative Program receipts from the Ohio Southern Baptist churches, an 8.213 percent decrease from the 2015 budget. The CP budget will continue to allocate 59.75 percent for Mission Ohio and 40.25 percent to support worldwide Southern Baptist missions. All Cooperative Program receipts received after the budget is reached will be divided 50-50.
 
Elected as SCBO officers for the coming year were: president, Jeremy Westbrook, pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church in Marysville; first vice president, Tom Pendergrass, pastor of Urbancrest Baptist Church in Lebanon; and second vice president, David Starry, pastor of Vandalia First Baptist Church. Faye Rodgers of Northside Baptist Church in Springfield and Annette Dessecker of Lincoln Heights Baptists Church in Mansfield were elected as recording secretary and assistant recording secretary, respectively, with Jack Kwok as historian.
 
Stinson, in his presidential address, drew from 1 Peter 5 to challenge church leaders to a godly lifestyle and leadership as they engage their communities with the gospel. Chad Keck, pastor of Kettering First Baptist Church, preached the annual sermon, drawing from Acts 4 to challenge Ohio Southern Baptists to engage lostness both in Ohio and around the world.
 
Messengers approved Tim Cline, pastor of Chillicothe Baptist Church, to preach the 2016 annual sermon, and Darrell Gabbard, pastor of Dublin Baptist Church, as the alternate.
 
Dennis Holmes, retired mission strategist for the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association, was named as the 21st recipient of the annual Darty and Dot Stowe Award, given to an Ohio pastor/leader for denominational service. Darty and Dot Stowe began their service in Ohio in 1954. Over the years, Darty served as a director of missions, state director of missions and associate executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.
 
Also during the meeting, attorney Michael K. Whitehead of Kansas City, Mo., gave a presentation on “Defending Religious Exercise” to assist churches to engage the culture with the gospel and take preventive law strategies to protect their ministry.
 
Next year’s SCBO annual meeting will be Nov. 2-3 at Vandalia First Baptist Church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from a report by Jack Kwok, executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.)

12/9/2015 11:16:28 AM by State Convention of Baptists in Ohio | with 0 comments



Falwell’s remarks about guns, 'Muslims' spark debate

December 8 2015 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

It was a volatile spark for the nation’s gun control debate: Jerry Falwell Jr. revealed he carries a concealed weapon, and urged students (age 21 and up) to do the same at Liberty University, where he is president. Falwell referenced “Muslims” and the terrorist attack that left 14 people dead in San Bernardino, Calif.
 
“Let’s teach ‘em a lesson if they ever show up here,” Falwell said during convocation at the Virginia university Friday, two days after the horrific shooting Dec. 2 at a San Bernardo center for developmentally disabled people.
 
Falwell’s remarks were reported by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News, CNN and an array of media across the country. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called Falwell’s comments “rash and repugnant.” People in leadership positions, “whether in government or education, must take care to remember the tremendous harm that can result from reckless words,” McAuliffe said, according to media reports.
 
But Falwell was speaking biblically, a Liberty professor wrote in a commentary on the university’s news website.
 
“It is sometimes claimed that Jesus never told his followers to arm themselves, but that is patently untrue,” Daniel Howell, professor of biology and one of the administrators in the department, wrote.

 
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Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, encourages students to get concealed-carry permits in Dec. 4 convocation comments.

“In Luke 22:36, Jesus told his disciples to buy themselves swords even if they had to sell their cloaks to afford them,” Howell wrote. “Of course, the sword was the ‘arms’ of their day, as the gun is for us today. The disciples possessed two swords and Peter used one of them to injure a man when Jesus was being arrested. Jesus rebukes Peter and this is offered as proof that Christians should not use weapons (despite the fact that Jesus just told them to acquire them).
 
“However, Peter was rebuked not for using a sword in self-defense but for interfering with God’s plan of redemption,” Howell wrote. “We know this because Jesus said it plainly: ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ (John 18:11).”
 
Part of Falwell’s brief convocation comments never made it from the Lynchburg, Va., campus to the news wires, when he spoke of Liberty University reaching out to help the family of Mike Madden, the courageous police lieutenant who rushed from a lunch break and was first on the scene, and Michael Wetzel, one of the 14 fatalities and father of six children.
 
Then Falwell referenced the nation’s gun debate.
 
“It just blows my mind when I see the president of the United States say that the answer to circumstances like that is more gun control. I mean, if some of those people in that community center had had what I got in my back pocket right now,” he said, gesturing the pulling out of his .25-caliber handgun, and quipping, “Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” to spontaneous applause across the audience.
 
Falwell then stated, “I’ve always thought if more good people had conceal-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill us.” More applause. “I just want to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course. Let’s teach ‘em a lesson if they ever show up here.” More applause.
 
A university news story added a qualifier that Falwell had issued to the media and on social media – “that when he referred to ‘those Muslims,’ he was referring to Islamic terrorists, specifically those behind the attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino.”
 
Falwell, speaking to the Associated Press the next day, referenced the 2007 mass shooting of 32 people at Virginia Tech, also in the southwest part of the state. “What if just one of those students or one of those faculty members had a concealed permit and was carrying a weapon when the shooter walked into Virginia Tech?” he asked. “Countless lives could have been saved.”
 
Liberty University policy was revised in 2013 to allow faculty, staff, visitors and students age 21 and up to above to carry firearms with a concealed-weapon permit on campus, including classrooms but not residence halls.
 
The free four-hour gun permit class Falwell referenced in his convocation remarks is taught by Liberty University’s police department. More than 100 students called to sign up for the class after the convocation, Falwell told The News & Advance local newspaper.
 
Falwell, 53, is the son of the late Jerry Falwell, who founded Liberty University in 1971 and, earlier, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg and the “Old Time Gospel Hour” TV and radio broadcast. Jerry Falwell Jr. became Liberty’s president after his father’s death in 2007.
 
Liberty University is one of the ministry partners of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia state Baptist convention. According to Liberty’s website, 14,500 students are enrolled on campus with 95,000-plus students online.
 
The San Bernardo shootings were executed by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, both in their late 20s with a six-month-old daughter, who were subsequently killed by police in a street gunfight. The couple is now being investigated for how they were radicalized to commit the massacre. Farook was an environmental health specialist with the San Bernardino County health department. The couple’s attack of 65 to 75 rounds from an assault rifle occurred at a holiday party for county employees around 11 a.m. Dec. 2.
 
Howell, the Liberty biology professor, had noted in his commentary, “Christian antagonists often use Scriptural misinterpretations to lambast self-defense in general and gun ownership in particular. When unbelievers in his time tried to ensnare Jesus with his own teachings, Jesus replied, ‘You are mistaken because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God.’ I believe the same can be said today of Christians and non-Christians alike who misuse scripture to deride self (and national) defense.
 
“Unbelievers and others lacking knowledge about the true character of God sometimes refer to Christ’s moniker as the Prince of Peace to conclude Christianity must be a wimpy, defenseless teaching,” Howell wrote. “Of course, this is one of many titles for Jesus, another being the Lion of Judah.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/8/2015 11:24:19 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 2 comments



Obama’s views on Islam ‘viable,’ says Baptist scholars

December 8 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In an address on a “new phase” in America’s war on terror, President Barack Obama said committing acts of violence in the name of Allah represents a perversion of Islam.
 
Presenting a televised speech from the Oval Office for just the second time in his presidency, according to the Associated Press, Obama called Muslims “to speak out against ... those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect and human dignity.” He called all Americans “to reject discrimination” against Muslims.
 
Evangelical scholars of Islam responded to both points, noting a debate among both Christians and Muslims over the compatibility of Islam and violent jihad, the Muslim term for holy war.
 
The Dec. 6 address occurred four days after a Muslim husband and wife killed 14 people and wounded 21 during a shooting spree in San Bernardino, Calif. The couple, Obama said, “had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West,” though there is “no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas, or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home.”

 
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CNN screen grab
In an Oval Office address Dec. 6, President Obama called Muslims to oppose "interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect and human dignity."

Violence & Islam

Obama acknowledged “that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities.” Such extremism, he said, “is a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse.”
 
In responding to the speech, Page Brooks, a New Orleans pastor who has taught Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said Obama presented “a viable interpretation” of Islam.
 
“I would not necessarily characterize mainstream Islam as a religion of peace, but I would not characterize it as a religion of war either,” Brooks, pastor of Canal Street Church, told Baptist Press. “... It really does depend upon interpretations of Koranic passages as well as some of the hadith,” collections of traditions and sayings attributed to Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
 
“Just like you have various Christian groups that are conservative, moderate and liberal that take the Bible and run with various interpretations, you have the same thing happening in Islam,” Brooks said. “Mainstream Islam, in my opinion, does not teach a radical interpretation like you see happening with groups such as al Qaeda and ISIL.”
 
Even in the final decade of Muhammad’s life, during which he engaged violent campaigns against non-Muslims, he did not carry out “evangelism by the sword,” Brooks said, but operated “according to a reasonable code of just war theory that was consistent with the developing Islamic worldview.” However, the Muslim just war ethic is “generally inconsistent with biblical principles of love, war and peace.”
 
Brooks admitted his view represents “a minority position among evangelical scholars” and said Muhammad participated in a mass killing of Jews on at least one occasion.
 
Ayman Ibrahim, assistant professor of Islamic studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted that Muhammad’s violent campaigns should be considered in the debate on Islam.
 
“The latter 10 years of Muhammad’s life were spent mostly in Medina,” Ibrahim said, “which served as his headquarters and base of the Believers Community, commonly known as his umma. During these years, we are told in the Biography of Muhammad, he raided various places and fought against the polytheists and pagans of Mecca as well as against Jewish tribes in order to establish his dominion over Arabia.”
 
Muslims debate whether it is possible to interpret the Koran and other important Muslim documents as advocating religious tolerance, as Obama suggested, Ibrahim said.
 
“It is possible if you develop a hermeneutical device that disconnects the interpretation of today from the possible historical context through which the text was proclaimed,” Ibrahim said. For instance, if you take the call for fighting the infidel to represent merely a historical incident that took place in the past in a specific situation within a specific context/time and affirm that that incident does not inform today’s circumstances, then you can establish an interpretation that goes in harmony with what the President suggested.”
 
Ibrahim added, “Of course, this kind of interpretation would still be considered ‘perverted’ by some Muslims who adopt and believe in literal interpretation of sacred texts.”
 

Stopping Muslim discrimination

In addition to denouncing violent interpretations of Islam, Obama said “it is the responsibility of all Americans – of every faith – to reject discrimination.”
 
Muslim Americans, the president said, “are our friends and our neighbors, our coworkers, our sports heroes – and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.”
 
Ibrahim and Brooks agreed.
 
“Christians would be unfair if they viewed, treated or considered all Muslims as one monolithic body,” Ibrahim said. “This is wrong. While we have to emphasize the problem of terrorism associated with some Islamic doctrines, it would be far from just or honest to treat all Muslims as terrorists. Christians should continue to pray for and love all their Muslim neighbors. This is what Jesus called us to do and to be.”
 
Brooks said stereotyping all Muslims as supporting violence may close doors for evangelism.
 
“God might want us to be the one that shares Christ with them,” Brooks said. “Yet when we put up the stereotypes and discrimination..., that automatically builds a wall between us and them.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/8/2015 11:19:12 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



SBC leaders appeal to Kerry on genocide

December 8 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist leaders Russell Moore and R. Albert Mohler Jr. have joined a coalition calling on the U.S. State Department to heed evidence Christians are targets of genocide in the Middle East.
 
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, signed onto a Dec. 4 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting a meeting before the department issues a ruling on genocide by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They have learned an imminent State Department finding is to categorize the terrorist organization’s campaign against the Yazidi sect as genocide but “will either omit or reserve judgment on whether ISIS is committing genocide against Christians,” the 30 letter signers say.
 
The signatories – made up of religious, human rights and academic leaders – say they fully agree with a genocide finding regarding the Yazidis, but they are “deeply troubled” by the notion Christians are not victims of genocide at the hands of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
 
In a statement Dec. 7, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called for the State Department to designate not only the Yazidis but the Christian, Shi’a, Turkmen and Shabak communities in Iraq and Syria as ISIS genocide victims.
 
Moore told Baptist Press, “What we are seeing from ISIS is a targeted persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians. Acknowledging the targeting and slaughtering of Christians in this region is a first step toward achieving peace and justice there.”
 
Moore said in written comments he hopes and prays the Obama administration “will acknowledge the death sentence that ISIS has placed on thousands of Christian families, and will respond accordingly.”
 
Mohler said the U.S. government, particularly the State Department, “has every responsibility to speak on behalf of those who are endangered by Islamic terrorism and especially those who must be recognized as the victims of genocide at the hands of ISIS.”
 
“There is no question that Christians are dying alongside Yazidis and that Christians are dying specifically because they are targeted as Christians,” Mohler said. “It is vital that Secretary Kerry understand the issues at stake and that the United States government take moral responsibility for this matter of grave consequence.”
 
Genocide – according to a 1948 United Nations treaty – includes the commission of such acts as murder with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
 
The letter signers say they have “extensive files” that support a ruling that ISIS’ treatment of Christians, as well as Yazidis and other minorities, qualifies as genocide under the U.N. definition. Their evidence of ISIS genocide against Christians, they say, includes:

  • Assassinations of Christian leaders;

  • Mass murders of Christians;

  • Sexual slavery and methodical rape of Christian girls and women;

  • Forceful conversions to Islam;

  • Demolition of church buildings, monasteries and cemeteries.

In their letter, the signers urgently request a small delegation be able to brief the State Department to demonstrate ISIS does not give Christians the choice to pay a tax for protection. The State Department reportedly is prepared to decline the genocide designation for Christians in part because ISIS gives them a choice, something the terrorist group does not provide Yazidis. Moore, Mohler and the others also ask for the opportunity to explain why the department’s “geographic and temporal focus is too narrow” regarding genocide against Christians.
 
“We will also present ISIS’ own, public statements taking ‘credit’ for mass murder of Christians, and expressing its intent to eliminate Christian communities from its ‘Islamic State,’“ their letter says.
 
ISIS’ “genocidal campaign against Christians continues today, with hundreds of Christians remaining in ISIS captivity, and with summary executions, including by beheadings and crucifixions, occurring as recently as only a few months ago,” according to the letter.
 
In addition to Moore and Mohler, the signers include: Frank Wolf, former congressman and longtime human rights and religious freedom advocate; Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and former USCIRF commissioner; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Philip Jenkins, history professor at Baylor University; Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus; and three current USCIRF commissioners: Katrina Lantos Swett; Harvard University law professor Mary Ann Glendon; and Princeton University jurisprudence professor Robert George.
 
In its Dec. 7 statement, USCIRF not only urged the U.S. government to designate Iraqi and Syrian religious minorities as victims of genocide but called on American and international leaders “to condemn the genocidal actions and crimes against humanity of [ISIS] that have been directed at these groups and other ethnic and religious groups.” It also encouraged condemnation of the persecution of Sunni Muslims by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and ISIS.
 
Moore wrote Kerry Nov. 16 to urge the State Department not to exclude Christians as genocide victims in Iraq and Syria. His letter came in response to an article by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News that reported the State Department is preparing to label Yazidis, but not Christians, as genocide victims.
 
The naming of victims of genocide “is not an academic matter,” Shea said in a column for National Review Online after the report. “A genocide designation would have significant policy implications for American efforts to restore property and lands taken from the minority groups and for offers of aid, asylum, and other protections to such victims.”
 
A bipartisan contingent in the U.S. House of Representatives is backing a measure, Concurrent Resolution 75, that expresses the view the “atrocities committed against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities targeted specifically for religious reasons are crimes against humanity and genocide.” The list of cosponsors of the resolution consists of 100 Republicans and 54 Democrats.
 
USCIRF, a bipartisan panel of nine members selected by the president and congressional leaders, tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

Related Story:

Moore: U.S. should not exclude Christians in genocide label

12/8/2015 11:15:30 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Missions-focused church donates reserve funds to IMB

December 8 2015 by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN

A small church in east Texas has made a sizeable gift to the International Mission Board (IMB), even though doing so meant sacrificing funds that could have been used for a permanent building.
 
Two years ago, Journey Baptist Church sold its building, a facility that was poorly located, with little parking and no room for growth. A purchase of 10 acres as a future building site followed, but constructing a new structure proved cost prohibitive, so church leaders were content to meet in temporary facilities until they were able to complete the project.
 
Upon hearing of the IMB’s 2015 decision to reduce the numbers of staff and missionaries on the field, Journey church members set aside nearly a month in earnest prayer to decide how they could help, pastor Kyle Ray said.

 
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Members of Journey Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs, Texas, worship together in a local hotel conference room, where they have been meeting since selling their property and giving more than $29,000 to the IMB. Photo provided by Journey Baptist Church

“Our prayer focus was based on three truths or promises: (1) If we truly seek first God’s kingdom, not our own, then he will take care of all these other things. (2) Are we going to believe it is better to give than receive? (3) Will we love our neighbors more than ourselves?” Ray said.
 
“During our season of prayer, a local man desiring to build a Christian ministry around Sulphur Springs contacted us about our using that ministry’s building, [which is] expected to be completed within 18 months,” Ray said. Information about the man’s unsolicited offer was presented to the congregation at a meeting held in early October to determine the church’s response to the IMB funding issues.
 
The congregation of about 60 members voted to give all of a special reserve fund, monies saved over and above operating funds, to the IMB – a sum of more than $29,000.
 
Additionally, the church increased its Cooperative Program giving from 7 to 10 percent next year, with a commitment to increase it by 1 percent each year until they get to 15 percent.
 
While waiting on the new facility to become available, the church planned to continue meeting at a local hotel, but Ray said the church discovered a better option.
 
“That week we were contacted by the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sulphur Springs who asked us, out of the blue, if we would be interested in meeting on Sunday mornings in that church’s Recreation Outreach Center (ROC) facility,” Ray said, calling the facility “one of the nicest buildings in town.”
 
The move to the ROC facility will save Journey church a significant amount each month, and the building will be available to use until they move to their more permanent location.
 
“As we prayed about giving more to the IMB, the Lord has seemingly convinced our church family that we don’t need to spend $500,000 on a building when we can get along fine without one. He will take care of us and has proven to do so by providing two meeting locations (one temporary and one for more long-term use) for way less than we are paying now and way less than a mortgage plus expenses would be to own a building,” Ray said. “It has been humbling to see God do so much.”
 
Journey church became a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention church plant four years ago and called Ray to become its senior pastor in January 2012. From the beginning, the church has embraced international missions, particularly among unreached people groups.
 
“Within six months of beginning our work together, we went on our first international trip ... to work with an unreached people group,” Ray said. “We adopted that group and have since been back seven times, working with an IMB [worker] there.”
 
From fewer than 20 believers, the area where the church is partnering now has more than 200 believers and five churches.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

12/8/2015 11:10:53 AM by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 1 comments



Syrian refugees finding help from WMU Foundation

December 8 2015 by Caitlin Lea, WMU

The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation is working with Arab Woman Today Ministries to help Syrian refugees currently living in Jordan. The number of refugees fleeing to Jordan has significantly increased in recent weeks.
 
The Jordanian government reports there are 1.5 million Syrian refugees currently living in Jordan, but only a small percentage resides in official refugee camps. Those who live outside of the camps are not eligible to receive food or other assistance from the Jordanian government.
 
“Because of the increase in the number of refugees from Syria, we are seeing many families who are not being taken care of and have nowhere to turn,” says Ruba Abbassi, founder and director of Arab Woman Today (AWT). “They need food, blankets and basic necessities.”
 
The WMU Foundation has a long history of working with AWT.
 
“AWT is a trusted ministry partner,” said David George, president of the WMU Foundation. “They have been sharing Christ’s love in the Arab world for many years, and this is an incredible opportunity to help these vulnerable families. The news media has recently picked up on the Syrian refugee issue, but AWT has been addressing this in Jordan for well over a year.”
 
The WMU Foundation is asking people to provide a blanket for $25, a heater for $50, or a month’s worth of food for a family for $100. Gifts can be directed to the WMU Foundation’s AWT Fund, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, AL 35242. Or, learn more by going to wmufoundation.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Candice Lee is the marketing director for WMU Foundation.)

12/8/2015 11:04:40 AM by Caitlin Lea, WMU | with 0 comments



Christians among victims in California attack

December 7 2015 by Sophia Lee, World News Service

Two weeks before he died, Nicholas Thalasinos, a 52-year-old Messianic Jew, engaged in a heated discussion about the nature of Islam with his colleague Syed Farook. That day, the two San Bernardino County restaurant inspectors argued about whether Islam is a peaceful religion – Thalasinos said it isn’t, and Farook disagreed, saying Americans don’t understand Islam, according to a friend who overheard the debate.
 
On Dec. 2, Farook strapped on black tactical gear, loaded up assault rifles, and charged into a local social services center with his young wife, Tashfeen Malik, and sprayed about 75 rounds into a room where his co-workers were holding a holiday banquet. Officials now say Malik pledged allegiance to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) using a Facebook account under a fake name.

 
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At least one of the bullets fired by Farook and Malik hit and killed Thalasinos. He is one of 14 victims who died that day. His wife, Jennifer Thalasinos, also a Messianic Jew, said her husband became born again two years ago and was always evangelizing: “He wanted to serve the Lord and bring more people to the Lord.” He also was a passionate defender of Israel and his other conservative political and religious views. She believes her husband was “martyred for his faith and beliefs.”
 
As terror, chaos, and speculation fills San Bernardino, a mostly working-class community in Southern California, stories of the victims are also trickling out through sorrowing loved ones. Late Dec. 3, authorities released the 14 shooting victims’ names: 12 were county employees, the youngest 26, the oldest 60. Most were Farook’s friends and colleagues.
 
Bennetta Betbadal, a 46-year-old county health inspector, was 18 when she fled Islamic extremism and persecution of Christians after the Iranian Revolution, according to a statement released by her family: “It is the ultimate irony that her life would be stolen from her by what appears to be the same type of extremism that she fled so many years ago.” She and her family came to New York first, but she eventually met and married her husband Arlen Vedehyou, a police officer, in California. They have three children aged 10, 12, and 15.
 
When Michael Raymond Wetzel, a 37-year-old supervising environmental health specialist, went silent after the shooting, his wife Renee Wetzel, a stay-at-home mother with six children, quickly turned to her friend’s mommy blog for prayers: “My husband was in a meeting and a shooter came in. There are multiple people dead/shot. I can’t get a hold of him. Please pray that he is OK.”
 
Once she learned her husband was one of the victims, she posted Psalm 61:2 on Facebook: “When my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Wetzel’s updated Facebook profile picture show a sunlit, smiling family with the oldest son holding the youngest baby daughter, who wore a pink flower headband. An online fundraiser for the widow and her family on the blog, Lil’ Mamas, racked up more than $60,000 in donations within a day.

12/7/2015 10:53:14 AM by Sophia Lee, World News Service | with 0 comments



Defense secretary orders all combat positions open to women

December 7 2015 by Michael Cochrane, World News Service

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on Dec. 3 ordered the military to open all direct combat positions to women, giving the services 30 days to submit their plans for the historic change.
 
“There will be no exemptions,” Carter said during a press briefing. “To succeed in our mission of national defense, we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country’s talents and skills. We have to take full advantage of every individual who can meet our standards.”
 
Carter’s decision effectively opens up the final 10 percent of military positions (about 220,000) to women, allowing them to serve in any and all direct combat jobs, from infantry rifleman to special operations forces such as the Army Delta Force and the Navy SEALs.
 
The secretary’s announcement was not unexpected. He had hinted at it for months, even telling U.S. troops participating in NATO exercises in Europe in October that limiting his search for qualified military candidates to just half the population would be “crazy.”

 
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Of all the services, only the Marine Corps sought any exceptions in removing the ban on allowing women to serve in combat jobs. Gen. Joseph Dunford, former Marine Corps Commandant and now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited studies showing mixed-gender units aren’t as capable as all-male units. Carter said he came to a different conclusion, but he said the integration of women into combat jobs will be deliberate and methodical and will address the Marine Corps’ concerns.
 
Although Dunford did not attend the press conference announcing the change, Carter told reporters the chairman “will be a full part of implementation.”
 
Carter acknowledged that, on average, men and women have different physical abilities, but insisted the services must assign duties based on ability, not gender. Although this likely would result in a smaller proportion of women in some jobs, he said, equal opportunity does not necessarily mean equal participation. He added that combat effectiveness remained his main goal and that there would be no quotas for women in any jobs.
 
But some military advocates believe such “gender neutral” standards gradually will erode against the constant push for “gender diversity metrics.”
 
“That was the phrase used in the … Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) report in 2011,” said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and a member of President George H. W. Bush’s 1992 Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. “The word metrics is just a synonym for quota,” she added.
 
Donnelly said the Pentagon has fully endorsed the congressionally-mandated MLDC report, which recommended combat jobs be opened to women on the basis of diversity and equal opportunity. But she believes attempts to keep standards for men and women exactly the same are essentially impossible, especially given the documented higher injury rates for women.
 
“If we know that they suffer injuries at the rate double those of men, well the only solution is to lower the standard to avoid those injuries,” Donnelly said. “And the more you do that – you don’t announce it to the media, you don’t even admit it – you say well I’m meeting the same standard. But the word that is left out is ‘minimum.’”
 
The removal of any direct ground combat exclusions for women does not imply combat assignments would be optional for them, such as volunteering for elite units like the Army Rangers. Female recruits could now be ordered to serve “in your regular infantry battalions, units that women really don’t want to go into,” said Donnelly. “They have to follow orders just like the men. And they would have to in the future.”

12/7/2015 10:43:06 AM by Michael Cochrane, World News Service | with 0 comments



Senate cuts PPFA funds, challenges Obama

December 7 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Senate passed a budget-related bill Dec. 3 that challenges President Barack Obama to carry out his promised veto to protect, in part, the country’s top abortion provider.
 
Senators voted 52-47 in a nearly party-line roll call for a reconciliation measure that cuts 80 to 90 percent of federal funds in the next year for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates. The legislation also repeals fundamental sections of the controversial 2010 health care law backed by the president and opposed by nearly all pro-life organizations.
 
The provisions prompted Obama to vow to veto the reconciliation bill if it reaches his desk.
Before it goes to the president, the legislation must return to the House of Representatives for approval. The Senate version approved Dec. 3 strengthened components related to the health care law included in the original measure passed by the House in October.

 
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The votes by both houses to slash most of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding provided a long-attempted breakthrough in Congress to hold accountable an organization that performs more than 300,000 abortions a year, receives more than $500 million from the government annually and continues to be plagued by scandal. Planned Parenthood’s latest black-eye – which fueled the current congressional defunding action – is this year’s revelation through undercover videos it trades in baby body parts.
 
Pro-life leaders hailed the Senate’s vote to slash money for PPFA in spite of their recognition the proposal will almost certainly die at the White House.
 
“This vote demonstrates that the conscience-shocking horror of Planned Parenthood’s human piracy is still very fresh in the minds of lawmakers and their constituents,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “While we still have far to go in the cause of life and human dignity for unborn babies and mothers, this vote is a step in the right direction.”
 
Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy, said, “The recent revelations of [Planned Parenthood’s] activity in aborting babies for their body parts has finally earned them the ire this vote represents. God hears the screams of every one of these innocents. I am praying that President Obama will finally bring this horrific chapter in our nation’s history to an end by signing this bill.”
 
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the Senate vote as “a landmark victory for all who prioritize comprehensive women’s health care over abortion industry profits.”
 
Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said the Senate “is right to recognize that taxpayer money should go to fund local community health centers, not to subsidize a scandal-ridden, billion-dollar abortion business. Americans shouldn’t be forced to give their money [to PPFA].”
 
Pro-life advocates believe the reconciliation process – unsuccessful though it will likely be this year – could pay off in the future.
 
The debate regarding reconciliation “has continued the national conversation on Planned Parenthood and established an important precedent for the next administration,” Dannenfelser said in a written statement. “If Americans elect a pro-life president next year, and safeguard our pro-life majorities in Congress, this bill – and many others – could be law by 2017.”
 
Supporters of the effort to defund Planned Parenthood used the reconciliation process because it enabled the Senate to pass a budget-related measure without the need for 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. The House had approved a different bill to defund PPFA in September, but the legislation was dead on arrival in the Senate because of the need for a super majority. In August, the Senate had fallen short on a defunding bill despite a 53-46 majority, because it failed to gain the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, as it is known.
 
No Democrats voted for the Senate reconciliation bill Dec. 3, and the only Republicans to oppose it were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Senators rejected two amendments that would have nullified the PPFA defunding provision.
 
The legislation approved by the Senate does not name Planned Parenthood but specifies it prohibits funds to organizations and affiliates that receive federal and state Medicaid expenditures exceeding $350 million annually. The bill does not eliminate those funds but redirects them to approved community health centers.
 
PPFA and its affiliates received more than $528 million in government grants, contracts and reimbursements, according to its latest financial report (2013-14). Planned Parenthood affiliates performed more than 327,000 abortions during 2013.
 
The most recent congressional effort to cut federal funds for PPFA came after secretly recorded videos released beginning in July showed various Planned Parenthood officials in different locations discussing the sale of organs from aborted children. The videos included acknowledgements by Planned Parenthood employees of their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve body parts for sale and use.
 
PPFA sought to blunt the defunding campaign by announcing in October its centers no longer would accept federal reimbursement for expenses accrued in tissue donations from aborted babies. Its critics, however, said the action served as an admission of guilt and should not halt the effort to eliminate federal money for the organization.
 
The ERLC’s Moore and 37 other pro-life leaders wrote congressional leaders in October to encourage them to use the reconciliation process in an attempt to defund PPFA.
 
The Senate-passed reconciliation bill takes an ax to the 2010 health care law, eliminating penalties for individuals who refuse to buy health insurance and employers who choose not to provide it. The legislation also repeals other taxes in the law.
 
Pro-life organizations opposed the health care law because of its support of subsidies for abortions. A federal regulation implementing the law also requires employers to provide coverage for contraceptives with potentially abortion-causing properties.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/7/2015 10:38:34 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



SBCV promotes Great Commission, biblical living

December 7 2015 by Brandon Pickett, SBCV

The Great Commission was emphasized throughout the 2015 annual homecoming of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV), where messengers also proclaimed biblical marriage, the sanctity of life, sexual purity and the dangers of pornography and sexual sin.
 
Great Commission stories from the mission field included sharing the gospel in Guam, serving people in earthquake-ravaged Nepal, offering hope to fleeing refugees in Greece and Germany, sharing the gospel with Muslims in Barcelona, Spain, earning the right to be heard in Montreal, baptizing the lost in Lithuania, boldly witnessing to lost motorcyclists in Daytona and pushing through life’s challenges by planting churches in the Washington metro area.
 
A total of 826 registered messengers and guests attended the Nov. 8-10 meeting at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, with the theme “Strong Churches with a Bold Commitment to the Great Commission.”  

Several resolutions proclaimed biblical tenets of living.

 
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Submitted photo
Brian Autry, executive director of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV), was one of several speakers at the SBCV’s annual meeting at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va.

Messengers affirmed that “declaring God’s Word and warning people of the consequences of their sins, including sexual sins, is an act of loving concern,” while pointing out that “hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual, including those involved in sexual sin, are not in accord with scripture nor the doctrines of the church and are to be repudiated.”
 
Regarding sexual purity and pornography, messengers expressed “deep grief over the widespread devastation inflicted by the pornography industry in our churches and communities,” and committed themselves “as disciples of Jesus Christ to lives of purity in thought, word, and deed.” They encouraged churches to teach sexual purity and foster a culture of grace, mercy and restoration.
 
Messengers affirmed the God-ordained value of human life, spanning “pre-born babies, the aged, the physically or mentally challenged, and every other stage or condition from conception through natural death,” and vowed to “oppose any law or court decision that permits taking an unborn child’s life as a clear violation of biblical principle.”
 

Business sessions

For the first time in four years, messengers approved an increase to the ministry investment budget. The 2016 $9.2 million budget is a $200,000, or 2.2 percent, increase from 2015. The SBCV will continue to forward 51 percent of the budget, or $4,692,000, to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and retain 49 percent, or $4,508,000, for SBCV ministries. If the $9.2 million budget is met, messengers voted, the SBCV will send an additional $252,000 to the SBC.
 
Bryan Smith, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Roanoke, was elected president.
 
“I’m humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve with so many mission-minded pastors and churches of the SBCV,” Smith said. “I believe that we (SBCV) are moving ever closer to a genuine, heaven-sent, spiritual awakening throughout the churches in our state.”
 
Other newly elected officers are first vice president Matthew Kirkland, senior pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Christiansburg; second vice president Travis Ingle, pastor of North Bristol Baptist Church in Bristol, and secretary James Ford, singles and discipleship pastor at The Heights Baptist Church in Colonial Heights.
 
Messengers approved the affiliation of 27 new churches, including 17 newly planted congregations, bringing the total of SBCV churches to 672.
 
Ron and Linda Kidd were commissioned to serve as Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries in Montreal. The couple has been serving as church planting strategists with the SBCV for more than eight years, and have also served in France.
 
Jim and Susan Austin were commissioned as the SBCV Lithuania volunteer mission coordinators to administrate the work of planting a church in Panevedzys, Lithuania.
 
Messengers heard that 33 new church planting sponsorships were initiated this reporting year (October 2014-September 2015). A total of 62 churches have sponsored one or more SBCV church plants in Virginia, Washington, in various North American Mission Board Send cities, and in other states and countries.
 
Breakout sessions focused on topics including urban ministry, evangelism, crisis communications, church legal issues, church revitalization through small groups and Sunday School, missions, community partnerships and networking, overcoming barriers in men’s discipleship, motorcycle evangelism and ministering to the deaf and hearing impaired.
 
Musical guests included Jeff Askew and the praise team from Liberty Baptist Church, and Southern gospel artist Jason Crabb.
 
First Baptist Church in Roanoke will host the 2016 annual homecoming Nov. 13-15.
 

Keynote speakers

Keynote speakers included SBC President Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church of Springdale, Ark., who addressed the crowd about living and serving in the power of God.
 
“He can do more in a moment than you can ever do in a lifetime,” Floyd said. “The number one need in America is a spiritual awakening, and it will not come without the power of God upon the land.”
 
During the Nov. 8 evening session, Dennis Swanberg, a self-proclaimed “minister of encouragement,” exhorted attendees to serve others, using an analogy of planting trees.
 
“They planted shade trees that they may never sit under because they wanted you to sit under them,” Swanberg said. “Revelation 14:13 says, ‘Blessed are they that die in the Lord for their works follow after them.’ May we plant shade trees, and may God be honored.”
 
Ken Weathersby, SBC Executive Committee vice-president for convention advancement, spoke multiple times during the meeting. During a special lunch on Monday, he encouraged messengers and guests to proclaim the Gospel through evangelism and to avoid pitfalls.
 
K. Marshall Williams, pastor of historic Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., was also a guest speaker. “Let your light so shine before men that men might see your good works,” he said, evoking Matthew 5:16. “In other words, a godly life is a convincing testimony that number one, Jesus is alive, and that the Bible works.”
 
During the executive director’s report, Brian Autry referenced the ever-growing failures of ministry leaders due to sin. He challenged churches to pray and encourage pastors and other ministry leaders to remain strongly committed to the Great Commission.
 
“Make no mistake about it, we are in a spiritual battle,” Autry said. “What we are involved in requires the heartfelt prayers of our churches for our pastors, for their families, and for the ministries to which God has called them.”
 
Many worshippers came to the altar after a sermon from Vance Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas.
 
“I want to see the power of God fall!” Pitman said. “I want to see God move like He said He was going to move. I want to see the Gospel advance in my city. I want to see nations touched. And we cannot do that with our books and our strategies, our creative meetings, and our whiteboards. We need the power of God to fall. And if we’re going to see the power of God fall our faith must be desperate.”
 
Grant Ethridge, SBCV president and host pastor, encouraged pastors to keep their churches alive and their worship spirit-filled.
 
“I believe that a lot of people are leaving mainline Protestant churches and going to other churches, not because they agree with them doctrinally, but because they want to go where there is life,” Ethridge said. “And our God is a God who brings dead things to life. And so have life in your church.”
 
Many messengers told Ethridge, he said, that the homecoming was “the best revival” they had ever witnessed, and was “more like a multi-day revival than an annual business meeting.”
 
Nov. 10 luncheon speaker Abraham Shepherd from Baptist Global Response challenged messengers about serving refugees who are fleeing persecution. Pastor Raye Bosi, a church planter from Guam, offered an emotional plea for prayer and partnership for missions in his mission field.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Pickett is associate executive director of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.)

12/7/2015 10:31:08 AM by Brandon Pickett, SBCV | with 0 comments



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