January 2014

Survey helps determine fair pay for pastors, staff

January 29 2014 by Shelly Moon, GuideStone Financial Resources

Ministers and church employees are invited to participate in the 2014 SBC Church Compensation Survey: a tool used by churches of all sizes to determine fair wages and benefits. Participants will be entered for a chance to win an iPad. The survey and complete contest rules are available at www.GuideStone.org/CompensationSurvey.
“GuideStone continues to be an advocate for pastors and church staff, ensuring that they are compensated fairly,” said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources. “That’s why we partner with LifeWay Christian Resources and Baptist state conventions to produce this bi-annual study.”
Survey results are not reported individually. Compensation and benefit information can be contributed anonymously. Each Southern Baptist church employee who participates in the survey plays a vital role in building one of the largest databases of church compensation information in the United States. Survey results provide a baseline of compensation data among similar-sized churches within each state convention. Therefore, a higher number of participants leads to a more accurate baseline of compensation data. “We receive numerous requests to answer compensation surveys throughout the year,” said Al Fausch, director of business and financial administration at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. “We don’t participate in them all, but we always try to complete GuideStone’s survey.”
Churches often don’t contribute to salary surveys because they don’t have time or receive enough valuable information in return. But according to Fausch, GuideStone’s survey is worth the time because it provides customized reports to allow administrators, personnel/finance committees and minister search teams to better determine adequate compensation for ministers and staff. That can be essential information for thousands of churches, which makes the survey worth the few minutes it takes to complete. Like many other church leaders, Fausch has accessed previous survey results when hiring new staff to ensure that employees are being compensated at competitive levels. “The results are easy to navigate,” Fausch said. “I encourage everyone to participate. We are helping each other as well as ourselves by establishing accurate benchmarks.”
Southern Baptist church ministers and staff have until May 31 to complete the online survey. Survey results will be released this summer. Survey participants will receive advance notification of the results and can begin to access the data upon notice.
The winner of the iPad will be notified via email.
Contact GuideStone Financial Resources with any questions or issues. Call toll free (888) 98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433) Monday–Friday between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CST to speak with a customer relations specialist, or send an email to info@GuideStone.org.
1/29/2014 1:05:33 PM by Shelly Moon, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments

N.C. judge: ultrasounds not required

January 29 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

On Jan. 19, churches and pro-life organizations celebrated Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Also, the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade was remembered Jan. 22 by thousands of pro-life supporters rallying during the annual March for Life on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
These “life” events come on the heels of a state injunction that will affect pregnancy centers and pro-life nonprofits in the state of North Carolina.
Friday, Jan. 17, Catherine Eagles, U.S. District Court Judge, found that the ultrasound requirement of the 2011 law – “Woman’s Right to Know Act” (WRTK) – violates First Amendment rights. WRTK requires abortion providers to display and describe ultrasound images to all women seeking abortion in the state.
Eagles issued a permanent injunction against WRTK that was first approved by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011 over the veto of Governor Beverly Perdue. The WRTK bill overwhelmingly passed the General Assembly with the N.C. House vote, 72-47, and the Senate vote, 29-19.
“This ruling by Judge Eagles is egregious on several levels,” said Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. “The fact that she would turn the First Amendment on its head in this fashion is beyond the pale. The ruling actually stifles free speech.
“To rule against the ultrasound requirement – that only by a woman’s consent the doctor avail her of an opportunity to see and learn about her fetus – is a suppression of free speech. This is a suppression of a woman’s right to know all the information that helps her make an intelligent decision about the procedure.”
Eagles’ decision does not strike down the full WRTK law. Her injunction targets the “speak-and-display” provision. This provision requires an abortion provider to conduct an ultrasound at least four hours – and no more than 72 hours – before an abortion.
Also, the law requires the provider to display the ultrasound images to the woman and to describe the image in detail, including the size and age of the unborn child.
WRTK was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“The Act requires providers to deliver the state’s message to women who take steps not to hear it and to women who will be harmed by receiving it with no legitimate purpose,” wrote Eagles in her 42-page opinion and order issued January 17.
Eagles said, “Thus, it is overbroad, and it does not directly advance the state’s interests in reducing psychological harm to women or in increasing informed and voluntary consent.”
Republicans and social conservatives who supported WRTK said the law is designed to give women adequate and balanced information about the methods of abortion and who provides it.
Creech said, “The irony of the court’s decision is that it cites free speech. But who speaks for the unborn child? It cannot speak.
“Without the ultrasound provision, it has no voice.”
There is no word yet if the state will appeal the Eagles’ decision.
1/29/2014 12:54:48 PM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Southeastern installs Criswell chair of preaching

January 29 2014 by SEBTS Communications and BR staff

The W.A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching was installed at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) spring convocation Jan. 21.
The convocation featured a video recording of Criswell’s sermon “Whether We Live or Die?”
He delivered the message at the pastors’ conference June 10, 1985, at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Dallas, Texas.
The chair is underwritten by Jack Pogue, a close friend of Criswell. Pogue was led to Christ by Criswell. Daniel Akin, president of SEBTS, said, “They had a father-son relationship, and Jack has done a tremendous job in honoring and perpetuating the legacy of Criswell.”

SEBTS photo
Jim Shaddix shares a few words during a Jan. 20 chapel service at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. Shaddix was installed in the W.A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching.

Pogue has overseen the construction and maintenance of the Criswell Sermon Library, a goldmine of the famed preacher’s expository sermons. He plans to endow chairs of preaching in Criswell’s name at four SBC seminaries.
“Jack is a dear friend and a wonderful brother,” Akin said. “I thank God for how he has been used in our Lord’s work.”  
Jim Shaddix, professor of preaching and a teaching pastor at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., was installed in the new chair. This is the sixth SEBTS chair installed in the past 10 years.
“This is the greatest honor, encouragement and affirmation in my life in ministry,” Shaddix said.
“I was there in 1985 as a seminary student when Dr. Criswell gave this address. It opened my eyes to become aware of what was going on and the need to stand on God’s Word and preach it faithfully with integrity.”
Criswell lived from 1909 to 2002 and was the former president of the SBC and patriarch of the Conservative Resurgence. He is also the founder and a past chancellor of Criswell College in Dallas.
He served for 50 years as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, preaching more than 5,000 sermons from its pulpit.
Criswell published 54 books and was awarded eight honorary doctorates in addition to his earned doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
He was considered the point person for the Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence.
“If not for men like Dr. Criswell, you would not be here today,” Akin said.
Criswell’s address outlined the “pattern of death for a denomination, the pattern of death for an institution, the pattern of death for a preacher and a professor,” and highlighted “the promise of renaissance, resurrection and revival” in Christ.
Criswell quoted the 19th century British Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, on the importance of acknowledging the infallible Word of God and to stand against theological liberalism, “Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide side by side. 
“We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word and yet reject it.”  
Criswell also encouraged the audience to “never turn aside from His great high calling to preach the whole counsel of God, warn men of their sins and the judgment of God upon them, baptize their converts in the name of the triune Lord, and build up the congregation in the love and wisdom of Christ Jesus.” He added, “Just keep on winning souls to Jesus!”
“The way of God is always onward, forward and upward,” Criswell said. “The Lord never recedes. … Our greatest days are yet to come.”
The legacy of Criswell lives on as those at the convocation witnessed the election of Chuck Quarles as professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology. Quarles signed two formative documents at Southeastern: the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the Abstract of Principles, which affirm the institution’s position on inerrancy.
1/29/2014 12:45:51 PM by SEBTS Communications and BR staff | with 0 comments

Winter Olympics outreach ready

January 28 2014 by William Bagsby, Baptist Press

Will Baptists have a witness at the Winter Olympics in Russia? Will it be safe from terrorists? Will other issues arise?
Marc Ira Hooks, one of International Mission Board’s (IMB) main strategists for the Sochi Olympics who was involved in outreach at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, spoke to such questions in an interview about this winter’s Feb. 7-23 games.
Hooks is the creator/co-director of Engage Sochi, the IMB’s initiative focusing both on church planting in the Winter Olympics host city and on outreach to Olympic competitors and guests from throughout the world. Earl Gillespie* is the other co-director of the project for the Feb. 7-23 Olympics in addition to serving as the Sochi city strategist.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Engage Sochi?

A: For whatever reason, maybe it was the time difference, it was late at night, we [Marc and his wife Kellye] were sitting on the bed, and I just remember the guy pulling out the envelope and saying, “The next Olympics will be in Sochi, Russia.” I remember looking at Kellye and saying, I don’t know how, why or whatever, but we’re going to be involved in that.”


BP photo
Marc and Kellye Hooks have spent more than two years planning and visiting Sochi to prepare for the Winter Olympics.

Q: What did you learn from the Vancouver Olympics that applies to Sochi?

As we came away from Vancouver, we started saying, we as the IMB, our concentration, our focus is on church planting. And while mass seed sowing is good and should be done, there’s more to reaching people with the gospel than just giving them the gospel and walking away. So, we wanted to create something that as people came into contact with the gospel, that they were touched for a long period of time.

Q: What is Engage Sochi?

We want something that is a multi-tiered approach and … not just [during] the fortnight of Olympic competition in Sochi. We’re talking about reaching the people of Sochi before, during and after the games.

Q: What are the plans for following up with people who respond to the gospel?

We want everybody that we come in to contact with to have the opportunity to continue the conversations that were started in Sochi. So, regardless of where that person is from, we want to connect them with a believer in their area who can make a relationship with that person and continue to speak with them about issues of faith.

Q: What has gone on in Sochi in preparation for those coming? 

For two years, we’ve had people coming and working with our church planters in Sochi, in winter and in summer. In the winter they are doing ministry in the mountains at the ski resorts and that kind of thing, and in the summer they’re doing beach reach ministry and ministry in the city. So as our friends come in these next couple of weeks, it’s just another phase of building Christ’s church in Sochi.

Q: What sort of training has been given?

A: This is a relational ministry, and our folks will be coming and making relationships. Interestingly enough, the majority of our groups that are coming are performing arts kinds of groups. So we have a large men’s choir, we have a bluegrass band and a Dixieland band. We have a drama group coming and a church choir coming, and some people doing clowning. Basically, they’re going to be walking through areas, come together, perform, talk to people and disperse again. So a lot of it will have that flash mob kind of feel. They’re not doing scheduled performances on stages, they’re there to meet people and their performing arts are a way to be able to do that.

Q: Are you frightened of the security issues?

I would not use the word frightened, I would say I am concerned. It’s a healthy concern, however, I am confident in the Russian government’s ability to do what they say, and the Russian government has pledged that this will not only be the biggest Olympics in history, which I think it will be, but it’s going to be the safest Olympics in history. And so, while there have been threats made and have been other threats that have been carried out, I really and truly believe that from January through March, Sochi, Russia, is probably going to be one of the safest cities on the planet.

Q: How potentially disruptive will Russia’s position on homosexuality be?

There will be people who try to make this an issue. There will be people going to the games for that [reason], but the last reports that we’ve heard, demonstrations will be allowed; demonstrations over different issues, this being one of them, will be allowed in the city, but they will only be allowed in certain designated areas and people who are coming to demonstrate must have permits to do so, and that kind of thing. So, it’s not going to disappear and it’ll be an issue that’s there and the media will cover it. But will it be a disruptive factor in the city? No, I don’t think so.

Q: What city in the U.S. is Sochi most like?

It would have to be some place in California. Sochi’s considered the longest city in Europe. It’s about 90 miles long and it wraps along the coast of the Black Sea. But in places, it’s only a mile wide. And the other thing, you can literally stand on the beach with the Black Sea to your back and see snow-covered mountains right there.

Q: What would you want as your hope-and-pray-for result for Engage Sochi?

It would be that multitudes of churches are planted around the globe as a result of this and that the people who come to the Sochi Olympics will be connected with a church planter, regardless of where they’re from. So, that’s the home run for us, that new churches would be planted in Sochi and beyond.

Q: How can we include the Sochi Olympics in our daily prayers?

We want to pray for all of our friends who will be in Sochi during the games and we want to pray that they are able to do the things that they are there to do. That they have more than just a pleasurable Olympic experience, that they are able to share the gospel and to reach people and connect them to a church planting network. That’s number one.
Number two, you can monitor the @Engage_Sochi Twitter account, and through this we will be doing updates and news for daily prayer requests. And pray for our Engage Sochi staff who are responsible for the mechanics of this whole project, making sure people are where they need to be when they need to be there and are safe in doing so. And for open hearts and receptivity, that God would draw to us the people that we’re supposed to talk to.
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – William Bagsby is an IMB writer based in London. More prayer resources are available at engagesochi.org/pray. For more information on Southern Baptists’ efforts concerning the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, visit commissionstories.com/sochi-winter-olympics. The site will be updated with stories, photos, videos, prayer requests and more during the Feb. 7-23 Games.)

Be on the winning team

Did you know that the design for the Engage Sochi Olympic pin has a meaning? Learn what each color means and be on the winning team. It is great to cheer when your country wins a gold medal. You can shout, “We won, we won” and feel part of the team!  Followers of Jesus Christ are on the winning team. Jesus’ victory over sin and death has become their victory. To become part of the winning team Jesus’ victory must become your victory.

GOLD: God loves you and desires a relationship with you forever. Jesus’ victory can be yours!
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
BLACK: sin separates us from God’s love and eternal life with Him.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:23
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23
RED: Jesus Christ shed His blood for our sin.
Jesus went to the cross willingly to pay the price and penalty for sin.
But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved. – Acts 4:12 
WHITE: When we confess our sin to God, He makes us whiter than snow.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
“Come, let us discuss this,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” – Isaiah 1:18
BLUE: Then we become a follower of Jesus Christ and God’s Holy Spirit lives in us.
He is our guide and comforter. We are to walk in the Spirit.
When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. – John 16:13
Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. – Galatians 5:16
GREEN: As we follow Jesus Christ daily we grow in Him.
We grow physically by eating and exercising; we grow spiritually by reading and memorizing God’s Word, praying and telling others about Christ.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. – 2 Peter 3:18

Do you want to become a follower of Jesus Christ? No matter where you are right now, say these words to God. “Almighty God, I confess that I am a sinner.

“I believe that Jesus died for my sin, that He rose from the dead, and is alive today. Forgive my sin. Give me the victory and the ability to live and walk on the winning team until that time that I am with You forever in heaven. Amen!”

If you have just become a follower of Jesus Christ, please let Engage Sochi know. Visit engagesochi.org.
1/28/2014 12:43:10 PM by William Bagsby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

God carries Mann through cancer, Graffiti 2 expands ministry

January 28 2014 by Sara Shelton, North American Mission Board

High school student Shamar Smith has been attending Graffiti 2 Community Ministries’ after-school program for years. Raised in the South Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven, Shamar is no stranger to the lifestyle and perils that mark the lives of many in the neighborhood; his own brother is already serving out a sentence on Rikers Island, New York’s primary jail complex. Had he not found his safe haven at Graffiti 2, Shamar knows his path might have looked the same.
“Without Graffiti 2, without Andrew. …  I don’t know where I might have ended up,” Shamar said.
Many of the children and families Andrew Mann, pastor and director of Graffiti 2 Community Ministries, works with every day have similar stories. Since Mann opened the church and community center doors in 2005, he has seen tremendous growth and influence in Mott Haven.

NAMB photo by Susan Whitley
Andrew Mann stands in front of some of the “trademark” graffiti from which Graffiti 2 derives its name. Mann, a North American Mission Board missionary, is one of the missionaries featured during the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® promotion.

When Mann planted the church he was the sole staff member. Now it has grown into a beloved part of the community, and includes six full-time staff members (seven counting Proof, Mann’s beloved therapy dog). The staff all relocated to the area from other parts of the U.S. after serving short-term alongside Mann.
Together they host daily after-school programs and tutoring for more than 60 children and teenagers, a weekly fellowship meal and Bible study every Thursday, monthly life skill classes, mentoring programs for teenagers, special outreach events and camps and weekly Sunday services, all designed to reach the families of Mott Haven for Christ.
“We’re a family program,” Mann said. “We work hard to empower the families we serve as a whole. That’s really God’s mission for our ministry.”
Mann’s sense of God’s mission is what has kept him living in Mott Haven for nearly a decade. The area is home to some 90,000 people; 30,000 are under the age of 18 and subject to a number of risk factors for future struggles including poor education, gang violence and instability in the home.
Despite these hurdles, Mann says there is a real strength to the neighborhood.
“There is a strong sense of the value of neighborhood here and a deep rooted community. We may face difficult circumstances in Mott Haven, but God is always working.”
Mann is one of six missionaries featured this year by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as part of its 2014 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® promotion.
New York City, where Mann serves, is one of 32 Send North America cities NAMB is bringing special emphasis and resources to in its effort to help Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches in 10 years. Half of NAMB’s financial support comes from the Annie offering.
There is a partnership with Metropolitan New York Baptist Association and North Carolina Baptists through the Office of Great Commission Partnerships of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Move to Manhattan

Mann moved to Mott Haven from suburban Missouri after serving alongside missionary Taylor Field and his team at Graffiti in Manhattan. He connected with the church while attending New York University to pursue a degree in music.
However, Mann soon made the decision to transfer to Wheaton College in Illinois, subsequently taking him out of the city and away from the ministry of Graffiti. Even still, Mann says God was preparing his heart for his return to the city one day.
“Every step was preparing me for my eventual move to Mott Haven,” Mann said.
“When I transferred to Wheaton I started serving in Humboldt Park, a tough part of the Chicago area. God was slowly growing in me a heart for neighborhoods like this – neighborhoods like Mott Haven.”
Mann continued to spend time alongside Field and his team at Graffiti, serving two summers with there before Field asked the recently graduated Mann to consider leading the launch of a second campus for Graffiti in the Bronx.
“I spent some time prayerwalking through Mott Haven after Taylor asked me about launching Graffiti 2. Walking those streets, I really felt a sense of calling to the people there. In that moment I believe God gave me a promise – if I would be obedient to His call to Mott Haven, He would take care of my needs.”
And since the launch of Graffiti 2, God has been faithful to that promise. The workload for Mann and his team is heavy, each one taking on a number of responsibilities to keep the church growing and thriving.
Mann does everything from leading worship band practice and Bible studies to preaching Sunday services and mentoring and tutoring students after school each day.
The relationships Mann and his team have built in the community have helped the ministry at Graffiti 2 to flourish. Their dedication to the community didn’t miss a beat last year when Mann was diagnosed with cancer.
The ministry soldiered on as Mann endured two major surgeries and months of chemotherapy, taking him in and out of work repeatedly over the course of the year.

Now cancer free and back to work full time, Mann says the experience reminded him of God’s faithfulness to not just him but to the people of Mott Haven as well.
“I’m still trying to process all that God showed me during that year, but I know one thing: God is faithful,” Mann said.
“He called me to Mott Haven, but with or without me, God will continue working to see this community changed in His name because He loves these people even more than I do.”
The support of Southern Baptists and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering has also given Mann a great sense of encouragement throughout his ministry but in particular through the last year.
“I appreciate so much the prayers of our network of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said.
“The generosity and support they’ve shown our ministry has empowered us to press on in the work God has called us to do in Mott Haven.”
For more on Andrew Mann and his ministry at Graffiti 2 Community Ministries, visit graffiti2ministries.org. To view a video on Andrew Mann’s ministry or get resources for the offering, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sara Shelton writes for the North American Mission Board.)

‘Firmly Planted’

The North American Mission Board’s emphasis – “Firmly Planted” based on Matthew 13 – is a time to nurture in Southern Baptists an awareness of and sensitivity to the need to penetrate lostness among all people in North America. It is also a time to encourage Christians to be intentionally active in sharing the gospel with their families, friends, and communities. During the emphasis, churches and individuals also increase awareness of and participation in giving to North American missions efforts through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®, 100 percent of which goes directly to the mission field.

National Annie Armstrong Easter Offering Goal: $70,000,000
Suggested Dates for 2014 Week of Prayer for North American Missions: March 2-9, 2014
2014 Week of Prayer Missionaries

This year, all the featured missionaries for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® are church church planting missionaries. The Week of Prayer is suggested for March 2-9 but churches can do the emphasis at any time. This year’s goal is $70 million and its theme is “Firmly Planted,” based on Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23.
  • Scott and Karen Blanchard in Michigan
  • Ara and Anet Torasian in California
  • Patrick and Archalena Coats in Florida
  • Andrew Mann in New York
  • Lucas Aube in Vermont
  • Jose and Mayra Nater in Maryland
1/28/2014 12:06:27 PM by Sara Shelton, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments

After Philippines typhoon, Baptists plan long-term aid

January 28 2014 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

CEBU CITY, Philippines – While some disaster-response organizations are pulling out of Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts in the Philippines, Southern Baptists remain on the ground, helping neglected communities rebuild homes, schools and livelihoods.
Disaster response organizations in five Southern Baptist state conventions have each adopted an area of the Philippines, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response. Seven teams of volunteers already have served, and as many as 10 more could be scheduled in the next month.
“This is a long-term response, and the need is massive. We are initiating large-scale work with communities, local believers and volunteers and will be constantly assessing and gauging the effectiveness of our choices,” Palmer said. “Please continue to pray for families in need in the Philippines. Pray for our team members and volunteers as they help in the face of overwhelming needs. Pray that we choose the most strategic and effective places to work that truly help people physically and spiritually.”

BGR photo
Mike Phillips of Bellville, Texas, works alongside residents on Panay Island in the Philippines as they repair a school badly damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Disaster response volunteers from five Baptist state conventions have each adopted an area of the Philippines for recovery work. Seven teams of volunteers already have served, and as many as 10 more could be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Southern Baptists have donated about $1.3 million for the relief effort through the International Mission Board and BGR. The main priorities in the work are repair and construction of houses and schools, along with water systems.
IMB has arranged for a volunteer coordinator to be assigned to the recovery. When that person begins work in mid- to late-February, the number of volunteers from the United States involved in the effort can be greatly expanded, Palmer said.
The task ahead is enormous, said a BGR partner who recently flew into Tacloban, a city of 220,000 that took the brunt of Haiyan’s 195-mph winds on Nov. 7.
“BGR is gearing up for long-term development work as the short-term relief organizations pull out,” said the partner, who could not be named for security reasons. “There is much work to do as we survey areas farther from town that have been neglected but desperately need help as they try to rebuild their lives.”
More than two months after the storm, BGR partners reported Tacloban is returning to life, but there are still many visible signs of damage. They spotted ocean-going ships grounded on shore and thick electrical posts snapped by the wind and storm surge. “One restaurant owner told us the typhoon and flooding was bad, but even worse was the damage done by looters right after the storm,” the partner said. The airport still does not have a control tower.
“As our plane approached Tacloban, it was raining and windy,” the partner said. “Without a control tower, the pilot had some unique challenges, especially when he discovered there was a stalled vehicle on the runway! We circled for a second try at landing and made it.”
A base of operations for the recovery effort has been established in Cebu City, Palmer said, from which five areas of work are being coordinated. Missouri Baptist Convention volunteers are working on Gibitngil Island; the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is focused on Panay Island; California Southern Baptist Convention teams will work in Ormoc; Tennessee Baptists are preparing to work on northern Cebu Island; and Kansas-Nebraska Southern Baptists are planning to set up an operations base in Tacloban.
In the fishing community of Agojo on northern Panay Island, a full 75 percent of the homes were damaged or destroyed in the storm, said Ben Wolf, who with his wife Pam directs BGR work in Asia Rim.
“Approximately 40 families have been identified as needing assistance and are currently being evaluated for priority,” Wolf said. “Some temporary shelters need to be erected immediately, and a priority classroom area has been identified for repair at the local elementary school, which was badly damaged in the storm. Sanitation is lacking, so building community latrines also may be possible.”
The BGR relief effort in Agojo, as in other areas, will help families by providing short-term work, as well as repairing homes and schools, Wolf added. “The community has a labor force needing work, and capable, skilled men will be contracted to work alongside  U.S. disaster response team and local volunteer labor when available.”
To help with home reconstruction, BGR has designed a housing kit that will put up a small, wood-framed shelter on stilts for about $250, Palmer said. In some locations, construction will be done with local bamboo or local lumber.
On Gibitngil Island, bags of cement have been shipped from Cebu, and concrete blocks are being manufactured on site to replace a school building that was completely destroyed. A three-room school building has been re-roofed, and the school’s water retention system has been restored and expanded. Volunteers from California and Louisiana have helped with that effort. The California volunteers repaired a downed flagpole, and the entire community celebrated with a flag-raising ceremony.
Palmer voiced gratitude “to all those who have helped in this response, both those who have worked so hard in the Philippines and those who continue to give generously to make this effort possible.” He also lauded “the teamwork of those involved and the patience of those wanting to get involved.”
“While no response is perfect, we are in a good place to maximize our impact in the Philippines,” Palmer said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response. To become involved in post-typhoon recovery in the Philippines, go to “Funding Human Needs” to connect to IMB’s General Relief Fund.)
1/28/2014 11:59:45 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Operation Inasmuch hosting training for two-day blitz

January 28 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

As a national nonprofit, Operation Inasmuch employs proven models to motivate, train and equip churches to move more congregants out of the sanctuary seats and into the streets to serve their communities.
Operation Inasmuch began in 1995 when more than half of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church’s congregation in Fayetteville, N.C. went out to serve the neediest in their community.
David Crocker, executive director of Operation Inasmuch, Inc., said, “In 2008, when North Carolina Baptist Men first promoted a statewide Inasmuch, more than 240 people were saved as a direct result of North Carolina Baptists serving them at the point of their need.”
In 2014, North Carolina Baptists across the state are encouraged to use Inasmuch projects as a way of reaching people for Christ. Events such as Inasmuch Day or Inasmuch United will be hosted on Apr. 26 and May 3.
Rampin’ Up” is the state’s 2014 theme for the missions blitz event. 
Crocker said, “North Carolina Baptist Men are again helping churches learn how to conduct Inasmuch events through a series of regional training sessions. These training sessions will help churches capitalize on the opportunities to share the gospel with their neighbors naturally created by serving them.”
Training will be provided in January and February to help churches with organizing an Inasmuch day. In addition, Rampin’ Up training will be offered following each of the OIAM-NC training events.
Training sessions are available at no cost and reservations can be made on Baptists on Mission’s website (see their website below).
Operation Inasmuch of North Carolina (OIAMNC) hopes to have projects in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties. On these two days, hundreds of churches and thousands of volunteers will share the love of Jesus with those who have never heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Each North Carolina community is unique, and OIAMNC wants to help North Carolina churches to consider the needs of their communities and work to meet those needs.
More than 1,200 churches conduct Inasmuch events across North Carolina with tens of thousands of believers reaching out to “the least of these” as the foundational Bible verse of this model of community service.
Possible projects include Backyard Bible Clubs, sewing projects, home repairs, wheelchair ramp construction, homebound visitation, yard work for elderly, blood pressure checks, affirmation of public servants, prayer-walks, block parties, garden projects, child care and nursing home ministries.
If churches plan on participating, Operation Inasmuch would like to communicate directly with these churches through their website: www.operationinasmuch.org.
Participating churches are also invited to report their activities here: www.operationinasmuch.org/churches/reports/inasmuch-report/.
Training session reservations can be made on Baptists on Mission’s website at baptistsonmission.org/ncoiam.
1/28/2014 11:50:33 AM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Warnings about marijuana abound amid legalization push

January 27 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – President Obama’s comment that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol has drawn objection from a Southern Baptist seminary president and stands in stark contrast to the arguments of many evangelicals about the personal and societal cost of legalizing the drug. For some, Obama’s comment also provides an opportunity for ministry to marijuana users.
The president was asked about the movement to legalize marijuana amid a lengthy interview with The New Yorker. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid,” Obama responded, “and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
When pressed whether marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, the president said yes, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”
Obama said legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington is an important “experiment” and may help remedy the disproportionate number of marijuana-related arrests and incarcerations among minorities in America, where marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and ecstasy.
“We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time,” the president said, “when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
Still, Obama said he has told his daughters that smoking marijuana is “a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr. responded that “any parent who reduces the arguments is a parent that better be ready for his children or her children to smoke marijuana or to do whatever he supposedly doesn’t want them to do but can muster only an argument that it is a waste of time, a bad idea and not very healthy.”
Obama’s statement “really doesn’t get at the heart of the issue,” Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Jan. 21 in his daily podcast The Briefing. “It doesn’t even get to the issue of intoxication whatsoever. It doesn’t deal at all with the reality, as has now been well documented, that in the adolescent brain marijuana has a very dangerous and long-lasting, if not permanent effect. It doesn’t deal with the whole issue of impairment. It doesn’t deal with the potential of addiction, which again goes way up when you’re dealing with adolescent smoking.”
Mohler acknowledged that Obama “holds up a pretty good model of fatherhood” and likely said “a great deal more to his daughters than he told The New Yorker” in the mid-January article. But it is troubling that the president did not make a stronger public argument against marijuana use, he said.
When asked about the president’s statements, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Jan. 22 that Obama remains opposed to nationwide decriminalization of marijuana and has not changed his position on the issue. Carney underscored the president’s argument that minority Americans are prosecuted for marijuana use disproportionately.
Mohler agreed that America’s drug laws need to be reformed, but he said it is illogical to imply that no users should be punished because not all users are punished. Obama seems reticent to take a strong stand against marijuana at least in part because of his own drug use growing up, Mohler said, a common mistake among parents in recent generations.
“If only the sinless can talk about the avoidance of sin and the reasons for avoiding sin, then we as a human race are doomed, because as the Bible says emphatically clearly, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’” Mohler said, referencing Romans 3:23.
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector, said it sends “mixed signals” to younger Americans when society condemns cigarette smoking but leaders dismiss marijuana use as merely “a vice.”
“As to whether marijuana is ‘no worse than alcohol,’ that’s up to debate,” Wilkey said on his blog. Abuse of either substance “impairs your thinking and potentially endangers others.”
Before Obama’s comments were published, J. Lee Grady, contributing editor of Charisma Magazine, offered five reasons why “legalizing marijuana stinks”:
  • Marijuana is highly addictive.
  • Marijuana “can ruin your future,” leading to school dropouts, auto accidents and a general lack of motivation.
  • Marijuana can ruin children’s lives. Among other negative consequences, adolescents who smoke pot risk brain damage, according to an article in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
  • Marijuana causes serious health problems, including heart attacks and lung cancer.
  • Marijuana “can ruin your sex life,” leading to impotence, infertility and testicular cancer.
“People from every side of the political spectrum have called for decriminalization of pot – from Pat Robertson and Sarah Palin on the right to Bill Maher and Rachael Maddow on the left,” Grady wrote. “I understand their concern: Huge numbers of people are in prison today for drug possession – and the cost of caring for our inmate population is overwhelming. But why do we have to swing the pendulum to the other extreme and treat marijuana like it’s a mild, over-the-counter medication?”

Medical marijuana

Meanwhile Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a podcast released Jan. 23 that even so-called “medical marijuana,” which is legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, poses ethical problems.
On one hand, it is not a sin for an ill individual to use marijuana prescribed by a physician, Moore said. He cited Proverbs 31:6, which references giving alcohol to someone who is dying or in great distress.
“There are all sorts of mind-altering drugs that are given to severely ill people in order to correct their illness, and sometimes even to put them out of consciousness. I would think of morphine, for instance. I think that’s ethically alright,” Moore said in the Questions and Ethics podcast.
Yet medical marijuana, contrary to the claims of its advocates, is not primarily a drug prescribed for people in unbearable pain or on the verge of death, Moore said.
Quoting a CNN article, he said only 2 percent of those prescribed marijuana in Colorado suffer from cancer and only 1 percent from HIV/AIDS. Ninety-four percent cite “unspecified pain” as the justification for their pot prescriptions. The average user of medical marijuana in California “is a 32-year-old white man with no life-threatening illness but a long record of substance abuse,” Moore said, quoting CNN.
Medical marijuana “is not something that is being given to people with terminal cancer, fighting off in a hospice sort of situation those last stages of pain,” Moore said. “It’s something that is being given very indiscriminately with a substance that has a long cultural history in this country of essentially inducing a kind of immediate drunkenness, which of course is prohibited in Scripture for a believer.”
Moore said he would vote against medical marijuana if he lived in a state where it was on the ballot.
“It’s not because I don’t have compassion for people who are dealing with difficult illnesses,” he said, “nor is it saying that some terminally ill person who takes marijuana at a doctor’s order is personally sinning. I don’t think that’s the question. I think the question is: What does the normalization of marijuana usage do to people?”
Moore continued, “Wherever we have medical marijuana coming in, we have marijuana usage going up. That is not a good thing. I think that most of us can agree marijuana doesn’t do anything good for a work ethic, for someone’s life, and the people who tend to get hurt in all of these situations aren’t those who are in the cultural elite, who often are the ones who are normalizing these things culturally.”
Moore added that legalization of recreational marijuana also is ill-advised.
“Just as big tobacco was an industry that had a cheap product that was able to hook people in, we have the same sort of industry involved here with marijuana,” Moore said. It is “simplistic” to argue that legalization would eliminate the black market and reduce use. “I don’t think that bears up in terms of history,” he said.

Ministering to users

Meditating on Scripture is perhaps the best path to overcoming marijuana use, according to an e-book by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston. He urges drug users and others mired in such ills as pornography to focus in particular on Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
“Begin memorizing these words, which were spoken by Jesus,” Toalston writes in “Meditation and Morality: Praying for a Better Way.” “In doing so, you will be engaging in a form of meditation. Even if it’s just for a few moments, or several times during the day, this simple form of meditation on the words of Jesus will begin to nurture a winsome, intriguing morality in your soul. These words will have an effect, perhaps dramatically, perhaps subtly, perhaps both, even as your struggle or your affliction with immorality may continue to fester or rage.”
Users of marijuana and other harmful drugs already “meditate” on their drug-induced “euphoria,” musing on past and future use, Toalston writes. But their meditation often ignores the negative aspects of their behavior and needs to give way to a more positive form of contemplation.
“Sadly, their meditation may not stretch toward ruthless drug cartels and gangs who murder and maim in order to amass illicit fortunes through the delivery and sale of drugs to distant users oblivious to the mayhem,” Toalston writes. “Sad, too, is the stunted meditation that drug use is relatively harmless, dismissive of research showing that medical harm from marijuana can be similar to cigarette smoking or research demonstrating the toll marijuana-impaired driving can take, akin to drunk driving, on innocent victims killed or injured by a drug user’s thoughtlessness.”
Ultimately Toalston advocates new spiritual birth as the antidote to marijuana use and other struggles with immorality. He explains how to turn from sin and trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, an act that will make drug use begin to lose its appeal.
“Supernatural results then begin to unfold,” Toalston writes. “These may occur dramatically or perhaps imperceptibly until weeks or months later when you begin to see how your life is being transformed and the lure of immorality is waning. Some of the changes may seem monumental; others may be part of an incremental process.”
Other resources related to drug use are available on the ERLC website, erlc.com.
Moore urged Christians to prepare for both political engagement with marijuana advocates and ministry to individuals affected by the drug.
“On the left there is a progressive acceptance of marijuana use that comes out of the counterculture,” Moore said. “And then on the right there is a libertarian understanding of decreasing law, of personal autonomy, individual autonomy and those sorts of things. Those two things come together to make marijuana legalization for various reasons more and more likely in this country. So even if you’re not addressing this where you are, you probably will be soon.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. To send “Meditation & Morality” by Art Toalston to a marijuana user, go to Amazon’s page for the e-book, http://bit.ly/Amazon-Meditation-Morality, and click Give as a Gift. To print a a paper copy of Meditation & Morality for a marijuana user, go to http://bit.ly/Meditation-Morality and use the Delivery Format option to select PDF (reading on PC/Mac).)
1/27/2014 11:53:17 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Housing allowance ruling appealed by DOJ

January 27 2014 by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press

DALLAS – A federal judge’s ruling that the ministers’ housing allowance is unconstitutional has been appealed by government lawyers who argue the allowance should be upheld. The appeal will be heard by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
The November decision by federal Judge Barbara Crabb was stayed pending appeal, meaning it had no immediate impact on ministers. The court challenge to ministers’ housing allowance was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
The appeal, being waged by Justice Department attorneys, is welcome news for ministers and provides an opportunity for the federal appeals court to uphold the longstanding statute that allows churches to provide a tax-free housing allowance to ministers. A 2010 ruling by Crabb, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, that the National Day of Prayer violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment was overturned by the Seventh Circuit in 2011.
“Pastors and others in ministry are facing challenges here in the United States that would have been unthinkable as little as a decade ago,” said Tim Head, GuideStone executive officer for denominational and public relations services who was a lawyer before being called into ministry. “While we welcome news of the government’s appeal, we recognize this case is far from settled, and we remain engaged to advocate for the housing allowance benefit.”
GuideStone, as part of a longstanding coalition of ministerial benefit boards, intends to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the government’s position that the ministers’ housing allowance is constitutional.
Ministers should consult with the annual tax guide made available at GuideStone.org tax guide and GuideStone’s housing allowance information at GuideStone.org housing allowance to ensure they are properly documenting housing allowance as part of a church business action and reporting it appropriately on their income tax returns.
The housing allowance case is only one example of GuideStone’s advocacy efforts on behalf of the pastors, churches and ministries it serves. In 2013, GuideStone filed litigation to block enforcement of the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate against non-exempt ministry organizations served by GuideStone. GuideStone and nearly 200 ministry organizations received a preliminary injunction in December, protecting them from the contraceptive mandate. No trial date has been set in that case.
“We live in a world that is not as receptive to the ministry of the church or of ministers in general as the world in which we grew up,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “Rather than discouraging us, that fact serves to encourage our employees to continue to seek out opportunities to advocate on behalf of our more than 200,000 participants across this country.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
1/27/2014 11:47:33 AM by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Winter’s Olympic athletes find strength in the Lord

January 27 2014 by Zachary Abate, World News Service

On Feb. 7 the Sochi Winter Olympics will kick off, complete with political intrigue, security concerns and storylines about athletes going for Olympic glory but, even more so, God’s glory.
Speed skater Jilleanne Rookard says she came to faith in Christ while training for competition in 2006. Her faith is a source of strength and inspiration for the times when she feels like giving up: “I’ve just kept growing since then, and it’s not anything sudden. I realize now that I’m never going to stop learning.”

Lolo Jones

Bobsledder Brock Kreitzburg placed his faith in God at age 13, after losing his father to cancer. “God used the worst experience in my life – losing my father – to bring forth the best experience in my life – knowing my Heavenly Father. God is the Father I can never lose, who will be with me forever, and truly, unconditionally loves me,” Kreitzburg said. Kreitzburg, who earned a master’s of divinity from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 2003, competed in the 2006 Turin Olympics but missed the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with an injury. He is hoping to make the final cut on the 2014 men’s Olympic bobsledding team.
Lolo Jones, a multisport athlete, will likely make the U.S. women’s bobsledding squad after winning a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships. Jones, 31, competed in the 100 meter hurdles at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics, but gained more than 20 pounds to qualify for bobsledding competition. She made headlines in 2012 when she told HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that she is a virgin and plans on keeping her virginity until marriage.
“This journey has been hard,” she said at that time. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Harder than training for the Olympics. Harder than studying for college has been staying a virgin before marriage.” Jones often uses her Twitter account to share Bible passages and words of encouragement with her more than 370,000 followers.
Meanwhile, security concerns are growing in the wake of late-December suicide bombings in Volgograd, 400 miles from the Olympic facilities in Sochi. The second deadly terrorist attack of the month pushed the Russians to tighten security by creating a 60-mile “security zone” around Sochi. All spectators wishing to attend the Games must provide passports and contacts for security screening.
One of the militant groups fighting in the North Caucasus region likely carried out the attack. Doku Umarov, leader of the Caucasus Emirate (just one of the militant groups operating in Russia’s Northern Caucasus, the region between the Black and Caspian seas), says he will use “maximum force” to disrupt and terrorize the Sochi Games. His goal is an Islamic state in the Caucasus.
The U.S. National Security Council pledged “full support” to Vladimir Putin’s government in preparing security for the Games, according to the Reuters news service: “We would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants.”
1/27/2014 11:37:30 AM by Zachary Abate, World News Service | with 0 comments

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