February 2014

Rocky Mount church adopts South Asian metropolis

February 26 2014 by Hope Livingston*, International Mission Board

The food, the traffic, the poverty, the smells, the seemingly unending masses of people can be overwhelming at first, says Pastor Robin Fisher after taking a team from his church to India.
“But before we left, every person on the team had fallen in love with the people there and hoped to be able to return.”
Fisher, with Sunset Avenue Baptist Church, Rocky Mount, N.C., accepted the challenge to adopt an unengaged unreached people group issued by International Mission Board President Tom Elliff at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz.
Back home, he shared his vision with his church family.
Then in February 2012, Fisher traveled with five other pastors to a large Indian metropolis packed with people groups.
Rather than picking a single group, Fisher felt the Spirit leading him to adopt sections of the city where many unengaged unreached people groups would be represented.
Fisher brought that vision back to the United States, and his church decided to move forward.

Contributed photo
The team from Sunset Avenue Baptist Church in Rocky Mount went into a slum the first day. There, Robin Fisher shared the gospel with a 16-year-old girl who gave her life to Christ.

As the first team from Sunset Avenue prepared to go in early 2013, they prayed regularly and fervently for help in recognizing the persons of peace around them (Luke 10).
When the team went out into a slum the first day, Fisher’s initial conversation generated a religious debate. The team moved down a few doors, and Fisher prayed for a sick man.
When he turned from the sick man, Fisher saw the smiling face of a 16-year-old girl who motioned for him to join her. The girl expressed an interest in Christianity as well as a lack of knowledge on the subject.

“What a clear invitation from God to share the gospel with her,” Fisher said.
After he shared the gospel with her, she professed faith in Christ. Before the week ended, she had received discipleship and begun to share the gospel with her friends.
“God showed me that day that He would honor our prayers for the persons of peace,” Fisher said. “And He did so every single day we were there.”
A key part of the trip was working alongside a local South Asian church. “What a wonderful privilege to see that kingdom work is going on all over the world and not just in our little corner of the world,” said Fisher.
“There was a shared passion for Christ, a ‘family connection’ that surfaced very quickly,” he said. “We met senior adults who have faithfully, courageously served Christ there for decades and young teenagers wrestling with a call to preach.”
As the week continued, Fisher went out with the pastor and another young man, who shared his testimony – how as a young man, he was aimless and needed direction for work.
After he came to Christ, his life changed, and God blessed his career and his ministry. As the young man finished sharing his testimony with Robin and the local pastor, the three men began a conversation with a young man who had tried many religions and prayed to many gods.
“He was desperately looking for help with his future and in what he was supposed to do with his life,” Fisher said.
As Fisher, the pastor and the young man told him about Jesus, Fisher felt led to ask the young man to share his testimony with this young man.
“Their common stories played a part in that young man receiving Christ that day,” Fisher said. “I left that church leader to begin follow up. It was a great, God-authored experience – one of many we enjoyed that week.”
During that same week, two South Asian women from the pastor’s church went out with Christian worker Francis Tanner*.
In one home, Tanner played with a little girl while the two South Asian women shared the gospel with her parents.
They discovered the father had attended church when he was younger but had not returned since getting married. As they departed that day, one of the women, Archana,* felt burdened to return.
About a month later, Archana began bringing the family into her home for Bible study once a week.
Soon, Archana’s church was offering training to Bible study leaders.
Fisher said he’s heard from their host pastor that his church has already started a new small group in the area where his team worked.
“We’ve been captured by the vision to reach the unreached with the gospel,” Fisher said. “That’s why God led us to South Asia, where so much spiritual darkness abounds. … We will be going back on an ongoing basis – at least once a year and hopefully more often in the future as the work progresses.”
“It added so much to our experience to be able to share it with a church family there. Our partnership is one we’re looking forward to pursuing. I’ve already traded emails with my fellow pastor as we seek to build a relationship of encouragement and support.”
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Hope Livingston is a writer serving among the peoples of South Asia. Visit southasianpeoples.imb.org.)
2/26/2014 1:05:13 PM by Hope Livingston*, International Mission Board | with 0 comments

Healing, relief continue in Philippines

February 26 2014 by Caroline Anderson, IMB/Baptist Press

CEBU, Philippines – From the rubble, a nation is still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan’s devastating effects last November.
Much of the press and publicity have moved on, but Baptist Global Response continues relief efforts.
Baptist Global Response is gearing up for long-term development as the short-term relief organizations pull out,” says IMB missionary Stan Smith. He and his wife, Dottie, minister on the island of Cebu.
“There is much work to do as we survey areas farther from town who have been neglected but desperately need help as they try to rebuild their lives,” Stan explains.
Work on Cebu has centered on Gibitngil, a small island of more than 2,000 people.

IMB photo
Volunteers Mel Callahan and Chris Quail from the Missouri Baptist Convention build classroom walls on the Philippine island of Gibitngil. The island’s school suffered extensive damages as a result of Typhoon Haiyan.

In January and February, BGR teams from Missouri, Illinois, Louisiana and Georgia repaired and rebuilt Gibitngil’s school that accommodates 500 children.
“[These teams] have become island celebrities as they brought in tools and a generator to work with the grateful island villagers who are amazed that these followers of the Lord Jesus would come so far to serve them,” Stan says.
The islanders are also actively involved in the rebuilding effort, Dottie says.
“When they unload any materials off of a boat, be it bags of cement or lumber or whatever, someone, including little kids, grab the cargo and hike up the hill to the schoolhouse,” she says. “It definitely is a community effort.”
Several of the classrooms are now in use and re-roofed. “We are providing volunteers and materials, but the community is also providing their own national volunteers,” Dottie adds.
Volunteers visit with the teachers over lunch and have built strong relationships. “[It’s] such a wonderful opportunity to explain a relationship with Jesus as they are touched by these teams’ willingness to cross the ocean at their own expense to serve them,” says the International Mission Board missionary.
BGR national worker Adore Sabido, who is leading relief efforts on Gibitngil, agrees.
“Their coming here is not only repairing the school in Gibitngil island, but they are starting to repair lives of the people,” Sabido says. “It is opening the way for the gospel to come to the island.”
Sabido said a year of ministry on the island has resulted in 32 people being baptized. But relief work on the island has been discouraging at times, he says. Bad weather and the wrong type of supplies have caused setbacks.
“This is not our work, this is God’s work,” Sabido says. The openness of the people on Gibitngil has at times overshadowed the discouraging moments.
“This just encouraged us that God is doing something great and that we are a part of what God is doing.”
Food distribution on the island finished in mid-February.
“People are at the point where they can survive food-wise,” says Susan Stokeld, BGR project director in the Philippines.
“We are moving into the final stages of recovery and then we are hoping to move into a full-fledged community development project,” she explains.

Plant nursery phase

Stokeld says the principal of the school has given permission for BGR workers to set up a plant nursery.
An agriculturalist visited Gibitngil to investigate ways the volcanic rock in the area could be used to help them become more self-sufficient. Most of the island’s food and water comes from the main island of Cebu.
The South Carolina and Georgia Baptist conventions adopted relief and reconstruction work in northern Cebu. When a state convention adopts an area, they take responsibility for relief work in the area.
Stokeld says three Filipino staff members are coordinating relief efforts in the city of Pilar on the Camotes islands. The city was hit hard by the typhoon and many communities off of the main road were overlooked by relief organizations.
“It’s been very uplifting to see [Filipinos] taking initiative in rebuilding,” Stokeld says.
“Pray that people are seeing a difference in our lives and our reason for being there.”
The California Baptist State Convention adopted the city of Ormoc, on the island of Leyte, and committed to help rebuild six schools over the next six months.
IMB missionary Jill Harvell said BGR funds have been used to provide 1,000 families in Ormoc with food and housing materials.
The Arkansas Baptist Convention is assisting with the rebuilding of the Southern Baptist Camp in the neighboring city of Javier.
“What a privilege it has been to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those,” Harvell says. “I am thankful to the Baptist Global Response organization that has enabled me to utilize my gifts of organization and helps. I am so full of joy.”
BGR and IMB workers throughout the Philippine islands are praying for hearts to be transformed.
“We have prayed for these central islands for years as the work is hard and slow among people who have zeal without knowledge,” Stan says. “Could it be that God is going to bring the light of the truth through such great disasters? Only He could do that.”
*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is an IMB writer living in Asia.)
2/26/2014 12:49:39 PM by Caroline Anderson, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bob Jones Univ. rehires firm hired to investigate sex abuse

February 26 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

After firing an independent watchdog group to investigate allegations of sexual abuse on campus, Bob Jones University has rehired the same group, one month before the findings from a 13-month review were scheduled to be released.
The university had contracted with Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012 but suspended the contract on Jan. 27. The university met with GRACE officials Feb. 18-19 to discuss the review.

RNS photo by David Gibson
Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.
“GRACE satisfactorily addressed the University’s concerns and Bob Jones University is confident the review can be completed in a timely and professional manner,”  the university said in a press release.
“To be clear, GRACE and BJU are united in their commitment to a review that is thorough, transparent and objective.”
In December, BJU President Stephen Jones announced his resignation due to health concerns, and he cited the “ongoing challenges in leadership change” in a letter that terminated the contract with GRACE. School officials had previously cited “differences” between the two sides, a charge that the watchdog group said came as a “complete surprise.”
Now that GRACE has been rehired, a spokesman for BJU said it’s unclear when the final report will be released.
The investigation is led by Boz Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson, who said he has no further comment. Tchividjian, who blogs for Religion News Service, has written and spoken on why evangelicals struggle to report sex abuse claims.
“At the heart of the struggle is a fear that is rooted in the need to self-protect,” he wrote earlier this month. “All such ‘fears’ are usually masked by a rationale that the reporting of such abuse may ‘damage the reputation of Christ.’”
GRACE was fired last year by an independent Baptist missions agency shortly before it could conclude another abuse investigation of missionary children.
Bob Jones is a private Christian university in Greenville, S.C., with about 3,000 students.
2/26/2014 12:40:02 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Lisa Leslie balances family, fame

February 25 2014 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A

Lisa Leslie is one of the most-recognized former Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) players. Having brought considerably more than a stunning visage and statuesque body to the court, she was the most dominant player in the women’s game.
She was a member of the gold-winning U.S. Olympic teams in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. She is the first team sport athlete to win four consecutive Olympic gold medals.
In 2001, Leslie was the first WNBA player to win the regular season MVP, the All-Star Game MVP and the playoff MVP in the same season. That year, she also led the Los Angeles Sparks to their first WNBA Championship. In 2002, she became the WNBA all-time leading scorer. Leslie led the Sparks to back-to-back championships and she was the first woman to slam-dunk in a professional game.
In August 2011, Leslie became co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks. She also launched the Lisa Leslie Basketball and Leadership Academy.
Lisa and her husband Michael are parents to Lauren and M.J. As a wife, mom, author, sports analyst, motivational speaker and entrepreneur you can see Lisa Leslie does it all. I had the privilege to catch up with Lisa at Super Bowl XLVIII in New York. We sat down and visited about faith, family and the importance of helping the younger generation.

Contributed photo
Lisa Leslie, left, was interviewed by Roman Gabriel III during the recent Super Bowl festivities in New York.

Q: What are you doing here at the Super Bowl?
A: I’m here on behalf of the American Federation for Children, and I hope to bring awareness to parents who should have a choice of what school their kids to attend. The government shouldn’t be choosing what church or school we go to. Now most states are set up so kids go to school based upon the ZIP code they live in. But some of those schools may not be the best in the area. Maybe they’re underfunded or underperforming.
Q: You’re a person who has spent your whole life taking care of your body and mind in becoming a WNBA and Olympic basketball champion. Why is it so important to take care of ourselves physically?
A: I always say that you only get one body so you really need to take care of it. What you put into your body is what you get out. It’s like buying gas, the right kind of fuel for your automobile is critical, and with our bodies if you put the wrong fuel in it, then you can’t perform well on the field, in the classroom, on the court or whatever you may be doing. I think it’s really important that kids get this information early on. I know some kids don’t like vegetables but as parents we have to find vegetables, fruits and other foods our kids enjoy so that they eat correctly.  As a new mom I’ve become even more interested in this aspect of helping our kids better perform.
Q: It seems to me that people who live by the basic priorities of faith and family become very successful in life. What’s your story?
A: As a prayerful kid, I was always putting my faith and goals in the Lord’s name. That was always one of the things that helped me the most. I always wanted to fulfill His purpose. I think that’s really been the saving grace for me. When you have faith, you have to step out on it [and trust God].
Q: I hear from many people about a lack of hope or doubt that our young people have today about their future. What do you say to young people today who voice a lack of opportunity because of some past failure or difficult up bringing?
A: I always tell kids that 10 percent of what goes on in life is our past problems. The other 90 percent is how you process it mentally. This is one thing that really separated me from others when I competed in my community. I wrote down the short-term goals and the long-term goals that I had. And by seeing these goals every day on my mirror or on my refrigerator, they constantly reminded me to do the things I was supposed to do like studying my homework or simply going to the gym.
Q: Why are positive role models critical to young people’s success?
A: I think it’s really important for kids to seek out mentors. I’m a big advocate of finding mentors – someone who’s positive in your community. If it’s not a parent or an aunt or an uncle, it may be a teacher or someone in the ministry or in the church you attend. There is someone that can be a shining light in your community and may not be financially rich, but they may be rich in spirit, rich in wisdom and rich in information. You have to be a seeker willing to learn and to find out more about who you want to be.
Q: If parents want more information about school choice, where can they go?
A: Go to Federationforchildren.org to find out more information about the importance of school choice.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman’s Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio can be heard in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. It’s all about faith, family and sports. Visit his website: soldouttv.com; Facebook page: Roman Gabriel III Fan Page; connect with him on Twitter: romangabriel3rd; email him: soldoutrg3@gmail.com.)
2/25/2014 12:39:50 PM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q&A | with 0 comments

Engage Sochi, post-Olympics, to nurture churches worldwide

February 25 2014 by Baptist Press

SOCHI, Russia – As the 2014 Winter Olympics comes to a close in Sochi, Russia, medal-winning Christian athletes who gave witness for Jesus Christ say their lives are about much more than winning medals. Meanwhile, the Engage Sochi outreach kicks into its next phase – church planting.
For 17 days, Sochi was marked by glitter and gold, pomp and ceremony, victory and defeat. Now the Olympic flag is lowered, the flame is extinguished and the baton is passed to PyeongChang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Games.
“Athletes, you have inspired us over this last 17 days,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said during the closing ceremonies on Sunday (Feb. 23). “By living together under one roof in the Olympic village you send a powerful message from Sochi to the world, that of a society of peace, tolerance and respect. I appeal to everybody implicated in confrontation, oppression and violence to act on this Olympic message of dialogue and peace.”
American Jessica Lutz, whose father is from Switzerland, won a bronze medal playing on the Swiss women’s hockey team, saying, “It is a huge honor and blessing to be able to go to the Olympics and to be called an Olympian.”
“But it is so much more of an honor to be able to be called a child of God, to be forgiven of my sin and to be able to have Christ’s righteousness as my own,” Lutz said in an interview with Baptist Press.

BP Photo

Lutz entered the Olympic arena during the opening ceremonies wearing an Engage Sochi pin, identifying herself with a network of Southern Baptists who set the goal of making a difference for Christ before, during and after the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Also among those who spoke out for their faith were Kelly Clark, who won a bronze medal in the women’s snowboard half pipe and women’s hockey team members Anne Schleper and Gigi Marvin.
Marc Hooks, co-director of Engage Sochi, noted that a major part of the Engage Sochi strategy during the Olympics was to use specialized trading pins that facilitated sharing the gospel.
“The unofficial Olympic spectator sport is pin trading,” Hooks said. “People coming to the Olympics love to trade pins, so we designed a pin that is fun to trade, that people like and that they want, but has elements that allow us to share the gospel.”
Colors on the pin represented key aspects of the plan of salvation – “the same five colors as the Olympic rings,” Hooks said, “so we can tie it all together and share God’s love with the people here.”
Nearly 200 Southern Baptists traveled to the Games to participate in Engage Sochi. They included The Singing Men of Oklahoma; the University of Mobile Jazz Band; the bluegrass Earl Brackin Band, who are members of First Baptist Church of Middleburg, Fla.; and Strong Tower Baptist Church of St. Joseph, Mo.; along with participants from the national Woman’s Missionary Union and the Georgia and Oklahoma Baptist state conventions.
As the streets came alive with bluegrass music, Dixieland jazz, clowns, balloon artists and drama groups, a Russian security officer asked one Engage Sochi team, “Are you here to make a spiritual difference? Because it’s working!”
Apparently it was. One young woman who travelled from California for the Olympics was among who heard the gospel. “Hearing this was a shining light from God,” she said, “Him telling me that He’s still here with me.”
Stephanie Brock, wife of Tod Brock, fiddler for the Earl Brackin Band, said, “I saw firsthand magnificent grace that broke through cultural and language barriers. … It was an unbelievable experience to simply say, ‘Here’s a gift of love’ as I handed a new friend a pin and tract. … I know I planted a seed. As I watched our whole team work as one to promote God’s love, I have no doubt that lives were changed.”
More than 13,000 Engage Sochi trading pins and gospel tracts were distributed during the 17 days of the Games. Three people told of committing their lives to Jesus while talking to Engage Sochi volunteers and more than 130 contacts were made with individuals who wanted to learn more about Him.
The Engage Sochi strategy is more than pins and gospel presentations, Hooks noted. There is a church-planting focus as well. “Church planting is based on forming relationships. So, what our Engage Sochi folks are doing here is the building blocks for new churches to be started in Sochi and around the world,” he said.
“We want everybody that we came in contact with to have the opportunity to continue the conversations that were started in Sochi,” Hooks continued. “So, regardless of where that person is from, we want to connect them with a believer in their area who can make a relationship with that person and continue to speak with them about issues of faith.”
Hooks put out a plea for prayer as Engage Sochi enters the final strategy phase. “Pray for us as we finish this part of the project and we move into the next part, as we do follow-up and discipleship, that these new believers would be discipled and be brought into bodies of believers,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Contributors to this article are Evelyn Adamson, William Bagsby and Charles Braddix of the London bureau of Baptist Press.)
2/25/2014 12:29:17 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Moore responds: Christians not hypocrites to refuse gay marriage business

February 25 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Christian photographers, florists and bakers are not hypocrites to refuse their services for same-sex weddings, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore has written in response to the charge from other evangelical Christians.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, posted a response Sunday (Feb. 23) to a column by Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt published the same day at The Daily Beast, a popular news and commentary website. Powers, a Daily Beast columnist and Fox News analyst, and Merritt, a senior columnist for Religion News Service, said Moore and other Christians are selectively invoking the Bible when they refuse to serve for same-sex weddings while not declining for other “unbiblical” ceremonies.
As an example of an unbiblical wedding, Powers and Merritt cited a ceremony between a Christian and a non-Christian or involving a divorced person who does not have a biblical basis for divorce.
“If you refuse to photograph one unbiblical wedding, you should refuse to photograph them all,” Powers and Merritt wrote. “If not, you’ll be seen as a hypocrite and as a known Christian, heap shame on the gospel.
There is a distinction, Moore responded, between a same-sex ceremony and a heterosexual wedding, even if a man and woman do not have biblical grounds for marriage.
“In the case of a same-sex marriage, the marriage is obviously wrong, in every case,” Moore wrote at his blog. “There are no circumstances in which a man and a man or a woman and a woman can be morally involved in a sexual union.”
Moore’s blog response followed more extensive comments on the distinction in a “Question and Ethics” podcast posted Feb. 20 at The Gospel Coalition blog.
A same-sex ceremony is different from “other problematic marriages,” Moore told a Christian photographer who asked about shooting a same-sex wedding.
“[W]hile a biblical view of marriage would see that such people (fornicators, believers to unbelievers, unlawfully divorced, etc.) should not get married, and that the church has no authority to marry them, we also would affirm that such people, when married, actually are married,” Moore said. “A pastor who joins a believer to an unbeliever bears an awful responsibility for doing something wrong, but the end result is an actual marriage.
“The same-sex marriage differs not in terms of morality, but in terms of reality. It is not that homosexuality is some sort of wholly different or unforgivable sexual sin. It’s that the historic Christian view of marriage means that without sexual complementarity there is no marriage at all.”
Moore applied the apostle Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 8 regarding meat sacrificed to idols to the situation. When they are served meat, Paul writes, Christians in Corinth can “eat it to the glory of God,” but they are to abstain “for the sake of the consciences around you” if it “is advertised as sacrificed to idols,” Moore wrote in his Feb. 23 post.
In the Feb. 20 response to the photographer, Moore said, “You need not investigate as a wedding photographer whether the wedding you are photographing is Christ-honoring. But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be confused.”
Powers, formerly part of the Clinton administration, and Merritt, a master of divinity graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said of Moore’s counsel, “Apparently, ignorance is bliss. This makes sure to put just one kind of ‘unbiblical’ marriage in a special category.”
Moore “is telling Christian vendors that it’s okay to do something ‘wrong’ by providing services for a heterosexual wedding as long as they don’t know its unbiblical,” Powers and Merritt wrote. “But do we really believe that Christians don’t know that many weddings they provide service for are unbiblical without ‘investigating?’ That’s a real stretch.
“Rather than protecting the conscience rights of Christians, this looks a lot more like randomly applying religious belief in a way that discriminates against and marginalizes one group of people, while turning a blind eye to another group,” they wrote. “It’s hard to believe that Jesus was ever for that.”
Moore noted Feb. 23, “The photographer has, in most cases, no ability or authority to find out the sorts of things a pastor or church elders would about a marrying couple.”
He said, “[U]nless the photographer has a reason to think [there is an unbiblical basis for a marriage], he needn’t hire a private investigator or ask for birth certificates and court papers to make sure it’s not.”
The hypocrisy charge from other evangelicals is one thing, Moore said. “It’s quite another thing for the state to coerce persons through fines and penalties and licenses to use their creative gifts to support weddings they believe to be sinful,” he said.
In their column, Powers and Merritt said the Bible does not call Christians “to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage.”
Moore took issue.
“Does that apply only to the morality of marriage?” Moore asked. “Should a Christian (or Muslim or Orthodox Jewish or feminist New Age) web designer be compelled to develop a site platform for a legal pornography company?”
Moore expressed his love for Powers and Merritt, and they said they respect him.
Powers appeared on a panel on religious liberty sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in October in Washington.
Both Powers and Merritt had written columns days earlier criticizing state legislative efforts to protect the conscience rights of photographers, florists and others regarding same-sex weddings. In a Feb. 19 column in USA Today, Powers equated the measures with the Jim Crow laws used in the South to discriminate against African Americans. Merritt said in a Feb. 20 Religious News Service piece the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. would have agreed with Powers.
Other evangelical bloggers commented on the Feb. 23 column by Powers and Merritt:
  • Denny Burk, professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., said in a Feb. 23 post he was “grieved” by their commentary. “Of course we do not expect society at large to understand the teachings of Christianity or why the Bible might prohibit Christians from participating in gay wedding celebrations,” Burk wrote. “After all, it is not their consciences that are in view here. It’s ours. But I would have expected more from Powers and Merritt.”
They say Christians “are discriminating against gay people by giving a pass to unbiblical heterosexual weddings,” Burk wrote. “Yet to make this argument, Powers and Merritt must assume a moral equivalence between gay marriage and conjugal marriage. And this is precisely the point. They are not equal.”
He also described as a “blatant misrepresentation” the assertion by Powers and Merritt that Moore said it is “okay to do something ‘wrong.’”
  • Betsy Childs, web and publications editor for Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., said in a Monday (Feb. 24) post at the website First Things:
“A same-sex wedding is the ceremonial blessing of behavior the Bible condemns. Affirmation of homosexual practice is intrinsic to gay nuptials. There is no need to ask the history of the couple or their reasons for marrying in order to figure out whether or not the marriage is one that God would approve. In contrast, while two heterosexuals wishing to marry may or may not be obeying God’s commands, the institution itself is one that God has affirmed.
“Hypocritical Christians are those who forget that they are sinners in need of a savior. Apart from God’s grace we would be damned, and we are hypocrites if we refuse to call others from their sin to experience that same grace. To profit by helping others celebrate their sin, thereby perpetuating the illusion that homosexual behavior is not sin, would be hypocritical for any Christian, be he butcher, baker, or candlestick maker.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
2/25/2014 12:12:12 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

SEBTS campaign exceeds $50 million milestone

February 25 2014 by Ali Dixon, Southeastern Seminary

Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), announced that Southeastern exceeded the $50 million comprehensive campaign goal with $50,221,165 in gifts, faith commitments and planned gifts.
“It is difficult to overstate the enormity of this God-given success,” Akin said. “The impact of this campaign will stand not merely for generations but for eternity.” In a note to the campaign’s supporters, Akin wrote, “The faith and faithfulness of the pioneers who dared to dream of a $50 million goal has been rewarded. The deepest desires of the 3,384 donors who made this victory possible are coming to fruition as our graduates take increasingly bolder risks to pursue the nations for the glory of King Jesus.”
He continued, “We are celebrating this milestone now, but it is just a foretaste of the celebration we will enjoy in eternity when we consider every way our Heavenly Father has multiplied the sacrificial gifts of His people to ransom millions, even billions, through the once-for-all sacrifice of His Son.”
Of the $29 million in dollars received, approximately $7.7 million was added to the endowment. Another $7.2 million went toward the construction of Patterson Hall, dedicated in October of 2008. Gifts to support ongoing operations through the Southeastern Fund totaled approximately $7.5 million, and remaining gifts were designated for building renovations, scholarships, grants, and other special projects. The campaign spanned 11 years and concluded on Dec. 31, 2013 with 3,384 donors of record. Of the $50.2 million raised, approximately $29 million has been received with an additional $21 million in anticipated support through faith commitments and planned gifts.
Daniel Palmer, director of financial development, said, “A comprehensive campaign counts nearly all charitable giving including support for operations, endowment, grants, buildings and other special projects. The value of a comprehensive campaign is that it is focused on our overall mission. This is a comprehensive campaign with a comprehensive impact.”
A donor’s last gift is often the greatest gift, sometimes many times larger than all the other support given throughout their lifetime.
Southeastern invites individuals and couples who plan to support Southeastern through a Will, Trust or Charitable Gift Annuity to join the Timothy Society and share in an annual celebration banquet with others who have committed themselves to the progress of the gospel through a planned gift. “For most Christians, a charitable bequest through a Last Will and Testament is a profoundly meaningful way to make a lasting gift with an everlasting impact,” noted George Harvey, director of planned giving. “It has been my deepest joy to help people meet their family’s needs and maximize their Kingdom impact.”
“It’s a miracle,” Harvey said. “When you consider that God has provided so bountifully during the worst economy in our seminary’s history, there is no other explanation than that the favor of God is with this seminary. From start to finish, God has led this campaign in such a way that there can be no question that He gets all the glory.”
Today, Southeastern trains nearly 3,100 students, 700 more than when Akin took the helm 10 years ago. Because denominational funding through the Cooperative Program has been flat over that same period, private support has become a critical part of funding the work of training tomorrow’s pastors, teachers, missionaries, counselors, and non-profit leaders engaged in ministries ranging from corporate chaplaincy to pregnancy support.
“Over the last five years, what I have witnessed is this, the real margin of excellence in sending Great Commission people into both the churches in this country and on foreign missions comes through private giving,” said Henry Williamson, SEBTS trustee and campaign chairman.
“The funding trends are clear,” said Art Rainer, vice president for institutional advancement. “Support from ministry partners right here in the Triangle, across North Carolina, and throughout the country is essential. Without partners who pray consistently and give generously, the meteoric rise of Southeastern over the last decade would have simply been impossible.”
Akin has overseen a 69 percent increase in donors, an 83 percent increase in annual receipts to the Southeastern Fund, and a $10 million increase in the market value of the SEBTS endowment including 37 new endowed accounts and the installation of six endowed chairs.
“God has been at work through president Akin’s vision of a seminary radically committed to impacting eternity,” Palmer said. “Making the case for supporting a seminary can be challenging because seminaries too often fail to connect the work of training students to the work of making a Great Commission impact.”

“At Southeastern, we do not have that challenge," Palmer said. "The case for supporting Southeastern is clear and compelling because there is a direct connection between giving and reaching the nations through students who are well-prepared to go the distance for Christ.” 
In Southeastern’s recently adopted strategic plan, growth in private support is a leading priority. The strategic plan emphasizes that, “Keeping tuition affordable is a significant part of Southeastern’s missionary strategy. … When students graduate without debt, they are often willing to take bolder risks for the sake of the gospel – leaving the comforts of home and family to plant their lives in new and challenging contexts. Significant growth in private giving is the only viable [budgetary] solution over the long term.”
When he learned of the campaign’s success, Bart Neal, retired vice president of institutional advancement and the campaign’s architect said, “This is just the beginning. This is a reminder that God delights to do great things. What a great day for Southeastern, her donors and the Kingdom of God. I cannot wait to see what happens next.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ali Dixon is the news and information specialist at Southeastern Seminary.)
2/25/2014 11:58:07 AM by Ali Dixon, Southeastern Seminary | with 0 comments

Church planter embraces legacy he once tried to escape

February 24 2014 by Joe Conway, North American Mission Board

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – You could say Patrick Coats is a product of his spiritual legacy. But it’s a legacy he attempted to elude – at least for a time.
A native of Miami, Coats was raised by his grandfather, Joe Coats, the first African-American pastor to affiliate with the Florida Baptist Convention in 1968. The elder Coats planted a church in a school building and saw it grow to 4,000 members.
“Hurricane Andrew destroyed the church building, but it did not destroy the church family,” said Coats. “The last major project for my grandfather was rebuilding the church [facilities].”
Coats was never far from his grandfather, so he was constantly in church. When he was old enough, he began serving alongside his grandfather, first as a music minister. A degree in music education followed, and though Coats will tell you he is primarily a trumpeter, he can play an array of instruments, including drums.

IMB photo by Will Stuart
Paul and Tracy Barth, who will serve among European peoples, interact with family and friends during the reception following the appointment service.  

“I was immersed in Southern Baptist life,” said Coats. “I’ve been everything there is to be in church from a deacon to a preacher. But I ran from a specific call as lead pastor.”
Coast ran to music and started a Christian rap group. Although it was a rebellious run, his was a mild one. He remained involved in church leadership, but did not want to be a pastor. Coats’ uncle, Joe Coats, started a church, tapping his nephew to serve as minister of music. After 10 years his uncle had a new idea.
“In 2005 my uncle threw me into the pulpit,” said Coats. “That began a three-year journey of preaching, attending seminary and the realization that I had to embrace the call of a pastor to be obedient to my Lord.”
Perhaps still testing the waters lightly, Coats moved his family to Homestead and intended to start slow with his first church plant. He planned a small Bible study.
“We began with a group of 14 at the first Bible study preview,” said Coats. “They all asked a question I wasn’t prepared to answer. ‘What are you going to do now?’”
Coats did the only thing he could think of and began looking for meeting space. In December 2009 he located a movie theater that allowed him to rent space for the Bible study. The Bible study launch was set for New Year’s Eve.
“Forty people showed up for the Bible study,” said Coats. “The next week more came and everyone wanted to have a worship service. That year we baptized 30 people. In 2011 we baptized 33. I backed into church planting.”
All the while Coats remained involved in Southern Baptist life. He is one of six missionaries featured this year by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as part of its 2014 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® promotion. Miami, where Coats serves, is one of 32 Send North America cities NAMB is bringing special emphasis and resources to in its effort to help Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches in 10 years. Half of NAMB’s financial support comes from the Annie offering.
Kingdom Covenant Baptist Church was the result of Coats’ accidental planting. He says the church is kingdom focused, connecting people with the gospel. “God is up to something. You don’t have to over think it. Just do it,” said Coats.
With connections through working on the Florida Baptist Convention’s church planting team and through the North American Mission Board’s church planting network, Coats continues to sharpen his planting skills. Kingdom Covenant is establishing city groups to create a culture of discipleship, and it is working in practical ways.
“Last year we met a woman raised as a Jehovah’s Witness,” said Coats. “She came to the services as a seeker. She sought me out after a service for clarification about what she heard. She eventually gave her life to Christ and is now a Bible study leader. She had the knowledge; she just needed to meet the author.
“If you go to a city, you go as a missionary. The church grows out of your missional living. It’s not about making the right moves or reading the right books. It’s disciple making and obedience.” Coats points to the example of his son’s football team as evidence of effective missional living.
His son, Patrick II, plays quarterback for South Miami Senior High School. As an involved parent, Coats got to know the team’s head coach. At a team meal for the families the coach asked Coats to give a blessing.
“From that I was able to share the gospel and three players have given their lives to Christ and been baptized since,” said Coats. “That’s how church happens, in living. It’s Acts 2:42.”
Living in church also led to an important introduction for Coats. He met his future wife in youth group.
“Archalena and I met in youth group in my grandfather’s church,” said Coats. “She was big into WMU. She was an Acteen queen regent. She would not even give me the time of day when we met. Eventually she allowed me to be her escort.” In addition to son Patrick, the couple also has two daughters, Joy and Faith.
Being named an Annie Armstrong Week of Prayer Missionary was humbling to Coats. He has long known of the significance of the offering for North American Missions.
“The Annie Armstrong offering is super important,” said Coats. “We’ve benefited from training, resources and partnering churches who’ve come down and labored with us in the field. The best encouragement for a church planter is knowing he’s not alone. Through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, other SBC churches are made aware of church planting and they come alongside the plant to help in a big way.”
To learn more about Patrick Coats and the ministry of Kingdom Covenant Baptist Church, including a video, visit www.anniearmstrong.com. To find your place in God’s mission, begin with www.namb.net/mobilize-me.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)

2/24/2014 10:31:42 AM by Joe Conway, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments

Scroggins: Broken families lead to ministry

February 24 2014 by James A. Smith Sr., Southern Seminary/Baptist Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – For many residents, South Florida may very well seem like paradise on earth.
The year-round tropical climate draws both young and old seeking an idyllic lifestyle of warm temperatures, beautiful beaches and carefree living.
But the fallout of the moral revolution is all too obvious in the southeastern corridor of the Sunshine State. Broken by the false promises of sexual liberation and family redefinition, many people in West Palm Beach have less than blissful lives.
Jimmy Scroggins, a two-time alumnus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former dean of Boyce College, Southern’s undergraduate school, saw the devastating consequences of the moral revolution shortly after arriving five years ago as the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.

A journey begun

Scroggins realized he was no longer in the Bible Belt when seven of eight couples who signed up for a marriage preparation class were already living together – some after multiple marriages, some with children from prior relationships in and out of wedlock – and most were not even Christians.
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., about five hours up the east coast, Scroggins’ more than 15 years of pastoral ministry experiences there and in Louisville, Ky., were meager preparation for what he found in South Florida.
Scroggins offered the marriage class to get to know his new congregation and so that he and his wife Kristin could model biblical marriage. The Scroggins have been married since 1994 and are parents to six boys and two girls, ages 17 to 4.

Photo by Emil Handke/SBTS
Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., explains a graphical illustration of how departing from God's design brings brokenness.

“I realized things were going to have to be different here and that class began a journey for me, and therefore for our church, into trying to discover what it would be like if our community felt like we really had open doors to them,” Scroggins told Southern Seminary Magazine in an interview at his church facility in the heart of downtown West Palm Beach.
The church’s sanctuary overlooks Lake Worth – part of the Intracoastal Waterway that separates the city from Palm Beach, the narrow, eastern-most strip of land next to the Atlantic Ocean populated by the very wealthy – where multimillion-dollar yachts are commonplace.
Located 75 miles north of Miami’s famous South Beach, the congregation has been a traditional, prominent Southern Baptist church for most of its venerable 112-year history. By the time Scroggins arrived in 2008, First Baptist had been without a senior pastor for five years, with the exception of one pastor who served briefly.
After five years under Scroggins’ leadership, the congregation – now existing in three locations, as well as two language-based satellites – is thriving again. But the multiethnic, socioeconomically diverse congregation – comprised of those on public assistance all the way to the incredibly affluent – has had to embrace its unique setting and challenges.
“This situation presents a tremendous opportunity for the gospel of Jesus,” Scroggins said.
The opportunity, however, comes with major challenges. Some of which are the fallout of America’s moral revolution that has turned upside down societal understandings and expectations about the nature of the family, marriage and sexual activity.

A graphic to communicate

The inaugural marriage preparation class drove Scroggins to retool his ministry approach to communicate more clearly to people whose lives are not shaped by the Bible and instead have complicated, mixed-up family structures.
Scroggins developed an illustration to help the couples see why their lives were broken and how the gospel is the means of recovering God’s design. The illustration has become a primary tool for Scroggins’ gospel witnessing and teaching: God’s design (for marriage, family, sex, etc.) is violated by sin that results in brokenness. People attempt to ignore, rationalize or mitigate their brokenness until in repentance they see the gospel as the way of recovery and the means to pursue God’s design for their lives.
Scroggins said the illustration hit home for most of the couples in the first class, even while some initially were angry with him for asserting the notion of sin and God’s standards.
“The brokenness is that part of our graphic that really grabs people because they may not agree with God’s design; they many not even agree with the concept of sin; but none of them deny the brokenness,” he said.
Still, no graphic fully illustrates the devastating consequences of living contrary to God’s design with severe brokenness. That brokenness may include multiple failed relationships and “all kinds of immorality” that is sometimes multigenerational.
“The brokenness is so deep that even if they turn from their sins and put their trust in Christ you’re just not going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again for them,” he said.
Scroggins’ aim is to help people – unbelievers and lifelong Christians – get connected to God’s design for all of life’s circumstances. A model for Scroggins is the Apostle Paul’s ministry to the church at Corinth.
“I believe that Paul would’ve said, ‘OK, you’re a new creation in Christ. So from right here, right now, today, let’s begin to discover and to recover and pursue God’s design from right here as a new creation in Jesus,’” he said.
While continuing to uphold biblical standards of morality, Scroggins said, “We live in this fallen world, and what we need to do is not beat people up for the rest of their lives and set the bar impossibly high before we allow them to become a part of who we are. Why don’t we just put the bar where Christ puts it? Turn from your sins; trust Christ; you’re a new creation; welcome to the family. And that’s what we’ve determined to do.”
Scroggins said some of the couples in the first marriage preparation class have become followers of Christ and have married, but some still face tremendous challenges because of mistakes in their past.
“All of this is so fragile,” he said. “It’s hard.”
In recent years, even gay couples – who know, yet reject, the church’s biblically based teaching on sexuality – are bringing their children, for which Scroggins is “very glad.”
Scroggins said it’s not unusual for gay couples or heterosexual cohabiting couples to volunteer for roles that require church membership. The result is a tough conversation that frankly addresses the reality that their lifestyles are contrary to God’s standards, making them ineligible for church membership and service.
“Almost all stick around, and some of them become believers. Some of them don’t, or some of them think they are believers. It’s amazing. I think people like to come where they feel welcome and wanted even if you disagree with them,” he said.
“We don’t think we have to sacrifice one iota of doctrinal precision or conviction in order to express kindness and love and welcome to our neighbors regardless of their family situation, regardless of their political party, regardless of their stance on morality.”
‘Moral Majority generation’ and the ‘Obama generation’
The challenge of communicating the Gospel in the midst of a moral revolution dominates Scroggins’ daily thoughts.
“I think about it around the clock because the people who are caught up in the moral revolution are the people who are coming to our church,” he said.
Scroggins said all Bible-believing evangelicals soon will have to come to terms with the reality that their moral worldview, especially about homosexuality, is a minority position in American culture.
The “Moral Majority generation” that is the backbone of many Southern Baptist congregations must find ways to minister effectively to an “Obama generation” that completely rejects biblical standards of morality, Scroggins said.
The path forward, he said, is for evangelicals to make Gospel convictions paramount to “some of our cultural shibboleths” or “our political dogma.”
“We’re going to have to be careful about what parts of who we are and what we believe are truly flowing from the Gospel and what parts of those are trappings of a bankrupt Bible Belt, cultural Christianity,” he said.
Most people in South Florida aren’t opposed to Christianity. Instead, “they see Christianity as irrelevant” to their daily lives, Scroggins said.
“We’re going to have to demonstrate the Gospel by our words, by our deeds, by our marriages, by our parenting, by our involvement in the community, by being a blessing to our neighborhoods, by being a blessing in the community,” he said.
While the transitory paradise of South Florida is riddled with broken lives and families that epitomize the false promises of the moral revolution, Scroggins is beginning to see the gospel mend lives to recover and restore God’s design, promising an eternal paradise.
“My true greatest burden is that I want our church to catch a vision for taking the gospel to every context,” he said. “If our people will live as genuine, authentic, imperfect, Gospel outposts, then they can speak into the lives of people who don’t believe in Christ and don’t know Christ and they can invite them to know Him. And because of the authenticity and testimony of the outworking of the gospel in their lives they will have a hearing, and that is what it’s going to take to penetrate lostness.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – James A. Smith Sr. is the executive editor and chief spokesman for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
2/24/2014 10:23:46 AM by James A. Smith Sr., Southern Seminary/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Violence rages along tribal fault lines in Central African Republic

February 24 2014 by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press

BANGUI, Central African Republic – An escalating cycle of violence between Christians and Muslims in Central African Republic (CAR) is raising questions for missionaries about the future of the church in the region.
Retaliatory attacks between the two religious groups are wracking the western part of the nation with out-of-control bloodshed. According to BBC News, the republic is “a nation consumed by rage.”
“There’s a lot of stress, a lot of tension,” said Ron Pontier, who has served for 30 years as a mission pilot for a Christian organization in CAR and neighboring countries.
There are also massacres, summary killings and torture, and a quarter of the country needs food aid urgently.
Seleka, an alliance of Muslim rebel groups, overthrew the government in March 2013 and attacked Christian businesses with widespread looting – part of a thrust to take over the country, which was formerly only 10 to 15 percent Muslim, Pontier said.
International peacekeepers came in to disarm the rebel alliance, finally overturning Seleka’s power in January 2014, but that made way for a new problem, according to Pontier. A militia called “anti-balaka,” or anti-machete, that identifies itself as Christian began taking revenge on Seleka rebels and the Muslim population in general.

Photo used with permission by HDPT-CAR.
In the Central African Republic, no one knows when the cycle of bloodshed will end. Missionaries say the hope of the gospel is being shared broadly and people are turning to Christ in the midst of war, but new believers lack the discipleship to keep their faith aflame.

“The peacekeeping forces are having a huge problem, because if they disarm Muslims, the anti-balaka come in and kill the Muslims,” Pontier said. “It’s almost impossible to know how to bring the thing to an end.”
But Pontier keeps going there to encourage believers and pray with them for the fighting to stop.
“They really need to have peace – that’s the big thing. The Christians and Muslims need to be able to forgive and live together peacefully,” he said.
Nik Ripken,* an expert on the persecuted church in Muslim contexts, agreed.
“The challenge for the Central African Republic is an answer to an old question for Africa that is still awaiting a positive, Africa-changing answer,” said Ripken, who has served more than 25 years with IMB.
“Per usual, Christians and Muslims in the CAR are divided along tribal fault lines. Racism perhaps is the consistent tool that Satan uses most often to terrorize the innocent, molest the girl child and kill indiscriminately,” he said.
Many may wonder when Africa will stop being defined by its deep divides. Ripken said that is a big question that Jesus took even deeper.
“Jesus stated the obvious that it is easy to love one’s friends,” he said. “But He raised the bar when He commanded that we love our enemies. Christians, if indeed we are followers of Jesus, know that violence begets violence and the cycle never ends. Jesus calls His children to go first, lay down their guns and actually believe that love wins over racism and hate.”
Because of the violent instability, neither Pontier’s organization nor the International Mission Board has missionaries stationed in Central African Republic – they’re limited to visits like the one Pontier made in early February.
The mayhem has taken a toll on the church too, Pontier said.
“It’s hard to tell how many churches are left – lots of people have been displaced, and many churches have gathered together,” he shared. “But because of the war, so many people are coming to Christ. Thousands and thousands are turning to the Lord in the midst of the persecution.”
But even so, Pontier said he has a great fear – that lack of discipleship will mean the slow death of Christianity in Central African Republic and its neighboring countries.
“Christians are not being discipled and there is little personal spiritual growth, and it is sad for me to see that this is happening,” he said. “Islam is really pushing to take over that whole area, and because it is considered ‘reached,’ a lot of missionary organizations don’t put much effort into it.”
Muslim Fulani herdsmen are slowly moving into Central African Republic and bringing their influence with them, Pontier said. BBC and other news outlets reference “a long war to come in which Muslims will seize back half the country for themselves.”
Pontier said it makes him tremble when he thinks of how that might stifle the rapid spread of the Gospel taking place there right now.
“If we leave Central African Republic, if we leave Congo, if we don’t disciple, probably within five to 10 years those places will be unreached,” he said.
That is one reason he keeps going into those countries – to encourage Christians to aggressively disciple.
Tim Cearley, IMB strategy leader for sub-Saharan Africa, echoes Pontier’s focus.
“My main prayer request for CAR and that whole western equatorial area is that God would raise up a team of experienced trainers – IMB and other internationals – to live in this area and serve as church-planting catalysts and researchers that help empower the many struggling churches to finish the task of reaching the lost,” Cearley said.
Peyton Queen,* another IMB strategist, agreed, saying his prayer is that the Lord would strengthen the believers to be a bold witness in spite of the suffering and disruption that is happening to them personally and to their countrymen.
“I pray that God would use these national believers to remain strong in their faith, and in spite of the difficulties that godly actions would accompany a strong verbal gospel witness,” Queen said. “We pray too that God would bring real peace to the nation and that neighboring countries would contribute to that peace as well.”


  • Pray for believers in Central African Republic to be shining lights in the midst of the darkness of war, hatred, tribalism and greed.
  • Ask God to direct the steps of missionaries so that they can make the contacts needed to encourage believers in CAR and to mobilize believers in nearby countries who could come in to help disciple Christians and reach out to unbelievers.
  • Pray that this country can become a place known for peace through knowing the Prince of Peace.


To learn more about IMB work in sub-Saharan Africa, visit subsaharanafricanpeoples.imb.org and africastories.org.
*Names changed
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is an IMB writer/editor based in Europe.)
2/24/2014 10:14:32 AM by Ava Thomas, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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