January 2015

Super Bowl, Phoenix Open boost Baptist witness

January 31 2015 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

PHOENIX – While thousands of sports fans descend on the Phoenix area this week, Southern Baptists look to make the most of ministry opportunities as the city hosts the Super Bowl and Phoenix Open.
 
More than 200,000 are expected this week to watch Tiger Woods play in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which began Jan. 29 and will wrap up on Sunday (Feb. 1). Then more than 60,000 people will pack University of Phoenix Stadium – along with thousands of other fans and media gathered throughout the area – for the Super Bowl. Thousands of football fans also were on hand at the stadium for the Pro Bowl on Jan. 25.

Enter volunteers Daryl and Julie Bennett, decked out in bright yellow shirts with the words “Trust Jesus” in red on the front. This week, the couple from Flagstaff and other Baptist volunteers traveled to Phoenix to hand out gospel material to sports fans, including pocket-size magazines featuring testimonies of pro athletes.

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BP photo by Shawn Hendricks
Daryl and Julie Bennett of Flagstaff traveled to Phoenix during Super Bowl week to hand out gospel material – including pocket-size magazines featuring testimonies of pro athletes – to sports fans. 

 

“We have America coming here,” said Daryl Bennett, pastor of East Valley Baptist Church. The Bennetts have been handing out similar magazines at the Phoenix Open for the past several years.
 
“As believers we have a responsibility to take the best news in the entire world to lost people. We need to go where lost people go. We cannot do our evangelism inside four walls.”
 
The Bennetts helped with an evangelism effort called AzEndgame that included Arizona’s Valley Rim Baptist Association, Central Baptist Association, the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board and the Timothy Institute of Evangelism.
 
The initiative is described on its website azendgame.com as “a network and partnership between churches, ministry groups and associations across Arizona with the purpose of sharing the [Good News] of Jesus Christ while enjoying the various sporting events in Arizona.”
 
Together, they plan to distribute about 200,000 copies of the 16-page mini-magazines in the coming weeks and months.
 
On one side of the cover is pro golfer Ian Davis and on the other side is Arizona Cardinal Sam Acho. Inside, readers will find testimonies and sports trivia. Each magazine includes how one can put their trust in Jesus Christ and a phone number for more information.

Volunteers also will distribute to fans various folded cards – including ones with former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner on the front.
 
While some of the material may be quickly discarded, Bennett said he leaves the results up to the Holy Spirit.
 
“He does the convicting,” Bennett said. “We get God’s Word in their hands. They have this access 24/7 that the Holy Spirit can talk to them and when they have an event in their life He’ll remind them of this.”
 
Tim Knopps, who leads the Timothy Institute of Evangelism in Oklahoma City, has helped Baptists distribute these types of magazines for more than 10 Super Bowls. He said for some it comes down to that moment when someone puts God’s truth in their hands.
 
“All of a sudden it clicks,” Knopps said. “‘Oh this makes sense,’ and they do respond to the gospel. Even immediately.... And therefore they get involved in a local church.”
 
Lou DiBona, evangelism team leader for the Valley Rim Southern Baptist Association, said this week’s events aren’t just about ministry efforts in the Phoenix area.
 
“This is not the Phoenix Super Bowl this is the Arizona Super Bowl,” he said. “This is about how we reach people in the state.”

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BP photo by Shawn Hendricks
About 200,000 copies of a 16-page mini-magazine, featuring the testimonies of pro athletes, will be distributed to sports fans during Super Bowl week and the weeks and months to follow. “As believers we have a responsibility to take the best news in the entire world to lost people,” volunteer and pastor Daryl Bennett said.  
 

Noting that more than 6 million people live in Arizona, DiBona said this week’s events could draw a total of about a million visitors to the Phoenix area. Most of them, he expects, will be from the state.
 
DiBona and the AzEndgame network also partnered with a local sex-trafficking ministry and Florida-based ministry called “Laundry of Love” earlier this month to hold an event – similar to a block party – where people in the community could get a free meal and have their laundry washed.
 
Dibona said Arizona is “a different crowd. It’s not the Bible Belt. You can’t just do one thing here. You have to use all the techniques to reach the people.... You have to use all of it because you have all kinds of people.”
 
There are more unchurched people in Arizona than people might realize, he said. “People get up on Sunday morning and don’t even think about church.
 
“You can’t just come out here and plant a church like you do in the Bible Belt,” he said. “That doesn’t just happen here.”
 
While DiBona favors relationship evangelism over distributing pocket magazines, he said, “I can walk into the community and hand these to the kids and they’ll fly. ... I’ll get rid of these in bundles.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press.)

1/31/2015 5:29:26 PM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Football game shines light on city in need of gospel

January 31 2015 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

PHOENIX – As Southern Baptists turn their eyes to Phoenix and Super Bowl XLIX this weekend, local Southern Baptists say they’ll encounter a city in desperate need of new evangelistic churches.
 
According to the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Center for Missional Research, evangelicals make up only 12.6 percent of the population of the Send North America: Phoenix region. The metro area also has only one Southern Baptist church for every 19,338 people.

 
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NAMB file photo by John Swain
Phoenix, a Send North America City, plays host to Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1. Send City Missionary Monty Patton hopes the increased focus on the city surrounding the game will spur churches to consider committing to church planting, and supporting church planters, in the city of 5.4 million. 

But in the last few years an influx of Southern Baptist church planters has begun to turn those numbers around.
 
When planter Jason Griffin arrived with his family of six in Phoenix in 2012, he didn’t relocate for the nice weather or the long list of leisure activities. Underneath all the fun and sun, the Griffins found a community named Surprise that needed the gospel.
 
“There have been a lot of people who have tried to plant here,” said Griffin, who was sent by First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga. “For whatever reason – whether it was never gaining traction or losing their support – this became like a graveyard for church plants.”
 
Griffin estimates that 95 percent of Surprise residents are not connected to evangelical churches.
 
Griffin himself started slow. Nobody showed up for the first Bible study he launched in his home a few months after his arrival. But after starting weekly worship services in January 2013, Griffin has seen Freedom Valley Church grow to an average of 120 in attendance most weeks.
 
“We’ve seen 15 people come to faith in Christ,” Griffin said. “I’ll tell you, the amount of work to see those 15 people come to Christ is incredible. It takes consistent relationship building, talking about the gospel and living out the gospel.”
 
Phoenix is one of 32 Send North America cities that have become a church planting focus since NAMB launched the strategy at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix.
 
Super Bowl XLIX will be played in Glendale, which is about 30 minutes outside Phoenix. The sixth-largest city in the United States, metro Phoenix counts nearly 5.4 million people.
 
Monty Patton (@Phxokie), NAMB’s Send City missionary for Phoenix, said the city’s famous good weather can be a hindrance to church planting efforts.
 
“One of the blessings of our area is our climate, but it’s also one of our greatest hindrances,” said Patton, who planted Mountain Ridge Community Church in Glendale in 1996.
 
“Everybody is outside. We’re a very outdoor city and we’re very active. It’s a barrier. They do everything outside. Kids are playing softball or soccer 12 months a year. It never stops.”
 
To push back lostness in Phoenix, Patton said local churches will need the help and partnership of congregations elsewhere. Because the area has relatively few evangelical churches and even fewer Southern Baptist congregations, church planters in particular need to know they have the support of other churches.
 
“For our planters to know that they have people all over the country praying for them and adopting them as their own, that’s huge. Plus, it shows the community we’re a bigger family,” Patton said. “It shows the community that the church isn’t just an independent entity, but it’s an interdependent one.”
 

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Monty Patton 

Patton said God has provided a great crop of church planters to the area in recent years, yet the city needs more.
 
“We are at a crossroads of opportunity,” Patton said. “The whole world is looking to Phoenix for the Super Bowl. Phoenix is a great city with a lot of opportunities. If we take advantage of the opportunity the Father has so graciously given us, we could really make a big impact. But if we miss this and don’t get the support – the prayer support in particular – and the teams and the planters, we’re going to miss a whole new generation in this city.”

Griffin said the challenge of reaching Phoenix stirs him to plead to God for the salvation of his city and new friends.
 
“I’m in it for the long haul,” Griffin said. “I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll get a job – whatever it takes – because my passion is to reach this city for Christ.”
 
For more information about getting involved in Send North America: Phoenix, visit namb.net/phoenix. For a short video from Patton about the opportunity to pray for the city during the Super Bowl, visit youtube.com/watch?v=x0DU68INByE.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)



1/31/2015 5:19:19 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Seattle coach ponders wins, losses for Christ

January 31 2015 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

PHOENIX – Going into Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup against the New England Patriots, Sherman Smith shared how victory on the football field without Jesus Christ would be, for him, a “serious waste of time.”
 
“I’ll never forget when I got drafted in [1976], my father told me, ‘Son, remember this, playing professional football is how you make your living but it’s not your life because it’s gonna end. You’re gonna stop playing one day and life will continue.’ I never forgot that,” the running backs coach for the Seattle Seahawks said.
 
Today, Smith will tell you he’s living a coach’s dream on a team that won last year’s Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. But he said he’s thankful life isn’t all about winning and losing football games.
 
“If this were just about winning a football game, this is a serious waste of time,” Sherman told Baptist Press during Super Bowl Media Day (Jan. 27) at the US Airways Center in Phoenix.
 

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BP photo by Shawn Hendricks 
“If this were just about winning a football game, this is a serious waste of time,” Sherman Smith, Seattle Seahawks’ running backs coach, said during Super Bowl Media Day (Jan. 27) at the US Airways Center in Phoenix. 

“But it’s bigger than that,” he said. “Absolutely, no doubt. This is about [His] glory. This is about [His] Kingdom. This is what it’s all about.”
 
And on the Seahawks, Smith is not alone in being vocal about his faith. Fellow Seahawks Russell Wilson, Russell Okung, Clint Gresham and fellow coach Rocky Seto all spoke about their faith in Christ on Media Day.
 
But for Sherman, life wasn’t always about honoring the Lord on and off the football field. Sherman shared his testimony last year in a video, “The Making of a Champion,” which also featured the testimonies of Wilson, Okung, Gresham, Chris Maragos, who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Seto.
 
In the video that has attracted more than 600,000 views on Youtube, Smith recalled the emptiness he once felt while playing in the NFL – and even during his college years at Miami University of Ohio.
 
“I was in college and had a very successful career there,” he said. “We went 33-1-1. I was the starting quarterback. People were telling me I was going to get drafted in the NFL in all that stuff. And I just remember walking around campus and just saying, ‘Man, there’s got to be more to it than this’ – a feeling of emptiness. I loved the winning but still there was something missing in my life.”
 
The former second-round draft pick, who went on to play eight seasons for the Seahawks as a running back, said his life began to change when he tried to console middle linebacker Ken Hutcherson, whose career had ended unexpectedly to a knee injury.
 
“... I walked in that locker room to comfort him and be a friend to him and he comforted me,” Smith recalled.
 
“He said to me ... ‘Sherm ... I’m excited to see what God has planned for my life.’ That’s what he told me, ‘I’m a Christian and nothing happens in my life that’s not filtered through God’s hands first.’ And I knew I didn’t have that confidence. I knew if that were me, my world would have fallen apart.”
 
Smith wanted to know more and soon put his trust in Jesus Christ.
 
Whether the Seattle Seahawks win or lose on Sunday, Smith said he is confident opportunities will come to share with others how Christ has changed his life.
 
Smith still remembers the pain of a gut-wrenching Super Bowl defeat when he was a running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans. In 2000, the Titans came up about a yard short of tying the game and going into overtime against the Rams. They lost the game 23-16. Smith recalled numerous opportunities to share how he coped with the loss.
 
“In Tennessee, people wanted to hear about how’d you deal with it, and winning [the Super Bowl with Seattle] people want to hear the same question,” said Smith, who has coached with the Seattle Seahawks since 2010.
 
“So I found really a balance between the two – the winning and the losing and having opportunities by God.”
 
In The Making of a Champion video Sherman shared, “The world we live in today, we get so many people telling you how you should live, what it means to be successful, what you should strive after. And I just think you have to have a desire to want to know why you are here. ... A lot of this other stuff is not as promising as everyone says but God’s Word is solid. The foundation is solid. The promises are solid. The future is solid.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press.)

1/31/2015 11:30:05 AM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Baptist college coaches weigh in on ‘deflate-gate’

January 31 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – As sports fans continue to ask questions about underinflated footballs in this year’s AFC championship game, football coaches at Baptist colleges and universities are using the controversy as an opportunity to reflect on integrity in athletics.
 
“Football is much like the game of life in that there are absolutes,” Louisiana College (LC) head coach Dennis Dunn told Baptist Press (BP). “The Bible is very clear that there are absolutes, but we live in a world now where those lines of absolutes have been extremely smeared in many ways and there’s a lot of gray area in people’s minds.”
 
In the “deflate-gate” suspicions that the New England Patriots intentionally deflated footballs in their Jan. 18 win over the Indianapolis Colts to advance to the Super Bowl, Dunn said less air pressure in ball could be “important” in a game.
 
NFL rules stipulate that each team provide the 12 balls it uses on offense and that each ball be inflated to a pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. Because an underinflated football may be easier to throw and catch, NFL officials are investigating charges that the Patriots intentionally or negligently underinflated their footballs.
 
In the NCAA’s Division III, where LC went 6-4 in 2014, rigorous ball inspection procedures before games typically prevent under-inflation, Dunn said. But he noted other ways teams sometimes attempt to break the rules.
 
For example, some teams commit holding infractions in a manner that referees cannot easily see by grabbing inside defenders’ pads, Dunn said. Some teams also intentionally commit “chop blocks,” where one offensive lineman holds a defender up and another blocks him below the knees in violation of the rules.
 
“Many times [a chop block] gets called, but more times than not it doesn’t because you don’t see it until you see it on film,” Dunn said.
 
Christian football players should be especially sensitive to breaking rules – even in the heat of competition – because they know God sees all sin, Dunn said.
 
“Sin is sin,” he said. “If they’re all going to be laid out before the Lord ... then everything that can be judged will be judged.”
 
Vic Shealy, head football coach at Houston Baptist University, agreed. He said teaching players to cheat on the field can contribute to poor character off the field.
 
“If we knowingly teach a play that specifically and intentionally violates the rules of play and our players know we are teaching that, we communicate that it’s OK to cheat because winning is more important than doing right,” Shealy told BP. “And then we begin to weaken the life lessons that football can teach young men in our society.”
 
Shealy’s Huskies, in HBU’s first official season of football competition, went 2-9 in the NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision during 2014. The football program launched in 2012 with Shealy as its first head coach.
 
One way some football teams intentionally violate the rules is by having wide receivers make contact with opposing defenders as they run pass routes to create separation that makes catching a pass easier – a maneuver that the rules call offensive pass interference, Shealy said.
 
But Shealy distinguished between breaking rules and utilizing rules to a team’s full advantage, as when the NFL’s Patriots line up in unusual but legal formations. Shealy also distinguished between cheating and breaking rules as a strategic maneuver with full willingness to accept the consequences, as when an offensive lineman commits holding to keep his quarterback from getting sacked or when a team intentionally commits a delay of game infraction.
 
Violating the rules is immoral when a coach or player does so in an attempt to gain an unfair advantage without getting caught, Shealy said.
 
“If we do and say things publicly that don’t honor Christ, then we are missing the mark,” Shealy said. When a Christian football player dominates his opponent but does so without malice and while abiding by the rules, the opponent “sees a snapshot of Christ dwelling in another man’s life.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)
1/31/2015 11:20:40 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Patriot players put their faith before football

January 30 2015 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

The New England Patriots looked all business as they stepped off the airplane in Phoenix for this weekend’s Super Bowl.
 
Sports commentators noted there weren’t many smiles coming from a team dogged in recent days by allegations involving under-inflated footballs in their American Football Conference (AFC) title victory Jan. 18 against the Indianapolis Colts.
 
Though the organization is known for its successes and “business-trip” approach to the big game, players on this season’s team shared during Media Day (Jan. 27) how winning is better when kept in proper perspective. On a team from the Northeast, outside the Bible Belt, where there are few evangelical churches, there seems to be a solid group of Patriot players who don’t shy away from sharing about their Christian faith.
 
Special-teams star Matthew Slater is one of those players. To a crowd of reporters at the US Airways Center, Slater acknowledged the recent controversy and negative media attention was “unfortunate.” But he noted his faith helps him keep a positive outlook.

 
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BP Photo by Shawn Hendricks
Football is "a game that God blesses us with to use ... for His glory and His work," said Duron Harmon, a defensive back for the New England Patriots. Harmon was one of several players who shared about their faith during Super Bowl Media Day (Jan. 27).

Slater said he feels blessed to have played in the National Football League (NFL) for the Patriots the last seven seasons.

 

“Football is temporary,” he said. “It’s going to be over for all of us at some point. But I think when you look at a relationship with Jesus you understand you’re living for eternity and if you can’t get excited about that, I don’t know what you can get excited about.”

 

The four-time Pro Bowler, known for his exceptional ability to chase down punt returners, said in the NFL there are a lot of positive stories and “a lot of good men that are living for eternity ... and [we’re] just gonna keep fighting the good fight one step at a time, one day at a time.”

 

Patriot defensive lineman and 11-year veteran Vince Wilfork made headlines as a “Good Samaritan” Jan. 19 for helping rescue a 38-year-old woman who rolled her Jeep Wrangler in Foxboro, Mass. The accident happened only hours after Wilfork helped the Patriots win the AFC title, the Boston Herald reported.
 
“You treat people the way you want to be treated,” Wilfork told reporters on Media Day. “I don’t think you should get rewarded for it. I was taught all along to treat people how you would want to be treated and everything would be good. My parents taught me well.
 
In a separate press conference Jan. 28, Wilfork spoke about his faith and family by crediting both with helping him get to where he is today.
 
“That’s one of the things that I always lean on when things get rough, when things get tired,” the five-time Pro Bowler said. “... My family and faith, I would take it over football any day. ... Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am and I understand that and I cherish those moments with my family and my faith and my friends. I cherish all of that.”
 
Devin McCourty, the Patriot’s starting free safety, said striving to be “rooted” in God’s Word and his Christian faith gives him a “great foundation” to lean on daily. Playing in the NFL or in a Super Bowl shouldn’t define a person, he said. McCourty has played for the Patriots the last five seasons and was named to the 2011 Pro Bowl team. This season he’s made 68 tackles and intercepted two passes.
 
“I don’t really think anything in this game we do defines who we are as people,” he said. “It’s a blessing … It’s a great opportunity ... [to] take advantage of the opportunity but still know who you are as a person.”
 
McCourty spoke fondly of the team’s new chaplain, Jack Easterby, and said he counsels players to live in a way where people can see “God all over you.”
 
Duron Harmon, a defensive back for the past two seasons with the Patriots, referred to Christ as his “everything” and his “rock.”
 
“A lot of people get [their priorities] mixed up, they try to put football first,” Harmon told reporters. “But you gotta remember that football is nothing more than a game. It’s a game that God blesses us with to use ... for His glory and His work.”
 
Kickoff for the Super Bowl, Sunday, Feb. 1, is slated for 6:30 p.m. Eastern from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The game will be telecast on NBC.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press.)

1/30/2015 2:35:36 PM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Despite Boko Haram, gospel impacts Nigeria

January 30 2015 by Baptist Press staff

As Boko Haram militants continue to attack Nigeria and threaten neighboring countries, Christian workers there say the gospel is going forth and impacting receptive hearts.
 
Greg Dorsey*, a Christian worker in West Africa, said Nigerian Christians are effectively engaging many areas of the country.
 
“The northeastern corner of Nigeria where Boko Haram has wielded most of its activities remains a difficult area for believers to freely worship and share their faith,” Dorsey said. “However, God has raised up believers who have remained steadfast and bold in the midst of applied pressures to silence them.”
 
Another Christian worker told of hearing the testimonies of believers from troubled areas of northern Nigeria at a recent meeting. “Each one that shared was brought to the Lord by a brother or other close relative. Earlier this year, some of these same men were imprisoned. While we prayed for their release, they were sharing their faith and welcoming new brothers into the Christ-life.”
 
One man exhibited amazing joy in Christ even as he showed scars from his imprisonment and torture. The day after the man shared his story, he received a phone call that his house had been burned and his family scattered.
 
In what is described as Boko Haram’s deadliest attack to date, hundreds of gunmen invaded the town of Baga and 16 surrounding villages in Borno state on Jan. 3 and continued to slaughter residents and burn homes throughout the following week, killing an estimated 2,000 people.
 
Yet, Nigerians continue to seek peace in the midst of the country’s struggles, according to Christian workers.
 
One worker shared the story of a religious leader who said, “I’ve searched the Quran for peace, and every time Jesus is mentioned. Can you tell me about Him?”
 
After hearing stories of Jesus, the man repented, prayed for salvation and was later baptized.
 
Amid the persecution, believers are reminded that even their persecutors can experience the power of the gospel.
 
“Remember that the apostle Paul was once a religious terrorist until he met Jesus on the Damascus Road. Ask God to open the eyes of those who are blinded by the deceiver and bring them to Christ that they too might become great evangelists,” one Christian leader said.
 
Boko Haram, seeking to establish Sharia law, has killed thousands of Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians in attacks targeting religious communities in northern Nigeria since 2012, according to news reports, with the death toll calculated between 10,000 and 12,000. An estimated 1.5 million Nigerians have been forced to flee their homes, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as of September 2014.
 
Boko Haram intensified attacks in Nigeria after Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in northeastern Nigeria in May 2013 and has become more indiscriminate in attacks that originally targeted Christians.
 
Christians around the world are urged to pray that believers will share eagerly with fellow Nigerians the truth of God’s peace and love; that persecuted Christians will have courage and strength in spite of losing homes, belongings and even family members; that believers will remember Jesus’ promise that He has overcome the world and find His peace that passes all understanding; for followers of Jesus to have boldness from the Holy Spirit to share “the hope that lies within.”
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story was compiled by staff at the London bureau of Baptist Press.)

 

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Boko Haram survivor exhorts Christians to ‘stand strong’
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1/30/2015 2:17:34 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



SEBTS lecturer examines North American Christianity

January 30 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Derek Hicks, assistant professor of religion and culture at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., was the 2014 Page Lecture guest speaker at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary last fall.
 
Hicks, who researches and teaches in the area of African American religion, is the author of Reclaiming Spirit in the Black Faith Tradition and a contributor to several other works.
 
The Page Lectures bring key theologians to campus to deliver two lectures on a subject of concern to the Christian community.
 
Hicks’ first lecture was titled “A Reclaiming Past: Considering the Historical ‘Others’ in the North American Christian Tradition.”
 
He presented two statements from others that were influential on his Christian faith: “My faith is stronger today in the loss of my first son than it ever has been” and “You seem smart, why are you a Christian?”

 
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Derek Hicks

“My faith perspective was a bit deeper than I had initially given it credit,” Hicks said. “It was more complex and messier than what I had initially thought. This ultimately caused me to ask several questions of my own.”
 
He explored the reality of why so many African Americans chose to convert to Christianity throughout a history of hardship. The faith that Hicks’ forefathers possessed impacted his life. He was raised in the church and baptized at the age of seven.
 
Oral traditions passed down by his grandmother were especially influential. “She knew firsthand how faith in God would overcome anything,” Hicks said. “African Americans have articulated ... a reclaiming spirit, a spirit that governs the nature of their Christian expression for those who have had to endure this world as others.”
 
He believes that African Americans had an ability to seek something good out of the bad. They “sanitized a soiled form of Christianity so they might be transformed, so they might be seen [as] new creatures not simply in terms of sin nature but also as whole people in God’s sight,” he said.
 
Hicks pointed out that “by cleaning up Christianity, they were able to draw upon its cleansing properties to present their lives anew.”
 
“Cleansed, healed and empowered by the blood,” he emphasized. “The resulting nature of this faith tradition gives hope to the others and is articulated in the words of Jesus Himself, the one who is most worthy to be emulated in African American tradition.
 
“Black faith has traditionally been an active expression, a liberating posture, one that takes this Christ-event and makes it live, alive in these experiences through what I call reclamation,” Hicks said.
 
In the following lecture, titled “The Gumbo Pot: Theological Education as a Complex Brew,” Hicks focused on how these topics relate to academics. The two questions he highlighted were “why study African American Christianity?” and “but were they saved?”
 
Using the metaphor of a “melting pot” and gumbo stew, Hicks said there is one “folk” represented in a melting pot.
 
“I am more of a gumbo man,” Hicks said. “This is not a neat or tidy dish, thus it is not a melting pot. Gumbo is a complex brew of flavors oddly coming together to form an exquisite experience of taste. Gumbo is cultural to be sure. ... It exhibits colorful expressions of a given community. Gumbo binds a community and it is tied to a general posture of fellowship and cooperation.”
 
A lack of contact and fellowship in a community will lead to fear and hatred among people, Hicks said, voicing a view of Christ that calls Christians to have a moral responsibility to embrace inclusion and selflessness.
 
Hicks called for theological education to promote deliberate dialogue concerning diversity and to recruit and retain diverse faculty, students and staff. Theological education also should alter structures to help those from underrepresented backgrounds and to strengthen preparation in the classroom for global citizenship.
 
Underscoring the value of diversity to the audience, he said a melting pot “is not inherently a bad thing. I just prefer the flavors, the distinctiveness and the complexity that comes with the gumbo pot. If not for the gumbo pot I would not have some enduring friendships both on the right and left that catapulted me to where I am today.”
 
To watch the Nov. 4-5 lectures online, please visit http://multimedia.sebts.edu//.
 
To view photos from chapel, please see https://www.flickr.com/photos/southeastern/sets/72157646288323930/.

1/30/2015 1:59:51 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



God’s hand at work years after Arab Spring

January 30 2015 by Nicole Lee and Charles Braddix, IMB Media

Once again the world’s attention is drawn to the Middle East with the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and the tendered resignation of Yemen’s president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
 
King Abdullah died early Friday and is succeeded by his brother Salman bin Abdul Aziz.
 
Both events come at a time when peoples of the Arab nations reflect on the impact of the Arab Spring and the current rise of the Islamic State (IS).
 
“The Arab and the Islamic nations are in dire need for solidarity and cohesion,” the new Saudi king said. It is believed that Salman was making a guarded reference to the chaos gripping the Middle East as IS now holds a third of both Iraq and Syria.
 
Though the fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprisings arrives with little sign of real change in the Arab world, there is reason to hope because God is at work in the midst of the chaos.
 
What began with the self-immolation of a market vendor in Tunisia in December 2010 continued this month with the country’s first free presidential elections and Tunisia being dubbed “country of the year” by The Economist. Freedom has come to Tunisia, which has opened the door for growth – often slow and painful, but with forward impetus.
 
But Tunisia is the exception.
 
The fourth anniversary of Arab Spring in Egypt was Sunday, January 25. Some commentators have said what began in Tunisia was broken in Egypt. Egyptians have overthrown two governments during the past four years, but there is no hope in sight for a resolution between reformists, hardliners and the Muslim Brotherhood. Armed forces now keep the peace.

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IMB Photo by Jedediah Smith
Syrian refugees have endured much suffering as a result of the ongoing Syrian war. But God is at work, and many refugees are able to hear the Good News for the first time because they were driven out of a country closed to Christian work and into places where they have more freedom to encounter and explore the claims of Christ.

 

But Egypt isn’t the worst.
 
In Syria, the death toll is 200,000 and growing. Syrian refugees number more than three million, causing overcrowding in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The fanaticism of IS in Syria and Iraq has flummoxed even other militant Muslim factions.
 
Now Arab Spring has morphed into Arab Winter.
 
But Christian workers in the Arab world want people to know that neither newfound democracy nor violence and bloodshed are the only stories worth sharing.
 
“There is another story that is not being told,” said James Keath,* International Mission Board (IMB) strategy leader responsible for work in Northern Africa and the Middle East.
 
Keath recounts examples of Muslim men and women coming to faith in Christ. He also tells of how God has met Arab Christians in their moments of need, providing grace and love and even the ability to forgive those who killed their families.
 
“The worst humanitarian catastrophe of our day is opening doors among peoples we have never had access to before,” Keath said. “And we are finding not just broken lives but open hearts.”
 
One example is a Syrian refugee woman caring for her sick mother – penniless, fearful, despairing, without the will to live. She heard the Good News of Jesus from some of His followers who were delivering blankets to the needy. She put her trust in Him saying, “I know Jesus is the only answer. He is the one who can give me peace in my heart and a reason to live.”
 
Keath and other Christian workers serving throughout North Africa and the Middle East live amid the day-to-day reality of violence and bloodshed, but they are passionate to communicate another reality that is equally true – God is at work.
 
Christian worker Don Alan said stories abound of how the violence and conflict have provided conduits for the gospel to be shared.
 
Many refugees are able to hear the Good News for the first time because they were driven out of a country closed to Christian work and into a place where Christians could minister to them.
 
In some places, violent men are coming to faith and finding that Jesus is the only true way to peace. Women are moved beyond hopelessness to purpose and peace and a desire to share this Good News with family members.
 
Christian worker Jeb Colburn* has seen similar things in Tunisia.
 
Colburn feels God created the great freedoms in Tunisia that now allow public discussions about Jesus. Freedom has also enabled the translation and printing of Bible portions into the local, previously non-written dialect. There are now audio versions too, he said.
 
At the same time, many are disillusioned with Islam. As one man told Colburn, “There is freedom to be a pious Muslim, but I do not care to be religious because religion has done nothing for me.”
 
But as these people meet believers and receive scripture, lives change.
 
Ahmed* is an elderly Tunisian man who watched Christian programming for many years before approaching a believer who was going into a church building. They visited and then began spending time together. Now they are holding Bible discussion times in the man’s home with his wife and neighbors.
 
Tunisia is unique in its Arab Spring successes. Ongoing tensions in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Sudan threaten the safety of their citizens and the state of their souls. Throughout much of the region, Christianity is still suppressed, feared and hated.
 
But God is not silenced.
 
“This is not the time for fear or drawing back,” Alan said. “As Hebrews 10:36 reminds us, ‘…You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.’ Let us not be those who shrink back, for God is at work.”
 
As Arab Spring is remembered this month, pray for the Arab peoples who need the Prince of Peace and for Christian workers who strive to make Him known.
 

How to pray:

  • Pray for the families of the hundreds of thousands who have died in Arab conflicts in the past four years.

  • Pray for Syrian refugees who continue to pour out of their homeland in droves. There are now more than three million.

  • Pray for Tunisians who have embarked on the path to democracy but are struggling through widespread poverty and 60% unemployment of college graduates.

  • Pray for Egyptians as their country is still divided. Despite the overthrow of two governments, they now live in a police state because of tension between opposing factions.

*Name changed
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Lee and Charles Braddix are writers for the London bureau of Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is leading relief efforts in the Middle East. Donate $10 to ongoing relief efforts by texting “‘BGR”’ to 80888, or designate another amount online at gobgr.org/donate.)

1/30/2015 1:38:25 PM by Nicole Lee and Charles Braddix, IMB Media | with 0 comments



Latter-day Saints on LGBT rights called naïve, unhelpful

January 29 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) will support civil rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT) if religious freedom protections also are ensured, its leaders announced Jan. 27.
 
Southern Baptist leaders, however, said the Mormons' approach to the conflict between sexual rights and religious liberty is naive and unhelpful, as well as unacceptable to proponents of LGBT rights.
 
In a Salt Lake City news conference, Mormon leaders described their stance as "fairness for all" – or a "balanced approach between religious and gay rights" that endorses protections in housing, employment and public transportation for LGBT people and, at the same time, safeguards the rights of religious institutions and people.
 
The Mormons' newly announced support for LGBT rights legislation throughout the country followed its endorsement of a similar Salt Lake City ordinance in 2009. Mormon leaders said they were able to support the city measure because it adequately protected religious freedom.
 
This approach does not represent a change in doctrine but a desire "to encourage mutually respectful dialogue in what has become a highly polarized national debate," Mormon leaders said. They included no mention of same-sex marriage in their comments, an apparent indication the Latter-day Saints will maintain their view of marriage as only between a man and a woman.
 
"I think the Latter-day Saints are well-intentioned but naive on where the reality stands today," said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "I do not think, in most instances, sexual orientation ought to matter in housing or employment, but of course the proposals to address these concerns inevitably lead to targeted assaults on religious liberty."
 
As he thought, the Mormons' announcement of a revised position "was greeted with hostility from gay rights organizations and disappointment from social conservatives," Moore said.
 
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his Jan. 28 podcast, "[A]lmost anyone who understands the scope and scale of today's moral revolution will understand why such a proposal might be made. But if you're looking at the landscape of America today, this appears to be a proposal that comes rather too late to be genuinely helpful. And perhaps the response to the proposal yesterday helps to make that point more than anything else."

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R. Albert Mohler Jr.

 

Mohler said, "[A]lmost immediately, it was clear that the leadership of the LGBT movement isn't going to buy this kind of bargain."
 
"[W]hat we're looking at," Mohler said, "is the LDS church basically asking for what almost anyone in the gay-rights movement would have been ready to grant as recently as two to three years ago – certainly five to 10 years ago.
 
"What we are now witnessing is a radical acceleration of the movement to redefine religious liberty so that [it] means almost nothing," Mohler said, according to a transcript of the podcast.
 
Reaction demonstrated how unacceptable the religious freedom protections called for by the Mormons are to LGBT advocacy groups.
 
"The so-called religious exemption is the size of five Mack trucks. It entirely neuters their proposal," said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications and marketing at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), according to The Washington Post. HRC is the country's leading LGBT organization.
 
The Mormons are "demanding broad and unnecessary religious exemptions that hurt LGBT people and families," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), in a written statement. "The 'compromise' is that the Mormon Church will support non-discrimination only if it won't have to follow laws that require equal treatment of LGBT people. This is not a 'compromise,' it's a compromising of fairness and basic respect for LGBT people."
 
The Mormons' announcement came as cities, and even smaller municipalities, increasingly are enacting ordinances expanding anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodation, which covers hotels, restaurants and other businesses. The city councils of Houston and Plano, Texas, are among those that approved LGBT ordinances in 2014. At one point, the Houston government even subpoenaed the sermons of pastors who opposed the ordinance as part of a lawsuit before backing down.
 
Some Southern Baptists and other Christians who ascribe to a biblical sexual ethic have opposed the laws, contending they often infringe upon freedom of religion and conscience for individuals, churches and businesses.
 
In a written statement, Moore said, "As Southern Baptists, we believe gay and lesbian persons are created in the image of God and ought to be respected. We also believe that any sexual expression outside of marriage between one man and one woman is morally wrong. And we believe that freedom of conscience for those of us who dissent from the Sexual Revolution ought to be maintained."
 
Mormons have been strong allies with evangelical Christians and other social conservatives on such issues as marriage and religious freedom. Both Moore and Mohler have met with Mormon leaders on these matters.
 
Mohler has spoken at Brigham Young University – a Mormon school in Provo, Utah -- on two occasions, making clear both times "there is a great theological chasm between biblical Christianity and the LDS church," he said on his podcast. "As I said in both of those lectures, I don't believe we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we're at risk of going to jail together. It's that second concern in some sense that drove the announcement coming from the LDS church yesterday."
 
The Mormons' announcement could be an attempt to aid Mitt Romney in a 2016 presidential campaign, said R. Philip Roberts, former director of the North American Mission Board's interfaith witness department. Romney lost as the Republican nominee for the White House in 2012 and has sent signals he may run again.
 
Citing sources he is familiar with, Roberts said the Mormon approach could be intended "to defuse the center and some of the left against criticizing him for his moral views and soften his approach and increase his appeal to those elements in the political spectrum. ... [T]here's no other reason for them to be doing this at this point in time, unless it is to help Romney."
 
Roberts is director for international theological education with Global Ministries Foundation in suburban Memphis.
 
Though he questions the Latter-day Saints' approach, Moore said he looks forward "to working with Mormons and others on protecting religious liberty for everyone in the years ahead."
 
In the Jan. 27 news conference, Jeffrey Holland cited several examples of the kinds of institutional and individual religious rights for which Mormons are seeking protection. Among these were the freedom of churches and other religious groups to teach, express their views publicly, choose their leaders, hire employees and use their property according to their beliefs. Individuals should have the right to live out their religious convictions, he said. For instance, a Mormon doctor should have the right to refuse to conduct an abortion or perform artificial insemination for a lesbian couple and a Catholic pharmacist should not be coerced into providing the "morning-after" pill, said Holland, one of three members of the governing Twelve Apostles who spoke alongside a female leader to reporters.
 
While Mormons are known for their pro-family and socially conservative views, their beliefs contradict Christian teaching on such doctrines as the person and work of God the Son, salvation and the sufficiency and authority of the Bible.
 
The spread of same-sex marriage also has imperiled the religious liberty of Christians and others with conscientious objections. Florists, photographers, bakers and others who provide services for weddings have been especially vulnerable to efforts to force them to contradict their beliefs.
 
Gay marriage is now legal in 36 states – nearly tripling the 13 states where it was legal just 18 months ago – and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Supreme Court announced Jan. 16 it would review a lower-court decision on same-sex marriage, signaling it likely will determine by late June whether states can define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/29/2015 10:52:35 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 2 comments



Crime scenes provide ministry opportunity

January 29 2015 by Marilyn Stewart, Baptist Press

Gun violence in New Orleans’ quiet Gentilly neighborhood once was rare, but after four shootings rocked Gentilly Baptist Church in a year’s time, pastor Ken Taylor decided something had to change.
 
Ken Taylor, News Orleans pastor and missions professor, is visiting nearby local crime scenes as a way of ministering to families whose loved ones have been killed or wounded in gunfire.
 
That “something” turned out to be him; he began visiting crime scenes to care for hurting people, even scenes marked by the faint imprint of Voodoo.
 
Taylor’s commitment came in the wake of a church family grieving the loss of two teenage sons whose deaths occurred mere months apart and after a nearby double-murder took place while one victim’s brother played basketball in the church gym. And a man was shot in front of the church as he left the Sunday worship service to go home.
 
“The shootings certainly brought home to us what we knew the city has been facing for a long time,” Taylor said. “It personalized it for us more.”
 
As crime reports came in, Taylor, a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) professor of missions, found himself most often in the nearby 7th Ward where locals often delineate between the “lake side” of St. Claiborne Avenue, a main artery bisecting the region, and the more troubled “river side” where violence is more prominent.

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Ken Taylor, News Orleans pastor and missions professor, is visiting nearby local crime scenes as a way of ministering to families whose loved ones have been killed or wounded in gunfire.

 

Good has come from Taylor’s visiting crime scenes as one man began attending church and is now considering a call to ministry. And in the pulpit, Taylor said he feels a greater sense of urgency and knows he’s speaking to many “who live on the cusp of life or death.”
 
Though quiet has mostly returned to Gentilly, the need remains. Last fall, Taylor was called to a home he knew well to see yet again the all-too-familiar sight of the grandmother mopping up blood on the porch.
 
In that shooting, one woman told Taylor she thought she knew the perpetrator but was too afraid to tell. The woman believed the shooter to be the man who had murdered her own son.
 
“People are scared,” Taylor said.
 
Burdened for the city and for a way to help students connect to its need, Taylor decided to take his Urban Missions class out to prayerwalk in the troubled 7th Ward after a quadruple shooting left one man dead and three injured, including a one-year-old girl.
 
When Taylor and his class of seven students pulled up, they saw a makeshift memorial of teddy bears and flowers marking the house where the shootings had taken place three days earlier.
 
While the students walked the neighborhood in prayer, Taylor stayed at the scene and talked to family members.
 
One NOBTS student, Sarah Clawson, talked to several neighbors, including a group of men outside a neighborhood convenience store who were disturbed by the murder and “the baby who was shot.”
 
The neighbors want real change, Clawson said. “With the exception of only one person, all asked for prayer for their community.”
 
At the scene, the victim’s sister, the last surviving member of her immediate family, grieved publicly but eventually allowed Taylor to pray with her.
 
While there, Taylor said he was caught up in an emotionally-charged altercation involving the victim’s aunt and a neighbor that ended as police led the neighbor away in handcuffs. The police had arrived to monitor a Second Line – typically a march where participants dance as they follow a brass band – that was pre-arranged in the victim’s honor.
 
Instead, the band played and participants danced in front of the crime scene as the victim’s aunt poured pieces of candy over the memorial and another woman poured beer, a ritual that hints of Voodoo and paying homage to deceased loved ones, Taylor said.
 
Clawson said the non-traditional Second Line began with people having a good time, then switched to loud waling and weeping.
 
“There was a feeling of hopelessness,” she said. “This was all they had left of him.”
 
Taylor pointed to the pervasive influence in the community of the little-publicized Spiritualist Church of New Orleans, a group that researcher and author Claude F. Jacobs has described as a syncretistic mix of Catholic and Protestant orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Voodoo and spiritualism.
 
“We were speechless,” Taylor said. “I could not have arranged a more fitting setting for urban missions. It was quintessential New Orleans.”
 
Another student, Bryan Coble, said the experience in the 7th Ward confirmed his sense of call to urban missions and has emboldened him to share the gospel.
 
“Dr. Taylor genuinely cares for his students,” Coble said. “He wants us to see the real New Orleans and experience what it will take to heal the brokenness of the city.”
 
Finding ways to address violence is a continuing process, Taylor said, noting that the church needs to be at the heart of the solution.
 
“While there is a lot of bleakness and fear, I see God working in individual lives,” Taylor said. “It is through Jesus Christ that lives are changed, and it’s only through changed lives that we can deal with this.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is a regional reporter for the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. This article first appeared in the Message.)

1/29/2015 10:46:05 AM by Marilyn Stewart, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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