February 2013

Celebrities recall brushes with Graham in ‘Billy & Me’

February 13 2013 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Evangelist Billy Graham has rubbed elbows with celebrities ranging from presidents to journalists to musicians. In “Billy Graham & Me,” a new book in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” franchise that was released Feb. 12, 101 people who have met Graham on the public stage share their private memories of the 94-year-old preacher.
 
Here are excerpts from 12 of them:
 

Former President George H.W. Bush

Billy came to stay with Barbara and me at the White House on the eve of the air war against Iraq. I told him what I was then having to do – our diplomacy and our quest for a peaceful solution having failed. I told him when the first cruise missiles would hit Baghdad, and we watched in wonder as the war to liberate Kuwait began. Just the three of us were there.
 
Billy said a little prayer for our troops and for the innocents who might be killed. The next day we attended a church service at Fort Meade. His very presence brought great comfort to the people in uniform who were praying at that special service.
 
I cannot begin to tell what Billy’s presence and his faith meant to me as President and as Commander in Chief. His own beliefs and abiding faith gave me great strength.
 

Former President Bill Clinton, recalling Graham’s 1959 crusade in Little Rock, Ark.

The crusade happened as Billy wanted it, with tens of thousands of people, black and white, pouring into the stadium where the Arkansas Razorbacks played. When Billy finished preaching and issued the call, inviting us to rededicate our lives to Christ, thousands, black and white together, some smiling, some crying, went down to the field to answer the call. It was a moment in Arkansas history after which nothing would be quite the same for those who were there and those who knew the stand Billy had taken. And Billy didn’t have to preach one word about integrating the schools. All he had to speak was God’s Word to all God’s children. It may seem easy now, but back then, fifty years ago, it was an act of moral courage and deep faith.
 

Former CNN talk show host Larry King

The unhappiest and saddest moment for me was when I confronted him over the anti-Semitic conversation he had with President Nixon that was uncovered after the White House tapes were released. Nixon said, “Well, you know, the Jews...” and Billy said, “Yes...” I asked him about that, and he said that the toughest thing, if you were in a room with a president, and a president said something, is to take issue with him. So you either said yes or you nodded your head or suchlike. I didn’t agree with Billy on this. For me, you don’t say yes. I wouldn’t have said yes. That disappointed me.
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RNS photo courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Billy Graham, right, during an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in 1994.

Southern Baptist public policy ethicist Richard Land

In terms of Evangelical Christianity reengaging the culture, Billy Graham is the man who really did it, on a mass level. And he gave us, the Evangelicals, both the model for how to do it and the confidence with which to do it. There would not have been a modern evangelical movement without him. And I love the guy. He was a hero to me in my boyhood, and he remains a hero to me today.
 

Former dc Talk frontman Toby McKeehan (TobyMac) on playing at a 1994 Graham crusade in Cleveland

We were asked to meet with Dr. Graham and his wife Ruth at their small home in the North Carolina mountains. I think they wanted to get to know our hearts. When we arrived, we were invited to sit down, and we all started talking. Then something happened that I’ll never forget. Dr. Graham asked us if we wanted something to drink. He actually went to the kitchen and brought us two Cokes and a glass of water on a tray. That servant’s heart at work even in his home impressed me deeply.
 
Billy told us that we were his translators for the next generation, helping put the gospel message into a language they could understand. I saw that he cared enough for the world’s youth to risk the possibility that half his people might not like us joining him on stage. However, for Billy Graham, reaching young people was worth the risk. To me, that showed who he was.
 

Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.)

I gave him a small Bible once. It was very small, one you could put in your pocket. I saw him many years later toward the end of his career of actively holding crusades around the country. It was during a crusade at the big Coliseum in Atlanta, and I was up on the stage with him and six or eight other people. I said “hello” but hadn’t yet had a chance to talk to him. But he pulled that Bible out in front of thousands and thousands of people and said that he had gotten it as a gift from me, and he’d had it with him in his pocket ever since. That was an amazing memory, especially since I’d given him the Bible at least five or six years before. His authenticity and sincerity shines through. People realize it instinctively. That distinguished him from any preacher I know of in that generation who was in the public limelight.
 

CNN’s HLN News Anchor Kyra Phillips

I looked at this legendary man of unwavering faith and said, “Reverend Graham, I’m a little overwhelmed right now. It took so much to get here. I didn’t think you would grant me this interview. I was told it wasn’t going to happen. Then, I was told it was on. I’m not quite sure which way is up and which way is down at the moment. Could we just pray?” He looked at me like a caring father. This man, who over six decades counseled presidents and gave millions of Americans hope for a better life through faith, smiled at me and simply said, “Well, of course.” Then he held my hand and we bowed our heads. We prayed for a few minutes, then opened our eyes. I sat back. I felt so at peace, so calm, and so relaxed. I never once looked down at my notes. We had an amazing conversation, one of the most memorable and beautiful moments I have had in my career.
 

Former CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather

I put it to him that the Soviet Union was a godless country; the godless government permeated society all the way down from top to bottom. “To whom are you going to preach?” I asked.

I had been to the Soviet Union many times, and I was trying somewhat aggressively to point out to the Reverend Graham that in the Soviet Union the only people who went to church were very old women in their late eighties or their nineties. The reason was that there were communist government apparatchiks standing in the church taking down the names of people who went, so nobody would go to church because they didn’t want their names on a list.
 
After I made this point, Billy Graham replied, “What you don’t understand is that below the surface, there are a lot of religious people, and they are afraid to come out, they won’t risk coming out, but in effect, Dan, there are many, many, quiet, secret Christians, far more than you can imagine.”
 
I didn’t believe this at the time of the interview. But Billy Graham went ahead and visited Russia in 1982, and then again in 1984 and 1988, and on each occasion he preached to overflowing crowds. It turned out that he had been right all along, and I was wrong. He understood the basic religiosity of people even when their religious instincts had long been repressed.
 

Christian Broadcasting Network Founder Pat Robertson

I’ve been with him on a group prayer retreat. He’s just a humble man under God. He puts on no airs or pretense, none of the “flash and dash.” He lives very simply. He once told me he had been offered an airplane – someone wanted to give him one, but he wouldn’t accept it. He felt that he should not have luxury for himself. People in his kind of position are offered everything, and he said no.
 

Newsboys lead singer Michael Tait

He said, “I have a story for you, Michael. Last night President Obama was sitting in the chair you are sitting in.”
 
I was blown away. “What was he doing here, Billy?” I asked. (I was finally calling him Billy!)
“Well, he wanted to come and see me. He called from the Oval Office. The Secret Service was all around, you know, but he walked in by himself, sat down there, and we spent half an hour together.”
 
“What did you talk about?”
 
“We talked about the country, and this, that, and the other.”
 
“Do you think he’s a believer?”
 
“Well, I believe the man knows the Lord. We prayed together, and before he left, he asked me if he could pray.”
 
And Billy was impressed with the depth of the president’s prayer.
 

Sojourners Founder Jim Wallis, recalling Graham admitting to being nervous in addressing Harvard students in 1999

Billy said, “Jim, I’m really nervous tonight.”
 
“Why in the world would you be nervous?” I replied.
 
“I feel very weak physically, and am not sure if I will be effective answering questions from these Harvard students.”
 
At that moment, I had such a feeling of great warmth for him. “Billy, they slept overnight on the sidewalk to hear you preach,” I said. “The room is full. They’re not here to eat your lunch. They’re here because they want to tell their grandchildren they were in the same room as Billy Graham.”
 
His vulnerability, his humanity, was so much in evidence in that moment, and I had the chance to do what many of us have known with our aging parents – to give something back to them. I said, “I’ll be sitting right in the front row, and I’ll be praying for you the whole time. So if you get nervous, just look down and you’ll see me there praying for you. They’re here to hear from you. Just speak from your heart, from your soul, and they’re gonna love it.”
 
He gave me a hug and he went up to the podium, and a couple of times as he was speaking he looked down at me, and I put my head down and prayed for him.
 
Of course, despite his doubts, Billy gave an incredibly brilliant, statesmanlike talk about faith and public life.
 

Saddleback Church Founder Rick Warren

President Obama asked me to pray the invocation at his inauguration, so I promptly went out and bought a nice hat from a store in West Hollywood. But I left it in a hotel room a few days later and it was stolen. I was disappointed, but had no time to buy another.
 
To this day, I still don’t know how Billy found out about my hat loss. But about a week later, an unexpected package arrived at my home. Inside, carefully wrapped, was a beautiful black Homburg hat from Billy Graham! It was the hat Billy had worn at the inaugurations where he’d prayed! Attached was this note: “It’s your turn, Rick. It’s your hour. This is your hat now.” Tears filled my eyes. Once again I saw the greatness of my mentor, his deep love for others, and his encouraging heart. I wore Billy’s hat when I prayed on the Capitol steps at that 2009 inauguration. Billy was unable to attend, but once again, his influence was present.
2/13/2013 2:53:07 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Gardner-Webb raises $46 million for capital campaign

February 13 2013 by Gardner-Webb Communications

Gardner-Webb University announced recently that it exceeded its capital campaign goal by more than $1 million.
 
The Higher Ground Campaign, which publicly launched in 2010 with a $45 million goal, ended with a total of $46,052,250 raised.
 
The total made it the university’s most successful fundraising endeavor to date.   
 
Officially launched in July 2006, one year after the inauguration of Frank Bonner as president, the campaign to achieve higher ground in Christian higher education proceeded through a silent “leadership” phase during which $33 million was raised, matching the largest amount ever amassed by a single campaign at Gardner-Webb. After the campaign went public in 2010, new friends joined with seasoned supporters to catapult the university to unprecedented heights.
 
“Even beyond the funding itself,” Bonner said, “the campaign enabled us to establish and strengthen relationships with people who choose to support us because they understand and identify with the mission of Gardner-Webb. That’s been very gratifying, to see the way the University’s core values emanate from everything our donors say and do in support of Christian higher education. Words cannot express our vast appreciation for them.
 
The campaign’s flagship project was the Tucker Student Center, the 110,000 square-foot student development facility.  A new science wing and other building improvement projects were made possible by Higher Ground contributions.  New championship-class athletics facilities, like the GWU Football Center and John Henry Moss Baseball Stadium, were also fueled by the campaign. The Dover Theatre is being renovated and expanded to include the new Loy Scene Shop, which is currently under construction.
 
Plus, dozens of aesthetic and functional enhancements – including the new Bridges Gate at the Stadium Drive entrance, expanded parking, and new landscape design – have enriched the campus experience for students and visitors alike.
 
Money has also been used to bolster student financial aid and has endowed dozens of new scholarships. Donors also gave in support of undergraduate research, faculty development, service-learning initiatives, international study opportunities, and to strengthen the university’s Christian foundation.
 
“I have never been more proud of Gardner-Webb, more hopeful for our students, more confident in our mission, and more grateful for those friends who have endorsed that mission through their prayers and generous support,” Bonner said. “The view forward from Higher Ground is exciting, indeed.”
2/13/2013 2:46:31 PM by Gardner-Webb Communications | with 0 comments



Miss. tornado victims getting needed relief

February 13 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Mississippi Baptists have activated nine chainsaw, blue tarp and feeding units to respond to victims of the Feb. 10 tornado that damaged or destroyed 300 homes and businesses in the state, injured 85 residents, but took no lives.

Continued rains and a flash flood warning are hampering debris removal, but the number of structures Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) workers are targeting for repair is intended to grow, said Jim Didlake, DR director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB).

“Where the tornado was on the ground, it’s very serious,” Didlake said. “It’s been rated an EF-4 tornado, so a lot of the houses were just devastated.”

Two tornados struck Lamar, Forrest, Marion and Lawrence counties the late afternoon and early evening of Feb. 10. The National Weather Service graded one tornado as an EF-4, with winds as high as 170 mph, and the other an EF-2, with winds as high as 115 mph. Oak Grove in Lamar County and Hattiesburg and Petal in Forrest County were particularly hard-hit.
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Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed when an EF-4 tornado tore through Hattiesburg, Miss., Sunday, Feb. 10.


“People, many of them are still in shock, because it hit, came through so quick and was so devastating,” Didlake said. “The need that will be in the immediate future is going to be financial help for these folks. We try to reach out and help them as much as we can that way.”

Mississippi churches have responded well to the disaster, Didlake said, with teams activated from southern and northern portions of the state. Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg and Petal-Harvey Baptist Church in Petal are serving as command posts, with several area churches responding.

“Our churches have responded tremendously in what they’re doing, in having volunteers in the field and trying to reach out to the people in the community and helping them,” Didlake said.

A Southern Baptist feeding unit will begin preparing up to 3,000 meals a day Wednesday (Feb. 13) for storm victims, Didlake said, adding to up to 2,000 meals Temple Baptist is preparing for emergency response personnel, and additional meals Petal-Harvey Baptist is preparing for storm victims, Didlake said. Area churches also are providing chaplaincy outreach, expected to continue well after debris removal and roof repairs are completed. Shelters are open, but most victims who’ve lost their homes are staying with relatives, he said.

Volunteers had applied tarps to 45 homes on a list of 70 as of Tuesday (Feb. 12), Didlake said, but the list is expected to grow as crews inspect new neighborhoods. Continued rain is preventing workers from hauling debris from yards; instead, they are cutting fallen trees, branches and crumpled structures, and stacking them until conditions improve.

“We can’t really get our equipment in to move stuff yet because ... the yards would be torn up so bad,” Didlake said. DR work is initially expected to continue through Feb. 23.

Checks in support of DR efforts should be made payable to MBCB, with “Miss. Disaster Relief” noted on the memo line, and mailed to the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. On-line donations can be made at http://mbcb.org/mission_strategy/men/dr/. The MBCB is not accepting donations of supplies, such as food, clothing and equipment, at this time.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
2/13/2013 2:34:52 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Attorney: Church bylaws should define marriage

February 13 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – With the U.S. Supreme Court set to take up gay marriage and potentially legalize it this summer, churches that host wedding ceremonies or other events for traditional couples should examine their bylaws and shield themselves from the impact of possible litigation, says an attorney who specializes in religious liberty issues.
 
The justices are scheduled in March to hear two cases concerning gay marriage, and by June could either uphold the traditional definition of marriage or legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – a religious liberty legal organization – is hoping for the former but preparing churches for the latter, just in case.

A number of situations could place churches in legal trouble, such as congregations who would:
  • allow a traditional couple but not a same-sex couple to use their facility for a wedding ceremony.
  • allow a traditional couple but not a same-sex couple to take part in a marriage class or retreat.
  • terminate an employee involved in a same-sex wedding.
Bylaw language defining marriage in the biblical sense doesn’t mean a church won’t face a suit or a complaint, but it does mean the church would be in a much better situation legally, said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for ADF.

“I think we’re in a day where every church needs to have a statement in its bylaws of its doctrinal beliefs on marriage and sexuality,” Stanley told Baptist Press. “This is a proactive approach that churches can take to head off any claims of discrimination in the future, should they occur. There’s no magic language for such a bylaw statement, but it should be some form of a statement of the church’s religious beliefs.

“What that does is it allows for a good defense of a church to any type of discrimination claim that may arise, by saying, ‘Look, this is part of our religious beliefs.’ When we fight on the ground of protecting a church’s religious belief, then we have a lot of ammunition in our arsenal from a constitutional perspective.”

Even without gay marriage legal nationwide, there have been lawsuits against churches.

In 1999 a woman who had worked as a youth minister at a Colorado Episcopal church was terminated after it was learned she was a lesbian living with another woman. She sued in federal court, but the lawsuit was dismissed, with the court ruling her suit was barred by the First Amendment. (The case was Bryce v. Episcopal Church in Diocese of Colorado.)

In 2001, a California church’s worship minister, Bob Gunn, was let go when it was discovered he was gay. He sued the church, primarily because the pastor told the congregation why Gunn – who was popular with members – had been fired. The church won in court. (The case was Gunn v. Mariners Church.)

ADF has listed on its website suggested bylaw language for churches. (Read the two ADF articles on the subject – http://www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/content/docs/issues/church/Suggested-Lang-Church-bylaws.pdf and http://www.speakupmovement.org/Church/Content/userfiles/Resources/church_seven_bylaws.pdf. Also, read the suggested language at the end of this article.)

“What we tell churches is that the clearer and the more explicit you can make your religious beliefs about those issues, the better off you are going to be in defending yourself against a claim of discrimination,” Stanley said. “Because then it becomes: You’re not discriminating against an individual based upon their sexual orientation or marital status. You’re making a decision to abide by your religious beliefs. And that’s protected by the Constitution. The more that we can move this from the ground of a claim of discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status to the ground of ‘We are simply abiding by our deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs,’ the better off a legal defense is going to be.”

The legalization of gay marriage, Stanley said, will impact religious freedoms.

“Religious liberty is on the chopping block any time same-sex marriage is legalized or normalized in the culture,” he said. “But we’re not defenseless and we’re not left hopeless. If same-sex marriage is legalized by the Supreme Court, these types of cases that we see pop up, they’re just going to become more commonplace.”

In January, Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, urged Southern Baptists and other Christians to pray for the Supreme Court as it takes up the issue of marriage. Read his column here.

Following is ADF’s suggested language on marriage and sexuality for church bylaws:

“We believe that term ‘marriage’ has only one meaning and that is marriage sanctioned by God which joins one man and one woman in a single, exclusive union, as delineated in Scripture.

“We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to only occur between a man and a woman who are married to each other. We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.

“We believe that any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography or any attempt to change one’s sex, or disagreement with one’s biological sex, is sinful and offensive to God.

“We believe that in order to preserve the function and integrity of the church as the local Body of Christ, and to provide a biblical role model to the church members and the community, it is imperative that all persons employed by the church in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, should abide by and agree to this Statement on Marriage and Sexuality and conduct themselves accordingly.

“We believe that God offers redemption and restoration to all who confess and forsake their sin, seeking His mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

“We believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity. Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated and are not in accord with scripture nor the doctrines of the church.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
2/13/2013 2:20:51 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Loving, relating to, reaching Muslims to be focus of conference

February 12 2013 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

Nabeel Qureshi was a devout Muslim until he met a Christian who could defend the gospel and authority of the Bible.
 
His encounter with this Christian set in motion a personal journey to discover the truth about Jesus Christ and the Bible.
 
After several years of intense research and study, he concluded that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and that Jesus Christ is the true Son of God.
 
The former devout Muslim is now a Christian author, apologist and director of Creed 2:6 Ministries, an organization committed to reaching Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
Qureshi will speak during the evening session of the annual statewide evangelism conference Feb. 25 at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church. The conference will focus on equipping believers to better love, relate to and share the gospel with Muslims.
 
“It is our biblical command to love our Muslim neighbors and to reach them with the Word of God and with the hope of the gospel,” Qureshi said. 
 
Qureshi said too many Christians fail to put this principle into practice because of unfounded fears and misconceptions.
 
“There are a lot of things people don’t know about Islam and about Muslims and Islamic culture that prevent them from engaging,” he said. “I think we can easily overcome those barriers and I hope that’s what we do at this conference.”
 

Fear, persecution

Nik Ripken, an expert on the persecuted church and author of The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected, will also speak during the evening session. Ripken’s interviews with more than 600 Christians in 72 countries indicate that faithfully proclaiming the gospel will lead to persecution, regardless of the country.
 
“What we have been able to do is look at how Almighty God and Satan are at battle globally. Whether it has a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a post-modern face – whatever lostness looks like there is only one God and there is Satan in opposition to him,” Ripken said.
 
“We have a global view of how this spiritual battle is being waged.”
 
In the United States, that spiritual battle often manifests itself for Christians in the form of fear. For Muslims who come to faith in Jesus, the result is often persecution.
 
Ripken said this persecution often comes from Muslim friends and family on a level that surprises many Americans.
 
“What we see is Muslims coming to Jesus as if they were still in the Middle East,” he said. “Their persecution in America is as quick as if they never left their home country.”
 
Ripken said young Muslims who come to faith in the United States are sometimes forced by their families to return to their native country or are disowned altogether. 
 
The key to helping alleviate persecution is to disciple former Muslims as if they live in a Muslim country, which means discipling them in house churches and avoiding public announcements of their conversion.
 
But first, Christians in the United States must develop a sense of urgency to reach Muslims with the gospel.
 
“See past the Islam and see Muslims as people who are victims,” Ripken said. “They are captured by Islam and we don’t give them a second choice.”
 
Fear is often the biggest barrier between Christians and a faithful witness to Muslims. Ripken said Christians must recognize fear as a tool of Satan, and that by sharing the gospel they can use fear to their advantage.
 
“If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you have no right to be afraid of Muslims, even if you are in Afghanistan or Pakistan,” he said. “You can either use fear as a tool against Satan or you can allow Satan to use fear as a tool against the gospel.” 
 
Ripken is praying that conference participants will leave with an understanding of what is at stake for Muslim converts and a renewed sense of Jesus’ call on their lives.  
 
“I want them to take away that we are asking Muslims to be willing to die for Jesus at the point of conversion, where most of us are not willing to die for Jesus when we’ve lived in a Christian world all of our lives.”
 
For more information about the conference visit ncbaptist.org/cultureach.
2/12/2013 3:27:04 PM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Collegiate conference urges renewed focus on missions

February 12 2013 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

Before knowing Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, C.J. Mahaney described his life as a “mad career” of sin. Mahaney, who now leads Sovereign Grace Ministries, was heavily involved in illicit drug use and headed on a path toward destruction.
 
“What should I have been if the Lord in His mercy had not stopped my mad career?” Mahaney asked. “It would be frightening to consider where I would be tonight if I would even still be alive.”
 
Mahaney’s life changed in an instant when a friend told him about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
“In between tokes on a pipe, God acted on my dead soul and made me alive,” he said. “I responded to His invitation to turn from my sins and trust in the Savior for the forgiveness of sins.”
 
Mahaney shared his testimony during the 20/20 “Gospel and Missions” Collegiate Conference held Feb. 1-2 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS). The conference included plenary sessions, panel discussions and breakout sessions. In addition to Mahaney, plenary speakers included Danny Akin, SEBTS president; Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey in Saint Louis, Mo.; and Bruce Ashford, SEBTS associate professor of theology and culture.
 
Speaking from Jude 1:1, Mahaney shared how the gospel includes God’s call of sinners to salvation, God’s love of sinners and God’s sustaining grace.
 
Mahaney said his testimony is no different from anyone else who has come to saving faith in Christ, as God’s call and love of sinners is miraculous and awe-inspiring regardless of when or where it happens in a person’s life.
 
“There is no such thing as a boring testimony,” he said. “They are all dramatic and miraculous. Your conversion was a miracle initiated by God. The earlier you were converted, if anything, the more amazed you should be at the grace of God.”
 
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BSC photo by Buddy Overman

“There is no such thing as a boring testimony,” said C.J. Mahaney during Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s recent 20/20 conference. “They are all dramatic and miraculous. Your conversion was a miracle initiated by God.”


Mahaney encouraged believers to recall daily the miraculous nature of their conversion as a way to remember God’s grace and love, which not only calls sinners to salvation, but also sustains believers in their spiritual walk with God.
 
“This was a kind and gracious call when we consider what we might have been [without Christ],” Mahaney said. “If there has been sometime since you felt and stressed intense gratitude and earnest love, then perhaps you need to remember your call.”
 

Law, gospel and missions

Focusing on Galatians 5:16-26, Patrick spoke about how people place themselves under the law when they try to gain acceptance from God that is based on religious performance, which leads to legalism.
 
“The biggest enemy Jesus railed against is legalism, and it is the biggest issue we face,” he said. “Legalism causes us to focus on our behavior alone for our acceptability to God.”
 
By contrast, the heart of the gospel is that God accepts believers on the basis of what Christ has accomplished for them on the cross. When Christians have a proper understanding of the gospel they are empowered to obey God’s law without reverting to legalism.
 
“You don’t obey for your acceptance,” he said. “You obey from your acceptance. You don’t work for God’s favor. You work from God’s favor.”
 
When believers work for God’s acceptance they give in to the flesh, or the old sin nature that entices Christ-followers to seek acceptance and purpose apart from the finished work of Christ. Patrick said believers must kill the flesh every day by being aware of how they seek meaning, purpose, righteousness and significance outside of Christ.
 
“Your flesh will take every good thing in your life and try to make it the best thing,” he said. “Your flesh will take your identity apart from Christ. That’s what you have to kill. That’s how the gospel is turned loose on the inside.”
 
Speaking on the theme of missions, Akin stressed that a commitment to fulfill the Great Commission is an obedient response for believers who have been transformed by the power of the gospel. He spoke from Romans 15:14-24 and called the church to divert its resources away from inward focused ministries and channel them toward reaching the nations with the gospel.
 
“The nations are crying out for hope and we have it. The nations are crying out for deliverance and we have it,” Akin said. “Will we do something about it? Or will we be content to sit back in our comfortable, convenient culture and turn a blind eye to the massive needs all around the world?”
 
Akin also reminded attendees of the Great Commission’s urgency, and encouraged them to consider committing their lives to serving on the international mission field.
 
“The issue is not lostness,” he said. “The issue is access to the gospel. Why should any of us get to hear the gospel twice when so many will never hear it?”
 
For more information about Southeastern Seminary, visit www.sebts.edu.
2/12/2013 3:16:56 PM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Tornado spares Miss. church; teams activating

February 12 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

HATTIESBURG, MISS. – Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg was right in the path of the tornado. Church leaders huddled children and adults into safe places at 5 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 10) for protection, when the storm shifted at the last moment, sparing the church but hitting the high school next door.

Darryl Craft, pastor of the 5,000-member Southern Baptist church, is thankful for the grace, but lamenting that 63 people were injured and 300 homes and businesses damaged when at least two tornados tore through five Mississippi counties. No deaths had been reported Monday (Feb. 11).

“The high school that was damaged so severely [Oak Grove High School], it sits literally next to our church. I was [at the church] last night when the storm hit,” said Craft, who served as senior pastor of Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., before leaving N.C. for Mississippi. “We thought it was going to hit the church but it turned and hit behind the high school and you know we’re certainly grateful that the church was not damaged, but we’re sorrowful for those people that lost their homes.”

Craft could not estimate the number of people at the church when the tornado hit, but said many were en route at the time.

“It was 5 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. We were having some various activities so the bulk of the crowd had not gotten there. We had moved all the children and the students and the adults that were on campus into the safe areas of the campus,” Craft said. “There were so many different activities going on.”

About 200 Temple Baptist volunteers were in the community, clearing damage Monday, Craft said, while Temple served as command center for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) strategists and Lamar County Sheriff’s Office emergency operations.

“We’re [Temple Baptist] gonna begin feeding upwards of 2,000 people [Monday] evening with disaster relief efforts. Those will primarily be, I think, law enforcement and emergency personnel,” Craft said.

SBDR personnel were assessing needs and preparing to activate chainsaw and blue tarp units Monday morning, but had made no decisions regarding feeding units, said William Perkins, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) spokesman.

“Jim Didlake [MBCB men’s ministry director] is coordinating with local churches to see what the needs are in ... the area of feeding units,” Perkins said. “The count keeps going up, as areas are cleared and they get into the neighborhoods.”

Mississippi Power reported 13,000 customers were without electricity after the storm. But Monday morning, utilities had been restored to all but 4,000 homes and businesses, according to news reports. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in counties impacted, including Lamar, Lebanon, Forrest, Lawrence and Marion.

Craft said homes of several Temple Baptist members were damaged, but he said community spirit is high.

“There is a great community spirit. People are helping one another. People are calling wanting to know what they can volunteer for, what they can donate,” Craft said. “I would say that there is a great community spirit of helpfulness and a willingness to come to the aid of your neighbor.”

“Right now, we’re just trying to help people that are in need. Right now, things are running very smoothly,” Craft said. “We’re grateful for the DR people and all that’s taking place.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
2/12/2013 3:08:12 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Guns: ‘Packing heat in church’ increasingly allowed in U.S.

February 12 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – As gun control takes high priority on Capitol Hill, state legislatures increasingly are allowing concealed guns in our most sacred place, the church, either for personal protection or for worshippers designated as church security personnel.

Arkansas, on Feb. 4, became the eighth state to pass legislation allowing concealed guns specifically in churches. In a lopsided bipartisan vote, state legislators voted to allow each church to decide whether individuals with concealed carry permits could take guns in church for personal protection.

“A person should be allowed to carry a firearm in a church that permits the carrying of a firearm for personal security,” the Arkansas Church Protection Act reads, deeming such an option “immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, and safety” because “personal security is increasingly important.”

Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming also have laws allowing concealed guns specifically in churches, with varied stipulations, including the possession of a proper permit, training, church approval and congregational awareness, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Additionally, about 20 other states allow guns in churches because of “right to carry” laws, but have not specifically focused on churches in legislation.

In the past year, at least 75 people were violently killed on church and faith-based property in the U.S., setting a new national record, according to Jimmy Meeks, a Southern Baptist preacher and Texas police officer who conducts seminars encouraging and training churches to properly arm themselves with guns.

Differing views on whether worshippers should carry guns at church can be found among Southern Baptists, ranging from Meeks to an Arizona pastor who shared on ChurchExecutive.com that he carries a concealed handgun in the pulpit, to a Louisiana pastor who recommends worshippers arm themselves with the “full armor of God” and perhaps employ off-duty police officers.

Meeks, whose next church safety seminar is scheduled May 6-7 at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, told Baptist Press churches need to realize the importance of creating a safe place to worship.

“If they don’t believe it’s necessary, they won’t do anything. It won’t matter if you pass laws allowing them to bring guns to churches if they don’t think it’s necessary. So you have to move beyond what I call the superstition that is much more prevalent in churches than spirituality,” Meeks told Baptist Press. “Many people believe there is something, divine protection, over a building that has a steeple on top of it – and that is superstition.

“Jesus said in Matthew 10:17, they will harm you in the house of worship. And we have all these people who have died for the faith, down through the years and who’ve died in churches,” Meeks said. “So the first thing you have to do is just realize, this is a problem and we need to address this.”

Wedgwood is the site of the Sept. 15, 1999, attack when a gunman entered the church during a youth activity, fired more than 100 rounds from two handguns and exploded a homemade pipe bomb. He killed seven youth and wounded seven others before killing himself. Since then more than 425 people have been violently killed at houses of worship and faith-based property, Meeks said, adding that more than 125 of the victims were Baptist.

Larry Dickey, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sunizona, Ariz., wrote that he carries a gun in the pulpit because churches can’t rely on law enforcement officials to keep congregants safe.

“If someone were to come into our church with a gun or a knife, they could do a lot of damage before the police could get into the church. Even if we had officers in the parking lot, by the time they could get inside, it would be over,” Dickey wrote on the website. “We, as citizens, need to protect what we love and be willing to lay our life on the line for them.”

The New Orleans metropolitan statistical area had the highest murder/non-negligent homicide rate in the country in 2010, at 20.8 incidents per 100,000 people, according to FBI statistics. There, First Baptist New Orleans pastor David Crosby told Baptist Press that putting guns in the hands of worshippers would do more harm than good.

“Regular church attenders packing heat to protect themselves at church? I think that is a more dangerous scenario than what I have experienced thus far in 40 years of being a pastor,” Crosby said. “I think worshippers should arm themselves with the full armor of God. But allowing the general population to carry concealed weapons to church is likely going to end up in a net increase of more innocent people dying. The presence of a weapon immediately escalates any kind of disturbance, including domestic or mental illness, to the lethal level.”

Crosby advises churches that feel the need for security to employ off-duty police officers, as his church sometimes has done.

“I would advise any congregation that felt the need for greater protection to follow this time-tested practice: utilize off-duty police officers. First Baptist New Orleans employed off-duty police officers for many years. They were armed and present on church property during worship services,” Crosby said. “I have spoken to retired and active law enforcement officers about this matter. These trained professionals are aware of the need for vigilance and are happy to help any congregation develop policies that contribute to the overall security on the church campus.”

Those who promote armed worshippers stress the importance of training and practice.

“In Texas, only about 3 percent of people authorized to carry guns carry them. Fewer than that are any good ... with them,” Meeks said. “So for these people who say now we’ve got guns in church, that’s OK, but if you’re not trained, if you don’t practice, you’re gonna hurt somebody. [The apostle] Paul said to Timothy, train yourself to be godly. Train yourself. ‘Exercise thyself unto godliness,’ the King James Version says. In other words, godliness is the product of practice. You don’t just wake up godly. You work at it.”

Worshippers not willing to secure training and keep their skills up to date should not own guns, said Meeks, who lawfully carries a concealed gun to church as a police officer.

“If they’re not willing to get training, you’d better leave that gun at home or, better yet, don’t buy one to begin with,” Meeks said. “And know the rules of a gun, the four rules: all guns are loaded; never point at anything you’re not willing to destroy; never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to pull the trigger; know what’s beyond your target.

“If you miss the guy that came into the church with the gun, there’s a good chance you’ll hit the man behind him or the woman behind him, and what if that is your wife?” Meeks asked. “And stuff like that has happened.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
2/12/2013 2:53:32 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Evangelicals: Benedict has been a ‘friend of life’

February 12 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

ROME – As the world reacted to the unexpected news that Pope Benedict XVI would become the first pope in six centuries to resign, evangelicals acknowledged major theological differences while citing Benedict’s commitment to human dignity as a key part of his legacy.

Benedict, 85, announced Monday (Feb. 11) that because of his advanced age and infirmity, he will vacate his position as spiritual leader of the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics at the end of the month. He has been pope since 2005.
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Pope Benedict XVI


“Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” Benedict said, adding that he is “well aware of the seriousness of this act.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Ky., said Benedict “has offered a brave and intelligent defense of truth against a relativist tide, and he has been a stalwart friend of life.”

Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, located in a heavily Catholic region, told Baptist Press that Benedict “is a man worthy of our respect and appreciation.”

“Although there are profound differences in Baptist and Catholic perspectives on faith, we shared a commitment to the sanctity of life and other biblical values,” Kelley said of Benedict.

Daniel Sanchez, associate dean of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said this is a time to pray for Catholics.

“The news of the resignation of the pope is undoubtedly creating concern and confusion in the minds of many sincere and devoted Roman Catholics,” Sanchez told Baptist Press. “While it is true that the Roman Catholic Church has a recognized process for the election of a successor to the current pope, it is also true that this is a time of transition for the church and its adherents.”

Sanchez added, “In a time of transition and uncertainty, it is important that we remind ourselves and our Roman Catholic friends that Jesus, through the person of the Holy Spirit, is always with us and never leaves us. It is also important to emphasize the fact that it is through a personal experience of salvation in Jesus Christ that we can have the assurance of His presence with us and the hope of being with Him when we die.”

Russell Moore, dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, while recognizing theological differences with Catholics, noted that the Vatican in the last generation – including Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II – has emphasized the dignity and liberty of the human person.

Benedict, Moore said, has countered the sexual revolution by reminding the world of the meaning of human personhood.

“We are not merely collections of nerve endings that spark with sensation when rubbed together,” Moore wrote at RussellMoore.com. “Instead a human person is directed toward a one-flesh union, which is personal and spiritual. Destroying the ecology of marriage and family isn’t simply about tearing down old ‘moralities,’ he has reminded us, but about a revolt against the web of nature in which human beings thrive.”

The current pope, Moore said, has stood against those who define human worth in terms of power and usefulness. 

“He has constantly spoken for those whose lives are seen as a burden to society: the baby with Down syndrome, the woman with advanced Alzheimer’s, the child starving in the desert, the prisoner being tortured,” Moore wrote. “These lives aren’t things, he has said, but images of God, and for them we will give an account.

“When society wants to dehumanize with language: ‘embryo,’ ‘fetus,’ ‘anchor baby,’ ‘illegal alien,’ ‘collateral damage,’ and so on, Benedict has stood firmly to point to the human faces the world is seeking to wipe away,” Moore wrote. 

Mohler, tweeting his comments from the Dominican Republic – where he has been speaking – said Benedict’s resignation “will mark a decisive ... generational change” for the Catholic church. 

Mohler also said the theological divide between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is “fully evident in an event such as papal transition.” 

Emphasizing that theology matters, Mohler noted that one of the “many faults” of the papacy “is the idea that a monarchial head can speak for any church” and warned people not to miss the opportunity and responsibility “to ponder the theological issues at stake in this new papal transition.”

“Remember that millions of people around the world gain their idea of what Christianity is from the papacy,” Mohler said.

Though questions about Benedict’s health had surfaced previously, The New York Times said, his announcement “sent shock waves around the world.” Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said he expects Benedict’s successor to be elected by Easter, which is March 31 this year.

The pope’s resignation announcement was made in Latin, but it was translated into seven languages: Italian, French, English, German, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish, The Times reported.

Though some news reports indicated that the conservative Benedict would have no role in choosing the next pope, The Times noted that he “could well influence the choice of a successor because he has molded the College of Cardinals – the papal electoral body – by his appointment of kindred spirits during his papacy.” 

Lombardi said Benedict likely will retire to a monastery in Vatican City and devote himself to a life of reflection and prayer. The spokesman added, “I am sure that many will recognize it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action.”

The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
2/12/2013 2:42:03 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Worship Summit focuses on unity, not preference

February 11 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Whether you enjoy praising God with a Baptist hymnal in your hand as an organ plays in the background, or it’s the electric guitar and drums that stir you to worship, everyone seems to have an opinion about church music.
 
Kenny Lamm, senior consultant for worship and music with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), hopes to help end the “worship wars” and bickering that are hurting many of today’s churches. He contends any style of worship – contemporary, traditional or blended – can be prone to being ritualistic, divisive and performance based, rather than focused on glorifying God.
 
“What I’ve seen in the conflict of worship is usually a result of two words: ‘personal preference,’” said Lamm, who shared a report during the BSC’s Board of Directors meeting Jan. 29-30 at the Caraway Conference Center in Sophia. “Our culture has told us that we have to have it our way. What is dangerous is when we assume our preferences are the same as God’s preferences when it comes to worship.”
 
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As a worship and music consultant, Lamm seeks to help churches get on track with biblical worship, “setting an environment that helps people encounter the transforming power of God.”
 
On March 9, the BSC’s worship and music team will sponsor a Worship Summit and Worship Leader Boot Camp at Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell.  Future events will be held Aug. 24 in Charlotte and Oct. 26 in eastern N.C. More details will be available later.
 
The purpose of the summit, Lamm said, is to take a closer look at what the Bible says about worship and to engage in “healthy conversations” about corporate worship and practices. The summit also examines how the culture impacts worship, and helps define what is “timeless” and what is “temporary” in worship.
 
“What is participatory worship versus being a spectator of worship?” he asked. “What is religious-centered worship and man-centered worship? We need to lift up what Christ-centered worship looks like. The worship summit event that we’re offering this year is designed to help churches work through these critical issues.” 
 
During the worship event, there also will be training for worship musicians and leaders at a Worship Leader Boot Camp. The camp focuses on equipping music leaders with the tools they need to create a culture of active participants seeking to connect with God in worship.
 
In the 1950s and 1960s, Lamm said, worship was pretty similar among Southern Baptist churches. Most congregations sang from the Baptist hymnal. “Today, things have changed drastically, and church leaders are struggling to determine what their church’s corporate worship should look like,” Lamm said. “In some churches what used to be meaningful worship, that engaged the people, now is turning into a lifeless ritual and the church is dying.”
 
The key, Lamm said, is not whether worship is traditional, contemporary or blended but that it is “unified.”
 
Contact Lamm at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5638, or klamm@ncbaptist.org. Visit http://blog.ncbaptist.org/renewingworship/.

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2/11/2013 3:55:34 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



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