December 2017

Worship leaders’ jaunt to Sam’s Club goes viral

December 20 2017 by Scott Barkley, Christian Index

Things went viral after Slade and Danielle Alday and a group of friends went to Sam’s Club in Dothan, Ala.
 
Alday, a worship leader in the Bowen Baptist Association in Bainbridge, Ga., 55 miles to the southeast, and his wife had gone to dinner with a group of worship leaders from an interdenominational church in Donalsonville, Ga.

Facebook photo
Slade Alday, in black shirt, is joined by others at a Dothan, AL Sam’s Club singing “Our God is Awesome” in a video since seen by more than 7 million people on Facebook. At right is a Sam’s Club employee who joined in, Christian Melton.


Someone needed to go to Sam’s Club, so they all went.
 
One of them began playing a keyboard there and the group began to sing. An onlooker recorded about three and a half minutes of “Our God is Awesome” and posted it to Facebook, where it had tallied nearly 11 million views as of Dec. 18.
 
“It was impromptu,” Alday, who also is a member of the Sons of Jubal chorus of Georgia Baptist worship leaders, told The Christian Index of the Georgia convention in a Nov. 17 article. “The Holy Spirit just showed up in a mighty way. In this time when people can’t get along for various reasons, we were all together. We were just singing praises to God.”
 
The video can be viewed in the Index article at christianindex.org/when-a-trip-to-sams-club-became-a-worship-service-for-millions/.
 
In the video, Alday can be seen in a black shirt while Joy Buczek, a member of dinner party, plays “Our God is Awesome” on a keyboard set up for display.
 
“When we were walking around we turned the corner and there were these keyboards,” Alday recounted. “Like any curious musician, Joy wanted to mess around on them and started playing some songs.
 
“We started singing in our little group and began having a worship time.”
 
Prior to what is seen in the video, the group had already sung “Total Praise,” “My Life Is in Your Hands” and “Every Praise,” Alday said. By then, he estimated they’d been singing for 10 or 15 minutes before realizing they had an audience.
 
“I heard people saying ‘Amen.’ So, I turned around and they had their hands raised; some were crying. It was a beautiful moment.”
 
Those who had joined in asked the group to sing louder. “A Sam’s Club employee named Christian Melton joined in,” Alday added. “My, what a voice. She sounded like Whitney Houston.”
 
In addition to being shared on Facebook, the concert had trended on Twitter; a segment about it was on the “Today” show; and Kirk Cameron posted it on his Facebook page.
 
Alday said the experience reminded him of John 12:32. “Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me,’” he stated. “In that little bit of time the gospel was proclaimed around the world. People responded. It was mind-blowing.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston with reporting by Scott Barkley of Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index.)
 

12/20/2017 9:39:13 AM by Scott Barkley, Christian Index | with 0 comments



Shirer’s online Bible studies, global reach

December 20 2017 by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources

On the other side of the world, Lauri, from South Africa, went through a Bible study with a friend here in the United States.

LifeWay Christian Resources photo
Priscilla Shirer, a LifeWay Christian Resources author and Bible teacher, will lead a new online Bible study – Discerning the Voice of God– in January. “This Bible study will remind participants that we can hear the voice of God as we study Him through the scriptures. We’ll talk about how to open up our spiritual ears – heighten our spiritual senses – so we can detect the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives.”


Candice, from Garland, Texas, gathered with friends from all over the country to study God’s Word.
 
Carole, from Coatesville, Pa., led a group of women from her church through a Bible study with streaming video content.
 
And Sherri, a woman from Manvel, Texas, had the same Bible study pop up in her Facebook feed after she cried out to God for help in a difficult family situation.
 
“I decided to do this study because I needed to overcome some issues that occurred a long time ago,” she wrote. “I feel like I’m being attacked in my mind for my past life and just couldn’t take it on my own anymore.”
 
Lauri, Candice, Carole and Sherri – four women in different locations, with different life circumstances – all did the same online Bible study in summer 2016: Priscilla Shirer’s The Armor of God. These four women were among 40,000 reached by the study.
 
And starting Jan. 18, LifeWay Women will release the next online Bible study – Discerning the Voice of God, also by Shirer.
 
This seven-session series is the second Bible study from Shirer offered online.
 
“The Lord has taught me so many things,” said Shirer, a LifeWay author and Bible teacher. “One of the most amazing things (He taught me) is that we can really hear His voice. This Bible study will remind participants that we can hear the voice of God as we study Him through the scriptures. We’ll talk about how to open up our spiritual ears – heighten our spiritual senses – so we can detect the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives.”
 
LifeWay Christian Resources often hears from women who want to know the heart of God, said Elizabeth Hyndman, content editor and social media strategist for LifeWay Women.
 
“I think this is something every believer wants to know,” she said. “In today’s climate, when we hear opposing messages from every outlet, all claiming to be truth, it’s as important as ever to know how to hear God speak through His Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit.”

LifeWay Christian Resources photo
About 40,000 were reached by Priscilla Shirer’s online Bible study, The Armor of God, during the summer of 2016. And starting Jan. 18, LifeWay Women will release the next online Bible study – Discerning the Voice of God, also by Shirer.


LifeWay Women’s audience has grown through online Bible studies, but the studies were launched as a means to reach women with biblical truth – wherever they may be.
 
Many women cannot attend Bible studies at their church due to schedules or child care needs. Some don’t live near a church offering Bible studies for women. Others are leaders who participate in the online study as a way to prepare to lead the study at their church later.
 
Additionally, Hyndman said, women can enjoy community with faraway friends and family.
 
“We’ve had women study with daughters and sisters who live in different states,” she said. “They meet together via Skype or Google Hangouts. They’ll watch the videos online and then discuss together.”
 
Women from all 50 states have participated in at least one LifeWay online Bible study. Some women have joined the studies from abroad, in countries such as South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia. A few have joined from Barbados, China, Japan, India, Greece, Kenya and France.
 
“They may be the only Christian or the only English speaker in their community and long for fellowship,” Hyndman said. “We’ve seen women make friends in the comment section of our blog, making plans to email for accountability, praying for one another and offering words of advice.”
 
Since 2015, about 80,000 women from around the world have joined LifeWay’s online Bible studies.
 
“Our world is getting smaller and smaller through technology,” Hyndman said. “It’s not unusual to meet true friends and have community through the internet. We want to use the technology available to us to glorify God and point others to Him. Our online Bible studies are one way to do just that.
 
“We’ve learned that people see LifeWay as a trusted resource for their biblical and spiritual questions and needs,” she said. “We can study His Word with women around the world, growing together in Christlikeness.”
 
To mark the release of Discerning the Voice of God, LifeWay is offering a gift bundle, a $78 value that retails for $19.99. The package includes resources authored by Shirer:

  • Awaken, a 90-day devotional book.
  • A Discerning the Voice of God Bible study book.
  • Limited-time access to streaming video content from January 18 (the release date) to March 31.

 
Visit lifewaywomen.com/DiscerningOBS to learn more and register for Discerning the Voice of God. To order the gift bundle, visit lifeway.com/Product/priscilla-shirer-gift-bundle-P005803856.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joy Allmond is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
 

12/20/2017 9:31:09 AM by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Ohio passes Down syndrome abortion ban

December 20 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Pro-life advocates are applauding the Ohio legislature’s passage of a bill to ban abortions of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome. They expect a signature from Gov. John Kasich within the next week or so.
 
Last month, the state House passed the bill 64-31, and the Senate passed it 20-12 last week. The legislation prohibits abortions “because an unborn child has or may have Down syndrome.” Abortionists who violate the law would face a fourth-degree felony charge, but their patients would not face prosecution.
 
The National Right to Life Committee’s Ingrid Duran said her organization “commends the hard work of pro-life leaders in Ohio for passing a bill that protects the most vulnerable little humans in the womb.” She added, “People with Down syndrome, or any other genetic anomaly, should never be discriminated against. These babies always deserve protection, and families deserve a better option than abortion.”
 
Given Kasich’s track record, pro-lifers expect his signature within the 10-day period before the bill automatically becomes law.
 
“Gov. Kasich has signed every single piece of legislation Ohio Right to Life has put on his desk,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “We hope that he will sign this as well.”
 
The bill would mark Kasich’s 20th pro-life law during his six years in office, including the 20-week abortion ban he signed last December.
 
Two other states have passed Down syndrome abortion bans with mixed results: North Dakota’s 2013 law still stands, while a federal judge blocked Indiana’s 2016 ban in September. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill announced since then he plans to appeal the injunction.
 
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio hasn’t indicated whether it will file suit against that state’s bill, but its lobbyist, Gary Daniels, called for a veto.
 
Gonidakis said he anticipates an ACLU lawsuit but is confident in Ohio’s pro-life Attorney General Mike DeWine’s ability to defend the law “tooth and nail in every court in Ohio and nationally all the way to the Supreme Court.” He added, “At the end of the day, everyone deserves a right to life whether you’re rich, poor, man, woman, black or white, whether you have a special need or whether you’re perfect in the eyes of society. We do not want to engage in modern-day eugenics.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
 

12/20/2017 8:56:24 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



New HHS abortion/contraception mandate rules blocked

December 19 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A crucial win for objectors to the Obama-era abortion/contraception mandate is now on hold.
 
In a Dec. 15 ruling, a federal court in Philadelphia blocked enforcement of the Trump administration’s new rules that exempt from the controversial requirement those employers that object based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The new regulations issued Oct. 6 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided relief from a rule that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions.
 
Federal Judge Wendy Beetlestone’s preliminary injunction applies to the entire country even though it was requested by Pennsylvania. Under Beetlestone’s opinion, the injunction will remain in effect while the case proceeds.
 
The abortion/contraception mandate, a 2011 HHS rule that helped implement a controversial health-care law enacted the previous year, resulted in legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and several Baptist universities. Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order that serves the elderly poor, became the face of the objecting institutions.
 
Despite the new HHS rules, entities such as GuideStone and Little Sisters have continued to push their arguments in court to assure freedom of conscience for themselves and others is safeguarded.
 
Religious liberty and pro-life advocates bemoaned the ruling.
 
“This injunction represents a needless impediment to rights of conscience in America,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written remarks for Baptist Press. “The previous administration was wrong to weaponize the insurance debate in the first place by forcing groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their sincerely held beliefs.”
 
Moore expressed hope the case “will be resolved without delay and religious liberty will be upheld.”
 
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, described it as “a shameful ruling” that attempts to maintain the Obama administration’s “assault on conscience rights and religious liberty.”
 
The government has no compelling interest “in forcing pro-life employers to violate their consciences to provide abortion-inducing drugs,” she said in a written statement.
 
Abortion-rights advocates applauded the injunction.
 
“It is every woman’s right to decide what to do with her body, and it is a fundamental freedom to be able to decide if and when to have a child,” said Dawn Laugens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in written comments.
 
In her 44-page opinion, Beetlestone said Pennsylvania would likely succeed on its claims the new rules contradict the text of the health-care law and the Trump administration “did not follow proper procedures in issuing” its regulations.
 
The new rules “will likely inflict a direct injury upon [Pennsylvania] by imposing substantial financial burdens” on it because of the increased spending for programs that provide contraceptives, she said.
 
In its Oct. 6 release, HHS said the new rules will have no effect on government programs that offer free or subsidized contraceptive coverage to low-income women and will have no effect on more than 99.9 percent of American women.
 
In May 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court nullified multiple federal appeals court decisions against the religious institutions and blocked the Obama administration from imposing fines on them. The justices told the appeals courts involved to give the parties an opportunity to reach a solution “that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” No agreement was reached before Obama left office in January.
 
When it issued the controversial rule in August 2011, HHS provided an exemption for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations that object. HHS proposed nearly 10 accommodations for the objecting institutions, but none proved satisfactory to their conscience concerns.
 
The federally approved contraceptives for which coverage is required by the mandate include the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
 
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s conscience-based challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate. In its 5-4 opinion in that case, the justices upheld objections to the requirement by “closely held,” for-profit companies, such as family owned businesses.
 
Messengers to the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention meeting adopted a resolution calling for an exemption from the mandate for “all religious organizations and people of faith ... who declare a religious objection to such coverage.”
 
The case is Pennsylvania v. Trump.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

12/19/2017 8:40:20 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Housing allowance order stayed for now; appeals likely

December 19 2017 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources

A federal district court judge in Wisconsin, as expected, has entered a final order declaring the minister’s housing allowance unconstitutional. The Dec. 13 order, however, has been stayed for 180 days after all appeals are exhausted, meaning it currently does not have any impact.
 
Observers expect the government to appeal the order by Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin, who issued her ruling on Oct. 6 following a 2013 ruling she issued that was overturned.
 
The minister’s housing allowance exclusion, allows churches to designate part of eligible ministers’ income as a tax-free housing allowance. Thus, as codified as part of a 1954 law, the housing allowance permits “ministers of the [g]ospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has interpreted the law broadly to include religious workers of various faiths as “ministers of the [g]ospel.”
 
The 2013 ruling by Crabb, an appointee from President Jimmy Carter’s administration, was overturned in 2014 by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Both cases were brought by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. In the 2013 case, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case.
 
This case is different, according to the Church Alliance, a coalition of large and historic denominational pension boards. This time, the alliance noted, the plaintiffs were granted a housing allowance by the foundation, “paid income taxes on the housing allowance, sought a refund of those taxes paid and arguably have been denied tax refunds by the IRS.”
 
The challenge specifically applies to the cash housing allowance; the part of the tax law that provides for tax-free use of a parsonage or other church-owned home is not impacted.
 
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, said the Southern Baptist entity, which is part of the Church Alliance, has “monitored these challenges closely and will be prepared to provide amicus briefs at the appropriate time.”
 
“We believe the housing allowance law as it currently exists removes government-imposed favor and allows churches to determine whether a church-owned home or providing a cash allowance is the best way for a church to provide for its minister’s needs,” Hawkins said. “We look forward to advocating on behalf of all pastors along with other denominational pension boards and with our Southern Baptist partners.”
 
GuideStone has advised ministers to consult its annual tax guide, available at GuideStone.org/taxguide, and its housing allowance information, available at GuideStone.org/housingallowance, to ensure they are properly documenting any housing allowance and reporting it appropriately on their income tax returns.
 
At the time of Crabb’s ruling in October, Hawkins said, “We continue to live and minister in a world that is increasingly hostile to religious life as compared to the world in which many of us grew up. Rather than discouraging us, we seek to continue to serve as an advocate for hundreds of thousands of pastors and other ministers we have the privilege to serve.”
 
Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press that the housing allowance is neutral, applying to all religions. Removing it, Moore said, “would disproportionately harm clergy in small congregations across the country.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this story.)

12/19/2017 8:33:12 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments



‘In All Things Pray’ opens 2018 for Southern Baptists

December 19 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The month-long prayer emphasis “In All Things Pray” opens 2018 on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) calendar, encouraging churches to pray corporately for 60 minutes at least weekly in January.


SBC graphic


Standing on Acts 1:8 and 2 Chronicles 7:14, In All Things Pray encourages 10 minutes of scripture reading, public leadership and worship; 20 minutes of vocalized prayer requests and 30 minutes of guided prayer in each hour-long service, event organizers said.
 
“We are hopeful churches will use the 10-20-30 corporate prayer model in at least one of their weekly gatherings during January,” said Roger “Sing” Oldham, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention communications and relations. “The 10-20-30 model is very interactive and is ideal for a midweek prayer service.”
 
Oldham represents the Executive Committee on PrayerLink, a national organization of prayer ministry leaders that helped the Executive Committee develop this year’s prayer focus.
 
“We think people will be refreshed by spending a complete hour in focused prayer,” Oldham said, “and encouraged at how quickly a one-hour time of prayer will pass, perhaps spurring them on in their personal times of prayer at home.”
 
Four categories of prayer concerns drawn from Acts 1:8 are offered among resources at InAllThingsPray.net for suggested use, all or in part.
 

Family and friends

Target this group by creating a prayer list of family members to pray for daily. Using the CrossRoads Prayer Evangelism ministry referenced at InAllThingsPray.net, encourage congregants to list five friends and track their prayer and outreach targeting the individuals. Ask church members to write on note cards the names of unchurched and lost family members, bring the cards to the altar and place them before the Lord.
 

Church and community:

Lead church members in praying specifically for evangelistic events on the first half of the church’s 2018 calendar, such as Vacation Bible School, revivals or special music programs. The church’s continued health, ministry teams and committees are among other suggested prayer concerns.
 

The United States and its peoples:

Read 1 Timothy 2:1-6 aloud during the morning worship service and encourage prayer for the nation. Mention the names of elected officials during the pastoral prayer. Ask the Lord to call from within your congregation members who will serve as pastors, missionaries and church planters. Pray for the different ethnicities living within the nation and for the racial reconciliation that is possible only through salvation in Jesus Christ.
 

The world and its people groups:

During the pastoral prayer, petition the Lord on behalf of those within the congregation who may be sensing a call to international ministry. Ask the Lord to give International Mission Board trustees and leaders divine wisdom and guidance in challenging Southern Baptists to be on mission with God. Ask for wisdom and mercy for international missionaries working in dangerous locations.
 
PrayerLink is composed of prayer coordinators from Southern Baptist entities and the Executive Committee, the Woman’s Missionary Union, state Baptist conventions, and Southern Baptist ethnic and language fellowships. PrayerLink collaborates with groups represented in its membership to foster a Great Commission prayer mindset among Southern Baptists and other Christ-followers, and to promote Great Commission prayer ministries for Southern Baptist churches.
 
Additional resources and promotional materials are available at InAllThingsPray.net.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

12/19/2017 8:26:45 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Nazareth mayor: Christmas events not canceled

December 19 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Israeli Arab officials in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown where an angel announced His incarnation to the virgin Mary, have walked back statements that Christmas celebrations there would be canceled to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
 
Meanwhile, when the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace, learned of Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement regarding Jerusalem, it briefly switched off the area’s Christmas lights in protest, Reuters reported, as did Ramallah in the West Bank.
 
In Nazareth, the city government announced last week that some public Christmas celebrations would be canceled as a statement of opposition to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, according to multiple media reports. With some 76,000 Israeli Arab Muslims and Christians living there, Nazareth is the largest Arab town in Israel and has elected numerous Arabs to local government posts.
 
City spokesman Salem Sharara said, “We have decided to cancel the traditional Christmas singing and dancing because we are in a time of dispute, because of what Trump has said about Jerusalem,” Reuters reported. According to The Times of Israel, Nazareth mayor Ali Salam, who is Muslim, said Dec. 14, “Our identity and faith aren’t up for debate.” America’s recognition of Jerusalem “has taken away the joy of the holiday, and we will thus cancel the festivities this year.”
 
But two days later, Salam said according to The Times, “Reports that Christmas events were canceled this year are incorrect.” He added to Reuters, “I don’t know why people thought there would be cuts to the celebrations.”
 
Other than three singers who were scheduled to appear but will not perform at Nazareth’s annual Christmas festivities, Salam said, “everything ... will be held as normal.”
 
At least 60,000 visitors descended on Nazareth the weekend of Dec. 16-17, Reuters reported.
 
Israel long has claimed Jerusalem as its capital, with modern Israeli governments varying in their willingness to let Palestinians control portions of the city. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital.
 
Jamal Bishara, an Israeli Arab Southern Baptist pastor, told Baptist Press previously some Palestinians and other Arabs perceive Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to be “another slap in the face to Palestinians.”
 
Trump said Dec. 6 he was not taking a position on “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

12/19/2017 8:25:22 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pakistan: ISIS claims attack on church

December 19 2017 by Morning Star News, Pakistan correspondent

Terror struck Christians in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province Dec. 17 as four terrorists allegedly linked with the Islamic State group (ISIS) attacked a church, killing at least nine worshipers and injuring more than 50 others.

Photo courtesy of Morning Star News
Boy wounded in attack on church in Quetta, Pakistan on Sunday on Dec. 17.


Police and church officials told Morning Star News that four suicide attackers stormed the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the provincial capital, Quetta, in the southwestern part of the country.
 
“There were around 400 worshipers inside the church when the attack began,” pastor Saimon Bashir Masih told Morning Star News, adding that the church was holding a “Sunday School Christmas Program” at the time of the attack.
 
Pastor Masih said that police assigned to the church’s security reacted timely, averting a much larger tragedy, as one suicide attacker was shot dead after an exchange of fire with police while the other died after detonating his explosive-packed jacket before being able to enter the main prayer hall.
 
Their two accomplices fled the scene during the exchange of fire.
 
“The loss of lives would have been colossal had either of the two suicide bombers detonated inside the church hall,” the pastor said. “Zarghoon Road is a very sensitive area, and the church is already listed in the A+ category of high threat places.”
 
Police guards deployed at the main gate and on the roof opened fire on the terrorists when one of them scaled the church gate and opened it for his accomplice, he said.
 
“Our church gatekeeper, George Masih, was the first person who fell to the terrorists’ bullets,” he said.
 
The congregation erupted in panic as soon as the shots rang out in the church compound, he said.
 
“We immediately asked the people to take shelter beneath the benches, as we were not sure about the attackers’ location,” the pastor said. “Many panic-stricken people rushed towards the main door and that’s when the second bomber exploded his jacket in the compound, resulting in the casualties.”
 
The dead included a married woman, Sona Nadif, two girls, Madiha Barkat and Mehak Suhail, a boy named Akash, and others identified as Naseem, George Masih, Gulzar Bhatti, Sultan Masih and Fazal Masih.
 

Hiding under benches

Broken wooden benches, shards of glass and musical instruments were scattered around a Christmas tree inside the prayer hall that was splashed with blood stains.
 
Sunil Pervaiz, who was present in the church with his sister when the attack happened, told Morning Star News that the congregation was busy worshipping when the firing started.
 
“We hid the women and children under the benches, but just then a deafening explosion occurred, breaking the wooden door and the glass windows,” Pervaiz said. “I saw several people covered in blood … some were lying on the floor, some limping away to safety. It was sheer chaos.”
 
Aqil Anjum, who was shot in his right arm, said bullets were hitting people inside the closed hall.
 
“The situation was so chaotic that my mind had numbed,” he told Morning Star News. “My condition was such that I initially didn’t even feel the bullet piercing my arm.”
 
Mehreen Joseph, 43, said her 17-year-old son suffered multiple wounds from gunfire and the explosion.
 
“I am thankful to God Almighty that my son is alive, but my heart grieves for the families of our congregation who have lost their loved ones today,” she said. “The church was brimming with activity for the pre-Christmas Mass, and we all were very excited to be there, but our happiness has been turned into sadness.”
 
According to Balochistan Police Chief Moazzam Ansari, the injuries resulted mainly from wooden splinters from the door and from glass blown out of the church’s windows in the explosion.
 
Ansari praised the quick response of the police guards posted to the church, which he said had prevented the attackers from causing maximum damage.
 
The assailants were between 16 and 20 years old and had strapped 15 kilograms of explosives to their bodies. One successfully detonated his explosive vest, while the other was defused, Ansari said, adding that two other attackers fled without putting up a fight. Authorities are searching for them.
 

ISIS claims responsibility

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency said in an online statement, without providing any evidence for its claim.
 
The Bethel Memorial Church was the target of a previous terrorist attack. Security had been beefed up for the church after the last attack, which occurred a few years ago. The church is located in the city’s high-security zone.
 
Jacob Masih, another worshiper, said that the attack occurred so suddenly that the congregation was thunder-struck.
 
“People started running to the corners of the church when the firing started,” he told Morning Star News. “All of this happened very quickly, leaving most of us in a state of shock and disbelief. Many, including myself, thought that it was the last day of our lives.”
 
Sidra Shams, a member of the church, said that several children participating in the Sunday school program remained safe while firing continued around them.
 
The church attack came a day after the third anniversary of a Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that killed 144 persons, mostly schoolchildren, one of the single deadliest attacks in the country’s history.
 
Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa condemned the attack, calling it an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations.
 
The United States also strongly condemned “the shocking and brutal attack on innocent worshipers,” U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale said in a statement.
 
Christian political and religious leaders condemned the attack and urged prayer, while also calling on the government to provide maximum security to churches across the country for Christmas services next week.
 
Christians make up 2 percent of Pakistan’s population and face persecution from hard-line Islamists who want to see a strict interpretation of Islamic law take precedence in the legal system.
 
A 7-year-old boy and two others were killed earlier in December during a hand grenade attack on the gates of a Christian colony in Chaman in Balochistan. The victim was identified as Lucky Saleem. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
 
Previous attacks on Christians include a suicide attack in Lahore that killed at least 14 people in March 2015, and suicide attacks on a church in Peshawar in 2013 that killed more than 80 people.
 
Pakistan ranked fourth on Christian support group Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morning Star News is a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)

 

12/19/2017 8:17:35 AM by Morning Star News, Pakistan correspondent | with 0 comments



Seminary’s impact strengthens family’s call to serve

December 18 2017 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

As Lesley Hildreth walked across the stage with her daughter, Rachel Hildreth Breniser, at Binkley Chapel on Dec. 8 to receive their degrees, the moment represented not only personal accomplishments but also Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) influence on the Hildreth family.
 
“[SEBTS] is a key vehicle that has enabled us to serve the Lord better and serve the Lord together,” said Scott Hildreth, director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at SEBTS, husband to Lesley and father to Rachel.

SEBTS photo
The Hildreth family pose for a picture following the fall graduation ceremony on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.


Lesley received her master of arts in Christian studies degree from SEBTS. Her daughter Rachel received her bachelor of arts degree in English from The College at Southeastern, the undergraduate arm of the seminary.
 

A call to go

It was 10 years ago that the Hildreth family moved to Wake Forest, N.C., from Central Asia. Scott still remembers the time when he wrestled with the call God had given him and his family to leave the mission field.
 
Both he and his wife Lesley, along with their two children had served as international mission workers in Central Asia for two years and had spent another six years in Berlin, Germany.
 
“I remember standing on a hill in [Central Asia] just really praying and asking God, ‘Why would you want us to leave? Look at all these lost people around us,’” he said. “And it was as if the Lord spoke and said, ‘Yeah, but you’re only one person here. Just think if you could have hundreds of people sent out [and] trained for this.’”
 
The Lord led Scott and his family to come to SEBTS for him to pursue a doctor of philosophy – but they later realized God had much more in store.
 

Academically equipped

Having prior overseas ministry experience, Lesley saw the value of what a theological education could have provided for her as a missionary. After Scott received his doctor of philosophy, she began her master of arts in Christian studies.
 
For Lesley, she has seen how the combination of seminary courses and prioritizing time in God’s Word strengthens the ability to better equip others in their spiritual walks.
 
“It helps you teach others who will not ever step in a seminary classroom how to look at scripture. ... It’s exciting to watch other people fall in love with the Lord through reading and studying the Word of God when they’ve never had the opportunity before,” Lesley said.
 
Lesley models this, too, with her role at The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area as the women’s discipleship director. There, she oversees women’s ministry at nine of the eleven church campuses, totaling approximately 6,000 women. And she continues to maintain the relationships she has built with SEBTS women.
 
“I think that’s probably been my personal greatest blessing of being on [SEBTS’s] campus and around this campus for the last 10 years,” she said.
 
Scott and Lesley look back and see how God has given them the opportunity to mobilize many students to take the gospel all over the world.
 
“I have the chance to sit in here and quite literally be part of ... a movement through [SEBTS where] we quite literally have sent hundreds of people around the world,” Scott said.
 

Spiritually transformed

For Rachel, she experienced a spiritual turnaround during her time in theological education. Between growing up on the mission field and attending the school where her parents also were, Rachel’s spiritual life was not something she believed she owned for herself – that is, not until the summer leading into her sophomore year.
 
“I went on the Crossover Baltimore trip and the Lord worked through that trip and changed my life,” Rachel said.
 
Prior to Crossover Baltimore, an evangelism initiative preceding the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in 2014, she had been getting ready to transfer to University of North Carolina at Charlotte and was ready to “run from [her] faith” as she recalled.
 
But in Baltimore, she experienced the love of believers unlike she had before and it came during a difficult season in her life.
 
“I had just not had Christian people care about me like that so it really made me reinvestigate my faith and choose it for myself instead of something I just did for my parents,” she said.
 
This experience radically changed her outlook on faith and even theological education. After spending the fall semester at University of North Carolina in 2014, Rachel was back on SEBTS’s campus the next spring. This time, she had a new motivation.
 
“When I came back,” she recalled, “I really had a different motivation instead of just being there to be there.”
 
Personally, she has seen her community of friends grow through getting plugged into a small group and working on campus.
 
Academically, Rachel was pursuing her college degree while experiencing some new changes in her life. Along with managing school and work, Rachel’s time in college came with a new marriage and, right before graduating, a new baby.
 
But through all of this, she remembers professors who cared for her. One such time was shortly after she had been married. Managing school and a marriage was hard and she reached out to her advisor, Adrianne Miles, for help due to falling behind in class.
 
“She [was] really was encouraging ... She sent scripture [that was] encouraging and helpful,” Rachel said.
 
There have been challenges and sacrifices in each of the academic journeys for Scott, Lesley and Rachel.
 
Whether it was sacrificing social time to finish an assignment, pushing forward in school instead of quitting or moving the whole family to a new town to follow God’s call to further theological training, Scott, Lesley and Rachel are seeing the fruits of their labor.
 
More importantly, they are seeing how God’s faithfulness in calling their family to leave the mission field is exceeding all that they could have hoped for.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Pratt is Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s news and information specialist.)
 

12/18/2017 9:47:23 AM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments



Reformed theologian, pastor R.C. Sproul dies

December 18 2017 by WORLD News Service and Baptist Press

Robert Charles “R.C.” Sproul, the Reformed theologian, pastor, teacher and lecturer who founded and chaired Ligonier Ministries and authored close to 100 books, including The Holiness of God, died Dec. 14. He was 78.

R.C. Sproul


Sproul was known for delivering uncompromising messages on the holiness and sovereignty of God in his writing, video teaching series and as a regular speaker at Ligonier’s national conferences in Orlando, Fla. Ligonier’s mission is “helping Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to live it and how to share it,” he once said.
 
Among Southern Baptist entity leaders that paid tribute to Sproul on social media upon learning of his death were Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Jason Allen, GuideStone Financial Resources’ O.S. Hawkins, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Russell Moore and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s R. Albert Mohler Jr.
 
Mohler, a teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries, called Sproul “the greatest and most influential proponent of the recovery of Reformed theology in the last century.” Sproul’s tape-recorded lectures helped Mohler work through “big theological questions that had me by the throat” as a teenager in the 1970s, Mohler said.
 
“When [Sproul] taught about the holiness of God, a generation of evangelicals was rescued from the emaciated and desiccated theology of cultural Christianity,” Mohler wrote in a Dec. 14 commentary. “When he defended Reformed theology, he taught us all how to understand the gospel in terms of God’s eternal purpose to save, consistent with His sovereignty. He was rigorously biblical and ruthlessly logical ... with a smile.”
 
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, who joined Sproul and some 200 other evangelical leaders in 1978 to help craft the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, told Baptist Press, “Any time the Christian community loses a faithful leader who has impacted untold numbers for Christ, Christians are poorer. Yet we can rejoice because we know where he is and the separation is only temporary. I rejoice today in the memory of Dr. R.C. Sproul – a great man of God.”
 
Born in Pittsburgh in 1939, Sproul graduated from Westminster College, which he attended on a football scholarship. A fellow student at Westminster nudged him on his path to discipleship. Sproul told Christianity Today in 2002 that one evening during his freshman year, the captain of the football team invited him to chat: “He was the first person I ever met in my life that talked about Christ as a reality.”
 
Sproul earned degrees from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the Free University of Amsterdam. In 1971 he helped establish the Ligonier Valley Study Center in western Pennsylvania, which eventually became Ligonier Ministries and moved to Orlando in 1984.
 
“Whatever else we do with this gospel, we must never, ever, ever, ever, ever mess with it,” he once said. Sproul, ordained as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), also served as co-pastor at St. Andrew’s Chapel and chancellor of Reformation Bible College, both in Sanford, Fla.
 
His daily radio program, “Renewing Your Mind,” and his Tabletalk magazine column, “Right Now Counts Forever,” helped spread his message.
 
“Every single moment of life that we experience on this planet is tied to eternity,” Sproul said. “I find it not just comforting but a delight to be involved in this enterprise in which we are saying to the world, ‘You are not meaningless. God has printed upon you His worth.’”
 
Sproul’s wife, Vesta, whom he had known since childhood, survives him, as do his daughter Sherrie Sproul Dick, his son Robert Craig Sproul and their families.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Baptist Press chief national correspondent David Roach contributed to this report. Laura Hendrickson writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

12/18/2017 9:38:55 AM by WORLD News Service and Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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