February 2018

High-tech enthusiasts gather at Code for the Kingdom

February 23 2018 by Aaron Wilson & Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources

Bitcoin in the offering plate?
Software allowing people to use cryptocurrency to give to churches was among the high-tech ideas under development at LifeWay Christian Resources during the Feb. 9-11 weekend.

Photo by Aaron Wilson
Software developers, from left, Kimberly Lannear, Brantley English, Zach Boatwright and Chance Smith collaborate during the Code for the Kingdom event Feb. 9-11 at LifeWay Christian Resources. Their proposed app, “Gifted,” matches people with ministry opportunities related to their spiritual gifts.

LifeWay hosted its Code for the Kingdom event at its new Nashville campus where software developers worked long hours creating technology to serve the church.
Participants from across the country made 90-second pitches of their software ideas then formed teams to work on projects throughout the weekend.
Tim Hill, LifeWay’s senior vice president and chief information officer, told attendees LifeWay’s new building was designed with technology in mind.
“We knew we wanted to make collaboration easy,” Hill said. “We wanted this facility to be high-tech, and it is.”

Pitching ideas

Shamichael Hallman, a bivocational pastor from New Direction Christian Church in Memphis, Tenn., presented the idea of an app to help church members use their spiritual gifts.
“Once a person has taken a spiritual gifts assessment, I want to populate a list of church-specific ministries to get them immediately engaged,” Hallman said. “I think a lot of drop-off happens when people know their gifts but don’t really know what to do with them.”
Other pitches included:

  • A social media platform to help people connect over topics related to sermons.
  • An app for exchanging goods and services within the local church.
  • An online directory of churches that contains sermon outlines and online giving information.
  • An app to help with scripture memorization.

To make the most of the time, several participants brought sleeping bags or worked all night. Teamwork with other believers made the extended hours enjoyable, they said.
“The tech industry can be really intimidating,” said Abby Fleming, a front-end developer from Lewisburg, Tenn. “Here, if you have a question, you can take your laptop to another team and ask for help. It’s not about competition, but collaboration.”
Hallman, a Code for the Kingdom organizer who’s been involved since the inaugural event in 2013, agreed.
“I’ve been to non-Christian hackathons where there’s a heavy emphasis on winning a prize,” he said. “Code for the Kingdom is more about helping others. I love seeing the cool projects that come out of it.”

Young coders workshop

Photo by Aaron Wilson
Three 8-year-olds – from left, Tyson Jones, Theodore Anderson and Caden Frith – assemble and program a robot during the Young Coders Workshop on Saturday, Feb. 10, at LifeWay Christian Resources. With them is Caden’s father, Chase Frith.

While teams worked on their projects Saturday morning, LifeWay simultaneously hosted a Young Coders Workshop for kids in third grade and up. The workshop introduced kids to the basics of computer programming and encouraged an interest in electronics and robotics.
More than a dozen children worked in small teams with their parents to create robots they could control via smartphones.
Brian Ignatz, who attends Temple Baptist Church in White House, Tenn., brought his daughter Anna to the event.
“She’s into coding and robots and didn’t want to pass this up,” Ignatz said. “I’m having a good time too. I like watching the kids engage in team-building.”

Future collaboration

Sunday, after an onsite worship service, the six teams finished their projects and assessed the results, using four criteria:

  • Kingdom impact: Would this product serve the church and equip its people?
  • Viability: Could this be a real, sought-after product?
  • Innovation/originality: Is there a unique quality to the proposed software?
  • Completeness: How far did they get with their project?

Hallman and his teammates – fellow Tennesseans Stephen Bussard, Zach Boatwright, Kimberly Lannear, Brantley English and Chance Smith – won first place for their proposed app, “Gifted,” which matches people with ministry opportunities according to their strengths.
Their win encouraged them to stay in touch and continue their work together.
“There are a few tweaks we can make,” Bussard said. “We’re happy with the front end, and we will continue to collaborate online.”
Conference organizers were pleased with the weekend. “We hope they continue the projects – and these relationships – beyond the weekend,” said Adam Murray, a senior software engineer at LifeWay. “And we hope other people saw a project they liked and thought, ‘I’d like to see that make it to the finish line.’”
Kevin Old, a front-end architect who came on board at LifeWay through the 2016 Code for the Kingdom event, said it only makes sense for LifeWay to sponsor an event like this.
“We need sponsors like LifeWay who want to reach people for Christ,” Old said. “We have the technology, the space and the content. But in the end, it’s not about the software. It’s about the relationships and it’s about ministry.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Wilson and Joy Allmond are writers for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/23/2018 8:24:21 AM by Aaron Wilson & Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Gerber baby spotlights Down syndrome abortion fight

February 23 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A smiling baby with Down syndrome is making history as the Gerber “spokesbaby” just as a growing list of states are trying to criminalize the abortion of babies diagnosed with the genetic disorder in utero.

Photo from Facebook
Lucas Warren

A federal appeals court heard arguments Feb. 16 in Indiana’s two-year battle with Planned Parenthood over a law criminalizing the abortion of babies with disabilities such as Down syndrome, the Indianapolis Star reported at IndyStar.com. The 2016 measure, which Vice President Mike Pence signed into law during his gubernatorial term, has been blocked by a permanent injunction since September 2017, IndyStar said.
In Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit Feb. 15 to block a similar law set to take effect March 23 there. In Utah, a bill making it a misdemeanor to abort Down syndrome babies has passed the House and has been introduced in the Senate Rules Committee.
North Dakota in 2013 became the first state to criminalize abortions based on Down syndrome diagnoses. The law has faced no legal challenges, the Associated Press reported Thursday, because the state’s blockage of abortions after 16 weeks has prevented the measure from becoming an issue.
In selecting a baby with Down syndrome as its 2018 spokesbaby, Gerber said 18-month-old Lucas Warren of Dalton, Ga., simply beat out the other 140,000 entrants in the 8th annual contest.
“Lucas’ winning smile and joyful expression won our hearts this year, and we are all thrilled to name him our 2018 Spokesbaby,” Gerber President and CEO Bill Partyka said. “Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby, and this year, Lucas is the perfect fit.”
Lucas’ mother Cortney Warren said his selection is a plus for babies with special needs.
“We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that with acceptance and support,” she said in the Gerber press release, “individuals with special needs have the potential to change the world – just like our Lucas!”
Southern Baptist editor Will Hall, the father of an adult son with Down syndrome, told Baptist Press he and his wife Catherine hope Lucas’ selection will shine a light on human dignity and worth.
“Our hope is that this is a reflection of vastly improved perspectives in our society about the value of the lives of Down syndrome children,” said Hall, editor of the Baptist Message. “Likewise, we pray Gerber’s choice proves to be a catalyst for even greater change in attitudes among Americans – to understand that every life deserves a lifetime.”
Nationally, about 6,000 babies are born each year with Down syndrome, according to the latest statistics from the National Centers for Disease Control. Estimates of U.S. babies aborted with Down syndrome range from 65 percent to 90 percent, but the lack of data collection makes it difficult to determine an accurate number, life advocacy research group Charlotte Lozier Institute reported in 2015.
In the international community, Iceland has boasted of nearly eradicating the birth of babies with Down syndrome through abortion, with only one or two babies born with the condition annually in the nation of 330,000, CBS reported in 2017.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

2/23/2018 8:15:00 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sister’s tragedy fuels Wise’s passion for amputees

February 23 2018 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

David Wise remembers getting the text message from his sister Jessica in 2015 telling him that his other sister, Jessica’s twin Christy, had been in an accident while paddle boarding.
Christy was going to live, but she was likely going to lose her leg.

Photo by Tim Ellsworth
“I feel like my greatest calling is to serve other people,” U.S. freestyle skier David Wise says. “I am in a unique place to serve people from the platform that I’ve had.”

For Wise, a freestyle skier who won a gold medal in the half-pipe event in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the whole ordeal led him to a newfound gratitude for the ability he has.
“Yeah, I might not be feeling very good, things might not be going my way, the judges might not like what I’m doing, or whatever,” Wise said. “There’s all kinds of adversity out there in the world. But there’s always somebody who has it worse off than you do.”
Christy indeed lost her leg after the boating accident. But out of that experience, she and Jessica, a surgeon who has worked with impoverished people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, began the One Leg Up On Life Foundation. The non-profit organization not only provides prosthetic limbs to those who cannot afford them, but does so “to glorify God,” according to its mission statement.
Wise has pledged to give 10 percent of his winnings and his sponsorship payouts this year to the foundation.
“I’ve always had a heart for amputees, and I think we can all be inspired by seeing them achieve athletic greatness,” Wise said. “But it hit a lot closer to home when my sister lost her leg.”
His sisters, four years older than he was, often pushed him to succeed. They were a competitive bunch, and outdoor activities were a regular part of the siblings’ lives as children. Whether skiing, baseball, softball, football, soccer, whatever, Wise and his sisters were active athletes.
Despite the setback, Christy, a captain in the Air Force, slowly began the trek back to mobility and even athletic participation. Watching her ski for the first time after she lost her leg was an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience for Wise. Christy hopes to compete in the Paralympics in the future.
Wise won gold in the men’s half-pipe competition Feb. 22 at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. He and his wife, Alexandra, work with the youth group at their church in Reno, Nev. Wise has said that he may be interested in full-time ministry work when his days as a competitive skier are over.
“I’ve always been involved in ministry,” Wise said. “I feel like my greatest calling is to serve other people. I’m in a unique place to serve people from the platform that I’ve had.”
Wise said he dreams of serving people in whatever way God calls him to do so.
“My faith is my cornerstone in the same way that my family is,” Wise said. “At the end of the day, all of this might be taken away from me at some point. There might be an injury that I have, or I can’t compete anymore, or I must just fall off.
“I can’t really depend on this for my happiness, for my contentment,” he continued. “But I can depend on Jesus. I can depend on God. He’s always going to be there for me. If anything, that just frees me up to go out there and enjoy the ride.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press and associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He is covering the Winter Olympics in South Korea for Baptist Press, previously having covered four Olympics – 2008 in Beijing, 2010 in Vancouver, 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.)

2/23/2018 8:10:35 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Refugee women persevere amid peril, harsh conditions

February 23 2018 by Dave Arden & Pat Centner, NAMB

For more than 7 million Africans forced to flee their warfare-stricken homelands, “home” has become a refugee camp where many wait year after year in hopes of a better life.
Bamurange and Esther are two such women who survived the Great African War, one of numerous conflicts that have plagued the continent. Braving nearly two decades in separate refugee camps, they now have settled in Arizona, safe from the conflict that claimed an estimated 2 million lives and displaced 2 million from their homes.

Photo submitted
Pastor Francis, center, leads church that imparts hope to Esther, left, Bamurange and other refugees from Africa.

Bamurange (pronounced Bahm-a-rahng-gay) left her Congo homeland in 1998 and spent 19 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda. Esther fled the Congolese upheaval the same year and spent 16 years in a refugee camp in Uganda.
In the organized chaos of these refugee camps, people are constantly moving in and out. Food supplies usually run low. And stress is ever-present from such challenges as finding a tent-like covering from the rain; sharing a bathroom with the masses; sleeping on the floor; showering once a week with water brought in by trucks.
Such camps are great “levelers,” a step up from the ravages of war, bringing together those from high social status with those of lifelong deprivation.
The community copes by organizing according to their gifts. Some are teachers; others know how to cook; doctors, few in number, treat people’s ills as best they can.
Bamurange Nyirakinyaruka fled Congolese strife when she was just 16. One night, a terrible fight broke out and every relative on both sides of her family was killed, with Bamurange crediting God for His providence in protecting her that night.
“I survived by hiding in the bush and in the river,” she says of evading opposing tribesmen for many nights in the bush.
“With water up to my chin, I would dip under the water and hold my breath when the men came to the water’s edge looking for survivors” she says. “I was so afraid. By the grace of God, I was able to flee.”
A man who once befriended her family hid Bamurange in a large basket, covered her with leaves and took her to town. He guided his donkey cart right up to trucks belonging to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the authorities took her in.
Esther Vumiliya has a similar story.
The war took the life of her mother, father, sister and many relatives. In a grueling journey, she traveled on foot walking every day for three months until she finally reached Tanzania.
Where did she find water and food? She drank rainwater that had fallen in the streets and begged food from people along the way.
After one year in Tanzania, she arrived at the refugee camp in Uganda where she stayed 16 years.
Esther and Bamurange languished in their refugee camps, working and waiting as time seemed to endlessly pass by, wondering what their future would hold.
Both women are Christ followers who kept their faith that God would see them through, and finally things started to change.
The immigration process is tedious and exhausting, requiring dozens of interviews and standing in long lines for many hours. But after nearly two decades, Bamurange and Esther – along with the families they began as refugees – finally made it to the U.S. in 2015.
Once their planes landed in Phoenix, their struggle still wasn’t over in a new culture far different from anywhere they had ever lived. Not knowing anyone, they needed to connect to new friends, to a church and to work opportunities.
Bamurange and her family were extremely lonely for the first two weeks before a new acquaintance told her about Pastor Francis and Solution Church. Francis Tugirimana – just call him Pastor Francis – started the church in 2009 to serve the East African refugee community.
With help from the church, Bamurange’s husband was able to get a job, enabling the family to buy a car.
“I can enjoy my life, and my children can enjoy their lives. We can live free,” she says.
For Esther, “I feel better and blessed. I have a job and eat everything I need. I am able to buy clothes and stuff for my children.”
Solution Church, having become a key influence in helping the women and their families adjust to life in the States, has provided friendship, prayer, support and help with schools and teachers. English classes help people eventually find work, and guidance is even given in learning to drive a car.
Pastor Francis himself survived the Rwandan civil war and lost many relatives. Solution Church, a congregation of more than 250 people, cares for needs big and small in refugees’ lives. The church baptized 90 people in the last year.
Still, the needs are overwhelming with so many still entering the community, as the refugee crisis in many parts of Africa remains a widespread, open-ended and painful struggle.
Though their arduous journey nearly cost them their lives, Bamurange and Esther showed rugged courage, faith and perseverance. Their stories and their strength have touched their community with a testimony of God’s grace even in the worst of times.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dave Arden is a freelance writer and church planter catalyst for the North American Mission Board in Phoenix. Pat Centner is a freelance writer who also works with African refugees.)

2/23/2018 8:08:01 AM by Dave Arden & Pat Centner, NAMB | with 0 comments

GuideStone offers single-staff churches health care options

February 23 2018 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources

Continued uncertainty in the health care marketplace with the repeal of the individual mandate coming in 2019 and reductions in the number of individuals served by the health care exchanges has some pastors and ministry workers wondering about health care options this year.

Further, the Affordable Care Act continues to drive up costs for consumers nationwide. GuideStone Financial Resources recognizes that affordability is a key issue, and while, like others, the Southern Baptist entity is not immune from the financial pressures caused by the 2010 law, President O.S. Hawkins said, “We are working diligently every day to develop options that reflect the values of our participants and keep costs extremely competitive in the marketplace.” He noted personal health plans offered by GuideStone may be options for churches with a single staff member, usually the pastor.
“We take seriously our ministry assignment from Southern Baptists to make available life and health coverage to our churches and ministry organizations, especially those pastors serving out at the crossroads,” Hawkins said. “We’d encourage any pastor of a single staff-member church to call GuideStone to see if we may be able to serve him and his family.”
For GuideStone to provide health insurance to a pastor or other single staff member, he must be a paid employee of an eligible church or ministry that is affiliated with or shares common religious bonds with the Southern Baptist Convention and works 20 or more hours per week.
GuideStone’s personal health care coverage options include traditional PPO plans, an economy PPO plan and a federally-qualified High Deductible Health Plan designed to be paired with a Health Savings Account.
Churches and pastors interested in seeing if GuideStone can serve them in the individual marketplace can call 1-844-INS-GUIDE (1-844-467-4843) or visit GuideStoneInsurance.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/23/2018 8:00:13 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments

Billy Graham’s impact praised by Baptist leaders

February 22 2018 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Few men could spark the outpouring of respect and gratitude as Billy Graham upon his death Feb. 21 at age 99.

Baptist Press file photo
Billy Graham holds a press conference during the 1968 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Houston. Graham addressed the final session of the convention June 7. Graham’s abiding influence is evident among Baptist leaders.

Among Southern Baptists – among whom Graham counted himself – a range of leaders underscored the broad scope of the famed evangelist’s influence.
Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church: “Billy Graham is with Jesus. He has seen and talked with our beloved Savior. May the awareness of his death result in many people hearing the gospel and being converted to Jesus Christ!
“He is the nearest thing to a true prophet that Christians have had in the past century. He was a man of integrity, simplicity, love and evangelistic fervency. He preached to more people than anyone else in the history of Christianity. He was a legendary man of God, and every born again Christian will miss him. He was converted to Christ in 1934 at an evangelistic crusade in Charlotte, N.C., led by evangelist Mordecai Ham. He soon felt the call to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the world has never been the same.”
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee: “Along with countless others, I mourn today for the passing of Billy Graham. As I came to Christ as a young man out of a non-Christian home, he became a mentor to me from afar. I admired his preaching, his life and his integrity. I told him so years ago when I got to meet with him. Heaven is a richer place today.
“For three-quarters of a century, he has been a faithful ambassador for Christ, seeking to reconcile men and women to God through faith in Jesus Christ,” Page said. “He has borne witness for Christ without distinction, sharing the gospel with the world’s most powerful leaders and with the oppressed, urging the wealthiest and the most impoverished alike to find their hope in Christ alone.”
Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC): “I am overcome with emotion when I think of Billy Graham and his influence on all of Christianity. He was a giant for God, a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-generation prophet of God’s truth and grace. He called everyone, young and old and even boys and girls, to get up from their chairs and give their lives to Christ. And they poured out by the thousands. ... I pray we may never forget his legacy and his unrelenting passion for Jesus, and may we follow his footsteps in calling people to repentance in Christ.”
Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board: “Only eternity is expansive enough to measure the impact Billy Graham had on our world. I will be forever grateful for the way he kept believers focused on the priority of proclaiming Jesus. I am thankful and grateful for the impact he made on my life and that of millions of others.”
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “The eyes of a North Carolina farm boy sparkled as never before this morning when Billy Graham entered heaven. After nearly 100 years spent largely in an effort to ‘rescue the perishing and care for the dying,’ the world’s evangelist was called home to a prophet’s reward.
“Never accused of the hoarding of wealth or of sexual misconduct, his careful practices of conduct place him in a category of a man whose life was a proclamation of Christ as well as His message. His faithfulness to the proclamation of God’s plan of redemption – undergirded by his initiatives on racial justice and his concern for the lost – set the standard for all who would attempt to preach the riches of the gospel. His allegiance to sacred scripture was legendary. Never did he allow doubt to shake his confidence in God’s Word.”

Baptist Press file photo
Billy Graham, who died Feb. 21, addresses the 1995 sesquicentennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, one of several SBC annual meetings he addressed starting in 1951.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “An epic era of evangelical history has come to an end. Billy Graham was not only a titanic figure in evangelicalism, but in world history and perhaps represents the last of a kind. He dominated 20th-century American evangelicalism and remained a major figure on the world stage throughout most of the 20th century in a way that we can envision no evangelical leader in our times. He was a man of deep conviction whose passionate heartbeat was for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and founding dean of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SBTS) Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism: “He [Graham] will forever be revered as one of the greatest evangelists the Christian faith has ever known. In a day and time when Mr. Graham could have easily commanded the attention of millions for his own gain, he chose to live a private, humble life. Throughout his life, it was obvious he wanted the focus to be not on himself but on one thing: the cross of Jesus Christ.”
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission: “We are fortunate to have lived in the era of Billy Graham. He was perhaps the greatest Southern Baptist in history, turning the world upside down with the gospel. He was never ashamed to confront a brave new world with the old-time gospel. Combining the power of a ‘the Bible says’ authority with the compassion of a ‘Just as I Am’ invitation, he projected the mission of Christ Jesus, full of grace and truth. Behind Dr. Graham’s stately North Carolina accent, millions of people heard another voice, a northern Galilean voice calling ‘Come, follow Me.’ As we grieve the loss of Billy Graham, let’s thank God that in this man’s life we were able to see the gospel that is, still and forever, the power of God unto salvation.”
Adam Greenway, dean of SBTS’s Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism: “The passing of Billy Graham marks the end of an era in American Christianity. He was incredibly passionate for evangelism and he influenced every level of American life. He was also passionate about theological education and the training of the next generation of evangelists and evangelistic pastors. That’s personified by his support for the creation of the Billy Graham School at [SBTS] – the only graduate school ever allowed to carry his name. I think his greatest legacy would not only be those whom he personally impacted through his evangelistic ministry, but the scores of pastors and evangelists who have been trained to preach the same gospel that he so faithfully proclaimed.”
Jerry A. Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters: “The world has lost a great man, but those in heaven are surely rejoicing in the homecoming of this good and faithful servant. Only God knows how many are there with him because of his ministry and how many more there will be. It seems trite to say he was a giant among men, but no one could doubt the truth of this statement. For more than eight decades, Billy Graham faithfully obeyed Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature as our Lord commanded. Billy Graham loved the Lord with all of his heart and demonstrated this through his ministry. He was a trailblazer in the use of radio, television, film and other communications platforms to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. ... Billy Graham was and will remain a shining example for us all.”
Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and former president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission: “I grew up in a home with a Christian father because of Billy Graham. Dr. Graham came to Houston’s Rice Stadium for a crusade in the early 1950s. Some of the men from the local Baptist church in our neighborhood invited my father to go with them to hear Billy Graham. It was there that my father accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior and became a faithful deacon and Christian father for the rest of his life. Similar stories have been repeated literally hundreds of thousands of times across the globe. I am eternally grateful that God sent Billy Graham to us and that he answered God’s call and became the greatest messenger for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ since the Apostles.”
Jerry Drace, a former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists and president of the Jerry Drace Evangelistic Association: “[Graham’s] standards of integrity, honesty and genuine concern for all people of all backgrounds will forever be a model for every vocational evangelist. His single message of telling others that, ‘God loves you’ and his constant reminder that, ‘The Bible says’ was the foundation of his God-anointed ministry. One one occasion I was scheduled to speak to the annual meeting of religious officials in Shenzhen, China. Rev. Graham shared with me the message which he delivered to that same group a few years before. That evening when I spoke, I brought them greetings from Rev. Billy Graham and they applauded. I knew then that everything was going to be fine. His impact will continue to live on in the lives of the thousands of evangelists throughout the world who were blessed to have come under his influence.”
From Twitter:

  • Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary: “With news of the passing of evangelist Billy Graham, I am rejoicing over his magnificent life of faithful, powerful, fruitful [g]ospel preaching & careful, intentional, consistent [g]ospel living!”
  • Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary: “I’m saddened to learn of Dr. @BillyGraham’s passing. Yet rejoice that he is now in the arms of King Jesus, and for the legacy of evangelism he leaves.”
  • Bryant Wright, pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and a former SBC president: “Isn’t it a fitting tribute to Billy Graham’s life that on every major news outlet that the [g]ospel of Jesus Christ is being shared over and over. Oh Lord, may Jesus and the [g]ospel be the focus as we live each day and when any of us are called to heaven one day!”
  • Jack Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church and a former SBC president: “Billy Graham never wavered and preached Jesus faithfully without apology. The cross and resurrection and the public call to decision was the focus of every sermon.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/22/2018 8:09:16 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Executive Comm considers DC convention, mission board merger

February 22 2018 by Baptist Press staff

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) has given the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC) 90 days to “secure” the “the removal of any churches from its fellowship that have demonstrated a faith or practice affirming, approving or endorsing homosexual behavior,” according to a recommendation adopted by the EC Feb. 20.
If such churches remain in friendly cooperation with the DCBC after that period, the DCBC will lose its authorization “to receive and disburse Cooperative Program and other SBC contributions,” the EC stated during its Feb. 19-20 meetings in Nashville.

Photo by Morris Abernathy
Stephen Rummage, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, presided over the EC’s Feb. 19-20 meeting in Nashville.

The EC also declined to recommend a study of merging the SBC’s two mission boards and adopted resolutions honoring retiring Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) executive director Anthony Jordan and EC vice chairman Shane Hall, who died Feb. 16.

D.C. Baptist Convention

The SBC’s relationship with the DCBC arose for discussion in light of a Washington church’s Jan. 2017 decision to call a legally-married lesbian couple as co-pastors. Efforts by EC leaders to help the DCBC deal with that church – Calvary Baptist Church – in a biblical manner proved “unfruitful” over the past year, the EC stated.
Calvary voted in 2012 to cease cooperation with the SBC.
Acting on behalf of the SBC, the EC gave the D.C. convention until May 20 to disfellowship Calvary, secure the congregation’s voluntary withdrawal from DCBC fellowship or help lead the church to repentance. If none of those scenarios materializes, the DCBC will lose immediately its authorization to receive and disburse Cooperative Program (CP) funds.
According to the latest records available, seven of the 149 churches in cooperation with the DCBC give to SBC causes. Some of that giving comes through the DCBC, and some funds are forwarded directly to the EC by churches.
EC chairman Stephen Rummage told Baptist Press (BP) the committee’s action “was a decision that there’s no doubt we needed to make, but it’s a decision we made with great sadness.”
Initially, the EC’s Bylaws Workgroup and Administrative Committee were presented with a recommendation to ask messengers at this summer’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas to end the convention’s CP relationship with the DCBC. The Bylaws Workgroup approved the recommendation without opposition. However, the Administrative Committee, after extensive discussion, defeated the recommendation with no dissenting votes and forwarded to the full EC the substitute proposal that eventually was adopted.
Joseph Lyles, pastor of Fort Foote Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., which cooperates with the DCBC, was present at the workgroup and committee meetings. He confirmed to BP that he asked the EC for 90 additional days to secure Calvary’s repentance or removal from fellowship.
The EC, Lyles said, “was kind and considerate to try to bring about redemptive restoration. We’re trying to extend the olive branch, and I think it was received. So I was encouraged.”
Lyles, a former president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, asked Southern Baptists to pray for a “peaceful resolution,” adding he will speak with DCBC executive director Robert Cochran, the DCBC Board of Directors and “possibly” Calvary.
EC President Frank S. Page expressed prayer and hope “the DCBC will do that which is right in the eyes of the Lord.”
While the EC doesn’t “know what will happen,” Page said, “we were asked by one of their leading pastors to give them more time to deal with this, and we have decided to do so in prayerful hopefulness.”
Cochran released to BP a statement which he said also was delivered to the Administrative Committee. According to the statement, the apostle John “warned” and “encouraged” the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, but he “never cut ties to any of these seven congregations, despite their shortcomings.”
Cochran added, “Calvary’s actions do not reflect on the D.C. Baptist Convention or any other convention in any way.”

Study of IMB-NAMB merger declined

The EC declined, with no dissenting votes, to create a committee to study the feasibility of combining the SBC’s two mission boards, opting instead to encourage the boards’ expressed desire to continue cooperating with one another.
The feasibility of merging the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the International Mission Board (IMB) has been repeatedly studied, the EC said, and a merger was found to be unfruitful. Instead, both boards were twice restructured after studies ending in 1994 and 2010, resulting in a combined reduction of 700 staff members since the latest restructuring, the EC said.
NAMB and IMB enjoy a productive cooperative relationship, the presidents of both entities told BP.
“I am grateful to report that the working relationship between IMB and NAMB today is strong, and we want that partnership to only increase in the days ahead,” IMB President David Platt said. “At the same time, we believe that significant differences exist between IMB and NAMB in such a way that neither organization believes it is wise to merge together.”
NAMB President Kevin Ezell expressed a similar sentiment.
“We are blessed with a great partnership with IMB and we will continue to look for ways that our two entities can work together and minimize redundancy,” Ezell told BP. “With all of the downsizing both NAMB and IMB have had in recent years, we believe continued cooperation, rather than merger, will be much more beneficial to Southern Baptists.”

Anthony Jordan honored

The EC recognized Jordan as the longest serving executive director in the BGCO’s 112-year history. During his 22-year tenure, the number of Southern Baptist churches in the state increased at least 13 percent, more than 322,000 individuals were baptized and the BGCO forwarded more than $200 million in CP receipts to the SBC, the EC said in its resolution.
Jordan’s Southern Baptist service has included pastorates in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Missouri, and several association and state convention leadership posts. He chaired the 1998 SBC Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee, which recommended the adoption of Article XVIII on the family, and is heavily decorated as a denominational servant and seminarian, according to the resolution. Soul winning, missions giving and support for the unborn have been among his advocacies.
Jordan has announced his April 15 retirement from the BGCO. The EC expressed gratitude for the work of Jordan and his wife Polla and pledged to remember them in prayer.

Shane Hall remembered

In a separate resolution, the EC expressed sincere gratitude for Hall’s life and ministry, which included seven pastorates over a span of 27 years in Oklahoma and Louisiana, culminating with his leadership of First Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.
The two-term member and vice chairman of the EC was a gifted leader and personal soul winner who served notably in many areas of Southern Baptist life, including leadership posts with the BGCO and several SBC committees, the resolution stated. He also was a featured speaker at the 2017 Pastors’ Conference preceding the SBC’s annual meeting in Phoenix.
Hall lived out his expressed desire, the EC said in its resolution, “to personally lead a life that reflects Galatians 2:20” and “to lead people to know Jesus through faith in His death and resurrection, to grow in Christ-likeness, and to show, through word and deed, their hope found in Him.”
Hall’s near four-year battle with stomach cancer evidenced “unswerving faith,” “contagious courage” and a resolve to rest in the Holy Spirit’s comfort, the resolution noted.
EC members expressed condolences to Hall’s widow Misty and daughters Maci and Mallory, and pledged to pray for the family’s comfort, provision and hope.
In other action, the EC:
– recommended SBC calendars and calendar amendments through 2022-2023.
The EC voted to recommend to the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas the addition of National Day of Prayer the first Thursday in May to the SBC Calendar of Activities. A motion to change the name of Orphan Sunday to Orphans and Widows Sunday was also approved for recommendation to 2018 messengers in Dallas. The changes would be added to all future calendars and all previously approved future calendars, according to the EC’s recommendation.
The EC rejected a proposal from the 2017 SBC annual meeting to designate an annual Sunday on the SBC calendar to honor persecuted Christians. Rather, the EC will recommend to the 2018 SBC annual meeting that the convention continue to elevate the plight of persecuted Christians in published media, the public square and in prayer.
– adopted guidelines for the EC liaison to the SBC Committee on Resolutions.
– adopted a two-page resolution on corporate bank accounts and authorized signatures.
– requested that the SBC Pastors’ Conference reimburse the EC $100,000 for use of convention facilities in advance of the June 12-13 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.
– approved a 2018-2019 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $194,000,000 for recommendation to the SBC.
The proposed budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50.41 percent of receipts to the IMB and 22.79 percent to NAMB, for a total of 73.20 percent for world missions ministries.
The convention’s six seminaries will receive 22.16 percent. The seminary enrollment formula for funding will yield: Gateway Seminary, 2.02 percent; Midwestern Seminary, 3.23 percent; New Orleans Seminary, 3.63 percent; Southeastern Seminary, 3.90 percent; Southern Seminary, 5.26 percent; Southwestern Seminary, 3.88 percent; and .24 percent to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, a ministry overseen by the seminary presidents. (Cumulative numbers may not match the sum of individual seminary percentages due to rounding.)
The budget proposal designates 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The SBC Operating Budget, the only CP-funded facilitating ministry, encompassing SBC annual meeting costs and the work of the Executive Committee, would receive 2.99 percent of the budget.
Under the formula for distributing any overage in the CP Allocation Budget, 53.4 percent would be allocated to the IMB and 0 percent to the Executive Committee and SBC Operating Budget, with the balance distributed to the other entities according to the CP Allocation Budget.
– recommended a 2018-2019 Executive Committee and SBC Operating Budget of $7,913,638.
– elected Bill Lovell and Tom Boyd to three-year terms as Southern Baptist Foundation trustees. Lovell, from Nashville, is retired from Lovell Investments. Boyd, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., is with Decker Wealth Management and is retired from Bank of America, where he served as a senior vice president.
– authorized a 2.1 percent increase in the Executive Committee salary structure for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
Additionally, the EC was notified that Page will contract with C. Barry McCarty to serve as chief parliamentarian for this year’s annual meeting in Dallas.
The next EC meeting will be held June 11 in Dallas.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press chief national correspondent David Roach, general assignment writer/editor Diana Chandler and senior editor Art Toalston.)

2/22/2018 8:00:53 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Study shows far-reaching impact of Billy Graham

February 22 2018 by LifeWay Research staff

About 80 years after he began his ministry, Billy Graham continued to impact the faith of millions with nearly half of all Protestant churchgoers saying they have watched one of his sermons on television.

“Billy Graham was one of the greatest evangelists the Christian faith has ever known,” said LifeWay Christian Resources President and CEO Thom S. Rainer. “Throughout his life, it was obvious he wanted the focus to be not on himself but on one thing: the cross of Jesus Christ.”
A recent LifeWay Research survey found Graham’s wide-ranging ministry influenced churchgoers through a variety of means.
Two-thirds of Protestant churchgoers had some contact with Graham’s ministry, according to LifeWay Research:

– 48 percent watched a Billy Graham sermon on television.
– 18 percent listened to one of his sermons on the radio.
– 15 percent read one of his books.
– 14 percent read a Billy Graham newspaper column.
– 11 percent attended a Billy Graham crusade.
– 8 percent watched a Billy Graham sermon online.
“While Billy Graham became famous through stadium-filled crusades,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, “he actually shared the good news of Jesus Christ with more people through TV, radio and print.”
Only 4 percent of churchgoers said they “have no idea who Billy Graham is.”
In a 2010 survey of Protestant pastors, LifeWay Research found Graham to be far and away the most influential living pastor at that time.
“Billy Graham was a gifted communicator in sharing the gospel,” McConnell said. “His greatest legacy may be the number of Christians he mobilized to join him in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Rainer, founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said Graham’s legacy is secure because of the focus of his ministry.
“I am saddened to hear the news of the passing of Billy Graham,” Rainer said. “The message of the gospel was at the heart of his ministry. He understood the brevity of life. And he knew, when all is said and done, our relationship with Jesus Christ is all that really matters.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.)

2/22/2018 7:50:11 AM by LifeWay Research staff | with 0 comments

BGCT: CBF decision driven by ‘biblical truth’

February 22 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Baptist General Convention of Texas’ (BGCT) decision to stop forwarding churches’ contributions to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) reflects a commitment to the biblical view of marriage, say the convention’s president and executive director.

BGCT photo
BGCT Executive Board chairman Dennis Young presides over a Feb. 20 meeting at which the board voted to stop forwarding funds from churches to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“I am very grateful for the consistent, steady way in which the BGCT has held to God’s Word,” BGCT President Danny Reeves said according to a news release from the convention. “We lovingly say to all people the truth that marriage is to be between one man and one woman.”
The BGCT Executive Board adopted a recommendation Feb. 20 to “remove CBF as a giving option from the BGCT gift remittance form and to encourage churches to send their CBF gifts directly to the CBF national office,” according to Texas’ Baptist Standard news journal.
The move came less than two weeks after the CBF Governing Board voted to replace its former prohibition of hiring homosexual and transgender employees with a policy that opened some positions to “Christians who identify as LGBT.”
Initially, the BGCT responded Feb. 12 with a statement reaffirming the convention’s belief “the Bible teaches that any sexual relationship outside the bounds of a marriage between a man and woman is sin.”
The BGCT Executive Board’s subsequent decision to stop forwarding gifts to the CBF received only one negative vote and was not accompanied by any discussion during the board’s general session, the Standard reported.
BGCT executive director David Hardage said following the vote, “Texas Baptists have consistently held to biblical truth on marriage and human sexuality while at the same time loving and caring for everyone,” according to the BGCT release.
Previously, the BGCT enabled each church to designate the percentage of its gifts that would be used for BGCT missions and ministries and the percentage for one of three worldwide partners: the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), BGCT Worldwide or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The BGCT recommends that congregations designate 79 percent of their cooperative gifts for BGCT ministries and 21 percent for a worldwide partner, but the 79-21 split is not mandatory.
The CBF now will be removed from among the convention’s worldwide partners.
The CBF was founded in 1991 as a fellowship of churches that objected to the ideology and methods of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence.
In 2017, 349 churches in cooperation with the BGCT gave approximately $1.1 million to the CBF through Texas Baptist channels – $776,981 as a cooperative giving option and $315,862 to CBF Global Missions, the Standard reported.
CBF executive coordinator Suzii Paynter, former director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission, said the Executive Board’s decision “is deeply disappointing for how it changes the cooperative method by which Texas Baptist churches support CBF,” according to a CBF news release.
At least two other SBC partner conventions forward churches’ contributions to CBF: the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC). The BGAV’s Executive Board is scheduled to meet Feb. 26.
According to a Feb. 20 action of the SBC Executive Committee, the SBC will “no longer recognize the DCBC as a Baptist body authorized to receive and disburse Cooperative Program and other SBC contributions” if the DC convention does not “secure” by May 20 “the removal of any churches from its fellowship that have demonstrated a faith or practice affirming, approving or endorsing homosexual behavior.”
The BGCT is one of two state conventions in Texas that partner with the SBC. The other Texas convention, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, does not forward gifts from churches to the CBF.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/22/2018 7:45:27 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastor, sports ministry share God’s love to Olympians

February 22 2018 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

Pastor. Chaplain. Olympic dog sitter.
That’s Ryan Schneider, pastor of Saranac Lake Baptist Church in upstate New York near Lake Placid. Lake Placid is home to the Olympic Training Center where elite athletes come to train as they pursue their Olympic dreams.

Submitted photo
Ryan Schneider, a Southern Baptist pastor near Lake Placid, N.Y., and representatives from the sports ministry Athletes in Action have found ways to encourage Christian athletes and share the Gospel during their time in South Korea. Schneider, left, is pictured here with U.S. bobsledder Nic Taylor in PyeongChang.

In addition to his role as the church’s pastor, Schneider ministers in a variety of ways to the athletes in Lake Placid. Because of his role there, he’s working as a chaplain at the Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. His family is keeping U.S. skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender’s dog while she competes in the Olympics.
“Team USA has graciously given me passes for most of the days that I’m here, to go in and mingle with the athletes,” Schneider said. “And then they have a daily worship service for the athletes just outside of their cafeteria. So I’m partnering with that and teaching a Bible study with them when I have opportunity.”
Schneider isn’t alone in his Olympic chaplain duties. Carl Dambman and Tim Pitcher of Athletes in Action (AIA), the sports ministry of Cru, are also on-site at the Winter Olympics helping to serve athletes in whatever ways they can and encourage the Christian athletes who are competing.
“The nations gather, and it’s a place where you can share the love of God across borders because sport is an international language without borders,” Dambman said.
Schneider, his wife Molly and their children have been in the Lake Placid area for several years, first at Lake Placid Baptist Church, then since 2013 at nearby Saranac Lake Baptist Church. Both churches are Southern Baptist congregations.
He teaches a weekly Bible study at the Olympic Training Center, where he has gotten to know a number of Olympic athletes well. His church, and some other churches that partner with them, help to provide housing for the athletes staying in Lake Placid on either a short-term or long-term basis. Though housing is available at the training center, many athletes prefer living with families.
In South Korea, Schneider is able to meet up with several of the Olympians he knows from Lake Placid. He understands the challenges they face and their unique needs as athletes. For example, athletes are ingrained with a performance-based mentality in practically every aspect of their lives. They are watched by a coach and by others around them. They are watched at the starting house (for sliding athletes) and when they get off the track.
Everything they do, Schneider said, is based on their performance or lack thereof. Then he gets to teach them that the gospel is the exact opposite of that – that they can’t get to heaven on their own, and they can’t live a Christ-centered life without a desperate reliance upon the gospel.
He remembers one athlete a few years ago who the Bible study group had prayed for regularly – for four weeks in a row. Then one night, she showed up at Bible study and asked Schneider a question.
“I know where I’m at, and I know where God is at,” she said. “And I don’t know how to bridge that gap.”
“I mean, it was like throwing a pastor a softball pitch,” Schneider said. “There’s always that drawing work of the Holy Spirit that we see in people’s lives that’s evidence. And so, it’s figuring out when to speak and when to not speak into that.”
Pitcher and Dambman spent much of their time in South Korea visiting with Olympians at the athletes’ village, where most of the athletes stay during the Olympics. They met Kenyan skier Sabrina Simader, the only athlete from her country at the Olympics, and found out that she needed a lot of help with her living arrangements since she was living in an apartment away from the village.
The AIA representatives helped Simader get pots and pans, groceries, an extra bed and other items to make her stay in South Korea more comfortable.
“We have become part of team Kenya,” Pitcher said.
Dambman, a former Olympic wrestler, and Pitcher typically hang out in the dining hall at the village and engage with the athletes and coaches as they come through. AIA has a sports Bible in Russian, English, Korean and Chinese, so they distribute those to anyone who wants one.
“Carl is like the mayor of the village here,” Pitcher said. “Everyone knows him, and him speaking Russian and German and a couple other languages, he is always engaging in conversations in the dining hall with people who are amazed that he knows the language or he knows people that they know.”
Dambman and Pitcher also help lead chapel services at the village. Sometimes athletes will come to chapel because it’s a good luck charm, Pitcher said, and something they think they should do right before they compete.
“So hopefully we are going to give them a Bible, give them resources to further explore, and as the conversation goes, potentially they will hear the gospel as well.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is a sports correspondent for Baptist Press and associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He is covering the Winter Olympics in South Korea for Baptist Press, previously having covered four Olympics – 2008 in Beijing, 2010 in Vancouver, 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.)

2/22/2018 7:29:15 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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