February 2014

Let Americans follow their religious beliefs

February 11 2014 by Tony Perkins and James Lankford, Religion News Service

Like many startups, Hobby Lobby began in founder David Green’s garage. Now, more than 40 years later, the Green family business has 16,000 full-time employees in stores across the country with 70 new stores opening this year. They are a quiet family that loves God, honors their employees and enjoys serving people in their stores around the nation.
But two years ago, the rules changed for every business. As of 2013, the Green family had to decide if they would follow their faith or follow the Obama administration’s new regulations.
The Green family, through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, will file its brief with the Supreme Court Monday (Feb 10) seeking relief from paying a daily fine of potentially more than $1.3 million for refusing to violate their biblically based views on life. They are currently not complying with insurance coverage requirements issued by the Department of Health and Human Services pursuant to Obamacare. Their opposition to the HHS mandate is not a frivolous one; it is due to their deeply held religious beliefs.

RNS Photo
Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby, speaks at the Religion News Writers Association Conference in Austin, Texas on Thursday (Sept. 26).

The Green family’s faith influences the day-to-day operation of their stores, including paying their employees a starting salary of $14 an hour, giving their employees family-friendly hours, closing on Sunday and offering their employees a generous health care package.
The HHS mandate requires employers to fully pay for contraception coverage in their health insurance plans, which includes potential life-ending drugs. The Greens do not object to birth control, but they do have a religious objection to providing coverage for drugs and devices that can cause the death of newly conceived human embryos, specifically two types of IUDs and the drugs known as “Plan B” and “Ella.”
Without a positive result from the Supreme Court, the Greens will be forced to pay millions of dollars in federal fines if they maintain their convictions.
Every American, including family business owners, should be free to live and work according to their religious beliefs. The HHS mandate demands that ordinary Americans bend to the administration’s religious preferences and violate their principles or stand up for their religious rights and be fined up to $100 per day, per employee. For the Greens that would be more than $36,500 annually per employee. The other option would simply be to drop health care coverage for all employees and direct them to the Obamacare exchanges. This option would only cost an employer $2,000 per employee, per year – potentially over $26 million annually for the Greens.
The fines alone are revealing of Obamacare’s priorities. A business can pay a $2,000 fine per person, per year, to provide no health insurance at all, or a business can pay a $36,500 per person, per year fine, to provide health insurance that does not align with the president’s religious preferences. Either way, fines will force companies to cut jobs or drop health coverage altogether, which is not good for families or women.
At the core, the HHS mandate is the next instance of how Obamacare will impact your job, family and health care. This issue is not just about companies like Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Wood or ministries like Little Sisters of the Poor. This intrusive federal mandate will set a precedent of government intervention in determining who the faithful are, what faith is and where, when and how that faith may be lived out.
The Greens and other family businesses who are challenging the intrusive HHS mandate are not alone. A new Family Research Council/Alliance Defending Freedom poll (ADF represents Conestoga Wood) found that 59% of likely voters opposed the HHS mandate overall, including 54% of women ages 18-45 and 61% of Independents. The poll found that more likely voters disapprove of the HHS mandate than disapprove of Obamacare overall.
Americans realize, as James Madison once said, that “conscience is the most sacred of all property,” and similarly that other people’s consciences should be protected and defended.
In America we respect freedom of conscience, hard work and dedicated families. Freedom is the backbone to our continued flourishing. Let us hope that the Supreme Court recognizes that the owners of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood and others should not be forced to violate their conscience as a condition for placing the sign, “Open for Business,” on their front doors.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., represents the fifth district where the Green family lives. Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which has submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court supporting Hobby Lobby.)
2/11/2014 12:35:22 PM by Tony Perkins and James Lankford, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

State evangelism conference to focus on disciple-making

February 11 2014 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

When pastors and church leaders gather for the State Evangelism Conference in Raleigh, organizer Brian Upshaw wants everyone to receive a fresh, motivating vision for New Testament evangelism and disciple-making. The event will be held in the facilities of Providence Baptist Church on Monday, Feb. 24.
“We want this conference to be a time of inspiration for pastors and encouragement for them to know they are not alone,” Upshaw said. He is the team leader for the Disciple-Making Team at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
Upshaw believes the sessions will encourage pastors as they equip their church “... to share the gospel, to win others to Christ and to see those they have won to Christ to grow and develop until they are also making disciples. We want to see a movement in North Carolina of disciples who make disciples.”
The focus of the BSC for the next five years is impacting lostness through disciple-making. According to Upshaw the convention staff knows the work is not just a pastor’s responsibility. It is the role of every believer. Every believer has received the Great Commission from Jesus to make disciples.
But the ministry of evangelism and making disciples can be done in many different ways.
“One of the things I am most excited about is the feature we are doing in an afternoon dialogue with the father-son team of Tom and Stephen Wagoner,” Upshaw said. “Tom is the father. He is the pastor of a traditional church in Dunn. His son, Stephen, is a pastor of a missional community called the Church in the Triad.”
Their ministries are radically different. “They have a tremendous story of God’s grace in their own relationship,” he said. “Even though they do ministry differently, they are [doing] the same thing, which is reaching people with the gospel and making disciples.” 
Tom Wagoner has pastored Central Baptist Church in Dunn for 30 years. He describes himself as “a country preacher” with “a big choir and a rural church.”
God called his son, Stephen, to preach. That was a great thing until he saw Stephen going in a direction that was not consistent with his upbringing. The younger Wagoner was heavily influenced by the Acts 29 network and popular young leaders who were outside of the traditions he learned growing up.
“It was tough on me. It was a struggle. Our relationship became very strained,” the senior Wagoner said. “I grew up very conservative. When my son began going in that direction, it was a nightmare.”
His close friends Greg Mathis and Kenneth Ridings advised Wagoner not to worry. They consoled him with the belief that based on the solid foundation of Stephen’s life, “God will work it out.”
Just as his friends said, God worked it out. Today the two pastors have a message of reconciliation and a healthy respect for different styles of ministry.
“The Lord stretched me some, and I now see merit and value in the work Stephen is doing,” Wagoner said. “He loves God, he loves to share the gospel, and he has a passion for discipleship. The more my son grows, the more he sees merit in what we are doing in this rural community.”
When the father and son share their story at the conference, they want to help pastors see the value in ministries that are different from their own as long as the goal is on impacting lostness through disciple-making.
“Stephen and I want to see God glorified in people who are unique and different,” he said. “We want others to be able to partner and love each other as we do the great work of evangelism and discipleship.”
Because of his son’s influence, Wagoner has taken steps to reach people in different ways. He said, “We started a Hispanic congregation last week and 50 attended. We have a theater campus now with a couple hundred students from Campbell University in another part of our community. The music there is more acoustic and contemporary. We have a young Southeastern Seminary graduate who is preaching there, and he has the power of God on his life.”
At the same time he emphasizes that at the church’s home campus, “we still have a country choir and all the rest. It’s been a help to me for Stephen to be different. I would just love for everybody at the conference to see the value and appreciate the uniqueness in each other.”
Upshaw believes the Wagoners’ story will help church leaders focus less on methodology and more on achieving the goal of disciples who make disciples.
“It is my hope and prayer that this becomes a bridge conversation across our state where different generations of pastors see the value in how another generation does ministry,” he said.
There is a need for church leaders to think about ministry in different ways, while affirming that there are some ways Baptists have done ministry for generations that can continue, according to Upshaw.
“I think there are a lot of pastors in our state who are called to make disciples – they’ve been called to preach, they’ve been called to pastor – but they know in their heart they are called to make disciples,” he said.
“But many feel burdened by unrealistic expectations from their members or the community. We are seeing quite a bit of discouragement.
“We believe the way to see pastors encouraged is to affirm to them that the ‘main thing’ is the main thing. What they were called by God to do at the beginning of their ministries is still the thing they need to be about – that’s winning the lost and developing them into disciple makers. So we hope they will feel ... affirmation that we are with them and behind them. What they were called to do is our focus of the state convention.”
Conference speakers include Bruce Ashford of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. His message will focus on the theological foundation for disciple-making and how he is engaging the next generation.
Derwin Gray, lead pastor of Transformation Church in the Charlotte area, will focus on disciples who make disciples in a multi-cultural context.
James Emery White, lead pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, will address how to engage the group called the “nones.” Researchers have identified this group’s religious preference as “None of the above.” Pastors will hear how to engage a culture that is irreligious and apathetic toward any and all faiths.
Steve Corts, senior pastor of Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons, will share from his experience in disciple-making as a pastor. Corts said the focus of his message will be “... the intimate but often misunderstood connection between a life of following and a life of ‘fishing’ for men.”
He believes there is little effective evangelism without a passion for lost people. He said, “A passion for people always begins – and remains – with a passion for Jesus. A passion for seeking the lost flows out of a passionate pursuit of Him.
“I hope to give pastors ‘permission’ to think and labor differently and become more effective evangelistically,” he said. “I want to encourage them to move past the guilt method of evangelism that rarely works to the method of evangelism that changed the world – making disciples – disciples who passionately love Christ and then other people ... and pushing back the darkness.”
Upshaw said there are nine breakout sessions designed to give practical direction for taking the next steps in every ministry of the church. The sessions will provide “hands-on take-a-ways, where a church leader can leave the conference, not just hearing an inspired word, but with a tool for the toolbox to say, ‘now I have something I can apply when I get home.’”
Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the BSC, said “The State Evangelism Conference has always been an opportunity for N.C. Baptists to come together for inspiration, equipping and especially encouragement. Pastors and others who attend this year will hear solid biblical preaching to advance the call to impact North Carolina with the message of the gospel through making disciples who will make disciples.
“They will hear from speakers who are diverse in age and approach to ministry, but united in their desire to see lives changed by the power of Jesus Christ. My prayer for those who attend the conference is that they will be refreshed by the Spirit of God and return to their ministries with a fresh anointing to carry out the mission of our Lord.”
Preregistration is requested but not required. To register and for details on the conference, visit ncbaptist.org/sec
2/11/2014 12:10:53 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Gaston County center offers couples dream wedding

February 11 2014 by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder

For Troy White and Crystal Adkins, the tears would not stop as they were married Jan. 18 at the Dream Center of Gaston County.
It had been a tough road just to get to that point. They had been living together 15 years, and in that time, they’d had five children. Both had recently lost their jobs. That’s a big enough challenge, but their oldest child, son Dateireus, had also been diagnosed with leukemia on two different occasions.
A younger sister donated bone marrow for a transplant last year, and he is still dealing with some of its after effects.
The couple had always intended to get married, but every time they started making plans, some medical emergency seemed to intervene and stop them cold. It was then that Troy read an article in the Gaston Gazette about the Dream Center’s Free Wedding Day.
“One day, I looked in the paper and I said, ‘Look, hold up! There it is right there!’” Troy said in a video produced by Bethlehem Church in Gastonia, home of the Dream Center. “I read it twice to make sure that it was free. [Crystal] called, and they said we were one of the first ones.”

Contributed photo
Lolita is escorted down the aisle to marry Daryl Roseboro at the Dream Center of Gaston County. Nine couples, including Tyra and Howard Martin, left, and the Roseboros were married Jan. 18. The nine marriages took place over a nine-hour period. 

For this couple and eight others, there would be no more delays in getting married. “We’ve wanted to do it for a long time,” Crystal added. “It’ll make our kids proud. They’re very excited.”
The Free Wedding Day provided nine couples with just that – a free wedding, complete with invitations, professional photography, bridal bouquet and wedding planner. Dickie Spargo, senior pastor at Bethlehem, saw Troy and Crystal’s reactions when the big day finally came, and knew immediately that all the effort had been worth it.
“They did not have the money for this, and they were the first people to call,” Spargo said. “Dude, it’s a sweet little story. I’m telling you. I do a lot of weddings, but she was up there crying the whole wedding. He walked down that aisle bawling. It was the real deal. [For] this couple, it was something they wanted to do.”
For Bethlehem and the Dream Center, located at the church’s west campus in a particularly impoverished part of Gaston County, out-of-the-box outreach isn’t anything out of the ordinary. In December “Undie Sunday” resulted in a donation of 3,400 pairs of socks and underwear to children in need at a local elementary school.
Another Bethlehem ministry, “Coats for Queens” is an outreach in Jackson Heights, N.Y., part of the Queens district. Now called “Coats for the City,” it impacts the most ethnically diverse zip code in the United States. Bethlehem gives financial assistance to North American Mission Board church planter Boto Joseph, pastor of House of Worship Church in Queens.
Spargo said the ministry was born out of a vision trip with North Carolina Baptists. “Pastor Boto has been to our church many times and has preached for me, and I have spoken at their church as well. We are meeting in February to work with a church plant in Boston, and Pastor Boto will meet us there as well.”
The idea for Free Wedding Day came about when Spargo saw a magazine article about a similar effort at a church in New York, and when the newspaper article appeared in November, Bethlehem’s phone lines “lit up like a Christmas” with calls from couples hoping to take part.
There were requirements.
The first was that one of Bethlehem’s pastors would perform the ceremony, and second, the church would have a say in music that was played. Finally, each couple went through six hours of marriage coaching.
“To be very honest with you, I struggled a little bit because all of them were already living together,” Spargo admitted.
“But, you know, man … one couple had nine children. There are different people that have different beliefs, and sometimes I struggle with what’s the right thing to do. It’s a difficult issue, but at the end of the day, man, to be honest, I thought if it was my child and they’d been together with somebody for 15 years, I would say, ‘You need to get married.’ Marriage rates are declining in America because people are shacking up, man.”
The goal was not just to get names on marriage licenses. It was something more than that. “The goal was to get them connected in at church, and that’s one of the things that we’ve seen,” Spargo said. “We’ve been able to reach these families that we obviously were not able to reach before, and get them into the life of our church. We’re going to [invite] them into a small group. We’ve got their numbers. We’ve built a relationship with them. We told them we wanted to check in to see what we can do to help them stay married.”
Spargo had one other caveat, and he didn’t hesitate to share it. “I told them, ‘This is the last time we’re going to do a wedding for you, man. You’d better make this one work, baby,” he said with a laugh. Starting at 9 a.m., weddings were celebrated every hour on the hour until 6 p.m. – nine ceremonies, nine hours. Spargo and fellow Bethlehem pastors Mark Gillming, Frank Hoyle, Matt Vanderbilt and Wavey Williams took turns officiating.
“The key thing is that our goal with this was to point these couples toward Christ,” said Spargo, who hopes to do a similar event next year. “That was the ultimate goal. It wasn’t just to offer them a free wedding. But the free wedding was kind of the opportunity to speak in their life about a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Spargo said almost a thousand people came to the weddings – many of them unchurched. “They came to these weddings and heard about Christ, too.”
Bethlehem church will have a “Cinderella Day” in late spring. They will give away modest prom dresses for girls who otherwise could not afford a dress. Shoes and accessories will be available, along with an offer to help the girls with their hair and nails.  Last year the girls and their families started lining up hours before the doors opened. Spargo said, “It is an opportunity to talk to the girls about Christ. We reached some families through Cinderella Day last year.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bethlehem Baptist would like to help churches replicate these outreach events. They will gladly share a template that will help churches creatively reach their communities for Christ. Contact (704) 823-1600 or visit bethlehembc.com.)
2/11/2014 11:47:04 AM by Rick Houston, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

20/20 event examines God’s perspective of the church

February 11 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

The 2014 20/20 Collegiate Conference theme, “Ekklesia,” examined God’s perspective of the church. Approximately 600 attendees were taught the nature and importance of Christ’s church.
Hosted on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the conference featured speakers Daniel Akin, Matt Carter, Dhati Lewis, Tony Merida, Russell Moore and Steve Timmis.
In plenary session one on Feb. 7 Matt Carter, lead pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, spoke about the secondary calling of the church. “This is,” said Carter, “the calling to ‘go.’” Carter preached from Luke 10. He said, “The world population recently broke the seven billion mark, and roughly 6.4 billion have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Does that break your heart?”
Carter spoke about Ronnie Smith, the American teacher who was shot multiple times and killed during his morning jog near the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Smith served on staff at Austin Stone Community Church before moving to Libya.
The number of lost people in the world broke the heart of Smith, said Carter. On his church profile page, Smith once said, “If [the church is] challenged to live a life wholly devoted to Christ and His name and His purpose are exalted over our agenda, then I think God will continue to bless us with His Spirit. Our vision must always be God-centered.”

SEBTS photo by Maria Estes
From left: Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and associate professor of preaching at Southeastern; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Steve Timmis, co-founder of The Crowded House; Matt Carter, lead pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas; Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Ga; and Daniel Akin, Southeastern’s president.

Carter said, “The church should be passionate about the nations because Jesus was passionate about the nations and guess what? God uses ordinary people like you, Ronnie and me to win the nations for Christ.”

Preaching from James 2, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, “Scripture tells us that the church is not just a gathered people who listen to sermons and sing songs together.
“The church is an embassy, an extension of another kingdom. What happens within the church is meant to point everyone on the outside to the reality of the Kingdom of God.”
Contextualizing James 2, Moore said that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith. Instead of having churches shaped by culture and society, he said, churches are to be shaped first and foremost by the Kingdom of God.
“As Kingdom ambassadors, the church is to speak about the Kingdom that is coming, which means, like any embassy we speak only what we are receiving from the home country.”
Moore said, “When you come together in faith, you are a multi-cultural family gathered around the throne of Christ. We are to be an embassy of God that blows away all of those other worldly kingdoms.”
“In fact, the church isn’t like a family, it is a family,” said Dhati Lewis, lead pastor at Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Ga.
Lewis said that churches must be willing to fight for a discipleship culture. “With much longsuffering,” Lewis said, “the church is called to be a people who suffer long with one another, who are there for one another and who are fighting for each other. Just like family.”
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, opened the Feb. 8 afternoon session with a posture of a father. He said, “Since most of you here today are in your 20s, I could be your father.
Because of this, I would like to give you some portraits of a healthy church so that you can choose a faithful church that ultimately stands on an infallible and inerrant Bible.”
Teaching from 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Akin said that a healthy church truly knows its identity in Christ.
“A church prioritizes the spiritual essentials. It must also long for the unmerited love of God and most importantly, the gospel should be at the heart and soul of every church,” said Akin.
Akin noted that everyone has a role model and when churches acknowledge this truth, they can raise up disciples that follow the right role models.
Akin said, “Be sure to ask this question: ‘Who are your heroes?’ Because you will only be the right role model if you follow the right role model.”
Opening his session with Dietrich Bonheoffer’s quote – “It is grace and nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community with brothers and sisters” – Tony Merida challenged the attendees with a message from Galatians 5-6.
The pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and associate professor of preaching said, “There are four obstacles for a church: sensationalism which is being addicted to the dramatic; mysticism which focuses only on spiritual realities; idealism which loves ideas instead of physical people; and individualism which is concentrated on the ‘me’ of the individual and not the ‘we’ of the community.”
Paul has a few correcting words for these obstacles, according to Merida.
“Paul calls the church to be gentle restorers and humble burden-bearers in these chapters,” Merida said. “If fellow brothers or sisters are sinning, then we like a family provide discipline to restore them. If fellow brothers and sisters are heavy-laden, then we take on the burdens of our family.
“Let’s be a people who practice godliness, and it is for Christ and through Christ that we live out this ordinary Christianity powerfully,” said Merida.
When these things take place, Merida said, the obstacles that hinder the church would be weakened.
Steve Timmis, co-founder of The Crowded House and director of Acts 29 in Western Europe, began his session with the question: “Are you going to be a spectator of the church or a participant in it? Those are your only options.”
Timmis said that for some people, church is about architecture or worship or preaching. And for some, he said, it is about good friends.
“What I hope you have heard throughout this conference is that these things are not what the church is really about. The church is formed by the gospel and for the gospel.
“The church lives out this faith because God’s purpose has always been for His people to be missional, like God Himself. The gospel is about Christ’s name expanding and His Kingdom extending.”
2/11/2014 10:13:02 AM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Obama calls for release of Abedini, Bae

February 10 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – President Obama, at the National Prayer Breakfast, publicly called for Iran to release Saeed Abedini and for North Korea to release Kenneth Bae, two American Christians imprisoned for their faith in nations that suppress religious freedom.
The president, speaking at the Washington Hilton Hotel Feb. 6, urged Americans to “never forget those who are persecuted today.”
“We pray for Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who’s been held in North Korea for 15 months, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor,” Obama said. “His family wants him home and the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release because Kenneth Bae deserves to be free.”
Obama continued, “We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini. He’s been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges relating to his Christian beliefs. And as we continue to work for his freedom, today, again, we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho.”

BP Photo
Saeed Abedini

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, which has led an international effort for Abedini’s release, noted that Obama raised Abedini’s situation in a private phone call with Iran’s president last fall but the prayer breakfast comments marked the first time he publicly addressed the pastor’s imprisonment.
“With President Obama highlighting this tragic case of religious persecution,” Sekulow said in a statement, “we’re hopeful that this new level of engagement by our government – President Obama publicly calling on Iran to release Pastor Saeed – will bring even more attention to the unjust treatment of a U.S. citizen who has been imprisoned for more than a year simply because of his Christian faith.”
Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, wrote on Facebook Feb. 6 that she wept when she heard Obama had called for her husband’s release.
All I could see was each of you standing with us through your prayers, by calling your government officials, signing petitions, and sending the kids and I Bible verses and encouraging us not to give up and to continue,” Naghmeh wrote to her supporters. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Each prayer and each voice counts.”
Terri Chung, Bae’s sister, who resides in the Seattle area, said their family was “delighted” to hear Obama advocate for Bae’s release.
“Tears sprung to our eyes as we heard the President affirm our family’s pleas,” Chung said in a statement at freekennow.com, adding that Obama’s commitment “is great reassurance to our weary spirits.”
The day before the prayer breakfast, the remaining members of the U.S. Congress to have survived the Korean War – Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas and Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina – sent a letter to North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, asking him to release Bae.
“We thank them as well, as this movement to bring Kenneth home grows even stronger,” Chung said.
Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 has attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which attracts thousands from around the world. First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden joined the president at this year’s breakfast. The keynote speaker was Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Also during his remarks, Obama noted that “around the world freedom of religion is under threat.”
“We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love,” Obama said.
Promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy, the president said, and he looks forward to nominating a new ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
“Around the world we’re elevating our engagement with faith leaders and making it a regular part of our diplomacy,” Obama said.
The United States will “keep standing for religious freedom around the world” because “no society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities,” Obama said.
David Curry, president of Open Doors USA, said he was encouraged by Obama’s support for persecuted Christians and other faith groups in such places as North Korea and Iran.
“With the number of martyred Christians almost doubling last year from 1,201 to 2,123, according to Open Doors researchers, it is past due for a new focus in the State Department and our entire government to support the value of religious freedom worldwide and in our own country,” Curry said in a statement.
In January, Open Doors’ World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians listed North Korea as the No. 1 persecutor in the world and Iran No. 9. Open Doors said Christians are the most persecuted faith group in the world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
2/10/2014 11:29:15 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Life, religious liberty top ERLC’s 2014 agenda

February 10 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy entity will promote life, religious freedom, human rights and family this year in Congress despite “a very difficult period legislatively,” Russell D. Moore says.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission released its 2014 legislative agenda Feb. 4, and Moore, the entity’s president, acknowledged the challenges it faces as a deeply divided Congress approaches the November elections. Each political party controls a congressional chamber – the Democrats the Senate and the Republicans the House of Representatives – and hopes to act in such a way, likely cautiously in at least some cases, to do no worse than maintain that status.
“Between election year jockeying and the ongoing political rancor it will be hard to find a path forward for many of the bills we want to see become law,” Moore wrote on the ERLC’s website.
“While the environment is very toxic politically, we know God has an agenda of His own,” Moore said. “We will seek to understand His will as we bring Southern Baptist biblical convictions to bear on the great public policy questions of our day.”
The agenda begins with protecting vulnerable human beings.
“Of all the areas of interest to the ERLC, the sanctity of human life is our chief concern,” Moore noted.
“While we are not yet at the place politically or culturally to reverse the horrific 1973 Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion on demand, we believe some steps to rein in the worst abuses are possible,” he said.
The ERLC’s agenda includes the following among measures designed to protect human life:
  • The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 7 and S. 946, which would institute a permanent government-wide prohibition on federal funding of abortion by standardizing bans on such funds that now exist in various federal programs. It also would halt money for abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 2010 health care law, and make certain Americans can easily identify before the ban takes effect whether plans in the health care exchanges include abortion coverage and surcharges. The House approved the proposal Jan. 28 but the Senate – which is controlled by the party that supports abortion rights – has yet to act on it.
  • The Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.R. 1797 and S. 1670, which will bar abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation. The House passed the bill in June. The Senate has not voted on it.
  • The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, H.R. 447 and S. 138, which would prohibit abortion based on the sex or race of the unborn child. While the House bill, H.R. 447, will outlaw both types of discrimination, the Senate version fails to ban race-selection abortion. Neither house has voted on its proposal.
The ERLC will continue to work for initiatives to strengthen religious liberty, Moore wrote.
“God gave humans the freedom to decide whether or not to worship Him,” he said. “If God will not violate the religious freedom He granted to humanity, government should not either. The ERLC will work to protect faith from governmental interference, as we believe God would have us do.”
Among the religious liberty efforts supported by the ERLC are:
  • Appointment by President Obama of an ambassador at large for international religious freedom, a now-vacant post.
  • The Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act, H.R. 301 and S. 653, which will establish a special envoy for the promotion of religious liberty in such countries as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan. The House approved the bill in July, but the Senate has not voted on it.
  • The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, H.R. 3133 and S. 1808, which would bar the federal government from discriminating against a person who acts on his belief that marriage should be limited to a man and a woman. Photographers, bakers and others who have refused to participate in same-sex ceremonies because of their Christian convictions have lost in court or suffered financially despite their appeals to exercise their religious rights. Neither chamber has acted on the bill.
Other proposals on the ERLC’s agenda include:
  • The State Marriage Defense Act, H.R. 3829, which will direct the federal government to look at a person’s state of legal residence in deciding marital status of same-sex couples.
  • The Children in Families First Act, H.R. 3323 and S. 1530, which would streamline the process for American households attempting to adopt children overseas.
  • Immigration reform that is “just and compassionate,” while including undocumented immigrants. The ERLC has not endorsed specific legislation but continues to call for reform that upholds the rule of law, secures the borders, protects family unity and includes a path to legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify.
Other issues the ERLC will address, Moore said, include human trafficking, hunger, pornography, homosexuality, gambling and poverty.
The ERLC’s legislative agenda may be accessed online at legislative-agenda-for-2014.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
2/10/2014 11:18:25 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Vietnam etched on Sam James’ heart

February 10 2014 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s a love story 60 years in the making, though not the kind of romance that sells tickets in Hollywood. Still, Sam James won’t ever forget the day he set his eyes on one of the great loves of his life.
It was 1953, the end of the Korean War, and the 21-year-old North Carolinian was aboard a Navy aircraft carrier sailing through the South China Sea. From the deck of the USS Sitkoh Bay, James caught his first glimpse of the place that would capture his heart and anchor his life’s work: Vietnam.
The young navigator stood transfixed as his ship steamed down the coast, his eyes drinking in the rugged emerald hills of Vietnam’s central highlands. James couldn’t go ashore that day, but there was a magnetism about the country he couldn’t describe.
What he didn’t know was that God would use the encounter to drastically change the course of his life – sparking a 51-year career in international missions. That legacy was cemented on Dec. 31 of last year when James, 81, retired from the International Mission Board.
Together with his wife Rachel, the couple spent more than 20 years sharing the gospel with the Vietnamese people, touching thousands of lives.

IMB photo
Southern Baptists' 238-acre International Learning Center near Richmond, Va., developed by Sam James, encompasses 44 buildings that house 12 classrooms, three auditoriums, a gym, a library and housing for approximately 600 people. More than 10,000 new missionaries have been trained at the facility since it opened in 1984.

“I didn’t know any Vietnamese people. I’d never heard the Vietnamese language. ... It was just something the Lord laid on my heart that I couldn’t get away from,” James recalls. “Sometimes I think the call of God is something of a mystery.”
James was a relatively new Christian that day on the Sitkoh Bay when God began pulling him to Vietnam. Only two years earlier, he had given his life to Jesus while reading the Bible late one night, holed up with a flashlight in an empty ammunition room below the carrier’s flight deck.
“When I told the men in my division that I had become a Christian, there was all kinds of laughter and disbelief. They were even taking bets that I wouldn’t last a week,” James says with a chuckle.
Roughly a decade later, though, James was on a ship headed for Vietnam, this time as a Southern Baptist missionary. Under appointment by the Foreign Mission Board (today’s IMB), Sam and Rachel boarded an ocean liner in San Francisco bound for Hong Kong with their three young children, eventually arriving in Saigon Nov. 3, 1962.
“I walked into a steamy, hot country with no air conditioning anywhere at the time,” James remembers. “There were dark war clouds way off on the horizon.”
But the couple had come too far – and were too busy learning Vietnamese – to be deterred by the possibility of war.
James began pastoring Grace Baptist Church, Southern Baptists’ first church plant in Vietnam. He helped start several other churches in the Saigon area and he trained many of the congregations’ leaders at the Vietnam Baptist Theological Seminary, which he founded. He served as the seminary’s president and a primary professor, training more than 45 Vietnamese students at the school’s Saigon campus from 1967-75.
While James taught, Rachel ran medical clinics in rural villages on the outskirts of Saigon. Feeling led at 14 to be a missionary nurse, she saw an urgent need for health care due to a shortage of Vietnamese doctors and nurses, because many were drafted into the South Vietnamese military.


The family couldn’t escape the war forever. Fighting crept closer as North Vietnamese forces pushed toward Saigon. James was nearly killed three times between 1965 and 1970; his closest call came during a miraculous escape from a Viet Cong roadblock that erupted into a firefight.
By April 1975, Saigon’s fall was imminent. Rachel and the children were evacuated to Thailand. James stayed behind with a handful of IMB colleagues to care for tens of thousands of refugees pouring into the city. The missionaries were finally forced to flee the country just five days before communist forces overran the city.
But God wasn’t finished with Sam and Rachel yet.
In 1980, James was tasked with a unique challenge: overseeing the construction and development of a new training center near Richmond, Va., to serve as the launch pad for future Southern Baptist missionaries. Known today as the International Learning Center, more than 10,000 new missionaries have passed through its doors since the ILC opened in 1984.
After finishing his work at ILC, James rose through the ranks of IMB leadership, serving as area director for East Asia, regional vice president for Europe and finally as vice president for creative leadership development. But despite his success, he was still a missionary at heart. And there was nowhere else on earth he’d rather share the Gospel than Vietnam.
In 2002, God opened a door for Sam and Rachel to return to their first love. James retired from IMB’s staff and, at 70, asked to be reassigned to Vietnam. Though the country’s government wouldn’t allow the couple to live there, the Jameses were permitted to make trips to Vietnam several times a year. They reconnected with Grace Baptist Church – which had survived Vietnam’s Communist revolution – and with many of Sam’s former students.
James soon recognized the need for theological training among Vietnamese Baptist church leaders and, in 2009, was formally recognized by the Vietnamese government as a “professor of religion.” This allowed James to begin teaching regularly at the newly formed Vietnamese Baptist Bible Institute, a seminary-like training center housed within Grace Baptist Church. He has spent the past five years teaching a new generation of pastors and church leaders, and today Vietnam’s Baptist church is growing as a result.
Sam and Rachel officially retired from IMB on Dec. 31, 2013. But James says he doesn’t like the “R” word.
“‘Retire’ seems like you’re quitting,” he says. “But it’s not over.”
Despite the legacy of Southern Baptist missionaries like the Jameses, evangelical Christians make up less than 2 percent of Vietnam’s 92 million people. And while there are still chapters to be written in the Jameses’ love story with Vietnam, Sam acknowledges it’s time for others to start writing their own stories. Leaving Rachel behind is getting harder, he says, as she deals with health limitations, so his primary responsibility is at home.
“She’s taken care of me for 57 years, and it’s time for me to take care of her some,” he says.
The couple leaves IMB with no regrets, thankful for the privilege of being a part of God’s Great Commission for so many years.
“Whether it was an investment in Vietnamese lives or an investment in missionaries, it’s the investment in people that I count as the greatest part of my life,” James says.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is an IMB senior writer. Related resources: Explore the impact Sam James and other IMB missionaries made in Vietnam in “Legacy of Love” on commissionstories.com. Sam James, in a video, shares why he had a devotion to sharing the Gospel with the people of Vietnam at commissionstories.com/video.)
2/10/2014 11:02:00 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Winter Olympics: Baptists trek to Sochi to share their faith

February 10 2014 by Evelyn Adamson, Baptist Press

SOCHI, Russia – Amid tight security, the 2014 Winter Olympics commenced with impressive opening ceremonies, while Baptist volunteers from across the United States arrived to be part of the international festivities.
Inside Sochi’s “ring of steel,” consisting of 40,000 armed Russian troops, anti-aircraft weapons and a myriad of military surveillance tactics, the five Olympic rings welcomed thousands of athletes, fans, diplomats and dignitaries to the Sochi Games.
President Vladimir Putin ushered in the Games during the opening ceremonies at Fisht Olympic Stadium – stirring a sense of competition, camaraderie and inspiration.
Among those present is a select group partnering under the name Engage Sochi. Their purpose is simple: to make a difference for Christ before, during and after the 2014 Winter Olympics. The Southern Baptist volunteers journeyed thousands of miles despite persistent media attention to fears of terrorist threats.
Engage Sochi is a network of Southern Baptists seeking to create opportunities for meaningful conversations with those living and working in Sochi or who are attending the Games. Volunteers hail from across the United States, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado, Georgia and Alabama.
Scheduled to perform are the Singing Men of Oklahoma, Woman’s Missionary Union drama teams and ministry teams from Missouri and Colorado intent on sharing the love of Christ.
Volunteers engage people throughout the community, walking in the knowledge that thousands around the world are praying for them and for Sochi during the coming weeks.
“Never in our lives have we felt the prayers of people so tangibly,” one volunteer said. “Even tonight, a casual conversation on the train turned into a person helping us, and a really good local contact was made.”
As people respond and ask questions, steps are taken to ensure that once they return home, they are connected with a local community of believers, regardless of where they live throughout the world.
To stay connected with Engage Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, visit the Facebook page for the outreach, Facebook.com/EngageSochi and use its hashtag for the games – #pray4sochi.

Engage Sochi prayer request

The North Caucasus region of Russia, in which Sochi sits, has long suffered from political unrest. Evangelical churches in the region work hard to reach people with the good news that turning to Jesus Christ offers eternal hope – hope that cannot be found in any political dogma. Pray for the pastors and members of these churches to have boldness and stamina as they reach out to those around them.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evelyn Adamson is an International Mission Board writer based in Europe.)
2/10/2014 10:54:43 AM by Evelyn Adamson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Longtime N.C. Baptist leader, Dewey Hobbs, dies

February 7 2014 by BR staff

Joseph Dewey Hobbs Jr., 88, of Winston-Salem, died Feb. 5. He was born on March 2, 1925, in Wilmington and was the son of J.D. Hobbs Sr. and Mamie Kirk Hobbs.

Surviving him are his wife, Virginia Gilley Hobbs; daughters Cathy Hobbs Powell of Winston-Salem and Alice Hobbs Little of Marion. A son, Warren E. Hobbs, preceded him in death in 2002. Four grandchildren also survive him: Nathan Powell of Winston-Salem; Cate Powell Sawyer (Dan Sawyer) of Chapel Hill; Mary Little Apicella (Jason Apicella) of Granby, Conn.; and Sally Little of Asheville; also surviving him are a great-grandson, Eli Daniel Sawyer and another great-grandson expected in May.

Contributed photo
Dewey Hobbs is known throughout North Carolina “as a visionary and statesman,” said Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

“Dewey Hobbs had a long and influential ministry in North Carolina. He loved this state and its people. Dewey will be remembered as a visionary and statesman,” said Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).

“I had a deep respect for him and was honored to call him my friend. The influence of his life and the things he accomplished will long be remembered by North Carolina Baptists.”

Hobbs served for 11 years as the director of North Carolina Baptist Hospital’s Department of Pastoral Care.

He pastored at First Baptist Church in Marion, Wingate Baptist Church in Wingate, Center Grove Baptist Church in Kershaw, S.C., and Harrods Creek Baptist Church in Brownsboro, Ky.

He is remembered for his service at the BSC, where he served as first vice president of the convention and as president of the BSC General Board.

He was a trustee emeritus of his alma mater, Wake Forest University, and he also served two terms as a trustee of Wingate University.

He earned a doctor of divinity from Wake Forest University in 1989. At Wake Forest College, he was the first-team tackle on the football team. He also was a member of the 1946 Wake Forest team that played in the very first Gator Bowl where Wake Forest beat South Carolina, 26-14.

In addition to graduating from Wake Forest University, he was also a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest with a doctor of ministry and a graduate of  Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Hobbs was a member of Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, where a memorial service will be conducted on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 2:00. A memorial service will also be held at First Baptist Church in Marion at 4:00 on Thursday, Feb. 13.

Memorials may be made to the Pastoral Care Family Assistance Fund of N.C. Baptist Hospital, c/o Jay Foster, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Medical Center Blvd, Winston-Salem, NC 27157; Knollwood Baptist Church, 330 Knollwood Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27104; Salemtowne Retirement Community, Resident Assistance Fund, 1000 Salemtowne Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27106; or First Baptist Church, 99 N. Main Street, Marion, NC 28752.
2/7/2014 4:05:02 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Ken Ham, Bill Nye creation debate draws global interest

February 7 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

PETERSBURG, Ky. – Hundreds of thousands of people comprised an international audience to watch a debate between creationist Ken Ham and evolutionist Bill Nye, demonstrating a vibrant interest in origins in an era when many consider the topic settled science.
“The battle is really about authority. It’s more than just science or evolution or creation. It’s about who is the authority in this world, man or God?” Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum, said Feb. 4 during a debate he hosted in Petersburg, Ky., with Nye, known on television as “The Science Guy.” The event was streamed live online.
“If you start with naturalism, then who decides right and wrong? Well, it’s subjective,” Ham said. Marriage becomes “whatever what you want it to be.” Euthanasia and abortion also become acceptable because “we’re all animals.”
“But if you start from God’s Word, there are moral absolutes. God decides right and wrong. Marriage: one man and one woman. Sanctity of life: we care for old people; they’re made in the image of God. Life begins at fertilization, so abortion is killing a human being,” Ham said, explaining how a person’s view of the origins of life impacts all of life.

BP Photo
As noted in this poster, creationist Ken Ham (right) faced off against Bill Nye “The Science Guy” at the Creation Museum near Cincinnati.

Ham distinguished between the way scientists determine what happened in the past and the way they investigate phenomena in the present, calling the two fields “historical science” and “observational science.” Creation, as described in the Bible, he said, is the only viable model of historical science when it comes to origins.
“People by and large have not been taught to look at what you believe about the past as different from what you’re observing in the present,” Ham said. “You don’t observe the past directly.”
Ham said a scientist can observe that the earth is not flat but cannot observe the age of the earth. “There’s a big difference between historical science, talking about the past, and observational science, talking about the present,” he said in the 150-minute debate moderated by CNN’s Tom Foreman.
Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, said mainstream science makes no distinction between historical science and observational science. “These are constructs unique to Mr. Ham,” he said, adding that the same natural laws apply to the past and the present.
Nye claimed that if students are taught creation as a viable model of origins, then the U.S. economy will suffer because America will lag behind other nations in technological advancements.
Ham cited several accomplished scientists and inventors who embrace the creation model, and he asked Nye to name one piece of technology that could only have been developed starting with a belief in molecules-to-man evolution.
Nye, an agnostic, made a case for what he called the absurdity of “Ken Ham’s creation model.”
“Mr. Ham and his followers have this remarkable view of a worldwide flood that somehow influenced everything that we observe in nature – a 500-foot wooden boat, eight zookeepers for 14,000 individual animals, every land plant in the world underwater for a full year. I ask us all is that really reasonable?” Nye said.
Fossils found in limestone in Kentucky, for example, prove the earth is much older than Ham allows, Nye said. “We are standing on millions of layers of ancient life. How could those animals have lived their entire life and formed these layers in just 4,000 years?” he said. “There isn’t enough time since Mr. Ham’s flood for this limestone that we’re standing on to have come into existence.”
The Bible is not “a more reasonable assessment of the natural laws we see around us than what I and everybody in here can observe,” Nye said, calling such a view “unsettling, troubling.” Nye charged Ham with holding a “magical” notion that natural laws have not always operated in the same way, an apparent reference to Ham’s view that God intervened in the world supernaturally at key points in history.
In the debate over origins, Ham said the terms need to be defined correctly. “I assert the word ‘science’ has been hijacked by secularists in teaching evolution to force the religion of naturalism on generations of kids,” he said.
“... We see the collapse of Christian morality in our culture and increasing moral relativism because generations of kids are being taught the religion of naturalism and that the Bible can’t be trusted,” Ham said.
Creationists and evolutionists work side-by-side on medicines, vaccines and other innovations, Ham said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a creationist or an evolutionist. All scientists have the same experimental, observational science.”
Where he and Nye differ, Ham said, is in their starting points as they try to interpret the evidence for how life began – something they didn’t witness.
“It’s a battle over philosophical worldviews and starting points but the same evidence,” Ham said. “I admit my starting point is that God is the ultimate authority. If someone doesn’t accept that, then man has to be the ultimate authority. That’s really the difference when it comes down to it.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was among those at the debate, afterward writing that “the problem with human reason is that it, along with every other aspect of our humanity, was corrupted by the fall.”
“We have not lost the ability to know all things, but we have lost the ability to know them on our own authority and power,” Mohler wrote at albertmohler.com. “We are completely dependent upon divine revelation for the answers to the most important questions of our life.
“Our sin keeps us from seeing what is right before our eyes in nature,” Mohler wrote. “We are dependent upon the God who loves us enough to reveal himself to us – and to give us his Word.”
The central issue in the debate was not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science, Mohler said. “The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared ‘reasonable man’ and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
2/7/2014 9:02:27 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Displaying results 61-70 (of 89)
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9  >  >|