January 2014

Prayer gathering in Atlanta doubled

January 20 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

ATLANTA – Twice as many pastors gathered for two days of focused prayer in Atlanta compared to the first such meeting last fall in Dallas, prompting the gathering’s organizer, Ronnie Floyd, to say, “God is up to something special in America.”
 
“As I leave our prayer gathering, I am convinced more than ever that the Lord is stirring up men of God all across this nation,” Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, wrote in a blog post.
 
Floyd was greatly encouraged by the turnout for “A Call to Pray for Revival and Awakening”: nearly 400 pastors and other ministers praying together Jan. 13-14 at the Westin Atlanta Airport Hotel.
 
Last fall’s gathering primarily was for senior pastors, and the latest meeting was opened to a broader group. The men were from 180 churches in 28 states as well as various Southern Baptist entities, state conventions and other ministries.
 
“The only answer in the church and in our nation is a major move of God, and He is placing a strong burden and growing desperation in our midst,” Floyd said. “While I saw this in our Dallas gathering in the fall, God intensified it in Atlanta this week. This is occurring because of extraordinary prayer.”
 
Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he went to the gathering not because he exemplifies a great man of prayer “but because I know I am weak, and I need the prayers of my brothers.”
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Twice as many pastors gathered for two days of focused prayer in Atlanta compared to the first such meeting last fall in Dallas, prompting the gathering's organizer, Ronnie Floyd, to say, "God is up to something special in America."

 
“It blessed me to be at a gathering where we spent more time praying than anything else,” Reid wrote on his blog Jan. 15. “It has been years since I have done this, and I desperately needed it.”
 
Before each lengthy time of prayer, the men received a short challenge from Floyd and others.
 
Floyd used as a guide Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards’ treatise “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of God’s Kingdom.”
 
From that, Floyd highlighted three ideas: explicit agreement, visible union and extraordinary prayer.
 
Jack Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said he was grateful for pastor friends who prayed in faith.
 
“We met together to seek God and encourage one another in fellowship and believing prayer,” Graham wrote in a statement to Baptist Press. “Only one agenda: to ask God to rekindle our love for Jesus, revive His church and enable us to fulfill His mission on earth to make disciples.
 
“The presence of God was real and ignited our hearts as one,” Graham wrote. “I’m confident we are better men and more effective servants of Christ because we gathered in His Great Name and for His Glory (Ephesians 3:20-21).”
 
Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., said the prayer gathering was “powerful, convicting, encouraging and unifying.” He identified four ways it united those in attendance: Baptists of every generation; pastors, staff and denominational leaders; Baptists for the Great Commission; and Baptists in their most powerful work – prayer.
 
“We need more of this on many fronts in Baptist life,” Traylor said.
 
William Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., attended both gatherings and said they have been a “refreshing time for personal and corporate renewal.”
 
“These prayer gatherings seem to have arisen out of a desperate recognition that beyond all our organization and programming, we need God to move in an extraordinary way,” Rice wrote in comments to Baptist Press. “I have sensed in the hearts of some leading pastors a real burden to call Southern Baptists to earnest united prayer for spiritual awakening.”
 
Rice characterized the two gatherings as “some of the most powerful meetings I have ever had the privilege of being a part of.”
 
“I think it is something we all knew we needed to do but for whatever reason – busyness, pride, whatever – we just haven’t done it,” Rice said. “Perhaps God is using these meetings as a catalyst to call us back to earnest, desperate prayer.”
 
Floyd said the gathering showed him God is “raising up a generation of pastors who are biblically based, theologically balanced and spiritually empowered” and who are committed to seeing revival and awakening among their peers.
 
“We are the revival generation,” Floyd wrote in comments to Baptist Press. “This is happening because there is a growing desperation in our land about where we are and where we are going as a nation.”
 
Revival, Floyd said, is the “manifestation of the presence of God in our midst.”
 
“God can do more in a moment than we can do in a lifetime. Therefore, we must pursue Him and experience His presence powerfully so that we can lead the church to do the same,” Floyd said.
 
“As the church is coming alive and experiencing the power of God, we believe that America will begin to see spiritual awakening in various places. This is absolutely imperative so we can reach the world for Jesus Christ.”
 
At the Atlanta prayer gathering, Floyd said pastors and ministers were “lying on their faces in humility, pouring out their prayers not just for others but for their own spiritual condition.” He saw them praying for one another, interceding for churches and worshipping with “all their might.”
 
Now that the pastors have returned to their various places of ministry across the country, Floyd hopes they’ll be attentive to God possibly placing a burden on their hearts to lead similar gatherings in their own regions and states based on the principles they’ve learned.
 
“We need a spiritual movement to arise in every state in our great nation, led by pastors, to move God’s people to extraordinary prayer,” Floyd wrote on his blog. “God is doing something.... We must reach this world for Christ. The hour is critical. The time is short. This is why we need to practice extraordinary prayer.”
 
Reid said he has committed to pray daily for at least 10 pastors he knows as well as for one of his colleagues and for 10 unsaved men or new believers.
 
“I will spend more time in the coming days praying with other men,” Reid wrote. “I hope you will also.”
 
The gathering has a website, praying-pastors.com, and a Twitter hashtag, #prayingpastors.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
1/20/2014 10:22:16 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Huckabee talks religious liberty, 2016 campaign

January 17 2014 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Mike Huckabee says he won’t be seeking the title of “America’s pastor” if he decides to run for president in 2016. Instead, he would seek to be a servant leader who is both “salt and light” in today’s culture.
 
Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who ran for president in 2008, said he won’t make any political announcements until after the midterm elections. A busy speaker and the host of “Huckabee,” the Fox News channel talk show, he said his concern for the nation’s direction could be the deciding factor.
 
“I just feel like our country is in an extraordinary world of hurt right now,” the former pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Ark., told Baptist Press during a phone interview Jan. 15.
 
“It seems like we have ... taken the ropes from the boat and just drifted out into the middle of the ocean without any real course to where we’re going.”
 
Huckabee is no stranger to taking issue with the state of the country and the Obama administration’s policies. And he isn’t shy about jumping into the latest pop culture controversy when the mainstream media appears to beat up on conservative values.
 
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BP file photo by Kent Harville
Mike Huckabee

After Phil Robertson’s biblical – but less-than-graceful – comments about traditional marriage stirred up a media storm in December, Huckabee posted “I stand with Phil” on his Facebook page in behalf of the “Duck Dynasty” patriarch. Huckabee also publically defended Chick-fil-A in 2012 after Dan Cathy, the company’s president, took a stand for traditional marriage. Huckabee quickly declared a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” that drew thousands to the company’s restaurants across the country.
 
The values the United States was founded upon are worth fighting for, Huckabee said, and Christians must let their voices be heard through elections. While some conservative Christians may believe the country has forever lost its moral compass, Huckabee remains optimistic.
 
“We have to remind ourselves who we are as Americans, that we are a resilient country,” he said. “We were not designed – which I believe it was providential in nature that we came into being – that we would just have a limited shelf life and disappear from the pages of history.”
 
The American people must be willing to stand up for religious liberty, Huckabee said.
 
“The government’s job is not to say you can’t have a nativity scene, you can’t sing a Christmas carol, you can’t wear colors of red and green at Christmastime,” he said. “It’s the exact opposite. The government is prohibited from getting involved at all, making any decisions. It’s the role of citizens to express themselves if their expression infringed upon someone else.”
 
For instance, people should have the freedom to support the biblical definition of marriage without being ostracized in the court of public opinion, Huckabee said.
 
“This notion that we’ve got to shut people down, whether it’s Duck Dynasty or Chick-fil-A, and they can’t say that because it might offend somebody, well, life is about being offended,” he said. “If we say we don’t want to hear those voices, then I’m not sure what we’ve done other than turn the First Amendment on its head.”
 
Huckabee made another connection with social conservatives by announcing his endorsement (Jan. 16) of Mark Harris who is running for U.S. Senate in North Carolina.
 
Harris is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte and recent president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Harris said, “As seen in the title of his early book Character IS the Issue, Governor Huckabee has demonstrated social and fiscal conservatism with a true common sense approach to the issues facing our nation.”
 
The military is another battleground for religious freedom, Huckabee said.
 
“We’re having chaplains told, ‘Put your Bibles out of sight, don’t give one away, don’t pray in Jesus’ name,’” he said. “That’s unconscionable.”
 
Huckabee encouraged evangelical Christians to continue fighting for their values through the ballot box. Some studies show only about half of professing Christians are registered to vote. Of that number, only about half of them cast ballots on Election Day.
 
“I always remind Christians Jesus said we’re the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” Huckabee said. “He never said the putrefaction process of culture was the fault of the secularists; it’s the fault of the salt that ceases to be salt.
 
“If there is darkness and confusion and people stumbling around,” he added, “it’s not the fault of the people who are the spirits of darkness. It’s the fault of the people who keep their lights off.”
 
Huckabee, who decided not to run for president in 2012, acknowledged that a presidential campaign would be grueling. If he runs, he said he would work to take a servant leader approach to the campaign trail and to the position if elected.
 
“We’re not a government that is built on the idea that people are elected to be elevated,” he said. “They’re elected to serve and that to me is a very serious thing. ... It would mean that you understand that your job is not to get what you want but it’s to serve the best interest of the public at large – and it’s to do it in total concert with the Constitution.”
 
Ultimately, both sides of Congress will need to work together in order for true progress to happen. Huckabee acknowledged it’s a challenge he knew all too well while serving as a Republican governor of Arkansas.
 
Throughout his political career, conservative Christians have often praised Huckabee for his stances on social issues ñ- such as abortion and traditional marriage. He also has taken his fair share of criticism for some of his economic decisions as governor, with some accusing him of supporting a tax-and-spend approach to politics. Some of that criticism has come from his party.
 
During the Jan. 11-12 weekend on his talk show, Huckabee focused on Republicans getting along and putting their differences aside for the good of the party.
 
Huckabee asked Andy Roth, executive vice president for Club for Growth – one of the groups critical of some of his policies – if the organization could ever endorse a candidate who didn’t meet at least 90 percent of the organization’s requirements.
 
“The Club for Growth is not an organization that backs all Republicans in all elections just because we want a Republican majority,” Roth said. “We want a conservative majority. If we believe that the candidate running in the general election will fight for conservative values, yes, we’ll support them over the Democrat. If we don’t believe that they will, then we won’t.”
 
While the two were unable to see a solution for how both sides can come together, both agreed to meet again to “relitigate” the issues.
 
“I’ll never make everyone happy,” Huckabee said later. “No one will.
 
“I just know from having governed ... that’s not realistic,” he said. “I mean even ...  when I had a piece of legislation that everybody liked, you always had legislators who want to bring their own spin to the kitchen and stir it up a little bit. That’s part of the process.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press. The Biblical Recorder staff contributed to this report.)
1/17/2014 1:09:29 PM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Judge strikes Oklahoma marriage amendment

January 17 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A federal judge has again overturned the definition of marriage affirmed by voters in one of the country’s most conservative states.
 
Oklahoma is the latest state to see its voter-approved constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman suffer a legal setback. Ruling Tuesday (Jan. 14) from the United States District Court in Tulsa, Terence Kern struck down the state’s constitutional amendment, which citizens passed in 2004 with a 76 percent majority.
 
If Kern’s ruling stands, Oklahoma will be the 19th state in the country to have legal same-sex marriage.
 
The Oklahoma amendment, which bars same-sex marriages, violates the equal protection rights in the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, Kern ruled. The section of the measure defining marriage as only between two heterosexuals “intentionally discriminates against same-sex couples desiring an Oklahoma marriage license without a legally sufficient justification,” he wrote.
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The setback in Oklahoma for advocates for the biblical, traditional meaning of marriage came less than a month after a federal judge struck down a similar amendment in Utah. Voters in that state approved the measure with a 66 percent vote, also in 2004.
 
Defenders of the God-instituted definition of marriage expressed dismay over the latest development in a conservative state.
 
“When we warned in June of last year that the marriage redefinition efforts would accelerate after Supreme Court decisions, we never imagined the front wave in 2014 would be in Oklahoma and Utah,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This demonstrates again the weight of the challenge before us, as we contend for a biblical definition of marriage. The Supreme Court will soon decide these things, for good or for ill.”
 
Anthony Jordan, the leader of Southern Baptists in Oklahoma, said in a written statement Kern’s opinion “flies in the face of the biblical and historical meaning of marriage, the wisdom of the ages and the resounding democratic choice of the people of this great state.”
 
Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
 
Moore urged Christians to practice a biblically based outreach as they await a final judicial decision.
 
“In the meantime, let’s take the opportunity to engage our neighbors with a vision of marriage as defined by God and rooted in the Gospel, not in judicial fiat,” he said in a written release.
 
The Oklahoma and Utah decisions show some federal judges “have seen fit to try to overturn the time-tested and rational definition of marriage” and substitute a “recently conceived definition” based on government recognition of close relationships, said Jim Campbell, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which defended the amendment in court.
 
“What we have is federal courts on one hand saying what they think marriage is and the people saying what they think marriage is,” Campbell told Baptist Press. “This is a question for the people to decide; this is a question for states to decide.
 
“Ultimately, it depends on the federal courts exercising a proper deference to the state view of marriage,” Campbell said. “It’s incumbent upon us to remind the courts that the Constitution does not remove the fundamental question of marriage from the people.”
 
In his ruling, Kern blocked enforcement of his opinion until the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver makes a decision in the case. His stay of the ruling contrasted with the federal court action in Utah, where a judge and the 10th Circuit refused to halt implementation of the opinion. The Supreme Court finally stayed the decision Jan. 6.
 
During the 17 days the Utah ruling was in effect after its Dec. 20 announcement, nearly 1,000 same-sex weddings were conducted in the state. The legality of those unions is now uncertain.
 
Oklahoma public officials expressed their displeasure with Kerns’ opinion.
 
“This is why the American people are so frustrated with government and government officials; the people speak clearly but elected officials and judges ignore them,” U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R.-Okla., said in a written statement.
 
“Since the Constitution leaves marriage laws to the states, the state of Oklahoma has the right to define marriage in a way consistent with the values of our state,” said Lankford, a Southern Baptist church member and the former director of Oklahoma Baptists’ Falls Creek youth camp.
 
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said she is “troubled that the will of the people has once again been ignored by the federal government.”
 
“The people of Oklahoma have spoken on this issue,” she said in a written release. “I support the right of Oklahoma’s voters to govern themselves on this and other policy matters.”
 
Same-sex marriage advocates leading state and national organizations applauded the invalidation of the Oklahoma amendment.
 
“Equality is not just for the coasts anymore, and today’s news from Oklahoma shows that time has come for fairness and dignity to reach every American in all 50 states,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest organization promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.
 
In his opinion, Kern wrote, “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.”
 
Kern, who was nominated to the bench by President Clinton in 1994, rejected the justifications given in the case by lawyers for Sally Howe Smith, Tulsa County’s court clerk, for limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. The proposed state interests rebuffed by Kern were: (1) Encouraging procreation within marriage; (2) fostering the best environment for rearing children; and (3) protecting marriage from the negative effect of same-sex unions.
 
“Exclusion of just one class of citizens from receiving a marriage license based upon the perceived ‘threat’ they pose to the marital institution is, at bottom, an arbitrary exclusion based upon the majority’s disapproval of the defined class,” Kern wrote. “It is also insulting to same-sex couples, who are human beings capable of forming loving, committed, enduring relationships.”
 
The decision in Oklahoma was the latest in a series of victories for the same-sex marriage movement since the Supreme Court issued two rulings in June. In one, the court said the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize gay marriages. The opinion meant same-sex couples gained access to employee, Social Security, tax and other benefits previously limited to heterosexual couples.
 
In the other opinion, the justices ruled on a procedural question that had the effect of allowing to stand a federal judge’s invalidation of a California amendment that prohibited same-sex marriage. The court, however, refused to say states cannot limit marriage to a man and a woman.
 
Since then, legislatures in four states – New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois and New Mexico – have legalized gay marriage, not including the court rulings in Utah and Oklahoma.
 
The other 13 states that have legalized same-sex marriage are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The District of Columbia also has legalized same-sex marriage.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. BP editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)
1/17/2014 12:33:04 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Fans rely on God, rituals to boost favorite team

January 17 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

Most Americans don’t think God or the devil will be picking the NFL playoff winners this weekend or any other sports champions.
 
But some will pray nonetheless, and a few will “religiously” perform little game-day rituals just in case.
 
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Public Religion Research Institute
Supernatural Super Bowl infographic

A survey by Public Religion Research Institute, released Thursday (Jan. 16), probes  the crossover between team spirit and spirituality.
 
Most Americans (60 percent) call themselves fans of a particular team. Among this group, several will do a little dance or say a little prayer to help the team along:
  • 21 percent (including one in four football fans) will wear special clothes or do special rituals. Donning a team jersey leads the way (66 percent). But some admit they get a little funky with their underwear. One fan wears dirty undershorts on top of his jeans.  (No word if these are boxers or briefs.)
  • 25 percent (including 31 percent of football fans) have sometimes felt their team has been cursed. (No word on how many are Red Sox fans.)
  • 26 percent (including one in three football fans) say they pray to God to help their team. White evangelicals are most likely to lean on the Lord on this: 38 percent will pray, more than any other religious group.
  • Football fans are also more likely than other fans to admit praying for their team (33 percent to 21 percent), performing pre-game or game-time rituals (25 percent to 18 percent), or to believe that their team has been cursed (31 percent to 18 percent).
Although three-quarters of respondents said God plays no role in who wins, Americans are evenly divided on whether God rewards faith-filled athletes with good health and success, with 48 percent saying yes and 47 percent saying no.
 
Football is by far American’s favorite sport (39 percent) with nearly four times the fan base of basketball (10 percent) or baseball (9 percent) or soccer (7 percent). And 72 percent of Americans say they are likely to watch the Super Bowl.
 
PRRI surveyed 1,011 people in English and Spanish between Jan. 8 and Jan. 12. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)
1/17/2014 12:21:21 PM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Seminary installs John Leadley Dagg Chair

January 17 2014 by SEBTS Communications

The last Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) chapel of the fall semester, held Dec. 5, celebrated the installation of The John Leadley Dagg Chair of Systematic Theology. The chair, given by an anonymous donor, is in honor of Andy Davis, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham
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Photo courtesy of SEBTS Communications
Daniel Akin (left) honors Andy Davis (center) with The John Leadley Dagg Chair of Systematic Theology. John Hammett (right) was installed into the new chair during the ceremony at Binkley Chapel.

 
Davis has served at First Baptist Church since 1998 and earned his bachelor of arts degree in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
 
While working as an engineer, he earned his master of divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In 1998, Davis graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a doctorate in church history.
 
Dagg, the namesake for the chair, lived from 1794 to 1884 and is remembered as one of the greatest Southern Baptist pastor-theologians of the 19th century. He overcame many obstacles during his lifetime through the power of Christ.
 
John S. Hammett, SEBTS professor for almost 20 years and dean of theological studies, was installed into the new chair during the ceremony.
1/17/2014 12:13:42 PM by SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments



Mother, children find hope at Oak Ranch

January 17 2014 by BSC Communications

While pregnant with her eighth child Sherri* had surgery for breast cancer, and just two weeks after giving birth, quit work to begin chemo treatments.
 
With her husband deported to Mexico, and Sherri now unable to work for the first time in a long time, she was evicted from her apartment and her family was living at a homeless shelter.
 
“I was down to my last week,” she said. “I looked all over the state for a place to come, and no one would house us.”
 
Through word of mouth Sherri heard about the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) Oak Ranch campus near Broadway. The Family Care program at Oak Ranch is specifically designed for single mothers and their children, with a goal of helping mothers transition to independent living. BCH operates the Family Care program at six of its statewide locations.
 
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Contributed photo
Children are not the only recipient of help through Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina. The ministry also helps single mothers as well as special needs adults.

Sherri and her children came to Oak Ranch about a year ago with only what would fit in her truck – mainly a few clothes and a memory box with photos of the children.
 
“I really resisted applying to Oak Ranch. I have always been independent,” Sherri said. “But it has been an amazing blessing. This is a time I can really grow.”
 
Since coming to live at Oak Ranch, Sherri has had time to catch her breath and focus on her children, finish chemo and even go back to school. Her goal is to complete nursing school. 
 
Since 1885, BCH has strived to help families such as Sherri’s and remain true to its vision of “sharing hope…changing lives.” In addition to family care, BCH provides residential homes for children, a home for teenage mothers and their babies, group homes for developmentally disabled adults, and wilderness camps for at-risk youth. BCH operates 23 facilities in 19 communities across the state. 
 
In addition to special parenting classes for adults and activities such as karate camp and horseback riding for children, Oak Ranch and all BCH facilities focus on teaching residents God’s Word. Weekly Bible studies have become a critical part of Sherri’s new life at BCH.
 
“Watching my children come to know the Lord has been a blessing,” she said. “We have people here who really care and live godly lives.”
 
Two of her children recently prayed to receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Sherri and her family continue to grow in their relationship with God through the teaching and encouragement of houseparents Steve and Sherri Trussell.
 
The Trussells have served at Oak Ranch since September 2012 and quickly formed a bond with Sherri and her children.
 
“My mom had seven kids, and my dad left when I was eight,” said Sherri Trussell. “I know how hard that is. When I see Sherri, I see my mom. It’s not an easy job.”
 
The Trussells came to BCH when Steve was unable to continue pastoring due to health problems. Exposure to asbestos earlier in life caught up with him and caused memory problems, bleeding in his lungs and heart issues, which almost killed him. When the Trussells realized they could no longer continue full time at a church, God provided the opportunity with BCH.
 
God also brought the Trussells, and then Sherri and her family, to Fusion Church in Spring Lake.
 
“It was just God,” Sherri Trussell said. “We visited churches for nine months before going to Fusion. We knew it was where God wanted us to be. We wanted a place where our families would feel comfortable. It’s diverse, and everyone is welcome.”
 
Fusion church planter and pastor Barry Lawrence was introduced to Oak Ranch before he and his family moved to New York for about a year to serve with the North American Mission Board. At that time Oak Ranch was still a facility for children and had not yet transitioned into the family care program.
 
“Since meeting Steve and Sherri we have come out to Oak Ranch several times,” Lawrence said. “We’ve gotten to know Sherri and the kids, and we want to continue reaching out and serving BCH.”
 
Sherri is grateful for the ministry of Fusion Church, BCH and the Trussells. What began in her mind as just a temporary move, a quick fix, has turned into a life-changing opportunity and friendships grounded in God’s love and truth.
 
“Use every moment you have to do better and move forward,” she said. “You have to open your heart and let people help you.”
 
*Last name withheld
 
For more information about Baptist Children’s Homes visit www.bchfamily.org. To learn more about Fusion Church visit www.fusionchurchnc.com.
1/17/2014 12:00:23 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments



American Christian imprisoned in North Korea

January 16 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea – The American citizen held in North Korea whose profile was raised by a televised outburst from Dennis Rodman is a devout Christian, according to a family-run website advocating for his release.
 
Kenneth Bae, 44, of Lynnwood, Wash., has been sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labor camp for a “crime against the state.” He has been imprisoned for more than 14 months, longer than any American has been detained in North Korea.
 
“Several years ago, Kenneth saw an opportunity that combined his entrepreneurial spirit with his personal convictions as a Christian,” the website, freekennow.com, states. “He believed in showing compassion to the North Korean people by contributing to their economy in the form of tourism.”
 
Bae was arrested in November 2012 as he was leading a tour group in one of North Korea’s special economic zones for foreign investors.
 
As the website advocating for his freedom explains, Bae started a tour company based in China in 2006 and regularly led groups to North Korea, “a remote country filled with stunning vistas and a people proud of their history and tradition.”
 
“His livelihood,” the website states, “was to introduce the natural beauty of the country and its people to the outside world as a tour operator. His heart was to be a personal touch-point of compassionate humanity to the North Korean people.”
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Kenneth Bae

 
In comments to Baptist Press Jan. 14, Bae’s sister Terri Chung said a friend who had gone on one of Bae’s tours described him as “an ambassador of peace and light in the world.”
 
“That captures what Kenneth was trying to do in North Korea,” Chung told BP. “He had the biggest heart for the people and the nation of North Korea, and he wanted to show tourists from Europe, Canada and the United States a different side to the country than what we typically see in the western media in the hopes of bridging the cultural divide.”
 
When he was arrested, Bae was on at least his 15th such trip. CNN reported Jan. 13 that North Korea accused him of planning to bring down the government through religious activities.
 
Earlier, CNN said the state-run Korean Central News Agency claimed Bae was setting up bases in China to topple the North Korean government, was encouraging North Korean citizens to bring down the government and was conducting a “malignant smear campaign.”
 
Some have speculated, CNN said, that the evidence North Korea cites against Bae may be something he was carrying with him when he was arrested, such as a Bible or other religious literature.
 
Bae is married with three children. His son Jonathan has written a petition to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, President Obama and Congress, asking them to secure special amnesty for his father. More than 150,000 people have signed the petition, which is accessible at change.org/FreeKenNow.
 
“My father – like any other American father – was working hard to provide for his family,” the letter from Jonathan Bae states.
 
Last summer, the son explains, the family received a video of Bae and was shocked to see that he had lost a significant amount of weight.
 
“His time in prison has clearly taken a toll on his health – and this was only two months into his 15-year sentence. The video showed my father working eight hours of physical labor in the fields, plowing and farming six days a week. He has chronic health conditions, including diabetes, heart problems and back pain, which require close monitoring and medical treatment,” Bae’s son wrote. “We don’t know how quickly his health will deteriorate and how much longer his body can withstand the impact of the labor camp.”
 
In the video, Bae reportedly asked the U.S. government to help him regain freedom.
 
A CNN anchor drew attention to Bae’s case during an interview with Dennis Rodman, an eccentric former NBA star who led a group of players to North Korea in January to play basketball for dictator Kim Jong Un.
 
“Do you understand what he did in this country?” Rodman asked the anchor angrily. “No, no, no. You tell me. You tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country? Why?”
 
Rodman’s implication that Bae was somehow guilty and deserved imprisonment drew a statement of disapproval from Bae’s family. Chung said Jan. 8 Rodman was “playing games” with her brother’s life.
 
“Dennis Rodman could do a lot of good by advocating for Kenneth to Kim Jong Un, but instead he has decided to hurl outrageous accusations at my brother, insinuating that Kenneth has done something sinister,” Chung wrote. “He is clearly uninformed about Kenneth’s case, and he is certainly not in any position to pass judgment on Kenneth Bae, who has never had any hostile intentions against [the North Korean government].”
 
Rodman later apologized for his comments about Bae, saying he had been drinking and was under stress at the time. Chung released another statement saying the family accepted his apology and reiterated the importance of the U.S. government intervening on her brother’s behalf, especially in light of his serious chronic illnesses and the fact that he had been working legally in North Korea.
 
Once Rodman left North Korea, he was interviewed by CNN in the Beijing airport, saying he did nothing wrong by organizing a basketball game there and expressing remorse for what has happened inside the communist nation.
 
“I’m sorry for what’s going on in North Korea, the certain situations,” Rodman said, not explaining what he meant by “situations.”
 
North Korea was ranked as the world’s top prosecutor of Christians for the 12th consecutive year in a report released Jan. 8 by Open Doors, which seeks to strengthen the persecuted church.
 
The officially atheist state practices a cult-like worship of the Kim family and continues to imprison from 50,000 to 70,000 followers of Christ in concentration camps, prisons or prison-like conditions, according to Open Doors. Possessing a Bible could result in execution or a life sentence in prison.
 
CNN estimated 200,000 people are kept in a network of prison camps in North Korea, and the U.S. State Department has placed North Korea on its list of “countries of particular concern” for its violations of religious freedom.
 
Though Bae’s family accepted Rodman’s apology, Chung said her brother’s health and freedom remain her greatest concerns.
 
“We hope and pray that Rodman’s comments and ongoing antics have not further endangered my brother,” Chung wrote. “Kenneth’s health and freedom are precarious.
 
“The fact is Kenneth’s life is on the line. Though we understand Rodman enjoyed some laughs and smokes during a couple of basketball games in North Korea, to our family this situation is no joke. This is not a game,” Chung wrote.
 
Bae’s sister urged people to advocate for his immediate release by calling their congressmen, the State Department and the White House and by visiting freekennow.com.
 
CNN reported that U.S. officials repeatedly have called on North Korea to release Bae. Last summer Ambassador Robert King, Obama’s special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, was prepared to fly to Pyongyang before North Korea rescinded the invitation.
 
“In previous instances, North Korea has released Americans in its custody after a visit by some U.S. dignitary – in recent cases, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton,” CNN said. “But efforts by Bill Richardson, the former ambassador to the United Nations, were unsuccessful in winning Bae’s release during a visit to North Korea last year.”
 
In addition to signing the petition for special amnesty, Bae’s supporters are asking people to send letters of hope to letterforkennethbae@gmail.com. The letters are compiled and sent to the State Department, and then they are passed to Bae through the Swedish ambassador to North Korea.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
1/16/2014 11:03:24 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Bumgarner named Fla. Baptist Witness editor

January 16 2014 by Baptist Press staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Kevin Bumgarner, editor in chief of Pacific Business News in Honolulu, Hawaii, has been named executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, the newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention now in its 130th year.
 
Bumgarner, 47, was unanimously elected to the post by the Florida Baptist Witness board of directors Jan. 9 and will begin his duties Feb. 1. He succeeds James A. Smith Sr., who became executive editor and chief spokesman at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., last June. Smith had led the paper since 2001.
 
Randy Huckabee, chairman of the Witness board and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dade City, said, “I am thrilled how the board has unanimously come together to welcome Kevin Bumgarner as our new executive editor. Kevin is a journalist who brings many years of experience to our organization. He is an outstanding layman who is rooted in Southern Baptist life.”
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Kevin Bumgarner

 
Huckabee, who is also the Florida Baptist State Convention’s recording secretary, said the board was impressed with Bumgarner’s experience and “tremendous work ethic.” Bumgarner has demonstrated an “ability to relate to his audience and the needs of his organization,” Huckabee said. “We are very blessed to have Kevin leading Florida Baptists in telling the Good News throughout our state and denomination.”
 
Bumgarner said he is “looking forward to the opportunity of helping people see how Southern Baptists are making a difference for the Kingdom in the way they worship, work and live their lives.”
 
He has led the Pacific Business News since 2010 and previously was editor of other newspapers and websites owned by American City Business JournalsDallas Business Journal (2007-2010) and Triad Business Journal in Greensboro, N.C. (1998-2007, founding editor). He was business editor of The Huntsville Times in Alabama (1997-1998), where he was responsible for the launch of The Times’ Sunday business and personal finance sections, and he was on staff at the Wichita Business Journal (1990-1997).
 
At the Pacific Business News, Bumgarner oversaw the redesign of its print edition and website and implemented a comprehensive social media strategy. Under Bumgarner’s leadership, its online presence doubled in the past two years and the print circulation is among the highest in executive-level penetration in any of the American City Business Journals’ 43 markets.
 
Bumgarner has won more than 60 writing and editing awards from various organizations including the Hawaii Publishers Association, American City Business Journals, North Carolina Press Association, Society of American Business Editors & Writers, Society of Professional Journalists, Kansas Press Association and National Newspaper Association.
 
Ordained as a deacon at Life Community Church in Jamestown, N.C., in 2007, Bumgarner has since served at various churches including The Heights Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, and Mililani Baptist Church in Mililani, Hawaii.
 
At the Jan. 9 meeting of the Witness board, Bumgarner told of his upbringing in a Christian home. He said while his brother, Bob Bumgarner – lead strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention’s church health group – and others made commitments to vocational ministries, he was led to advance Kingdom growth through the marketplace.
 
Kevin Bumgarner received a bachelor of arts degree from the school of communication at Wichita State University in Kansas in 1988.
 
He and his wife Melanie have been married 25 years and have three children: Austin, who is in the U.S. Marine Corps who has returned from a deployment in Afghanistan; Alex, a college student in Hawaii; and Taylor, a high school senior in Hawaii.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the Florida Baptist Witness (www.goFBW.com), the newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention.)
1/16/2014 10:56:48 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Grants to help seminarians with key issues

January 16 2014 by Baptist Press staff

NASHVILLE – Two seminaries have received grants to train students in real-world issues that pastors face, such as applying theology to the workplace and the economy and reducing student debt.
 
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary received a grant of more than $200,000 from the Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Family Foundation to fund initiatives concerning faith, work and economics in academic classes.
 
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary received a $250,000 grant as part of the Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers. NOBTS is one of 67 theological schools across the country to receive the funding.
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Workplace & economy

The Kern Family Foundation, through their Oikonomia Network, assists in preparing pastors “to describe work and the economy in moral and spiritual terms” in order to “help people live out Christianity full-time in all they do.”
 
At SEBTS, classes in faith, work and economics will lead pastors to a deeper understanding of these topics to instill in their congregations.
 
Bruce Ashford, Southeastern’s provost, dean of faculty and associate professor of theology and culture, said SEBTS’ Economic Wisdom project is designed to “help pastors strike the right note in leading their congregations toward a healthy, biblically-based view of the workplace and the economy.”
 
The first class, theology of culture, is being taught on campus this semester, and an online version will start in the fall. Theology of vocation will be the next class, followed by economics, poverty and wealth.
 
Enrollment is open to SEBTS students for courses taught on campus. The online classes will be open to pastors and others free of charge.
 
“Students will be exposed to three courses which guide them in building a theology of culture, a theology of vocation and a biblically-informed view of the economy,” Ashford said. “These courses’ lectures will also be offered in a free online format following the initial on-campus class.”
 
Several SEBTS faculty, including Ashford, Dave Jones, Benjamin Quinn and Walter Strickland, will be involved in creating and teaching the content of the classes.
 
“We will write discipleship booklets on culture, workplace and the economy,” Ashford said. “These booklets are designed for laypeople in our churches.”
 
Readers will have access to the booklets in electronic and print formats to reinforce the course content.
 
A forum with a nationally acclaimed speaker also will be held in the coming months in partnership with the Kern Family Foundation, the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and the Spurgeon Center at SEBTS.
 
“It is difficult to overstate our gratefulness to God for the Kern Family Foundation and their foresight in making this initiative possible,” Ashford said. “Real-world issues that emerge at the intersections of faith, work and economics are not peripheral but central to the Christian life.
 
“This grant affords Southeastern an unprecedented opportunity to develop a robust series of courses that will serve as the backbone of a world-class preparation benefitting current and future pastors as they lead their flock to glorify Christ in all aspects of their daily lives,” Ashford said.
 

Student debt

With personal financial pressures limiting the ability of seminary graduates to accept calls to Christian ministry and undermining the effectiveness of too many pastoral leaders, the Lilly Endowment created the Theological School Initiative to Address Economic Issues Facing Future Ministers to encourage theological schools to examine and strengthen their financial and educational practices to improve the economic wellbeing of future pastors.
 
All theological schools fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada were invited to submit grant proposals. New Orleans Seminary will use its funding to help students develop financial skills and take active steps toward reducing their debt burden while in seminary.
 
Research and education components of the program will target students at several stages of the seminary journey, from the transition to seminary life to their post-seminary ministry positions.
 
“The decline in Cooperative Program support from Southern Baptist churches is shifting more of the cost for theological education to students. This is making the problem of debt more likely among SBC seminary students,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “We are deeply grateful to the Lilly Foundation for their help in working with our students on a crucial issue that could limit the ways they serve our churches and hinder their access to foreign mission fields waiting for a Gospel witness.”
 
Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at the endowment, said pastors are “indispensable spiritual leaders and guides, and the quality of pastoral leadership is critical to the health and vitality of congregations.”
 
“Theological schools play a critical role in preparing pastors and are uniquely positioned to address some of the economic challenges they face,” Coble said. “The endowment hopes that these grants will support broad efforts to improve the financial circumstances facing pastoral leaders so that pastors can serve their congregations more joyfully and effectively.”
 
Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education and community development.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on reports by Ali Dixon of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Gary D. Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
1/16/2014 10:40:23 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Mars Hill celebrates first graduation as university

January 16 2014 by MHU Office of Communications

Mars Hill University’s historic first graduation since attaining university status took place Dec. 20. The institution conferred bachelor’s degrees on 91 August and December graduates, and honorary doctorates on two long-time faculty members in a ceremony in Moore Auditorium on the campus. The most common majors for the graduates were education (elementary, middle, integrated, special), business (administration, management) and history.

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Keynote speaker for the evening was David Smith, honorary trustee of Mars Hill University and pastor of First Baptist Church of Lenoir. Using a text from Ecclesiastes, Smith reminded the graduates that “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
 
Smith holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Mars Hill College, and a doctorate of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a former missionary, and a former trustee and campus minister at Mars Hill College. He lives in Lenoir with his wife, Janice.
 
The university bestowed honorary doctorates on Bob and Rachel Chapman, a husband and wife who, between them, gave 89 years of service to Mars Hill before their retirement in 1991. Rachel Chapman was a business professor for her entire 45-year career. Bob Chapman served as the assistant registrar from 1947 until 1957, and as the college registrar from 1957 until 1991. During those years, he was also a professor of business. In all, he gave 44 years of service to the college.
 
The Chapmans continue to be active in the life of the university, and helped found the Retired Faculty/Staff Association. Bob served as the organization’s founding president. The Chapmans also maintain the Chapman Rose Garden, near Pittman Dining Hall on the campus.
 
Three of the students who graduated – Chris Ammons of Mars Hill; Lacey Bradley of Fletcher; and Greg Lancaster of Gastonia – were recipients of the first bachelor of science in criminal justice degrees issued by Mars Hill. Until this academic year, the institution offered minors and concentrations in criminal justice, but it now offers a full major.
 
Student speakers for the graduation were J. Brady Adcock, a business administration major from Pfafftown, and Tabbatha Ayers Garland, a social work major in the adult and graduate studies program from Burnsville. The invocation was given by Joo Kyung “Esther” Kim, a chemistry major from Thessaloniki, Greece.
 
Special music for the graduation was provided by Sarah Emily Richardson, a musical theatre major from Apex.
1/16/2014 10:27:26 AM by MHU Office of Communications | with 0 comments



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