January 2013

Kendrick brothers take breather from movies

January 22 2013 by Joe Westbury, Baptist Press

ALBANY, Ga. – For almost a decade Alex and Stephen Kendrick have wooed theatergoers with faith-based films that garnered the attention of Hollywood and were viewed by audiences around the world.

The string of hits kept their fans thirsting for more, beginning with Flywheel: The Movie in 2003, and progressing to Facing the Giants in 2006, Fireproof in 2008, and Courageous in 2011. Rarely resting between the release of one hit and the writing and filming of the next, the brothers have decided to break with tradition and step away from filmmaking for a season.

Their next venture? A book.

“Love Dare for Parents,” a spinoff from the popular “Love Dare” from the Fireproof movie, will be “a 40-day journey of dares to help parents communicate Christ’s love to their children,” Stephen Kendrick explained.

Christian Index photo by Joe Westbury

Stephen, left, and Alex Kendrick relax for a few moments in the casting studio at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The brothers, who serve as the brain trust behind the stream of faith-based movies flowing out of the church, are writing a book and taking a break from movie making.

“We want to help parents win the hearts of their children so they can win their ears,” he said.

Ever since the original book which focused on strengthening marriages was featured in the 2008 movie, parents have requested a similar book to help them influence their children for Christ. B&H Publishing, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources, expects to release it this summer.

“It’s not easy to make a movie, but for us it’s much easier to work with film than with print,” Stephen Kendrick said. “Writing a book is like writing 15 term papers, one after the other. It’s tedious, grueling work.”

Each of their movies was accompanied by a novel, but those were co-written with professional authors. All of those eventually made it onto a New York Times bestseller list.

The brothers also wrote three books from scratch – “The Love Dare,” “The Love Dare Day by Day” devotional for couples, and “The Resolution for Men.”

What comes next for the duo remains unknown. What is known is that they want to take time to follow God’s direction before assuming there will be another movie.

“We have not taken it for granted that we’ll always be making movies. We always go back to square one and seek the Lord’s direction before proceeding,” Alex Kendrick said. “Making a movie takes a year or two out of your life, time away from your family and friends; why would we want to do that if the Lord isn’t in it?”

His younger brother readily agrees.

“Movies don’t want to be made,” Stephen Kendrick said. “They take years of planning, writing, shooting. ... There are so many potential problems to stop the production timeline. It’s like walking through a minefield with cast problems, budgeting problems, script problems, marketing and distribution problems.”

But the rewards are immense.

Fireproof was released on DVD in 75 countries and Courageous in 76 countries. In March 2012 nearly 1,000 police officers accepted Christ in a South American nation after watching the movie.

“You get these reports from all around the world and say to yourself, ‘Is this for real?’ That’s when you know it’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears,” Stephen Kendrick said.

In addition to their filmmaking responsibilities the brothers are staff members at Sherwood Baptist Church where Stephen, 39, serves as senior associate pastor/preaching and Alex, 42, is associate pastor. They speak highly of the support they have received from pastor Michael Catt and his vision to reach the world from Albany, Ga.

“Michael has been a selfless pastor, demonstrating Christ-like leadership and equipping his staff for success. This is the most loving and praying church I have ever been in,” Stephen Kendrick said.

Reaching the world is exactly what has occurred through the movies and books that have rolled out of Sherwood Pictures based at the church. A good bit of the proceeds from the movies have been spent around the world to impact nations for Christ.

For example:
  • Funds were used to purchase motorbikes for pastors in the Sudan so the men, informally known now as “mobile missionaries,” don’t have to walk and can cover greater distances.
  • The church has partnered with the International Mission Board (IMB) on numerous projects; in 2011 it gave a $100,000 donation to the mission agency.
  • The church’s newest international vision is partnering with the IMB to adopt an unreached people group – Dutch speakers in Germany.
  • Locally, it gave generously toward the purchase of an 82-acre evangelistic sports park in Albany in which the church was already involved but which helped speed along the process.
  • It has started churches in San Francisco and Baltimore.
Alex and Stephen have their eyes on the future, though, in ways other than making movies; they want to help the next generation learn from their mistakes and benefit from their insight.

“We are very burdened with a desire to pour ourselves into the next generation of Christian filmmakers,” Stephen Kendrick said. “They may know how to use the Red Camera and Final Cut Pro editing software but they may not know how to fear the Lord and seek Him in their production decisions.

“Even though Alex and I never went to film school we long to help those individuals seek first the Kingdom of God and not be preoccupied with just making a cool movie.

“Every generation needs to think about those who will follow it and set them up for success. Michael [Catt] reminds us that whoever wants the next generation the most will get them ... and we want them.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of the Christian Index, where this story first appeared.)
1/22/2013 11:54:05 AM by Joe Westbury, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Passion propels Tomlin to top of Billboard chart

January 22 2013 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Chris Tomlin has become the fourth Christian music artist ever to garner the number one position on the Billboard 200.

Tomlin’s “Burning Lights” sold 73,000 copies in its opening week, fueled in large part by Passion 2013 in Atlanta.

The conference for college-aged Christians, where the singer-songwriter led worship, had 60,000 attendees and more than 100,000 online viewers.

According to Billboard, 40 percent of the figures tracked by the music trade magazine were sales related to Passion or churches.

Tomlin’s album, topping the Jan. 26 chart, follows tobyMac, who last September became the first Christian artist in 15 years to take the peak position with his latest album, “Eye on It.”

“Burning Lights” was also Tomlin’s fourth album to sit atop Billboard’s Christian Albums chart.

The debut was the largest ever for Tomlin and the largest sales week for any Christian album since Casting Crowns’ “Come to the Well” in 2011.
1/22/2013 11:46:11 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Roe helped awaken, renew S. Baptists

January 21 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision not only awakened Southern Baptists eventually to the gruesome reality of abortion but helped power what came to be known as their convention’s Conservative Resurgence, two longtime observers say.
America will reach the 40th anniversary of legalized abortion Jan. 22. On that date, pro-life advocates will grieve and abortion rights defenders will celebrate Roe, the opinion that – coupled with a companion ruling, Doe v. Bolton – had the effect of striking down all abortion restrictions and legalizing the procedure nationwide for virtually any reason at any stage of pregnancy.
When the high court issued those decisions jointly in 1973, Southern Baptists were either uninformed or misguided – and consequently unengaged – at the grass roots but supportive of abortion rights at the institutional level and through the resolution process, Richard Land and Jerry Sutton told Baptist Press. Now, Southern Baptists are overwhelmingly pro-life. That contrast four decades ago between the grass roots and some denominational leaders produced discord as the massive death toll of unborn babies mounted in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, the effort to restore the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) institutions to a belief in biblical inerrancy began in 1979 with the election of the SBC’s first president committed to the Conservative Resurgence. By then, the abortion issue had become a driving force in the movement, Land and Sutton said.
The abortion issue “was part of the Conservative Resurgence, and I think that it played a role that the moderates never understood,” Land said of those Southern Baptists who disagreed with the effort to reform the convention’s institutions. “I think the moderates, being mostly pro-choice themselves, never really comprehended the moral indignation and outrage of the conservatives that their denomination was being portrayed as pro-choice. And I think that emotion was one of the factors that fueled people to come to the convention and to vote for pro-life, inerrantist candidates.
“The Conservative Resurgence was the battle over the Bible,” added Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“But one of the most emotional issues about the Bible and what the Bible said was what the Bible said about abortion.”
Sutton said, “I suspect that had there not been a Roe v. Wade there may not have been a Conservative Resurgence.
“I think what happened is the abortion issue galvanized conservatives,” said Sutton, who has written books on the Conservative Resurgence and Southern Baptist cultural engagement. Abortion and biblical inerrancy “coupled together gave great emphasis and a unifying factor to the conservative pastors who [were] leading this whole Conservative Resurgence,” he said.
The conservative pastors “said Southern Baptists as a whole don’t believe that taking the life of an unborn child is morally acceptable,” said Sutton, a longtime pastor and now vice president of academic development and dean of the faculty at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. “[W]hat I’m saying is all of this worked in concert together.”
Supporters of the Conservative Resurgence achieved their goals in the years that followed – including the 1988 selection of pro-lifer Land as head of the convention’s ethics entity, then called the Christian Life Commission (CLC) and now the ERLC. During those years, Southern Baptists became known as committed participants in the pro-life movement.
The Southern Baptist Convention is “the most consistently pro-life, major religious denomination in terms of its rank and file, because only about half of people who identify as Catholics agree with the church’s position on abortion,” Land said. “If you ask people who identify as Southern Baptists, it’s somewhere between 80 and 90 percent who are opposed to abortion on demand ... [A]n overwhelming percentage of Southern Baptists are opposed to most of the abortions that take place and think they should be illegal.”
Four decades ago, however, Southern Baptists were ill-prepared for the 1973 Roe and Doe rulings and the abortion regime they established.
Seemingly, Southern Baptists in general, Sutton said, were like he was at the time – “essentially ignorant.”
“Our pastors had not preached on it. People had not talked about it for the most part,” said Sutton, who was a political science major at the University of South Alabama in 1973. “I probably represented the vast majority of Southern Baptists who were for the most part in the dark about the issues being raised.”
Based on his personal experience and research, Sutton said, “From what I could tell, most Southern Baptists had not really understood what was transpiring. You know, they knew there was talk about abortion. Most people I knew just thought abortion was murder. You didn’t kill unborn babies. But nobody knew the legal ramifications. They had no idea about the substance of Roe v. Wade or Doe versus Bolton.
“Everything that I could tell is that Southern Baptists as a whole were pro-life. They had just never articulated it,” he said.
As a student in 1969-72 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Land said “misinformation and a reluctance to talk about the issue” marked even many of his fellow students.
“I found a disturbing number [of other seminary students] to be pro-choice, even conservatives,” Land said. “A lot of them tended to see it as a Catholic issue. And they had bought into this idea that life begins when the baby breathes.”
Land said he “was able to convince a lot of people that this was a human being, this was a baby that deserved protection” as he talked to them about the physiology of the unborn child.
Nearly two years before Roe, however, the SBC already was on record in support of abortion for reasons nearly as expansive as those the high court permitted in its 1973 decisions. While grass-roots Southern Baptists were poorly prepared, the CLC and its executive director, Foy Valentine, were not.
At the 1971 SBC annual meeting, messengers approved a resolution – with Valentine’s backing, Sutton said – that urged Southern Baptists to promote legislation that would permit abortion in cases such as “rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”
Sutton said of that language, “[B]y the time you go through the exceptions, there are no exceptions.... Basically, Southern Baptists, under Foy Valentine’s leadership, embraced a pro-abortion posture.”
Shortly after the 20th anniversary of Roe and Doe, Timothy George described the SBC’s ‘71 resolution as essentially “a strong call for the liberalizing and legalizing of abortion in this country.”
“[T]wo years prior to the Supreme Court decision of 1973, which opened the floodgates to abortion on demand in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention was on record advocating the decriminalization of abortion and extending the discretion of this decision into the realm of personal, privatized choice,” said George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. “The simple fact is that Roe v. Wade did little more than place a stamp of approval on what America’s largest, most conservative Protestant denomination had already agreed to.”
Valentine continued to promote abortion rights. In 1977, he joined four Southern Baptist seminary professors in endorsing a document by the then-named Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights that affirmed Roe and government funding of abortions.
Southern Baptists increasingly learned about the CLC’s position and moved into the pro-life camp as the ‘70s passed.
“The real shift among Southern Baptists and other evangelicals was between ‘76 and ‘80, not between ‘73 and ‘76,” said Land, who returned to the United States in 1975 after three years of doctoral studies in England. “And I think it was outrage over the numbers, the sheer slaughter of millions of babies, that shocked people into looking at this issue in a different way and seeing that it was a profoundly moral issue that we had to deal with.”
The toll escalated from nearly 750,000 legal abortions in 1973 to about 1.5 million in 1979, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“[T]o find out Southern Baptist people were giving their tithes and offerings to the Cooperative Program, which was supporting among other institutions ... the Christian Life Commission, and then they were using the money that we gave to them to further a pro-abortion posture, this became a great source of tension,” Sutton said.
SBC messengers finally adopted the first of several pro-life resolutions in 1980. That resolution – introduced by Larry Lewis, who later became president of the then-named Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) – called for legislation or a constitutional amendment to ban abortion except to save the life of the mother.
In 1984, Southern Baptists for Life was started outside the SBC bureaucracy to advance the pro-life cause in the face of opposition at the institutional level. The organization helped place a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on the denominational calendar each January.
Land’s 1988 election by a CLC trustee board controlled by conservatives helped further a transformation that proved complete at the national level in the 1990s, when the denominational leadership uniformly became pro-life.
The SBC “was still pro-choice at the institutional level and was seen so by the Supreme Court and others until I came to the commission,” Land said. “They were listing the Southern Baptist Convention as a pro-choice organization.”
In 2003, SBC messengers passed a resolution regarding Roe five months after its 30th anniversary. In the measure, messengers said, “[W]e lament and renounce statements and actions [during] previous [annual meetings] and previous denominational leadership that offered support to the abortion culture.”
Sutton pointed to two “defining moments” in the ascendancy of the pro-life cause in the SBC: (1) The approval of Lewis’ pro-life resolution at the 1980 meeting, and (2) Land’s election at the CLC.

Land has announced he will retire in October upon the completion of 25 years as head of the convention’s ethics entity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

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1/21/2013 2:19:00 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC, Chamber make immigration reform a priority

January 21 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) both regard immigration reform as a priority at the start of a new session of Congress, representatives of the two groups said at a Jan. 17 news conference in Washington.

“We do not intend to let this fail,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the ERLC, the public policy entity of the nation’s largest non-Catholic religious body.

“We will stay on top of this until Washington, D.C., and our country finally [do] what is right by the 12 million who are here looking to us to do something to help resolve their dilemma,” Duke said.

Tom Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business organization, told reporters at the news conference “a sense of consensus” is growing among people who have been on opposite sides of enacting immigration reform.

Americans with widely divergent views have contended for years the federal government’s failure to deal with immigration has resulted in a broken system and from 11 to 12 million undocumented, or illegal, immigrants in this country.

The National Immigration Forum (NIF) – which organized the news conference of religious, business and law enforcement spokesmen – cited three consensus points for broad reform: 1) Recognition of the need for border security and safety in communities; 2) establishment of a just pathway to legal status and citizenship for undocumented immigrants while respecting those who have long awaited naturalization; 3) modernization of the immigration laws that includes worker programs that aid the workforce and economy.

Carlos Gutierrez, Commerce secretary under President George W. Bush and now vice chairman of Citigroup, also expressed optimism in his comments at the news conference.

“There have been more people coming out in favor,” Gutierrez said. “There are people who have moderated their stance on this from six years ago, and I think part of that is just an understanding that [failure to act] is very bad for the country.”

The optimism comes after the last push for immigration reform in 2007 failed despite Bush’s efforts. November’s election results, which reform advocates said demonstrated the increased voting power of Hispanics, appear to provide a significant reason for legislative movement.

Immigration, however, has yet to reach the level of importance it must for enactment of reform, Gutierrez said, adding gun control has surpassed it as a priority in Washington.

“This has to become the No. 1 priority for the president and for Congress. Get people together to say, ‘We’re going to fix this problem, because it’s important enough to be fixed.’ And that hasn’t happened yet. And I think it has to be a lot more than just a couple of very nice sentences in the State of the Union address,” Gutierrez told reporters.

Donohue said, “The bottom line on immigration is that the status quo on immigration in our country is a fundamental loser.”

A super political action committee (PAC) to aid GOP candidates who support such change – Republicans for Immigration Reform – is nearing a launch, Gutierrez said. The super PAC will “give cover” to those who publicly advocate immigration reform, he said.

Ali Noorani, NIF’s executive director, still said the new congressional session is the “best opportunity for broad immigration reform in nearly a decade.”

Duke pointed to a new reform proposal by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and developments among other congressional Republicans as indications of progress. “I think the determination is there at this point” in both parties, he said.

The ERLC is visiting with House members and communicating with Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians regarding immigration reform, Duke said. As part of its efforts, the ERLC joined with an evangelical coalition, the Evangelical Immigration Table, in inaugurating Jan. 14 the “I Was a Stranger” challenge. The initiative – which can be accessed online at http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/iwasastranger/ – provides a Bible verse for reflection on the issue on each of 40 days.

While advocates for immigration reform have various reasons for their support, it is a moral and humanitarian issue for the ERLC, Duke said. In the Bible, God instructs His Old Testament people, the Israelites, to love the stranger among them, Duke said.

“[W]hen we read that, we understand that God has an expectation for how a people with power would treat those who are vulnerable and weak in their presence,” he told reporters.

“It is not possible to respond to the plight of those who are here living in the shadows compassionately without actually speaking to their circumstances in trying to assist them,” Duke said. “I don’t know how you could have a clear conscience thinking that we’re going to in some kind of way consign 12 million people possibly to perpetual poverty and as a perpetual underclass in this country. ... It is simply not the right thing to do. It is certainly not the humanitarian thing to do. It is indeed not the Christian thing to do.”

Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
1/21/2013 2:00:35 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Les Miserables finds support, caution in Christian community

January 21 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Many Christians already have seen the blockbuster “Les Miserables” and have voiced glowing reactions, partly the hoped-for result of a marketing campaign to the faith community.

According to a report by CNN, NBC Universal sought to capitalize on the movie’s themes of grace, mercy and redemption by promoting Les Miserables to pastors, Christian radio hosts and other influential people in Christian circles.

Yet there are two ways to respond to the film from a Christian perspective. While many people laud it as an inspiring masterpiece, others believe the film’s sexual content, violence and language make it unfit for Christians.

Deciding whether to see the blockbuster “Les Miserables,” from a Christian perspective, may entail the choice between those who laud the film as a masterpiece for its themes of grace, mercy and redemption and others who believe its sexual content, violence and language make it unfit for Christian viewing.

Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs is among the supporters of Les Miserables, partnering with promoter Grace Hill Media for a special screening, according to CNN Jan. 3. Focus on the Family invited adoption agencies, child welfare officials and church leaders throughout the state to preview the film.

“We’re trying to raise awareness for the needs of kids, particularly in the foster care system, who don’t have any families,” Kelly Rosati, vice president of community outreach for Focus on the Family, told CNN. “We love to come alongside them and welcome them home, and for that reason, we loved the movie.”

Rosati added that Les Miserables “is able to engage the heart in a way straight facts and calls to action can never do.”

Les Miserables won Golden Globe awards Jan. 13 for best musical or comedy, best actor and best supporting actress. The film has been nominated for several Oscars, including best picture, best actor and best supporting actress.

Among Southern Baptists, Les Miserables also has found support. Former SBC president Bryant Wright tweeted, “Seeing Les Miserables may do more to build up adoption than any article or policy discussion. Don’t miss it!”

Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project, a new Bible study curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources, wrote a positive review of Les Miserables that appeared on Crosswalk.com.

“I am a fan of the book. I am a fan of the musical. Now, finally, I am a fan of the movie,” Wax wrote, noting the “pervasiveness of Christian imagery in the film.”

“We see the ugliness of sin: theft, hypocrisy, and immorality,” Wax wrote. “The darkness of evil makes the light of love shine all the brighter.”

Baptist Press in December carried a review of Les Miserables by Christian film critic Phil Boatwright, who called it the best film of the year.

“Les Miserables is a parable that clearly conveys the difference between the Bible’s Old Testament, where man is dependent upon the laws of God in order to find deliverance, and the New Testament’s revelation of God’s sacrifice that paid our sin debt,” Boatwright wrote. “This message is successfully and most passionately brought to this screen production.”

Though Focus on the Family helped promote Les Miserables, the pro-family organization’s movie reviewing arm, Plugged In, detailed in several paragraphs the sexual content, violence and objectionable language. Prostitutes “expose just about as much skin as is possible in a PG-13 film,” the review said, and sexual acts were depicted on screen.

“A young woman and a 12-year-old boy are shot by soldiers, and we see them bleed to death. We see stacked corpses in the street, and the gutters run red,” Plugged In said of the violence, in part. Jesus’ name is profaned a half-dozen times.

Travis Ragon (pronounced Reagan), a licensed professional counselor in the Kansas City, Mo., area and a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he is confused and grieved by Christians’ enthusiastic support of the film.

Ragon cites elements of Les Miserables that he views as directly in conflict with foundational Christian values: instances of the Lord’s name being used in vain, pervasive sexual innuendo, gratuitous depictions of sexual acts, and a scene that apparently has left some viewers feeling emotionally raped.

“Perhaps more than anything else this movie has become a review of where we as Christians have chosen to walk,” Ragon wrote in comments to Baptist Press. “It seems that we have become systematically desensitized to sin. We are [accustomed] to the effect it has on our souls.”

One song in the film is so filled with vileness, Ragon said, that Christians who give positive reviews of Les Miserables should consider standing before their churches and reading the lyrics aloud. A believer’s body, after all, is a temple of the Holy Spirit, he stated.

“As a mental health professional, I have worked with the victims of rape, incest and abuses that many do not want to know exist and most deny happens in their worlds,” Ragon wrote. “I see no entertainment value in their graphic depiction on a movie screen....

“Preachers should perhaps be asking themselves and their congregations why this has become the accepted norm. The rating system of the movie industry has supplanted the Word of God,” Ragon wrote.

Ragon has not seen Les Miserables. “I try to research any movies which I might watch, including ones in my home,” he said. “... I enjoy music and a good movie. In being a good steward, I try to be diligent in what I give my time and money to.”

He said his strong feelings about the film were stirred as he researched it online to discern whether to see it in theaters. As he read Christian reviews, Ragon got the impression he was “getting the runaround as to the full content of the movie.” As he found fuller descriptions elsewhere, he was dismayed.

“When I read the approvals of what I thought to be conservative Christian sources, I was shocked,” Ragon wrote.

By sharing his frustration with Baptist Press, Ragon said he prays that readers may “look inside themselves and see what God would have them to do” regarding movies such as Les Miserables.

Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., explained to Baptist Press why he was glad to have seen Les Miserables despite his initial reluctance.

“It’s a hundred sermons in one: grace, sin, legalism, courage, love, hope, revenge, adoption, greed, decadence, dreams and hunger for a nobler world,” Wright wrote. “How rare it is in contemporary drama, art and music that God and key moral issues are ever considered with any meaningful theological basis.

“Great literature and drama will rarely be theologically pure (which is the case with Les Mis), but they are rich when they deal with those issues in a meaningful way,” Wright added, “for they cause man to reflect and wonder and discuss the great questions of life.”

The sex and violence in the film, Wright said, are “not nearly as graphic as what can be seen on television and may even lead to a teachable moment if a child has questions.” He did advise that parents of children under 12, however, may want to preview the film to determine how comfortable they would be with their children seeing it.

“Les Mis addresses man’s longing for a better world amidst so much sin and evil,” Wright wrote. “We have the answer in the gospel and it will be fully realized in the Kingdom of God when Christ returns. The movie can be a conversation point to have some meaningful discussions that can lead to sharing the gospel.”

Boatwright, in comments to Baptist Press following his positive review, explained how he can support a film with offensive content.

“We are bombarded by a great deal of media excess, much of which does not feed the soul. So, if you’ve drawn the line and will not see a movie such as ‘Dead Man Walking,’ ‘Schindler’s List,’ ‘The Passion of the Christ’ or ‘Les Misérables’ because they contain content you feel is abusive, I congratulate you,” Boatwright wrote. “You are attempting to honor God and witness to others.

“That’s why a review should always carry the reason for the film’s rating, to help inform you. But I was enriched by the films just mentioned, despite their abrasive content,” Boatwright wrote.

As a film critic, Boatwright endures many films that assault his senses, he wrote, and few moviemakers prescribe biblical principles as a guide for daily life.

“So, when I see a film such as Les Miserables, I tend to do that whole the-cup-is-half-full-rather-than-half-empty thing,” Boatwright wrote. “Though there is some PG-13 content (which I list in my review), I didn’t find it to be exploitive, but rather used to viscerally work on our emotions.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
1/21/2013 1:30:44 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

LifeWay updates Bible Studies for Life

January 18 2013 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – More than one and a half million people will see major improvements in their Bible study materials as LifeWay Christian Resources launches an updated and enhanced version this fall of its leading Bible study series – Bible Studies for Life.

The curriculum currently is used by more than 30,000 churches.

“We listened to churches using the study,” said David Francis, LifeWay’s director of Sunday School, “and learned of three foundational ways Bible Studies for Life could be an even more effective tool in church ministry.

The new curriculum will help churches connect the unconnected, strengthen families, and disciple people with wisdom, said Francis, who also serves as managing editor of Bible Studies for Life.

“The improvements in the series are designed to help the local church meet the spiritual needs of its members and community through life application of the Bible,” he said.

Re-designing LifeWay’s most popular curriculum was a daunting task, Francis said. “Bible Studies for Life has dozens of different products and each had to be examined from a new perspective,” he said. “One of the first things we did was ask Ronnie Floyd, pastor of one of the largest churches in the country, to serve as general editor to help us design this material from a church perspective.”

Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., said the foremost benefit of the new curriculum is it will be an experience “where the Bible meets your life. Bible Studies for Life focuses on real-life issues in order to engage the unreached and unchurched in our communities.

“We want to see the small group ministries of churches, however and whenever they meet, return to a commitment to evangelize people through the ministry of their groups,” Floyd said. “So, whether a church operates a small groups ministry primarily on Sunday mornings at church, on weekdays away from the campus, or a hybrid of the two, there will be options that meet the needs of their groups.”

The study will be available in multiple formats, both print and digital. Each quarterly edition of the materials will include two six-week studies, plus a special focus session. Francis said each session will be built around one main point, which will be printed repeatedly throughout the study session. “Participants should leave their group with a clear understanding of the key point,” he said.

Floyd said parents “will also find support materials to help them have conversations with their kids about their group Bible study experience, primarily an exciting new tool called One Conversation. We want to help parents reinforce what their children are learning in their Bible study group and support them in their role as the primary disciple-makers of their children.”

Twice a year churches can choose to address the same subject matter over a six-week period from the pulpit and in the small group ministry. A campaign kit will be available to assist pastors in this process.

New elements designed for Bible Studies for Life: Kids (formerly Bible Teaching for Kids) include weekly videos, new teaching pictures, activity pages and a family app.

To help develop the new study plan, Floyd and Francis enlisted an advisory team of scholars and church leaders from across the nation known for applying the Bible to life. The council, which met for two intense days of work last fall, also identified some of the most pressing real-life issues people face day to day. Members continued to review proposed drafts of plans, titles, sample lessons and resources throughout the winter.

The Bible Studies for Life advisory council included Freddy Cardoza, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, Calif.; Jordan Easley, Long Hollow Church, Hendersonville, Tenn.; Grant Ethridge, Liberty Baptist Church, Hampton, Va.; Bruce Frank, Biltmore Baptist Church, Arden, N.C.; Chip Henderson, Pinelake Church, Brandon, Miss.; Alex Himaya, The Church at Battle Creek, Broken Arrow, Okla.; Mark Howell, Canyon Ridge Christian Church, Las Vegas; Rhonda Kelley, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Will Mancini, Auxano, Houston; Kelly Minter, Village Chapel, Nashville; Eddie Mosley, LifePoint Church, Smyrna, Tenn.; Kerry Shook, Woodlands Church, The Woodlands, Texas; Reid Smith, Christ Fellowship Church, Palm Beach, Fla.; Heath Thomas, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.; K. Marshall Williams, Nazarene Baptist Church, Philadelphia; Pete Wilson, Cross Point Church, Nashville; and Jeff Young, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas.

“We pray individuals and families will experience life change as they interact with the biblical material in their groups each week,” Floyd said. “We are optimistic that as Christ followers are discipled through the teaching of God’s Word their lives will be transformed and in turn entire communities will be impacted by the gospel.”

The new Bible Studies for Life materials are slated for preorder in May for the fall quarter. Sample lessons and resources are available for preview at LifeWay.com/FallPreview.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
1/18/2013 1:33:21 PM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

M. Giles Fort, pioneering missionary doctor, dies

January 18 2013 by Kim P. Davis, Baptist Press

BATON ROUGE, La. – Retired International Mission Board (IMB) missionary Milton Giles Fort Jr., 89, who served at the forefront of Southern Baptist medical missions efforts as a doctor in Zimbabwe for nearly 36 years, died Jan. 14 in Baton Rouge, La.

Fort and his wife Wana Ann were the first doctors at the remote Sanyati Baptist Hospital in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after their appointment as Southern Baptist missionaries in 1952. Fort oversaw the construction of the hospital while they treated and shared the gospel with thousands of patients.

Missionary doctor Giles Fort performed surgeries on thousands of patients at the Sanyati Baptist Hospital in Zimbabwe. His wife Wana Ann, also a physician, often assisted him as well as African nurses.

The Fort Worth, Texas, native’s medical experience included various specialties: family practice, general surgery, ophthalmology and anesthesiology.

When asked during his missionary appointment why he would give up a lucrative medical career in the United States, Fort replied, “Sir, Jesus said, ‘Life does not consist of the abundance of things’ and ‘If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.’ What He said is true!”

In Africa, Fort came to be greatly loved by the people he served. Africans gave him the name “Doctor Builder,” since he supervised the continued growth of the hospital. It became a place for people to hear about Jesus and have a modern alternative to witch doctors’ medicines.

“This hospital has been built to tell the story,” Fort said at a dedication ceremony of new hospital buildings in 1970. “Through its healing ministry, we are here to tell the story of the love of God for all mankind – for every little baby, every boy and girl, every man and woman who may come here.”

During Fort’s time there, a severely burned 5-month-old was brought to the hospital after rolling into a fire. When Fort saw the severity of the burns, he knew the child could not survive. He explained to the grief-stricken parents that their baby was dying, but would be with Jesus. He said that they could too if they trusted in Christ, and he told the couple the story of Jesus. It was the first time they had heard it. Both quietly said they wanted to follow Jesus.

Years later, after surviving a small plane crash while flying to remote clinics, Fort said about missionary service: “The cost of doing the Lord’s work is great, but the rewards are rich and bountiful. Blessed are they who seek to obey the Lord to carry – and send – His work to those who do not know.”

Bud Fray, a retired Southern Baptist missionary and close friend and colleague of Fort, said, “Giles was a man of prayer, a peacemaker, disciple-maker and church planter who also medically healed bodies. No one’s need was beyond his care. We raised our families together, and he was like a brother to me. Giles was a source of insight, patience and hope. He is a friend I will never forget.”

The Forts retired from missionary service in 1988, not long after he was diagnosed with axial dystonia, a muscle condition from which he suffered for many years.

Fort received the bachelor of science degree from Texas A&M University in College Station and the doctor of medicine degree from Baylor University’s College of Medicine in Houston, where he was presented the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1990. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The Forts have ties to several churches in Texas and Louisiana, including Parkview Baptist Church in Baton Rouge; First Baptist Church, Dallas; Second Baptist Church, Houston; and Broadmoor Baptist Church, Shreveport, La.

He is survived by his wife; five sons, Giles Fort III of Baton Rouge; David Fort, missionary physician in West Africa; Gordon Fort, IMB senior vice president for prayer mobilization and training in Richmond, Va.; Gregg Fort, missionary physician in Zimbabwe; and Grady Fort of Baton Rouge; 14 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

More than 200 cumulative years of missionary service are represented in the Fort family.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions via a Southern Baptist church or online.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kim P. Davis is a writer who served as a missionary in Zimbabwe with members of the Fort family.)
1/18/2013 1:24:18 PM by Kim P. Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Michael Lewis to lead NAMB outreach to pastors

January 18 2013 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Florida pastor Michael Lewis is joining the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) staff to lead efforts to build closer relationships between the entity and pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Lewis, pastor of Plant City’s First Baptist Church in Plant City, Fla., will begin working as NAMB’s executive director for church revitalization and pastoral relations in February.

Michael Lewis

“If Southern Baptists are mobilized to the North American mission field, it will be because pastors are leading the way,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said. “That is why it is so important for us to have an ongoing, focused effort to serve pastors and to help them put their churches on the front lines of this mission. Michael has a heart for seeing people led to Christ and a heart for pastors. I’m excited about his leadership in this area.”

Lewis will be helping churches mobilize for church planting and church revitalization. In addition, he will look for ways to strengthen pastors, their marriages and their ministries throughout the SBC.

“I share the same heart and vision that Dr. Ezell has – that healthy pastors lead to healthy churches,” Lewis said. “We want to reach out and encourage pastors in their relationship with the Lord, then their relationships with their marriage and their family. This will lead to healthy relationships with church leadership and healthy relationships throughout the church – and reaching lost people for Christ.”

Lewis, a southeast Georgia native, is a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a master of divinity degree. Before coming to First Baptist Church in Plant City, Fla., Lewis led churches of various sizes in South Carolina, Georgia and Texas.

Lewis and his wife Liliana have been married for 21 years and have four daughters.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a writer with the North American Mission Board.)
1/18/2013 1:18:01 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Survey: Many pastors lack estate planning

January 17 2013 by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – While the majority of pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have a will, nearly 40 percent possess no type of estate planning document at all.

A recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research on behalf of the Southern Baptist Foundation found 37 percent of SBC pastors do not have a trust, will, living will, electronic will, legacy story or durable power of attorney with health care directives.

“Pastors know they can’t take it with them when they die, but estate planning is really about good stewardship for your family,” said Warren Peek, president of the Southern Baptist Foundation. “Basic planning saves a lot of headaches and ensures that assets are not lost.”

According to the survey, pastors age 18-44 are the least likely to have durable power of attorney with health care directives (12 percent), a will (32 percent), or a living will (13 percent).

Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said the survey reveals an apparent lack of education and awareness about estate planning and accompanying laws, which may contribute to pastors not having a plan in place.

Nearly two-thirds of pastors surveyed agree with a statement that the court decides who will care for a child if the last parent dies without a will. Twenty percent disagree and 15 percent “don’t know.”

Regarding assets, the survey reveals a slight majority of pastors (52 percent) agree that if someone dies without a will, their family decides what is done with the assets of the deceased. Thirty-seven percent disagree and 11 percent “don’t know.”

“The fact is, in both cases – with property and children – the court decides what happens to them if there is no will in place,” McConnell said. “But more than half of pastors misunderstand what happens to their assets by agreeing to this incorrect statement and 1 in 5 misunderstand what happens to children when parents die without a will.”

McConnell said it should still be a point of concern that so many SBC pastors do not seem to have a plan for their families and property after their death, especially since “the segment that should be most likely to be thinking about this issue – those with young families – seem to be the least prepared,” he added.

Seventy-one percent of respondents have a child at least 18 years old and 35 percent are a parent of a child under age 18. Twelve percent have children below 18 and children 18 or older. Among pastors with a child under age 18, 58 percent do not have a will and 96 percent do not have a trust.

The Southern Baptist Foundation was established in 1947 and serves as a subsidiary of the SBC Executive Committee to provide investment and estate planning services for SBC entities, institutions and individuals.

“The Southern Baptist Foundation and the state foundations have tools to assist pastors in making their estate plans,” said Peek. “It could be the easiest New Year’s resolution to keep this year.”

The questions were asked as part of a mail survey of SBC pastors conducted April 1-May 11, 2012, that included the option of completing it online. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all SBC churches. The 1,066 completed surveys were weighted to match the actual geographic distribution and worship attendance of SBC churches. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.0 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russ Rankin is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/17/2013 3:45:11 PM by Russ Rankin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

20,000 Russians protest ban on U.S. adoptions

January 17 2013 by Baptist Press

MOSCOW – Upwards of 20,000 Russians marched through Moscow Jan. 13 to protest the country’s new ban on adoption by Americans, as confusion continued to swirl over the law’s immediate impact.

The Kremlin reportedly announced Jan. 10 that the law won’t take effect for one year due to a 2011 bilateral adoption agreement between the U.S. and Russia, The Washington Post reported. That agreement says adoptions can continue for one year even after one party withdraws from it. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the ban on American adoptions in December.

But for couples who are trying to finish adoptions that already are under way, any one-year delay is not yet evident. The New York Times reported the story of Rebecca and Brian Preece, a couple from Idaho who were in Moscow Monday (Jan. 14) trying to bring home their new 4-year-old son, who has Down syndrome. A judge had approved their adoption Nov. 29 but another judge on Tuesday (Jan. 14) said she could not sign a final decree “without further guidance from Russia’s Supreme Court.” And even if she signed it, she said, “there was no guarantee that other officials would issue the boy a passport,” The Times reported. And even if he got a passport, “immigration agents might block his departure at the airport.”

Alla V. Prozorova, an adoption expert knowledgeable about Russian adoptions, said the ban harms children because Americans are unique in their willingness to adopt children with disabilities.

“People who are involved in this problem – I mean even higher-level authorities – they know only Americans really volunteer to adopt special needs children,” she told The Times. “No Italian, no French, no Germans.”

Estimates vary over the number of children in Russia who are orphaned but most put it at more than 100,000. Putin signed the law as a retaliatory response to U.S. sanctions against Russia for human rights abuses.

One Russian orphan, 14-year-old Maxim Kargapoltsev, went public in his desire to have his adoption to a U.S. family finalized.

“I am very sorry,” he wrote on social media, according to The Washington Post, “that the law will not let me have a very good family in the future, the family that I have known and loved and whom I have become attached to. I like my motherland, but I would like to have a family in the U.S.”

The 20,000 or so Russians who marched against the ban shouted “shame on the scum” and carried posters of Putin and members of Russian’s parliament, according to the Associated Press (AP). It was a “far bigger number” of protesters than expected, AP said.

Unlike America, Russia does not have a strong adoption movement, and children often remain in orphanages until they are adults.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
1/17/2013 3:36:24 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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