February 2013

Retired SBC editor Leonard Hill dies

February 26 2013 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Leonard E. Hill, who served the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) most notably as managing editor of the former Baptist Program leadership magazine, died Feb. 18 in a Nashville nursing home. He was 83.

Hill edited the Baptist Program monthly outreach to SBC pastors from 1957 until 1993 when the publication was succeeded by the current SBC LIFE. Hill continued to serve the SBC in the Executive Committee’s then-program planning department and later at Seminary Extension.

Wilmer C. Fields, Executive Committee vice president for public relations from 1957 until his retirement in 1987, hailed Hill as a longtime SBC servant.

“Leonard Hill’s entire career was in service to Southern Baptists,” Fields said. “He was always an efficient, congenial worker, an ardent sports fan, and an avid tennis player.”

An Oklahoma native, Hill served in the pastorate from 1949-55, first at Dover Baptist Chapel in Dover, Okla. and later at Meridian Baptist Church in Comanche, Okla. He was assistant editor of the All-Church Press in Fort Worth, Texas, from 1956-57 before beginning his career with the SBC Executive Committee.

Hill held a journalism degree from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and bachelor and doctorate of divinity degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

Survivors include his sister Elizabeth Wright, his brother Leslie Hill, daughters Cheryl Gentry and Karen Ross, and three grandchildren.

Hill’s funeral was held Feb. 23 at First Baptist Church in Nashville.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler.)
2/26/2013 2:46:49 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Human trafficking issue captures N.C. missionary’s heart

February 25 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Sandra Johnson refuses to turn her back on the problem. And she believes North Carolina Baptists shouldn’t turn away either.
For Johnson, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary based in N.C., the issue of human trafficking is personal, and it’s a problem that is right in our “own backyard.” With human trafficking being the fastest-growing crime in the world, Johnson said it is an issue that every Christian should be involved in stopping. Right now there are believed to be around 27 million people living in slavery. And many of those victims are in N.C., which is among the top 10 states where human trafficking is an issue.

Children as young as 6 years old are being sold on the streets and on the Internet, she said.
“I can’t turn my back on that  … it could easily be my grandchildren,” said Johnson, a member of Green Street Baptist Church in High Point and president and founder of Triad Ladder of Hope, a non-profit organization that helps human trafficking victims escape from bondage, rebuild their lives and shares the love of Jesus with them in the process. “There are more people enslaved today than in any other time in history. … This is ‘free America,’ but it’s not.”
Johnson was commissioned by NAMB during the Baptist State Convention of N.C.’s annual meeting in Greensboro last November as a Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionary. While helping people – most of whom are immigrants from all over the world – escape slavery through Triad Ladder of Hope, she also looks for opportunities to share her faith. 
Johnson said she’s always had a heart for international missions.
“[International missions] was my dream,” she said. “I’m basically doing international missions here at home.”
By giving through the Cooperative Program and to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptists help provide training and ministry-related support for missionaries like Johnson. As a MSC missionary, Johnson receives direct financial support through donations and ministry partners, which include several N.C. Baptist churches like Green Street Baptist.
Kevin Ezell, president of NAMB, said during Johnson’s commissioning service that NAMB seeks to find more ways to fight issues like human trafficking throughout the U.S. and in Canada.
“When you hear about it for the very first time, you don’t think … that there is a need in North Carolina,” Ezell said. “I did not realize North Carolina was in the [top 10], and Atlanta is [near] the top as far as the most challenging area.”

Sandra Johnson

“North Carolina Baptists … you are one of the finest and one of the strongest conventions the Southern Baptist Convention has,” Ezell said.
“You’re one of the finest leaders. You’re some of the finest pastors. That [puts] you in a very dangerous situation because we can look at all that is going right and lose a sense of intensity and tenacity and urgency.”
Missionaries like Johnson, Ezell said, are examples of those who are willing to step out and make a difference for Christ.
This past year, Triad Ladder of Hope has put an intense focus on helping victims find jobs through training opportunities. They seek out victims through visiting homeless and domestic violence shelters.
They also reach out to women who are vulnerable to human trafficking through working in strip clubs. 
About once a month Johnson works with ministry volunteers who go into clubs to build relationships with the women there. While volunteers hand out gift bags they seek to find those who may not be there by choice.
“Many victims of sex trafficking can be found in strip clubs,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it’s a husband that is forcing them to be there, and he takes all of the money.”
It’s a ministry that takes time and patience.
“The first time it’s kind of awkward,” Johnson said.
“But you have to build that relationship as you go in. Once we’ve been in several times, they begin to trust you and start talking to you more. We care about them … When God opens the door we will share Christ with them and let them know … that Jesus loves them.”

How many slaves do you use?

Creating awareness is the key to helping fight human trafficking.
Many Americans don’t realize how the products they buy every day can have an impact on those working in some factories, where human trafficking runs rampant. “Some people use as many 150 slaves a day,” Johnson said. “It’s unreal.”
Johnson encourages people to check out the website http://slaveryfootprint.org to learn more.

“If there is one thing that people need to know is that this is a problem [that] … could be right in your neighborhood. It’s that bad in North Carolina.
“It can be someone who knocks on your door and is selling a product. … It could be someone living next door to you. It could be somebody doing your nails. It could be somebody serving your food in a restaurant. It’s right in your face, literally.”
Johnson shared how she used to attend church with a woman who was being trafficked. She was a nanny, and the people she worked for didn’t pay her, Johnson said. The woman said she felt trapped because she was living in the U.S. illegally and genuinely cared for the children in the home.
Triad Ladder of Hope has helped reunite trafficking victims with their families. They even provide simple things like a bag of groceries for victims who struggle to make a living.
In addition to financial support and awareness, prayer is the most critical thing the ministry needs.
“That’s the very first thing I tell everybody,” she said. We need people to pray about this issue.
“When [volunteers go into a strip club] we have someone sitting in the parking lot praying for them,” she said, “We cover everything with prayer. We are firm believers [in prayer].”
Occasionally Johnson will receive a phone call from a former victim who has rebuilt her life through the ministry.

“It’s so sweet to get those phone calls,” she said. “You do get attached to them … They’re survivors.”
For more information go to triadladderofhope.org/. To report a human trafficking case, contact the National Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at (888) 373-7888.

Visit here for more about the Annie Armstrong offering and the Week of Prayer.
2/25/2013 3:22:16 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

When the world comes to Wicker Park

February 25 2013 by Tobin Perry, North American Mission Board

Look around Chicago’s Wicker Park and you’ll find just about every kind of person you can imagine. You may meet 44-year-old Maurice Burr, the one-time high school football star who spends his days in a wheelchair because of gang violence.
You may meet Charlie the drifter, the homeless man who wanders through the neighborhood warning people of government conspiracies. You could run into the young highly educated, well-dressed couple who come to the park to walk their dog and let their young son play. There’s also the senior citizen couple that sit at the park to get some fresh air before heading back to the nearby assisted living center.
And thanks to the generosity of Southern Baptists, there’s a North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planter there, too. 
“It’s the most eclectic place you can imagine,” says NAMB church planter Scott Venable. “It has drug dealers and businesspeople. When we prayerwalked as we were looking for a place to start the church and we got to Wicker Park, we just knew it was it.”
Wicker Park is both a large park off of Chicago’s North Damen Ave. and one of the most famous neighborhoods in the Windy City. Called by Forbes the fourth coolest neighborhood in the United States, it’s the kind of place where million dollar homes are just a few blocks down from government housing.
It’s also a place that needs churches. Chicagoland – the 10 Illinois counties that surround the city – has one Southern Baptist church for every 31,791 people. Evangelicals make up just 10 percent of the population. The Wicker Park neighborhood itself had just four small evangelical churches for about 23,000 people before Venable’s arrival.
And it was just the right place for him. The inner city had long been within his sights. He remembers serving in the Dallas inner city as a young person – and feeling a kinship to the culture, music and speed of urban life.
With a vision for starting a church that would change its city, Venable and his then fiancé, Ashley, began praying about where God might want to use them before they even married.
When the couple visited Chicago around Easter 2009 – and Wicker Park specifically – God spoke clearly to both of them. Before the two said “I do” that May, they decided Chicago would be their new home.
After arriving in Chicago, the Venables went first to a local school in the Wicker Park area and offered to serve. The offer first took the principal by surprise. She was accustomed to having church plants want to use their facility to host church services – not offer free help.

NAMB photo by Dale Stroud

Community outreach is a cornerstone for Mosaic Chicago. Church planter Scott Venable, right, connected with a Wicker Park school leading the church to start Kidz Club and Friday Night Live as alternative activities for children and students in the area. Venable is a North American Mission Board Week of Prayer missionary.

“We’re a new church here and really small,” Venable told the principal. “We want to help this school become what you want it to be. We want to invest in the community. I like your vision. I like your dream. We want to help pour into the life of these kids.”
The flabbergasted principal took him up on the offer. Every day in the beginning, Venable showed up at the school to help – everything from tutoring to coaching sports to providing playground patrol.
Through its engagement with the school, Venable started a “Kidz Club” and “Friday Night Live” for children and youth on Friday evenings. Instead of roaming the streets, teens come for free food, basketball and a short Bible story. On average 50 youth and 20 elementary students attend. And the community has taken notice. A local reporter discovered the young church plant was cleaning the toilets of businesses near Wicker Park. Soon Mosaic Chicago became known as “the toilet-cleaning church”  – a nickname welcomed by Venable because it demonstrates the community involvement and ministry he desires.
“Our measurement – instead of asking how is our church doing – is how is our city doing?” Venable said.
Yet most important, Venable wants to see people come to faith in Christ. He points to one particular local grandma as an example. Venable first met her grandson – one of the most troublesome kids in school – in the principal’s office. The boy started coming to Mosaic Chicago’s Friday evening Kidz Club after seeing
Venable carrying a stack of pizzas out of a carryout restaurant the day of the event. Through her grandson’s involvement, the grandmother began attending regularly and has even gotten involved in a small group and mission projects through the church.
“That’s what we want to see in all these people’s lives – to go from not knowing Jesus to fully following Jesus and carrying out the kingdom-disciple-society DNA in their lives,” Venable says.
Venable realizes that kind of ministry has only happened because of Southern Baptists’ faithful giving through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO) for North American Missions.
“During these first three years of our church plant, Annie has been the biggest part of our support,” Venable says.
“It’s allowed me to live here and support my family. Without NAMB and Annie, we wouldn’t be here.”
The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 3-10, 2013, and the AAEO, provide support for Venable and other missionaries like him who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year’s offering theme is “Whatever It Takes – Reaching the One.”
For more information about Scott Venable and Mosaic Chicago, visit anniearmstrong.com/scottvenable or mosaicchicago.org. For more information about how you can get involved in reaching Chicago with the gospel, visit namb.net/Chicago.
View related video here and below.

For more about Week of Prayer missionaries, visit here.

2/25/2013 3:08:01 PM by Tobin Perry, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments

‘Such horrific pressures’ Abedini writes from jail

February 25 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

TEHRAN, Iran – Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, has released a letter from within Iran’s brutal Evin prison in Tehran, demonstrating that his faith remains strong despite abusive tactics from Iranian officials aimed at getting him to renounce Christ.

“They are trying to put me under such horrific pressures (that are sometimes unbearable) so that they can show me that my faith is empty and not real,” Saeed wrote.

“And after all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing ... for me to deny Christ. But they will never get this from me,” he wrote in the letter that was translated into English.

The text of the letter was circulated Feb. 22 by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has been advocating for the pastor’s release. He was sentenced in January to eight years in prison for starting a house church network a decade ago.

“This new letter from Pastor Saeed could not be more clear or direct – he continues to face life-threatening abuse simply because of his religious beliefs,” Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, said. “The letter also underscores the need to move quickly.”

Abedini reported that the conditions inside the prison are so difficult that his eyes are blurry and he lacks strength to walk.

“Various (bullying) groups, the psychological warfare, a year of not seeing my family, physical violence, actions committed to humiliate me, insults, being mocked, being confronted with extremists in the prison who create another prison within the prison walls, and the death threats ...,” Abedini wrote.

As a Christian pastor, he believes he is carefully watched and is expected to smile despite the harsh treatment.

“But, of course, I can clearly see what is going on and because I want to serve God, I see all of these difficulties as golden opportunities and great doors to serve,” Abedini wrote. “There are empty containers who are thirsty for a taste of the Living Water and we can quench their thirst by giving them Jesus Christ.”

The imprisoned pastor went on to encourage fellow Christians, reminiscent of letters from the Apostle Paul.

“Maybe you are also in such a situation, so pray and seek God that He would use you and direct you in the pressures and difficulties of your lives,” Abedini, 32, wrote.

Naghmeh Abedini, the pastor’s wife, is living in the United States with the couple’s two young children and has kept close contact with the ACLJ. Upon receiving the letter, she told the advocacy organization it is heart wrenching to know her husband is still being tortured in Iran, where he has been imprisoned since September.

“Now our worst fears have been confirmed,” she said. “He continues to face life-threatening abuse at the hands of the Iranian officials simply because of his faith in Jesus. These are the dreadful conditions he will continue to face as he serves his lengthy prison sentence in Iran.”

Naghmeh Abedini said her husband “will never recant his faith in Jesus,” but she is greatly concerned about his health and well-being.

“His situation is dire and with the continued abuse and death threats, we are not sure how long Saeed will survive these horrendous conditions in prison,” she wrote. “The most important thing we can do is pray, continue to raise awareness of his case and continue to work for his freedom.”

More than 280,000 people had signed a petition Feb. 22 at SaveSaeed.org, a website aimed at rallying international voices to secure his release.

“It is rare that he is able to get a letter like this to the public,” Sekulow said of the pastor. “He has no voice. Each of us must be his voice. Sign the petition for his freedom at SaveSaeed.org.”

More than 80 members of the U.S. Congress signed a Feb. 12 letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry to “exhaust every possible option to secure Mr. Abedini’s immediate release.”

The congressional letter states, “Every American citizen traveling or living abroad should have the assurance that the U.S. government will come vigorously to his or her defense if they are unjustly detained or imprisoned.”

ACLJ filed a document the week of Feb. 10 with the U.N. Human Rights Council calling on Iran to immediately release Abedini, citing Iran’s violations of international law and human rights abuses.

Writing for National Review Online in January, Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said Abedini’s case is “just one facet of Iran’s increasing religious repression.” He reported that at least 20 other Christians are currently detained in Iran because of their faith.

Pastor Farshid Fathi has been held in Evin prison since 2010, Marshall said, and pastor Behnam Irani, imprisoned since 2011, is being denied medical treatment for his serious health problems. Pastor Vruir Avanessian, Marshall said, was arrested in December, 2012 during a raid on a house church.

Iran has increased its persecution of Baha’is recently too, Marshall said.

“The fact that Iran, despite current pressures, attacks peaceful and usually apolitical minorities shows that religious ideology remains a major determinant of its actions,” Marshall wrote. “It also shows that the regime is weak. Minorities are growing because many Muslims reject their rulers’ version of Islam.”

Iran is susceptible to international pressure, Marshall noted, pointing to the recent case of pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faced execution but was released after international pressure mounted.

“Even apart from the fact that Saeed is an American citizen, the [Obama] administration should realize that religious freedom can be a key element in changing Iran, and we should press it to do so,” Marshall wrote.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
Following is the text of Saeed Abedini’s letter, translated into English and circulated by the American Center for Law and Justice Feb. 22:

Writing from my heart.

My Dear Friends,

The conditions here get so very difficult that my eyes get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk, and my steps become very weak and shaky.

Various (bullying) groups, the psychological warfare, a year of not seeing my family, physical violence, actions committed to humiliate me, insults, being mocked, being confronted with extremists in the prison who create another prison within the prison walls, and the death threats ....

It is interesting that because I am a Christian pastor, I am carefully watched. I am expected to smile at them despite what is being done and to understand why they are doing all of these things. But, of course, I can clearly see what is going on and because I want to serve God, I see all of these difficulties as golden opportunities and great doors to serve. There are empty containers who are thirsty for a taste of the Living Water and we can quench their thirst by giving them Jesus Christ. Maybe you are also in such a situation, so pray and seek God that He would use you and direct you in the pressures and difficulties of your lives.

There are those who are enemies of the Living Bible and do not want to hear. They are trying to put me under such horrific pressures (that are sometimes unbearable) so that they can show me that my faith is empty and not real. And after all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing ... for me to deny Christ. But they will never get this from me. This is why the Bible is Truth and they are in the way of destruction.

There is another group who does not know the Gospel of Truth. Instead of truly listening and meditating on God’s Word, they are just waiting to see how I react to all of their pressures and persecution. What will come out of me during these intense times? But again, this is another golden opportunity for me to shine the light of Christ in this dark world and to let God to use me.

Yesterday when I was singing worship songs, the head of my cell room attacked me in order to stop me from praising but in response I hugged him and showed him love. He was shocked.

It is during these harsh conditions, that I deeply need God’s Saving Grace so that I can be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of Evin prison. I have often seen the Shining Morning Star in the darkness of this prison and I have seen His amazing and supernatural works. Oh, how beautiful is seeing the light of the Shining Morning Star of Christ in such evil darkness.

  • See your golden opportunities in pressures and difficulties.
  • See the Shining Morning Star in the dark times of your life.
I Love Him! He is Gracious, Merciful, and Righteous to me. I now know that I have not been forgotten and that we are together in this path. God gives me Grace.

This is my message for the Church: Stay Strong for His Glory. He will come back soon! Be with God and give your best efforts for His kingdom.

Pastor Saeed, servant of Jesus Christ in chains for endurance of Gospel. I love you all.
2/25/2013 2:58:07 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tebow’s pastor: ‘Pray for Tim,’ fellow Christians

February 25 2013 by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The day after New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow cancelled a scheduled appearance at First Baptist Church in Dallas, his pastor called for prayer for him and those “hated by the world” because of the stands they take.

Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., is the former pastor of First Baptist Dallas. In 2006 Brunson left Dallas to lead the downtown Jacksonville megachurch, where the Tebow family are members.
Tebow announced via twitter Feb. 21 he would not speak April 28 at the Texas church’s grand opening celebration of its new, $130 million campus in downtown Dallas. “I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day,” Tebow tweeted.

A media onslaught about Tebow’s speaking engagement hit after a New York Daily News headline called Tebow’s appearance a “hate date” and the Huffington Post characterized FBC Dallas in a headline as the “Virulently Anti-Gay, Anti-Semitic Church First Baptist Dallas.”

The pastor at First Baptist Dallas, Robert Jeffress, has been nationally prominent in stating his biblical views regarding marriage, homosexuality, and during the presidential campaign last year, Mormonism, according to the Southern Baptist Texan newspaper.

In a statement to the Florida Baptist Witness, Brunson said the media attacks on Jeffress, the church and Tebow are without merit. “Clearly there is a bias in this country when it comes to evangelical Christianity,” he said.

Further, Tebow’s home church and First Baptist Dallas share the same beliefs, Brunson said.

“There would not be a wisp of difference between the theology of First Baptist Church Dallas and First Baptist Church Jacksonville,” Brunson said. “First Baptist Church Jacksonville holds to the inerrant, authoritative Word of God. We hold to the traditional historic doctrines of the faith.

“We believe in marriage between one man and one woman just as we see in Genesis, reiterated in the New Testament and what every culture for 8,000 years of recorded history has demonstrated,” Brunson said. “While holding up the standard of God’s Word, we love all people because God in Christ has loved us. The forgiveness of God in Christ is available to all.”

Tebow has been no stranger to controversy and has stood strong to promote his views,” Brunson said.

“In the midst of media scrutiny, spin, and relentless analysis, Tim Tebow’s testimony has captivated the faithful, the unbelieving, and everyone in between,” Brunson said. “He has taken bold stands for Christ repeatedly that would have withered the best of us. This is not a person that capitulates. There is a lot going on right now, but Timmy trusts the Lord to lead him and he has committed his life to following Jesus.”

Brunson asked for prayer for the 25-year-old athlete who slips in and out of church whenever he’s at home in Jacksonville.

“We need to pray for Tim. I spoke with Timmy recently, and he still believes deeply in the gospel we all hold dear. As an NFL football player, God has blessed him with a platform to share the love of Jesus Christ with millions. He will address other issues in his time,” Brunson said.

“We need to pray for the good people and pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas. They too have taken a courageous stand for our Lord,” Brunson said. “Christ Himself told us that we would be hated by the world because the world hated Him. These are days to be bold for Christ and to love one another.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, where this story first appeared.)

Related item

Guest column: The 'controversial' beliefs of First Baptist Dallas
2/25/2013 2:43:43 PM by Joni B. Hannigan, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Megachurches thrive in tough economic times

February 25 2013 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Despite the tough economy, many of the nation’s largest churches are thriving, with increased offerings and plans to hire more staff, a new survey shows.
Just 3 percent of churches with 2,000 or more attendance surveyed by Leadership Network, a Dallas-based church think tank, said they were affected “very negatively” by the economy in recent years. Close to half – 47 percent – said they were affected “somewhat negatively,” but one-third said they were not affected at all.
The vast majority – 83 percent – of large churches expected to meet their budgets in 2012 or their current fiscal year. A majority of large churches also reported that offerings during worship services were higher last year than in 2011.
Even though some churches have ministries that provide other income, such as schools or wedding chapel rentals, an average of 96 percent of their budget comes from members’ donations.
All of the large churches reported that they receive some of their donations electronically, including online, via bank transfer or through a lobby kiosk. One in five of them receive between 31 and 60 percent of their offerings electronically.
Most megachurches surveyed spend 10 percent or more of their budget beyond their congregation on causes ranging from local soup kitchens to world missions.
Another sign of economic well-being: Most large churches report that they expect to give staff at least a 1 percent raise in the next budget cycle. Most also expect to modestly increase staff, and hardly any – just 6 percent – expect to reduce the number of staffers.
The survey of 729 church leaders was released Feb. 19.
2/25/2013 1:57:11 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Howard Hendricks, author & longtime ‘prof,’ dies

February 22 2013 by Baptist Press

DALLAS – When author and longtime Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) professor Howard Hendricks passed away Feb. 20 at the age of 88, Southern Baptist leaders, seminary professors and pastors took to Twitter to honor his life.

Hendricks served on the DTS faculty for 60 years and was founder and chairman of the seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership. He authored or co-authored 16 books and taught more than 10,000 students. He even was chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys football team from 1976-1984.

File photo from Midwestern Seminary

Howard Hendricks speaks at a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service in 2004.

Students and friends knew him simply as “Prof.” He preached on the campuses of Southern Baptist seminaries and at the 2003 SBC Pastors Conference.

Following is a sampling of what Southern Baptists said on Twitter:
  • Jack Graham (@JackNGraham), pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas: “Howard Hendricks was an incredible man teacher leader believer. He influenced a generation of pastors and churchmen. Now rewarded.”
  • Rick Warren (@RickWarren), pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.: “Friend and mentor to so many of us, #HowardHendricks went on to heaven last night.”
  • Gregory Mathias (@GregMathias), associate director of international missions for the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.: “The passing of Howard Hendricks is a true loss for us but complete gain for him. Thanks for your legacy.” Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin quoted Mathias in a Tweet and added, “AMEN.”
  • Terry L. Wilder (@TerryLWilder), professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas: “Never had ‘Prof’ Hendricks for class but did enjoy lunch w/him a couple of times. Listened closely to the wisdom he shared.”
Russell D. Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., also sent out a Tweet, calling Hendricks a “titanic” professor.

Hendricks spoke at the Billy Graham conference center and at Promise Keepers rallies, and would tell those in attendance, “It’s wonderful to be here with you, but I have a group of delicious students waiting for me back at the seminary.”

Many of Hendricks’ students went on to become even more well-known than he was. Among them: Tony Evans, David Jeremiah, Robert Jeffress, Erwin Lutzer and Chuck Swindoll.

Swindoll, who later became president and then chancellor of DTS, said Hendricks “is the one man who has had the greatest impact on my entire life. And there is no doubt in my mind that since the late 1950s to the present day, no other teacher at DTS has been more influential to more of our graduates, or more magnetic to more potential students than Dr. Hendricks.”

Hendricks’ funeral will be held Saturday, March 2 at 11 a.m. Central at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press, with information from Dallas Theological Seminary.)
2/22/2013 3:13:12 PM by Baptist Press | with 1 comments

ERLC joins more briefs on abortion mandate

February 22 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has told two more federal appeals courts the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate violates religious liberty.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) signed on to friend-of-the-court briefs filed Feb. 19 with both the Sixth and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals in supporting lawsuits against the mandate, which requires employers to pay for coverage of drugs defined by the Food and Drug Administration as contraceptives, even if they can cause abortions. The ERLC has now endorsed five briefs defending the religious freedom of entities challenging the requirement at the appeals court level.

The administration proposed a change Feb. 1 supposedly designed to satisfy the concerns of faith organizations, but religious freedom advocates said objecting employers – other than churches and church ministries – still would be unwilling participants in underwriting both contraceptive and abortion-causing pills. Under the revision, dissenting employers would have to be affiliated with an insurance plan connected to coverage of such pills and may end up absorbing increased costs for the drugs if the insurance companies pay for them and consequently increase rates.

Religious institutions and business owners with conscience objections to paying for contraceptives or abortion-causing drugs have challenged the mandate in more than 40 lawsuits against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which issued the rule. So far, owners of for-profit companies that have challenged the rule have won injunctions blocking enforcement of the mandate 11 of 14 times.

The latest ERLC-endorsed briefs – written by the Christian Legal Society (CLS) – are in support of two for-profits that have not gained injunctive relief – Hobby Lobby in the 10th Circuit and Autocam Corp. in the Sixth. The ERLC also has signed on to CLS-authored briefs regarding the mandate in these circuits: District of Columbia (Wheaton College v. Sebelius); Seventh (Korte v. HHS) and Eighth (O’Brien v. HHS).

In the latest briefs, the ERLC and other organizations join CLS in saying the mandate’s “current definition of ‘religious liberty’ is grossly inadequate to protect meaningful religious liberty.” In the mandate, HHS chose to go with a narrower definition of “religious employer” than a standing definition under federal law, according to the brief.

“The proposed rule would continue to violate the [First Amendment clauses protecting religious free exercise and barring government establishment of religion] because the government would continue to squeeze religious institutions into an impoverished, one-size-fits-all misconception of ‘religious employer,’” the brief said.

The HHS mandate “departs from the [United States’] bipartisan tradition of respect for religious liberty, especially its deep-rooted protection of religious conscience rights in the context of participation in, or funding of, abortion,” according to the brief.

“At the end of the day, this case is not about which religious viewpoints regarding contraceptives or abortion are theologically correct – a question, of course, beyond the competency of the courts – but whether America will remain a pluralistic society that sustains a robust religious liberty for Americans of all faiths.”

Federal judges ruled the HHS mandate does not substantially burden the religious liberty of Hobby Lobby and Autocam – or their owners.

Hobby Lobby – founded by evangelical Christian David Green, who remains its chief executive officer – opposes providing insurance for abortion-causing drugs and has said it will not obey the mandate. As a result, the 525-store chain based in Oklahoma City ultimately could face government fines amounting to $1.3 million a day.

Autocam – a Michigan-based auto parts firm owned by John Kennedy, a Roman Catholic – opposes the contraceptive mandate as well as the requirement to cover abortion-causing drugs.

In addition to the ERLC, others signing on to the latest CLS briefs were the National Association of Evangelicals, Prison Fellowship, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Association of Christian Schools International and Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance. The C12 Group, which serves Christian CEOs, joined in the brief on behalf of Hobby Lobby.

Drugs considered contraceptives under the mandate – which HHS issued to implement the 2010 health care law – include Plan B and other “morning-after” pills, which can prevent implantation of tiny embryos. That secondary, post-fertilization mechanism of the pill causes an abortion. The mandate also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
2/22/2013 3:08:32 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tebow cancels appearance at FBC Dallas

February 22 2013 by Tim Ellsworth & Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press

DALLAS – After recent criticism, New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has canceled a scheduled appearance at First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Tebow announced the cancellation in a series of tweets Thursday (Feb. 21).

“While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance,” Tebow wrote. “I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!”

Dallas First issued a statement in response to Tebow’s cancellation:

“The leaders and congregation of First Baptist Church Dallas are disappointed that New York Jets’ Quarterback Tim Tebow has announced he will no longer speak at First Baptist Church Dallas on April 28, 2013, as part of the month-long celebration events surrounding the grand opening of our new $130 million, state-of-the-art campus on Easter Sunday,” the statement read.

According to the statement, Tebow called Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, on Wednesday evening, “saying that for personal and professional reasons he needed to avoid controversy at this time but would like to come to First Baptist Dallas to speak at a future date.”

The statement continued: “We are saddened that Mr. Tebow felt pressure to back out of his long-planned commitment from numerous New York and national sports and news media who grossly misrepresented past comments made by our pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffress, specifically related to issues of homosexuality and AIDS, as well as Judaism.

“As a Christian pastor, Dr. Jeffress takes a biblical approach to moral and social issues, closely following his duty to preach ‘the whole counsel of God,’ and not just address issues that are politically correct. First Baptist is a church built on the truth of Scripture, even though at times that approach can be perceived as controversial or counter to the prevailing winds of culture. The reason for the recent media firestorm is not because the Word of God has changed, but because society has changed.

“More important, contrary to editorializing in the media, Dr. Jeffress shares a message of hope, not hate; salvation, not judgment; and a gospel of God’s love, grace and new beginnings available to all.”

Tebow had been criticized by liberal publications for scheduling the April 28 talk at the church, which the Huffington Post described as “virulently anti-gay, anti-Semitic.”

“In March 2012, The New York Times described Tebow as ‘a preacher in a football player’s body’ who wears his religion on his sleeve but rarely discusses controversial issues,” wrote The Huffington Post’s Meredith Bennett-Smith. “This polite strand of evangelicalism stands in sharp contrast, however, with the barnstorming, hate-filled rhetoric of the church where he is scheduled to speak in April.”

Likewise, CBS Sports columnist Greg Doyel complained about Jeffress, describing him as “an evangelical cretin ... who does the work of the Lord sort of like Westboro Baptist in Topeka, Kan., does the work of the Lord. Not at all.”

Doyel said that Jeffress wasn’t as bad as Westboro, because he doesn’t promote protesting at funerals of U.S. soldiers or have his church members yell things like “God hates fags.”

Photo by Mickey Noah

Tim Tebow, former University of Florida quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner and then Denver Bronco rookie quarterback, spoke in 2010 at First Redeemer Church in Cumming Ga.

“But he comes close,” Doyel wrote. “Too close. He believes, he has said, ‘It’s a fact that [AIDS is] a gay disease so there’s reasonable reason to exclude gays from the military.’

“Jeffress is a bad guy,” Doyel continued. “He says Jews and homosexuals are going to hell. He says the Catholic church is a satanic cult. He says Islam ‘is a religion that promotes pedophilia – sex with children.”

Doyel blasted Tebow for agreeing to speak at the church.

“I’m ashamed to like Tim Tebow now,” Doyel wrote. “More specifically, I don’t like Tim Tebow now. I can’t. Liking him means liking someone who wouldn’t just agree with, but would support, Robert Jeffress. And I despise Robert Jeffress.”

Tebow declined to specify on Twitter what “new information” had caused him to cancel his appearance. He did not respond on Twitter to Baptist Press’ request for further comment.

James A. Smith Sr., editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, called Tebow’s announcement “ominous.”

“If that church is now taboo for him, God help us!” Smith tweeted.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, also took to Twitter to respond to the development.

“It is very very sad that Tim Tebow is bowing to the pressure of political correctness and cultural decay in canceling First Baptist Dallas,” Graham tweeted.

Denny Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., also commented.

“I am a big Tebow fan – for reasons that have more than to do with football – and I think he’s more than earned the benefit of the doubt,” Burk wrote on his blog. “He left his reasons ambiguous, and absent further clarification I don’t think this move should be interpreted as an expression of support for gay rights or some liberalized distortion of Christianity. In fact, I’m confident that he is an orthodox believer in Jesus Christ. I have a hunch that he’s probably just trying not to get entangled in the culture war. At the end of the day, I don’t know why he cancelled. Perhaps he will elaborate on his decision at some point.”

Burk added that the Huffington Post, Doyel and others were criticizing basic Christian doctrine “that Jesus is the only way of salvation, the certainty of eternal judgment for those who die outside of Christ, the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” as Burk put it.

“These teachings,” Burk wrote. “ are not the innovation of a single pastor but are the established consensus of the Christian Church over its entire 2,000 year history. If this church’s views on these matters cannot be tolerated ... then we are in a scary place. In short, to marginalize this church for holding such views is to marginalize Christianity itself. It means that the tolerance police have finally achieved their ironic end – the intolerance of Christianity in American culture.”

Jeffress appeared on a radio show Thursday, defending his beliefs against what he said were “false, blatant statements about me. His church’s message, he said, is one of hope, not condemnation, for anyone who trusts in Jesus as savior. Jeffress told the morning show of 105.3 The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth that he and Tebow “had a pleasant conversation on the phone” and had tweeted back and forth since then, according to a story the Southern Baptist Texan.

After hearing Jeffress answer a series of questions about his beliefs, radio co-host Shan Shariff admitted to Jeffress, “I have a different opinion [about your beliefs] after speaking with you.” Jeffress responded that he has been misquoted and “mischaracterized in the press.”

Jeffress told the radio station that he had spoken the day before with a Jewish friend who was bewildered by charges that Jeffress or the church is anti-Semitic. The Jewish friend acknowledged, Jeffress said, that the New Testament is contrary to his own beliefs but that historic Christianity teaches exclusive salvation through Jesus.

Heaven and hell will include people from all walks of life – Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and others, he told the radio station. It is a personal decision to trust Jesus Christ for salvation that determines one’s eternal destiny and his message to homosexuals is one of hope in the gospel message, he said. First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., where Tebow is a member, teaches the same historic doctrines, Jeffress noted.

“The fact is, nobody goes to heaven in a group,” Jeffress told the station.

Asked if he thought being compared with Westboro Baptist Church would hurt his ministry, Jeffress said just because someone associates you with something doesn’t make it true.

Jeffress said “I detest” what Westboro does and “it has no basis in scripture.”

Noting that God invented sex, Jeffress said he does not single out homosexuality among other sexual sins and that marriage between a man and woman is “God’s best” for sex. Furthermore, he said he would not be surprised if a genetic link were found for homosexual tendencies, but it would not change God’s standard because all people have a genetic tendency to sin.

“It’s not a hateful message; it’s a hopeful message that anybody can be saved regardless of their background if they simply trust in Jesus Christ,” Jeffress stated.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is editor of BP Sports and director of news and media relations for Union University in Jackson, Tenn. With reporting by Jerry Pierce of the Southern Baptist Texan, online at www.TexanOnline.net.)
2/22/2013 2:59:10 PM by Tim Ellsworth & Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Rick Warren advocates religious liberty for all

February 22 2013 by Tonika Reed, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – American Christians should repent for not supporting the religious freedom of people of other faiths, mega-church pastor Rick Warren said at a recent forum in Washington, D.C.

“Seventy-five percent of our world lives in societies in which there is no religious liberty,” said Warren, who urged Christians to advocate for the freedom of all people to practice their religious beliefs.

Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., has written such popular books as The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church and gave the invocation for the 2009 inauguration of President Obama. 

He also has spoken out in defense of religious liberty, especially in recent responses to the Obama administration’s health care rule that requires employers to pay for coverage of contraceptive drugs, including those that can cause abortions. Warren addressed religious freedom at a Feb. 12 forum sponsored by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

“I believe in the original meaning of tolerance.... I believe in historic Christian doctrine and common good,” he said.

Warren said freedom of religion is much more than the freedom to worship; it is being able to practice beliefs and values, and having the ability to convert. 

Being free to convert and walk alongside those who do not agree with our beliefs is imperative in today’s pluralistic society for social and economic reasons, he said. Warren stressed the need for the preservation of America’s religious liberties protected by the First Amendment. 

“It is the responsibility of every generation to preserve the freedoms,” Warren said, quoting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech to Congress. 

Photo by Matt Miller

Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., seen here at the 2011 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., emphasizes a need for religious freedom around the globe.

Religious freedom is the foundational freedom of America, Warren said. 

Using the metaphor of a stool, Warren explained faith is the missing leg of the stool upon which American society sits.

“A one-legged stool will fall over,” said Warren. “A two-legged stool will fall over; it takes a three-legged stool to make a society strong.” 

By combining the use of the public, private and faith sectors, there can be a stronger global society. He said the faith sector will bring almost “a dozen” things to the table that the private, or business, sector will never be able to – such as universal distribution. 

Using the African country of Rwanda as an example, Warren told how he worked alongside President Paul Kagame with the help of people of mixed faiths to rebuild the nation’s health care infrastructure through the institution of the church. 

The church is the biggest institution in the world, and if religious freedoms are infringed upon, then globalization and flourishing of institutions spearheaded by churches of various faiths or denominations will cease to exist, Warren said. 

“Rick Warren has put the Body of Christ in its proper place at the center of the conversation. We share his conviction that Christians have a window of opportunity to strengthen the indigenous Body of Christ for ‘acts of charity’ in places like Egypt,” Coptic Orphans said in a written statement in response to Warren’s comments at the forum. 

Coptic Orphans is a Christian development organization that aids fatherless children in Egypt.

Although Warren emphasized the need for religious freedom in relation to the flourishing of institutions, he did not describe how those with different moral standards and conflicting views on human value would work together. 

Everybody has a worldview, and no matter what that view is, there should be a place for everyone at the table, Warren said. 

Timothy Shah, a visiting professor at Georgetown and associate director of the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project, moderated the forum with Warren.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tonika Reed, a junior at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., is attending the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Washington Journalism Center this semester and serving as an intern with Baptist Press.)
2/22/2013 2:51:47 PM by Tonika Reed, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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