July 2013

SBC CEO encourages Baptists across U.S.

July 31 2013 by David Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – So, what exactly does the president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) do?

For Frank S. Page, who has served in that position since 2010, a big part of the answer is traveling the country to encourage pastors and other leaders to work together in fulfilling the Great Commission. In fact, Page says that the “CEO” in his title stands for “chief encouragement officer.”

“I enjoy direct contact with what I call real Southern Baptist pastors,” Page told SBC LIFE, the journal of the Executive Committee. “That’s small church pastors, medium church pastors. So I love speaking with them. I meet with laypeople as well.”

Last year he preached nearly every Sunday in churches from Massachusetts to Texas and went on three convention-related international trips. He spoke 31 times at rallies, conferences, state convention meetings and SBC entities and participated in eight local Baptist associational meetings.


The rigors of travel

Half of Page’s working hours are spent on the road. Such extensive travel might seem glamorous to outsiders but Page said it’s anything but glamorous for the one doing it. The time away from family is particularly difficult – even though he bought his wife, Dayle, an orange cat named Ginger to help keep her company while he is away.

“Airplane travel is no longer an enjoyable experience,” he said. “I’m not a patient man, so waiting for flights and often delayed flights is my least favorite part of travel.”

Once, during an ice storm in Atlanta, Page waited five hours before finally boarding his flight at 1:30 a.m. Then airport crews loaded half of the plane but stopped their work when it was announced that the airport had closed. Fortunately, it was early in Page’s tenure as EC president and his lease had not expired on the apartment in Atlanta where he lived before moving to Nashville. So he took a taxi to his apartment, arriving after 4 in the morning.
 

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Frank Page, as president of the SBC Executive Committee and self-described “chief encouragement officer,” preached almost every Sunday last year, went on three convention-related international trips, spoke at 31 Southern Baptist conferences and rallies and participated in eight Baptist associational meetings.

“That happens from time to time,” Page said. “That is a part of modern-day travel, particularly when there are weather problems.”

But travel isn’t all delays and headaches. Page enjoys opportunities to share the gospel with people he encounters. In an airport he met a woman named Claire who asked him to watch her bag while she went to the restroom. Later, on the plane, they found themselves seated next to each other and Page led her to faith in Christ.

“I got an email from her the next day – I’ve still got it – entitled ‘best airplane ride ever,’“ he recounted. “So, you know, God gives us opportunities. We just have to be open to those opportunities.”


Visiting associations

Among Page’s favorite trips have been visits to Baptist associations. As the pastor of small and large churches alike, he was always involved in the local association, and now he wants to let associations know that they are an integral part of Southern Baptist life.

Extensive travel, he said, has helped him realize the need for associations to organize themselves differently depending on their context.

“In our more urban, metro areas, the role [of associations] has changed,” Page said. “And associations that are being successful have become far more resource-driven to help local churches do what local churches cannot do alone. Now that’s true in rural contexts, too. But in urban areas they have morphed and changed into much more specific and specialized resource providers.

“In rural associations there is still a deep need not only for resource provision, but also for fellowship opportunities. I travel out West and I travel up North. And let me tell you, while you may have 15 churches in a one-mile or two-mile area down South, out there they don’t. When they meet, they need each other. Associations provide not just fellowship, but accountability and encouragement in hurting places.”

Although his messages vary depending on the occasion, Page routinely encourages associations to support missions and commit to do missions. On an individual level, associational meetings allow him to meet discouraged pastors who ask for prayer. He almost always follows up with them by phone or email after returning to Nashville.

Some associations stick in Page’s mind because of their innovative ministries. In such places, his travel plays a dual role, allowing him both to communicate a message from the convention and learn ministry strategies that he can share with other associations. For example, in Florida he saw how the Greater Orlando Baptist Association has planted 44 churches in the past year, 30 of them among ethnic groups. And in South Carolina, he learned how the Spartanburg County Baptist Network pairs healthy churches with struggling churches in a mentoring relationship.


Meeting pastors

For their part, associations say they learn from Page, too.

“Having him there as really the key figure of our denomination spoke a lot to our churches,” said Tom Cheyney of the annual meeting of the Orlando association, where he serves as executive director of missions. “Our megachurch pastors were there. Our smaller church pastors were there. They turned out to hear what Dr. Page had to say.”

Jeff Crabtree, former director of missions for the Warren Association of Baptists in Bowling Green, Ky., said it encouraged pastors to see that a denominational leader was willing to invest his time in an association. Page spoke at the Warren association’s annual meeting and has traveled to Kentucky more than any other state in the past year.

Page “was very touchable,” said Crabtree, who now serves as south-central regional consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “A lot of the pastors enjoyed getting to know him on a personal level as well as a speaking level.”

At the Shelby Baptist Association in Columbiana, Ala., Page addressed the local ministers’ conference at the invitation of chairman Bill Trawick. The pastors asked him to give an overview of the SBC’s work and discuss the status of Calvinism in the convention. Page lived up to his self-billing as “chief encouragement officer,” said Trawick, pastor of Enon Baptist Church in Montevallo, Ala.

“He has a pastor’s heart as he goes about his work in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Trawick said. “That was one of the things that really touched us and influenced us in a positive way.”


Anywhere, anytime

Despite the rigors of travel, Page said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve Southern Baptists – even when it means long hours on planes or behind the wheel.

“Waiting in airports is often drudgery,” he said. “But it is what it is. We don’t have a private plane at the Southern Baptist Convention, as some denominations do, so we fly commercial. And that in these days and times is difficult. Almost every plane is full, and getting on time when there are weather delays and maintenance delays can be problematic.”

But regardless of how long it takes to get there, Page said he will accept any invitation to speak at a Southern Baptist church, association, state convention or entity as long as the date is open on his calendar. After all, that’s what a chief encouragement officer does.

“I always introduce myself as the CEO, chief encouragement officer,” he said. “That brings a smile every time because they appreciate someone that wants to encourage them.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach, of Shelbyville, Ky., is editorial associate for SBC LIFE, journal of the SBC Executive Committee where this article first appeared.)

7/31/2013 12:50:40 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



High court may be near HHS mandate review

July 31 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – A court setback to a Pennsylvania family business that objects to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate heightens the likelihood the Supreme Court will soon decide whether for-profit companies have religious free exercise rights, says a legal expert.

A divided, three-judge panel of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia denied a preliminary injunction requested by the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., saying “for-profit, secular organizations cannot engage in religious exercise.” 

Had it been granted, an injunction would have blocked enforcement of a controversial rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that requires employers to pay for coverage of contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions.

The Third Circuit opinion, issued July 26, clashed with one issued only a month earlier by the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 10th Circuit rejected the Obama administration’s argument that protections under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) do not extend to for-profit companies. That court in Denver ruled corporations such as Hobby Lobby and its sister corporation, Mardel, “can be ‘persons’ exercising religion for purposes” of RFRA.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told Baptist Press, “That split is likely to deepen as other courts of appeals weigh in. It seems to us that the Supreme Court needs to resolve the issue.

“The split’s only going to get deeper.”

The Sixth and Seventh Circuit Courts have heard arguments in similar cases but have yet to issue rulings, Duncan said.

The Supreme Court may have the opportunity shortly to decide if it is ready to settle the difference. He expects the Department of Justice to ask soon for a high court review, Duncan said.

He is “not surprised that there’s a difference in opinion on these legal issues,” Duncan said. He said, however, he is “disappointed” the Third Circuit “did not grapple” with the 10th Circuit’s reasoning.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued the abortion/contraception mandate as a regulation to implement the 2010 health care law. 

The Hahns, a Mennonite family that owns Conestoga, object to the controversial mandate because they believe life begins at conception. The mandate went into effect for Conestoga when its group health plan was renewed in January, and the company is abiding by the requirement.

The Greens, an evangelical Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby and Mardel, also oppose the rule because of their pro-life beliefs. Protected for now by a preliminary injunction, they have said they will not comply with the mandate even though it could cost them $1.3 million a day in penalties.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs defending the businesses’ religious liberty in both cases. The Christian Legal Society wrote both briefs.

The Becket Fund, which represents Hobby Lobby and Mardel, thinks it has “very strong arguments” that RFRA applies to for-profit companies, not just individuals and nonprofits, Duncan said. In the federal code, it is “black-letter law” that a person includes corporations, he said.

The Obama administration is saying “only nonprofit corporations can exercise religion,” Duncan explained. The Becket Fund hopes the Supreme Court will rule federal law does not exclude for-profits from religious freedom, he said.

Drugs considered contraceptives under the mandate include Plan B and other “morning-after” pills, which can prevent implantation of tiny embryos. That secondary, post-fertilization mechanism of the pill causes an abortion. The mandate also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.

More than 60 federal lawsuits have been filed against the abortion/contraception mandate. Courts have granted injunctions to 23 for-profit corporations and refused to issue injunctions or restraining orders for seven companies, according to the Becket Fund. No action has been taken in five lawsuits by for-profit companies.

The ERLC and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lead a coalition of diverse religious organizations that have urged the Obama administration to protect freedom of conscience under the mandate.

The Obama administration’s final rule on the mandate, however, does not provide a religious liberty accommodation to for-profit companies such as Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby. Religious liberty advocates say it also fails to remedy the conscience problems for nonprofit organizations that object.

The Third Circuit case is Conestoga Wood v. Secretary of HHS. The 10th Circuit case is Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius. Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of HHS.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/31/2013 12:47:11 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Vietnam’s human rights abuses receive congressional attention

July 31 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Human rights abuses in Vietnam are receiving attention from the U.S. House of Representatives, with a particular focus on the religious oppression of ethnic minority Christians and other groups. 

H.R. 1897, the “Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013,” was added to the House schedule July 26, a day after a brief state visit to Washington by Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.

President Barack Obama said at a press conference following the visit that the United States and Vietnam had agreed on policies related to defense, technology and climate research. He also said he and the Vietnamese president had “discussed the challenges that all of us face when it comes to issues of human rights.”

“We emphasized how the United States continues to believe that all of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly; and we had a very candid conversation about both the progress Vietnam has made and the challenges that remain,” Obama said July 25.

In a statement released following the press conference, the White House noted “narrow differences” between the two countries on the issue of human rights, but a statement in Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of Vietnam’s Communist Party, claimed the differences were “many and significant.”

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BP file photo
Enduring icons of a romanticized Vietnam, women work rice paddies near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Less than 2 percent of the Southeast Asian country’s 91 million people are evangelical Christians. A recent House bill highlights the limited freedom place on religious organizations and individuals.

“As for democracy and human rights, there are still many and significant differences in approach between the countries,” the statement from the communist newspaper read. “Yet it is important that the two sides stand ready to talk clearly and honestly to enhance mutual understanding, bridge the differences and continue to maintain an annual dialogue on human rights.”

Human rights abuses in Vietnam have been a consistent topic of discussion between the two countries since the normalization of relations in 1995 under President Bill Clinton. 

Religious freedom in particular became a focus of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) after forced recantations, imprisonments for preaching, the destruction and confiscation of churches and even the execution of ethnic minority Christians came to light in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2008.

Vietnam continues to deny such allegations, but USCIRF said in a statement prior to the Vietnamese president’s visit that religious freedom has to be addressed for relations between the countries to improve. 

According to USCIRF’s current annual report, the government of Vietnam has, despite pledges to the contrary, continued to “expand control over all religious activities, severely restrict independent religious practice, and repress individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority.”

The statement also said the Vietnamese government “uses a specialized religious police force and vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities, and seeks to stop the growth of ethnic minority Protestantism and Catholicism via discrimination, violence and forced renunciations of their faith. 

“The government also continues to harass, threaten, intimidate, detain, and sentence lawyers and disbar human rights defenders who have assisted religious communities or religious freedom advocates in cases against the state.”

Vietnam’s constitution contains a statement guaranteeing religious freedom for its citizens, but that freedom extends only so far as it supports the shared goals of the state. A 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief also warns that actions which “undermine the country’s peace, independence and unity” must be stopped because they “negatively affect the cultural traditions of the nation.” 

Vietnam once was designated a country of particular concern by the U.S. State Department for this reason and for the abuses experienced by church goers and other religious minorities in the country. The repression of Christians and other religious minorities also was a primary reason for H.R. 1897, which notes that positive steps toward religious freedom were halted in 2006 as soon as the State Department’s CPC designation was lifted.

The House bill notes that the government of Vietnam “continues to limit the freedom of religion, restrict the operations of independent religious organizations, and persecute believers whose religious activities the Government regards as a potential threat to its monopoly on power.”

In particular, “unregistered ethnic minority Protestant congregations, particularly Montagnards in the Central and Northwest Highlands, suffer severe abuses because of actions by the Government of Vietnam, which have included forced renunciations of faith, arrest and harassment, the withholding of social programs provided for the general population, confiscation and destruction of property, subjection to severe beatings, and reported deaths.”

If adopted by the House of Representatives, and later the Senate, H.R. 1897 will prohibit any increase in non-humanitarian aid to Vietnam if significant steps are not taken to end religious abuses and return confiscated property to churches and religious communities. The bill also will urge the State Department to return Vietnam to the CPC list.

7/31/2013 12:41:50 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Kenyan lawyer on quixotic quest to nullify trial of Jesus

July 31 2013 by Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya – The conviction of Jesus by Pontius Pilate may be the most famous court verdict ever – and perhaps the most consequential, since it led to Christ’s crucifixion and the founding of a global religion.
 
Now a Kenyan lawyer wants to overturn Pilate’s decision, though he wants to keep the faith that flowed from it.
 
“The selective and malicious prosecution (of Jesus) violated his human rights,” said Dola Indidis, a Roman Catholic who is petitioning the International Court of Justice, based at The Hague, to nullify Jesus’ conviction and death sentence.
 
Indidis, a former spokesman for the Kenyan judiciary, accuses Pilate, who was the Roman governor of Judea, of “judicial misconduct, abuse of office, bias and prejudice.”
 
That may well be the case, at least in the view of believers and many Bible scholars. But getting a court to rule on a 2,000-year-old case from an outlying province in a long-defunct empire will not be easy.
 
Indidis first brought his case before the Kenyan High Court in Nairobi in 2007, but the court refused to hear it, saying it lacked jurisdiction.
 
Now he is turning to the International Court of Justice, often referred to as the World Court, which is best known for ruling on territorial disputes between members of the United Nations.
 
Officials at The Hague would not confirm or deny that they have received a petition.

But Indidis seems undeterred and points to the example of Joan of Arc, the 15th-century saint who led the French to major victories against the English before she was captured and burned at the stake. A quarter-century after Joan’s death her conviction was overturned by a papal court, and in 1920 she was canonized.
 
Indidis’ petition has surprised Christian leaders in Kenya. Maloba Wesonga, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Nairobi, said the exercise was futile, at least from a theological point of view.
 
“As we know it, the trial had to happen,” said Wesonga. “We must understand that Jesus was not vulnerable and nobody can do justice to God.”

7/31/2013 12:37:31 PM by Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Annie Moses Band encourages young talent

July 31 2013 by Beth Byrd, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Clutching the microphone close to her lips, a girl in flip-flops stood at the front of about 170 young musicians, singers and performers in Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena.

She began belting out the lyrics to “Down to the River to Pray” as the orchestra behind her plucked strings and tapped piano keys, filling the basketball arena with ethereal-like melodies.

This song was but one of many that students practiced and performed during the 10th annual Fine Arts Summer Academy July 13-27 in Nashville hosted by the members of the Annie Moses Band.

The Annie Moses Band – a gospel-folk group of nine members of the Wolaver family – performs about 80 shows nationwide each year. But the Wolavers settle for a few weeks every summer to teach aspiring performers not only how to improve their talents but also how to use their abilities to glorify God.

The Fine Arts Summer Academy (FASA) is open to students of all skill levels, said Annie Dupre, lead singer and violinist of the band. Once enrolled, students submit videos of their talents, from which the Wolavers cast specific roles for musicians, singers, dancers and actors. Dupre added that she and her family create each show to coordinate with students’ skill levels.

Jacquie Mitchell, a FASA volunteer coordinator, said the students get their music, scripts and other performance materials when they arrive at the college. Within days, students memorize skits, learn choreography, practice vocals or familiarize themselves with sheets of music.
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Photo by Beth Byrd
Students in the Fine Arts Summer Academy practice at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena for the annual gala. This year’s performance was held at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.  


The list of songs for this year’s gala, titled “Rhapsody in Bluegrass,” ranged from gospel to jazz – all arranged by Bill Wolaver, father of the Wolaver family, pianist and composer/arranger of music for the family band.

Last year, the gala was held at Lipscomb’s arena. But for this year’s gala, the young performers had the chance to showcase their talents at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.

During rehearsals, lines of blue tape on Lipscomb’s gym floor marked the size of the Opry’s stage in order to give students an idea of the size of the venue, which is the stomping ground for country stars such as Vince Gill and Carrie Underwood. The young performers’ chairs were tightly packed in the outlined stage area, with little room to spare.

Mario DaSilva, a five-year FASA guitar instructor and graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the managers at the Opry even were unsure at first how to fit so many performers on their stage.

“Last year we did it here [at Lipscomb] ... which was packed,” said DaSilva, who was recruited as a FASA faculty member after giving the youngest Wolaver guitar lessons. “And now we’re doing the gala at the Grand Ole Opry. So no telling where it’s going to be next year. We’ll have to rent a football stadium!”

Space was not the only issue FASA instructors had to figure into their plans, as faculty also raced against time to prepare students for the gala on Thursday, July 25 – two days earlier than normal – because of the Opry being busy on weekends, DaSilva said. But most students had performed before, which DaSilva said helped better prepare them for the time crunch.

“I think what’s unique about this is the grandeur of it,” DaSilva said of the gala, which he described as having a “homemade, homegrown” feel to it. “There are moments where the students get to shine by themselves. The stages are usually big, there’s lights, there’s mics, there’s costumes. And there’s a certain sense of perfectionism that goes with it. There’s a little pressure that we are performing this the best we can.”

But the pressure doesn’t seem to scare participants away, as DaSilva noted that many of the current faculty members were FASA students themselves. Some faculty members such as Steven Bowman, a student at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, return to FASA each year to teach.

Meeting the Wolaver family at one of their concerts, Bowman said he “was captivated by the vision they had – the vision to see young people given the opportunity to excel at their art and glorify God in the process.” He became a FASA string mentor in 2007 and has taught violin and fiddle ensembles as well as private lessons at FASA since 2008. Bowman even traveled to New York City in 2012 to perform with the Annie Moses Band at Carnegie Hall.

The first week of FASA, which included more than 250 lower and upper division attendees, was spent getting the students familiar with the performance materials, DaSilva said. He and his fellow guitar faculty members, including his son James, listened to various ensembles to make sure the performers were learning their music. Bowman taught a violin technique class and a violin sectional during this time, in addition to bluegrass and fiddle ensembles.

By the second week, with the lower division students having left, the upper division students began preparing for the gala by practicing with the entire orchestra. In order to be ready for the Opry performance, students and faculty often rehearsed late into the night, Bowman said.

“Working with these kids is pure joy for me,” Bowman said. “It’s exciting to see the light in their eyes when they catch on to a new concept or finally play a passage at full speed. I try to not just give short-term instruction, though. I want them to be able to have tools that they can use when they return home that will ultimately give them more skill and freedom as an artist.

“Overall, though, I think my biggest desire is that they would see my love for God and how it influences what I do and why I do it,” Bowman said. “If the students realize how much of an impact they can have for the Kingdom of God and how much Christ’s love can be conveyed through the beauty of their art, then they will be free to make music that affects lives.”

DaSilva said the goal of FASA is to “further the Kingdom of God through excellent music,” with Bowman noting that the Psalms say to “play skillfully” while 1 Corinthians 10:31 instructs that “in whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

In order to intertwine Christ in FASA’s theme and purpose, the academy instructors held daily chapel services that were designed to encourage students in their faith, to challenge them to love and obey God and to serve one another in love, Bowman said.

“At FASA, these students are given the opportunity to play skillfully but point to God as the source of such gifts and the one worthy of praise,” Bowman said. “It is our hope that we will see this generation take back the world of the arts for the glory of God by being excellent in all they do for His purposes.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Beth Byrd is a staff writer for Baptist Press. For more information about the summer academy, visit www.fineartssummeracademy.com.)
7/31/2013 12:32:29 PM by Beth Byrd, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



NAMB seeks ‘defining moment’ at Send 2013

July 30 2013 by Tobin Perry, North American Mission Board

PLANO, Texas – The 2013 Send North America Conference in Plano, Texas, kicked off July 29 with a high-tech multimedia journey through key moments in Southern Baptist history. While illustrating the rich legacy from the past that Southern Baptists can lean upon, the presentation looked forward to a potential future movement of God as attendees take a hold of the moment they’ve been given. More than 4,000 were in attendance.
 
As the presentation moved into the future, North American Mission Board Vice President for Mobilization Aaron Coe continued that theme, urging attendees to seize their moments.
 
“Here’s our prayer: We’re praying this moment will be a defining moment for you,” Coe said.
Coe mentioned two specific ways he prayed Jesus would define attendees’ moments for them at the conference. First, after reminding attendees of Jesus’ promise to build His Church, he said he was praying Jesus would remind them during this conference that He is for them and is an advocate for them.
 
Second, he told attendees that he was praying Jesus would give them a defining moment at the conference.
 
“Our movement didn’t start a few years ago,” Coe told attendees. “It started 2,000 years ago. We get to be a part of that movement today. It’s a movement marked by pioneers who have fearlessly stepped into places where darkness exists, missionaries who fearlessly stepped into places that were dangerous so they could see the Church move forward.”

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NAMB photo by Susan Whitley
Aaron Coe, vice president for mobilization for the North American Mission Board, opened the 2013 Send North America Conference by urging more than 4,000 attendees to seize their moments. “Here’s our prayer: We’re praying this moment will be a defining moment for you,” Coe said.

 

He then told the story of his great-great-grandmother, Lucy Clements, who moved to a Louisville suburb without churches in the 1930s. A lifelong Sunday School teacher, she decided to hold a class in her front yard. The Sunday School class grew over time and eventually became Bethlehem Baptist Church.
 
“Lucy stepped into that moment,” Coe said. “She identified darkness and against all odds for a woman in 1939, she stepped into her moment and penetrated darkness where it exists.”

Then Coe turned his attention to attendees and the moments before them at the 2013 Send North America Conference, held at Prestonwood Baptist Church.
 
“Will this be a defining moment or will this be a forgotten moment?” Coe said. “The difference between a defining moment and a forgotten moment is a seized moment. We’re praying that we are able to give you the tools over these next days for you to seize the moment, to look for lostness where it exists, to look for the tools that will equip your church to move out beyond where it is so that we can penetrate lostness together.”

7/30/2013 4:24:39 PM by Tobin Perry, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments



World Missions Week emphasizes serving, trusting God

July 30 2013 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

When God calls His followers to serve, He promises in scripture to be with them every step of the way, said David Nasser, who spoke this summer during World Missions Week at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell.   
 
“Everyone in this room has been told promises that never came about,” said Nasser, pastor of Christ City Church in Birmingham, Ala.
 
“This one is going to come about because God never writes a check that bounces. God never makes a promise that He can’t cash later. This is a God-sized promise.”
 
North Carolina Baptists on Mission (NCBM) sponsors the annual event, with assistance from the Baptist State Convention’s campus ministry team and Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina. It is a weeklong camp that offers opportunities for all age groups from pre-school to adults. Each day campers heard testimonies from missionaries, participated in small group Bible studies, and attended morning and evening celebratory worship events. Nasser served as camp pastor during the week.
 
The theme for this year’s camp was “Glory Revealed,” based on Isaiah 40:5.
 
“The focus is missions,” said Richard Brunson, NCBM executive-director. “We want those who are here to learn about missions, and we want to challenge them to embrace God’s call on their lives to serve as missionaries wherever they are in life.”
 
The camp was held in conjunction with Deep Impact, a youth mission camp that involves youth in service projects such as construction, Vacation Bible School, prayer walking, senior adult ministry and community outreach projects. More than 950 children, youth and adults attended the two camps.

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BSC photo by K Brown
Rush of Fools leads worship at World Missions Week.

 

Participants from each camp joined in the morning and evening worship events, where they heard messages from Nasser. By the end of the week, the two camps reported 45 professions of faith, 65 rededications, and five calls to vocational ministry. 
 
Speaking from Isaiah 41:9-10, Nasser said God’s glory is revealed when believers live confidently in His promises, including the promise to call and equip believers to serve.  
 
“God does not call us because we are awesome,” he said.  “God knows every failure you ever committed. God knows every failure you will ever commit and yet He says, ‘I’m calling you.’”
 
Unlike the way the world works, God elevates believers to a higher calling based on the performance of someone else, the finished work of Jesus Christ, which removes all doubts and fears from the call to serve.
 
“In this world you get chosen by your performance. In God’s economy you are chosen by Jesus’ performance,” Nasser said. “If that doesn’t give you hope nothing ever will.”
 

Rely on God

Donnie Strader, a bivocational pastor from Greensboro, led a daily small group Bible study made up of high school sophomores and juniors. He challenged students to rely on God’s promises in both the good times and the bad times.  
 
“We all have a lot of different things going on in life,” Strader said. “If you are in a difficult situation, learn to lean on God. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we want, but God has a purpose and a plan.”
 
Strader, who left seminary to pursue a secular career one semester shy of graduation from seminary, understands that principal more than most. “I chose not to continue the path God was choosing for me, so I took a detour,” he said.
 
But God’s plan for Strader included ministry all along. A few years after leaving school, a seminary friend asked Strader to serve as the interim youth pastor at his church. Strader accepted, and served as the youth pastor for 10 years until he became the senior pastor at the Grove Church in Greensboro three years ago.
 
“How it worked out was perfect and it just shows that God is in control,” he said.
 
Though God is sovereign, he stressed how important it was for him to obey when God called him to ministry a second time.
 
“God wants us to trust and obey so that our relationship can grow in love, and he wants us to fear Him so His glory will be revealed,” he said.
 
Strader and his wife, Michelle, have served at World Missions Week every summer for more than a decade.  He is passionate about leading youth to pursue Christ with passion and conviction. 
 
“These kids are the church of tomorrow,” he said. “They’re our future, and instead of them relying on the world, I would like for them to rely on God.” 
 
Every year God is moving through World Missions Week to draw students to missions, Strader said. It’s that experience that draws him back year after year.   
 
“I’ve seen kids that we have taught in classes who are now teaching classes, or they are now working as youth group leaders. It’s been really cool watching them grow,” he said. “It’s nothing that we have done; it’s that we get to see God’s work in it. It’s been an awesome experience for us.”
 
For more information about World Missions Week, visit www.baptistsonmission.org.


Related story:

Leaders reflect on first Deep Impact experience

7/30/2013 4:18:27 PM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Leaders reflect on first Deep Impact experience

July 30 2013 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

For one week each summer, hundreds of youth from all over the state descend upon The North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell for Deep Impact, a weeklong mission camp for middle and high School students sponsored by North Carolina Baptist Men. 
 
Although the camp is held in a resort area, where thousands of people flock for a relaxing vacation in the surf and sand, Deep Impact is anything but a vacation for students and their adult leaders.
 
“Camp is not a vacation,” said Gary Campbell, youth pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Morganton.  “I’m here serving Jesus.”
 
Campbell, who is bivocational, took a vacation week from his secular job to bring 21 students to the camp. In recent years, Campbell led the youth group on mission trips to Kentucky, West Virginia and South Dakota.
 
This summer was the group’s first experience with Deep Impact. Campbell said it’s a good fit for his mission-oriented group.
 
“So far I’m just blown away,” he said. “We are very mission minded and we try to teach that to our youth.
“I believe missions are at the heart of God and so we go on a lot of mission trips,” he added. “That’s why this fits right in with what we feel we are about at Grace.”
 
Campbell heard about Deep Impact from a former student, who now serves at Caswell during the summer.
 
“She told us that we really needed to come for Deep Impact because of its missions focus,” he said. “God set it up, and here we are.”
 
The first Deep Impact weeks were held in 1998 at Caswell and in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. These weeks are an opportunity for youth to spend one week during the summer serving and sharing their faith in nearby communities. Students also participate in evening worship services during the week.

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BSC photo by Buddy Overman
During Deep Impact, a week-long mission trip, about 1,700 students will participate this summer throughout the state as well as in other locations. Here, a team works on building a ramp for a homeowner.

 

About 1,700 students will participate in Deep Impact this summer, held at 11 locations statewide, plus New York City, Cuba and Honduras. The students participate in activities such as construction, Vacation Bible School, prayer walking, senior adult ministry, and community outreach projects.
 
Campbell’s group spent the first two days cooking and serving lunch at a nearby fire department, where the students shared the love of Christ with about 20 firefighters each day.
 
“It’s not always about knowing what to say, it might be a smile or a kind word, it might be a simple encouragement to someone that makes an impact,” he said. “That is sowing a seed and God will add to that. He will cultivate that. He will work in people’s lives.”
 
Deep Impact also allows God to work in the lives of students, who learn invaluable lessons about the need for missions.
 
“Going out and being the hands and feet of Jesus, you can’t put a price tag on that. It teaches them compassion for other people,” Campbell said. “The impact on the student’s lives is that it helps them realize that opportunity for missions exists everywhere.”
 
Another first-timer serving at this year’s Deep Impact was Barry Hall, a member of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone. Hall, who works for Samaritan’s Purse, also used a vacation week to attend with his 18-year-old son and 45 other students from Mount Vernon.
 
“I just love doing this,” Hall said. “I take as many of these trips as I can.”
 
Mount Vernon’s youth group traveled to Kentucky the previous eight summers for their annual mission trip, but they decided to join Deep Impact this year.
 
“We’ve been doing Kentucky Heartland Outreach for 8 years, so this was the first year we didn’t do that,” Hall said. “We heard good things about Deep Impact and decided to give it a shot.”
 
Hall led a construction team that built a wheelchair ramp for an elderly couple. The team also cleaned the yard and cut down a dead tree. “We trust the work that we have done will be a blessing,” he said.
 
At Deep Impact, students are placed on teams with youth from other churches, giving students opportunities to learn how to work together with people from different backgrounds. Hall said it was a great team building experience for everyone and that the students learned that hard work can be fun and rewarding, especially when it is done for the Kingdom.
 
“We didn’t know each other at the beginning of the week. But the team has been awesome,” he said. “They have worked together and worked hard. Everyone has pitched in and done whatever they could.”
 
Every night after worship, Hall spent time with the students reflecting on the day’s events. He said the students talked openly and honestly about how they can make missions a central focus of their lives after camp.
 
“I hope it will be a mountaintop experience for the students, that they can take this experience home and keep it going.” 
 
Deep Impact at Caswell is held each year in conjunction with World Missions Week. By the end of the week, the two camps recorded 45 decisions for Christ, 65 rededications, and five calls to vocational ministry. Visit www.baptistsonmission.org.


Related story:

World Missions Week emphasizes serving, trusting God

7/30/2013 4:13:43 PM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Rick Warren returns to pulpit after son’s April suicide

July 30 2013 by John Evans, Baptist Press

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., returned to the pulpit July 27 for the first time since his son’s suicide.

Warren, author of the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, had taken a 16-week absence after Matthew Warren, 27, took his life in April following a long struggle with mental illness.

Matthew Warren’s death brought an outpouring of support for the Warren family, including from Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee and a former SBC president, who lost his 32-year-old daughter Melissa to suicide in 2009.

“My heart is broken as I’ve heard the news about Rick Warren’s son,” Page said via Twitter the day after Matthew Warren’s death. “Please pray. Unfortunately, I understand that which they experience now.”

Rick Warren took the pulpit at the Saturday evening service to a standing ovation, thanking Saddleback staff, members, his family and local pastors who supported him.

“In the middle of all that intense pain, Kay and I ... and our entire family, we’ve all felt the favor of God on our lives because of your prayers,” he said.

Rick Warren, with comments from his wife Kay, shared the first message in a new sermon series titled, “How to Get Through What You’re Going Through.”

Rick Warren said when he is asked how he and his family are getting through this time, the answer rests on three truths that never change.
 

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Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., preached for the first time since his son Matthew committed suicide following a battle with mental illness, explaining how God’s goodness has sustained him.

The first one, he said, is that life doesn’t make sense, but we can have peace because we know God is with us and loves us. Rick Warren said that as we go through grief, God grieves with us, and He wants to take our pain and turn it around as a means to help others who are suffering in the same way.

“He wants to use it as your life message and your life mission,” Rick Warren said.

He added that he still does not understand why his son’s mental illness was never healed or why he died, but having an explanation is not the point.

“I would rather walk with God with all my questions unanswered than to have all my questions answered and not have Him in my life,” he recalled writing.

The second truth Rick Warren explained is that everything on earth is broken, but we can still have joy because we know God is good and has a greater plan. Nothing works perfectly in this world, Rick Warren said, and sin is wearing us down. But we can still rely on God.

“His plan is bigger than the problem you’re going through, and it’s a good plan,” he said.

Kay Warren took the platform to explain how she could choose joy even when her hopes were crushed by Matthew’s death. The third truth, she said, is that life is a battle, but we can have hope because we know there’s more to the story.

Kay Warren said that during her son’s mental illness, she did so much to build up hope that God would heal him, and she believed that He would. After Matthew’s suicide, all the things she had used to give her hope seemed to mock her, and she had to figure out what to do when the outcome was not as she expected.

“What I know about God prevents me from concluding that He is a fake or a phony or a tease, and what I know about myself prevents me from concluding that my faith wasn’t strong enough ...,” Kay Warren said.

What she is left with, she said, is an enormous mystery, but she is content to leave her questions unanswered until she sees Jesus, because she knows He has never forsaken her or her family.

“Hope may not look the way that I thought it would, but hope is alive in us because we know,” she said.

Rick Warren returned to the stage, telling the congregation that he comforts himself by knowing that even though Matthew’s life on earth was full of suffering, he is in his heavenly Father’s arms. Rick Warren announced that just as Saddleback fought to remove the stigma from having HIV/AIDS, the next fight will be to remove the stigma from mental illness.

“If you struggle with a broken brain, you should be no more ashamed than someone with a broken arm,” Warren said. “It’s not a sin to take meds. It’s not a sin to get help. You don’t need to be ashamed.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer in Houston.)

7/30/2013 4:08:31 PM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



After marriage ruling, are your church policies adequate?

July 29 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

As the future of marriage across the country seems uncertain after the Supreme Court ruled on this issue in June, many pastors in North Carolina are wondering how churches should prepare in case same-sex marriage is ever legalized nationwide.
 
For now, officials and legal counsel for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) recommend that churches update or establish wedding policies.
 
But changes to their articles of incorporation, constitutions or bylaws are “not necessary at this point,” said Brian Davis, associate executive director-treasurer of the BSC.
 
“[With] the issue of marriage, we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg of the changes and challenges that are coming,” he said.
 
On June 26 the High Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and chose not to get involved with Proposition 8 in California, essentially allowing gay marriage to resume in that state. North Carolina law, however, only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman.
 
“The rulings related to what the Supreme Court has done … only impacts the state of California in a very specific matter,” he said. “And when it impacted DOMA, that … again is not impacting us here.
 
“That’s why we’re saying we should not rush to change constitutions and bylaws … at this point.”
 
Davis clarified that a church constitution and bylaws can take more time and effort to amend than church policies that allow for regular reviews, updates and adjustments.
 
While churches need to pay attention to news reports, new legislation and cultural changes, any response by the church should begin with a review of their day-to-day policies.
 
“Start there,” Davis said. “If you don’t have wedding policies, this is a great time to look at establishing [them].”
 
“This is oversimplified [but]… your constitution and your articles identify who you are and what you do,” he added. “Your bylaws identify how you do it, in the broad sense, but … what governs your day-to-day activities is found in your policy manuals.”
 
And simply put, policies sound less bureaucratic.
 
“What you don’t want when you’re sitting down with a couple is to say, ‘Now here’s our constitution and bylaws. … [Instead you can say,] ‘Here’s our wedding policy.’”
 
What do good wedding policies look like?
 
A wedding policy could include expectations for counseling, conduct during weddings and receptions, and a clear statement in the introduction that explains the church’s beliefs on the issue of marriage.
 
“A good wedding policy should not focus on who you will not marry, but who you want to marry and how you want to help them,” Davis said.
 
“You don’t want to just focus on doing weddings. You want to build families. So make it a very positive and proactive statement about who you are and what your stance is on marriage as opposed to this being a list of the things we want to do.”
 
John Small, an attorney who provides legal counsel for the BSC, also added that churches should be prepared to discuss more than same-sex marriage when making changes to any governing documents.
 
“You’re going to get into issues,” Small said. “If you want … a wedding policy that says certain marriages can be performed and certain marriages can’t be performed in the church that’s fine. …  Just be ready to address a whole range of issues if you open that door.”
 
Any new policies or adjustments to governing documents could spark conversations about other issues such as divorce, cohabitation before the wedding, whether or not couples should be members of the church and much more. Focusing on one issue in a policy or governing document also can create the perception that other related situations are allowed.
 
“You may think you’re solving one problem, and you may be creating another,” Small said.
Churches that rent out their facilities for weddings to non-members also could encounter more questions and challenges than churches that only allow members to be married on their property.
 
“If they’re members then there is a connection with the church,” Small said. “They’re going to be somewhat in agreement with the desires of the church.”
 
Most churches, however, don’t have any type of wedding policy other than information about the facility and wedding fees.
 
“We don’t have a wedding policy,” said John Attaway, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in State Road. “I think you would find that most don’t have any policy [about weddings].”
 
In most cases, Attaway said, churches leave it up to their pastors to decide who should and shouldn’t be married. He added that establishing a policy could be helpful.
 
“If a church has a strong position [on] kinds of marriages they don’t believe are right, they need to state it,” he said. “That solves a lot of problems down the road when the new pastor comes in [and] nobody even bothered to ask about that particular aspect, and he has a different viewpoint than the church.”
 
Right now, Attaway is leading his church to seek legal advice over their membership policies.
 
“We’re trying to make sure we have adequate safeguards on the way our membership policies are stated, so somebody couldn’t use that against us legally,” he said. “The wording is important. … The idea can be right, but the wording can be wrong, and it can become a point of trouble.
 
“Some churches have stated that they were going to put in their bylaws ‘No gays,’” he said. “That’s like a red flag. … You’re singling out a certain subset of society. … Somebody would challenge that in court. I guarantee it.” 
 
The important thing is to identify potential problems early, and be prepared to handle them before it’s too late, Attaway said.
 
“We need to be proactive and jump on this now and not wait until 50 churches in North Carolina are being sued,” he added. “We don’t need to be reactive; we need to be proactive.”
 
For more information contact Brian Davis at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5506, or bdavis@ncbaptist.org. The Christian Life and Public Affairs blog also provides a list of several websites the BSC recommends that address this issue. You can find that list at http://blog.ncbaptist.org/clpa/.
7/29/2013 3:06:30 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments



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