July 2019

Pew: Christian, Muslim persecution most widespread

July 17 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Christians and Muslims are persecuted in more countries than any other religious group, Pew Research Center said in a decade-long study showing high levels of persecution in 42 percent of countries studied.
Christians and Muslims, the largest and most widespread globally of any group, experienced government and/or social religious persecution in 143 and 140 countries respectively, Pew said in the latest installment of its study on religious restrictions around the world. But persecution levels varied among countries.
Study results released July 15 cover government restrictions and social hostilities based on religion from 2007–2017.
Christians and Muslims suffered the most harassment in the Middle East-North Africa region, the study confirms, while the Asia-Pacific region showed the second highest levels of Christian persecution. Europe came in second in persecution of Muslims.
Christians were persecuted in all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region, in 73 percent of European countries, and in 60 percent of countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas.

Pew Research Center graphic

“The latest data shows that 52 governments – including some in very populous countries like China, Indonesia and Russia – impose either ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of restrictions on religion, up from 40 in 2007,” Pew said in a press release.

“And the number of countries where people are experiencing the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion has risen from 39 to 56 over the course of the study.”
While persecution levels have varied within the course of the 10 years the annual report has been compiled, the 10th anniversary of the study allowed Pew to document trends among 198 countries in distinct categories of government restrictions, termed the Government Restrictions Index or GRI, and social restrictions, tracked on a Social Hostilities Index or SHI.
Comprising both the GRI and the SHI, 83 countries or 42 percent of those studied experienced high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion, Pew said. The percentage is just below a 10-year peak of 43 percent in 2012.
“As in previous years, most countries continue to have low to moderate levels of overall religious restrictions in 2017,” Pew said in its press release.
In general, Christians were persecuted in 143 countries in 2017, compared to 107 in 2007. Muslims were persecuted in 140 countries in 2017, compared to 96 in 2007; Jews, 87 countries compared to 51; Others, encompassing such faiths as Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Baha’i, 50 compared to 33; folk religions, 38 up from 24; Hindus, 23 compared to 21; and Buddhists, 19 up from 10. The unaffiliated were persecuted in 23 countries in 2017, Pew said, compared to 3 in 2012, the earliest year the group was studied.
Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus experienced more widespread government harassment, while Jews were among those suffering more social harassment.

Government restrictions

In 2017, about a quarter of countries studied, 26 percent, showed “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions including laws, policies and governmental actions restricting religious beliefs and practices, down from 28 percent in 2016 but up from 20 percent in 2007.
On a GRI index of 1-10, countries registering highest in persecution are China (8.9), Iran (8.4), Malaysia and Syria (8.3), Maldives (8.2), Russia (8.1), Algeria, Egypt and Uzbekistan (8.0), Indonesia and Turkmenistan (7.9), Saudi Arabia (7.8), Eritrea and Vietnam (7.6), and Tajikistan (7.5).
The GRI comprises 20 measures of restrictions including government favoritism of religious groups, highest in the Middle East; government laws and policies restricting religious freedom, which increased globally but remains highest in the Middle East; government limits on activities of religious groups and individuals, which has doubled in Europe but remains highest in the Middle East; and government harassment of religious groups, which has increased in every region since 2007.

Social hostilities

Countries with “high” or “very high” levels of social hostilities involving religion, including acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or societal groups, registered at 28 percent in 2017, short of a 10-year peak of 33 percent in 2012. Sixty-six countries in 2017 rose on the SHI scale, while 75 countries fell.
Countries ranking highest in 2017 on the SRI scale of 1-10 are India (9.5), Syria (9.0), Iraq (8.8), Egypt (8.5), Nigeria (8.1), Central African Republic and Pakistan (7.7), Israel (7.3), Bangladesh (7.2), Germany, Libya, Somalia and Ukraine (7.1), and Palestinian territories (7.0).
The SHI measures religiously hostile acts based on 13 parameters grouped into categories including hostilities related to religious norms, which rose more in the Americas, Europe and sub-Saharan Africa; interreligious tension and violence, which declined most in the Americas; religious violence by organized groups, highest in the Middle East; and individual and social group harassment, which rose most substantially in the Americas.
Pew terms harassment as an offense against a religious group or person due to their religious identity, and can include being physically coerced or singled out to make life or religious practice more difficult. Harassment ranges from verbal or written acts to physical violence and killings.
Study results are available at a-closer-look-at-how-religious-restrictions-have-risen-around-the-world/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

7/17/2019 4:55:51 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastors plan to repeat roles as BSC first, second vice presidents

July 16 2019 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Editor

Both the first and second vice presidents for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) plan to be nominated for second terms.
Ed Yount, senior pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Conover and a former BSC president, plans to renominate Micheal Pardue, pastor of First Baptist Church Icard in Connelly Springs, for a second term as first vice president at the annual meeting in November.

Micheal Pardue

“It is a privilege to nominate Micheal Pardue for a second term as first vice president of our convention,” said Yount in email comments to the Biblical Recorder. “Micheal is a proven leader, a young man of great vision and promise, and will continue to be a welcomed addition to our convention officers. I want to thank our convention for electing him last year and ask that we allow him to continue to serve.”
Pardue has pastored FBC Icard since 2013. In 2018, the church gave more than $23,000 to the Cooperative Program and $1,803 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, according to BSC financial records. FBC Icard recorded 13 baptisms the same year.
He previously served as pastor of High Shoal Baptist Church in Mooresboro for five years and in student ministry in other churches in North Carolina. He has a bachelor’s degree from Gardner-Webb University and a master’s degree from North Greenville University. He finished a doctor of education degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest in 2012 and is currently pursuing a second doctorate at Southeastern.
“Serving as first vice president has been a joy,” Pardue said in an email to the Recorder. “I have had the opportunity to work with N.C. Baptist across the state, and I believe our state convention is strong and we are well positioned to reach our state with the gospel.”
Pardue said his service as first vice president “has affirmed in my heart the vision statement of our convention that ‘By God’s grace, we will become the strongest force in the history of this convention for reaching people with the message of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ We can be that strongest force for reaching people if we continue to pursue the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”

Matthew Ledbetter

He previously served as vice president of the N.C. Pastors’ Conference in 2011 and later as president in 2015. In 2010, Pardue was elected to a four-year term on the BSC board of directors where he became chairman of the communications committee in 2013. That position includes membership on the board’s executive committee.
Pardue and his wife, Rachel, have seven children. Four of those children are adopted.
While Matthew Ledbetter has changed churches recently, he still plans to be renominated as second vice president.
That nomination will come from Jason Miller, pastor at Dutch Cove Baptist Church in Canton.
“Matt loves Jesus, the preaching of the Word of God and the mission of the local church,” Miller said. “His heart beats with the rhythm of the Great Commission.”
Part of Miller’s enthusiasm to support Ledbetter comes from his strong small church background.
“Matt has served as a pastor of smaller churches his entire 20 years in gospel ministry,” said Miller in email comments to the Recorder. “Whether it’s in the mountains of Western North Carolina, or now as the new pastor of Creeksville Baptist Church in the northeastern part of our great state, Matt has led these churches to understand that a small church doesn’t mean a small ministry.”
Ledbetter, who ran unopposed last year, is pastor of Creeksville Baptist in Conway.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the churches of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and have enjoyed serving with my two fellow officers as well,” Ledbetter said in a telephone interview with the Recorder. “I would count it an honor to be re-elected to serve the churches of North Carolina once again.”
Ledbetter has served on the BSC executive committee and board of directors, including time on the Church Planting and Missions Partnerships Committee. His previous mission trip experiences in Mexico and Honduras have shaped his commitment to planting churches in western N.C. as well as in Honduras.
“Under His leadership, Matt has led 15 short-term mission trips to Honduras and Mexico, recently resulting in two new churches in Mexico,” said Miller, who also emphasized that churches under Ledbetter’s leadership increase gifts to the Cooperative Program.
“Matt supports the Cooperative Program because he knows that together we can accomplish more for the glory of Jesus Christ. And there is no place with greater potential to see that great moving of God, than through the churches of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Miller said Ledbetter takes his role as second vice president seriously and has crisscrossed the state numerous times to share that commitment and enthusiasm for cooperation with others.
He previously served on staff at Lighthouse Baptist Church in Sylva, N.C., Crabtree Baptist Church in Clyde, N.C., Hamburg Baptist Church in Glenville and Rose of Sharon Baptist Church in Doerun, Ga.
Ledbetter is a graduate of Fruitland Baptist Bible College and Liberty University. He and his wife of 23 years, Lana, have one daughter, Danyelle.
Pardue and Ledbetter are the first announced candidates for these offices. A previous Recorder story indicated that Steve Scoggins, the current BSC president and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, would be running for re-election as well. Nominations will be made during the annual meeting.
Visit ncannualmeeting.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dianna L. Cagle is assistant editor for the Biblical Recorder.)

7/16/2019 11:36:58 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Editor | with 0 comments

Johnson Ferry announces senior pastor candidate

July 16 2019 by Christian Index Staff

The search team for Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga., announced July 14 that North Carolina pastor Clay Smith will preach in view of a call on Aug. 4 to occupy the pulpit previously filled by former Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright.

Photo submitted
Clay Smith and his wife Terrica have three children – Madison, Molly, and Miller. The search team for Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga., announced July 14 that North Carolina pastor Clay Smith will preach in view of a call on Aug. 4. He is seeking to occupy the pulpit previously filled by former Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright.

Smith, who currently serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Matthews, N.C., is an M.Div. graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently he is pursuing his doctorate from Southwestern.
In addition to serving at First Baptist since August 2014, the South Carolina native’s ministry experience includes being the minister of adults at Shandon Baptist in Columbia, S.C., from 2008 to 2014, and associate pastor, outreach and education at Alice Drive Baptist in Sumter, S.C., from 2005-2008.
While in seminary in Fort Worth, Clay served as an intern to pastors Jack Graham and David McKinley at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, from 2002-2005.
“We firmly believe that He has led us to this point,” Smith said in a video presented to the church on Sunday, “and are so excited about all that He is doing and will continue to do at Johnson Ferry.”
“We believe this is a move of God, and that our best days as a church are ahead of us,” he added.
Smith and his wife Terrica have three children – Madison, Molly and Miller.
Bryant Wright, senior pastor and founder of Johnson Ferry in 1981, said there is “no doubt in our mind that Clay Smith is the man that God has chosen for this role.” Wright, also a South Carolina native, who served as SBC president from 2010-2012, announced his impending resignation in Nov. 2018. He will be sharing pastoral responsibilities with Smith from Sept. 8 until early December.
On Aug. 4, Smith will preach in all five services at Johnson Ferry in view of a call to become the church’s second senior pastor.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story first appeared on The Christian Index website, christianindex.org, the news website of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

7/16/2019 11:31:44 AM by Christian Index Staff | with 0 comments

Title X abortion rule remains amid legal challenge

July 16 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore and other pro-life leaders have commended a federal appeals court’s latest action to permit the Trump administration’s Protect Life Rule to remain in effect while it undergoes a legal challenge.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in a 7-4 decision July 11 the administration can enforce a regulation that eliminates federal family planning funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions. Meeting “en banc” or as a full court, the Ninth Circuit upheld a three-judge panel in ruling against injunctions to block the rule’s enforcement.
The final regulation, issued in February by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), bars the use of Title X money “to perform, promote, refer for, or support abortion as a method of family planning.” The rule requires “clear financial and physical separation” between Title X programs and non-Title X programs in which abortion is promoted as a method of family planning.
The Protect Life Rule, as it has been labeled, cuts about 10 percent of the government money that goes annually to Planned Parenthood, the country’s No. 1 abortion provider. Planned Parenthood reportedly receives $50 to $60 million yearly through Title X. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates collected $563.8 million in government grants and reimbursements and performed more than 332,757 abortions in the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), described the Ninth Circuit decision as “[g]ood news” in a July 12 tweet.
“Not even a penny of taxpayer dollars should support such an industry that devalues human life and exploits families,” he said on Twitter.
When the rule was issued, Moore called it “a responsible step toward our goal of totally separating taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. We know this profit-driven industry, which devalues human life and exploits families, will do everything in its power to maneuver around this rule as they seek to use taxpayer dollars for abortion.”
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said the rule “draws a bright line between family planning and abortion. Abortion is not family planning.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the rule stops “abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.”
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood decried the Ninth Circuit decision.
PPFA – which showed net assets of $1.88 billion at the end of its latest fiscal year – “will keep fighting to block this dangerous rule that allows the government to censor our doctors and nurses from doing their jobs,” said Leana Wen, the organization’s president.
Under the rule, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers must comply with the financial separation requirements within 120 days and with the physical separation mandates within a year to receive Title X funds.
The new HHS regulation does not prohibit nondirective counseling regarding abortion, but it ends the requirement that Title X recipients must provide abortion counseling and referral. It also does not reduce Title X funds. Title X serves about 4 million Americans – those of low income in particular.
The Reagan administration issued similar regulations to the new rule in the 1980s, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld them in 1991. The Clinton administration rescinded those rules, however.
Planned Parenthood, the American Medical Association and more than 20 states were among the parties that filed lawsuits in March to block the new HHS rule. Federal judges had blocked enforcement of the regulation before the Ninth Circuit granted the Trump administration’s request for a stay enabling the rule to be enforced.
The Ninth Circuit said July 11 it would act quickly “en banc” to reconsider the legal efforts regarding the rule.
Messengers to the 2017 SBC meeting adopted a resolution calling for defunding of Planned Parenthood at all levels of government and denouncing the organization’s “immoral agenda and practices.” One of the ERLC’s priorities in its 2019 legislative agenda is the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
The case is California v. Azar.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/16/2019 11:27:03 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Amid hurricane’s onslaught, churches tap technology

July 16 2019 by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message

Louisiana pastors employed social media to reach out to congregations they had urged stay home out of safety concerns in the face of Hurricane Barry – with dining room tables, home offices and vacant worship centers serving as pulpits.

www.facebook.com/FirstBaptistChurchPineville/ screen capture
Stewart Holloway, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Pineville, La., spoke via Facebook Live from his dining room table alongside his wife Rebecca as Hurricane Barry inundated the state on July 14.

Stewart Holloway, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Pineville, said this was the first time in 25 years as a minister he has cancelled a Sunday morning worship service.
Still, Holloway, speaking via Facebook Live from his dining room table alongside his wife Rebecca, quipped he was thankful technology allowed his home to serve as a “multi-site campus of our church.”
Holloway told the congregation that storms such as Barry remind Christ’s followers what is most important in life and also of God’s power.
“As you sit at home today eating your hurricane snacks and thinking about all the cleanup you will have to do later this week, for now be glad that you are able to focus on what’s most important and on the power of God,” Holloway said. “Here’s what we encourage you to do now. Whether you are gathered with family or friends or by yourself when the webcast ends, take a moment to talk about your faith journey and how creation points you to God.”
Holloway also asked the congregation to pray for first responders, electrical crews and disaster relief workers.
“They will be busy for weeks throughout our state,” he said. “We also pray for those who have experienced damage to their homes, businesses and churches.”
Jacob Crawford, pastor of Life Point Community Church in Mansura, speaking from his home office via Facebook, took prayer requests and shared his morning message.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our church family to gather together remotely,” Crawford told the Baptist Message of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “It’s such a blessing to have the technology to do this.
“It was neat to see their responses as the sermon progressed,” he continued. “This showed me the importance of utilizing more social media and technology.”
From a vacant worship center, Kevin Colson, pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Iota, led Facebook viewers to pray for those affected by Barry. He said he initially was disappointed to cancel the church’s morning worship service. However, he realized the advantage of using the internet like this, a first for the church.
“God’s Word went out and we reached over 1,000 viewers,” Colson said. “God is good.”
Josh Morea, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Ferriday, also live-streamed his message from inside the church’s empty worship center.
“Social media allowed us to stay connected on a rare Sunday morning when the congregation couldn’t gather as normal,” Morea told the Baptist Message. “I’m grateful for any means of sharing the gospel. It was a great blessing to know that we could fellowship over God’s Word together while we were physically separated.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message, news journal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

7/16/2019 11:17:13 AM by Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message | with 0 comments

German family still in custody, homeschooling limbo

July 16 2019 by Timothy Cockes, Baptist Press

The family of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich remains in legal limbo as they seek to win the right to homeschool their children in Germany, where homeschooling has been illegal since 1919.

Dirk Wunderlich, bottom row left, is pictured with his four children, and Robert Clarke, top row left, the director of European advocacy for Alliance Defending Freedom International.

In April 2019, the Wunderlichs took their case to the highest level of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), called the Grand Chamber, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
On July 5 the Grand Chamber, located in Strasbourg, France, denied the Wunderlich family’s request to hear their case. There is no further appeal with the Grand Chamber. 
The Grand Chamber decision contrasts with a favorable ruling from a German court three days earlier, on July 2, that the Wunderlichs will retain custody of their children. That decision reversed an earlier decision by the same court in January. 
Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF international, stated on ADF’s website, “The right of parents to direct the education of their children is a fundamental right, protected in international law.” 
The Wunderlichs’ battle began in August 2013 when more than 20 police officers and social workers removed their four children, ages 7-14 at the time, from their home on their first day of homeschooling for the year. The only reason for the removal of the children was the choice to homeschool, and German authorities kept the children in a foster home for schooling purposes for three weeks, according to ADF. 
Germany would not allow the Wunderlich family to relocate to France where homeschooling is allowed, according to a previous report in Baptist Press.
Homeschooling continues to be an issue throughout Europe, as the ADF has also filed an intervention in a case involving a Norwegian family’s children being taken away as a result of homeschooling. This is the eighth case involving Norway taking children from families who choose to homeschool, according to ADF.
The Wunderlichs’ appeal reached the ECHR in December 2016. 
Two of the Wunderlich children, both still minors, voiced their desire to be homeschooled in a letter to the judge of the case.  
“I am not ready to attend a public school simply because German judges cannot imagine for me to be educated in a different way. I will not tolerate being forcefully taken and locked up,” one of the children stated in the letter. Another sibling stated, “I just want to live and learn in peace with my family without the constant fear of being torn apart. ... I went to a public school for a year and definitely did not enjoy it.” 
This case ended up resulting in the favorable ruling in January for the Wunderlich family to retain custody of their children, with the court acknowledging that “the knowledge level of the children was not alarming and that the children were not being kept from school against their will.” 
Despite this favorable ruling, the ability to homeschool remains uncertain due to the most recent denial of the Grand Chamber to hear the Wunderlich’s appeal for their original case about homeschooling their children. 
Dirk Wunderlich spoke of his frustration with the challenges of fighting for both custody to keep his children in the home as well as the right to educate them in the home.
“It is frustrating that we are faced with this additional challenge in Germany concerning the custody of our two youngest children,” Wunderlich said. “The children are happy and healthy and their level of education is good, as was also recognized by the European Court of Human Rights in its judgment in January. The persistence of the authorities in trying to remove them from our care is shocking.”
Clarke said homeschooling is important for the Wunderlichs because it represents to them the best environment for the children to learn together, particularly spiritually.
“Children deserve the loving care and protection of their parents. It is a serious thing for a country to interfere with the parent-child bond, so it should only do so where there is a real risk of serious harm,” Clarke said in a previous Baptist Press report. “Petra and Dirk Wunderlich simply exercised their parental right to raise their children in line with their philosophical and religious convictions – something they believe they can do better in the home environment.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Timothy Cockes is a summer intern for Baptist Press and a graduate student at Liberty University.)

7/16/2019 11:12:12 AM by Timothy Cockes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptist Pastors’ Conference focuses on being ‘One’

July 15 2019 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Editor

This year’s North Carolina Baptist Pastors’ Conference Nov. 10-11 highlights unity.
The two-day event, scheduled prior to the Nov. 11-12 Baptist State Convention of North Carolina annual meeting in Greensboro, has chosen “One” as its theme.

Chip Hannah

“It doesn’t seem that we are all one,” said Chip Hannah, president of this year’s conference and senior pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Whiteville. “There are so many things that divide us” – including theological and racial differences.
The number of baptisms are down, Hannah said, and while Southern Baptists are planting churches, other congregations are closing their doors.
“Until we become one in Christ, we are not going to reach anyone,” he said.
Hannah said his aim in choosing speakers remains to offer varying backgrounds and opinions but within the realm of Southern Baptists. Choosing a racially diverse lineup was part of that plan.
Speakers for this year’s event include three white pastors, three black pastors and a Native American.
“We are at one of the greatest times for change … when better than right now,” Hannah stressed. “We can do this if we become one.”
Ephesians 4:4 is the theme verse for the conference: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call.” The pastors have been encouraged to pray about the theme and search the scriptures to talk about unity within the body of believers.
“How do we get past our differences to become one in Christ?” Hannah said.
For Hannah, the Pastors’ Conference has long been a source of encouragement.
“I so look forward to it,” he said. “I don’t know how most preachers feel, but I know when I go and I hear all this great preaching, it just gets me fired up. It excites me.”
But the conference is not just for pastors. Hannah said other church leaders and laypeople come to hear great preaching and music as well as to be encouraged.
Hannah said he hopes this conference will challenge believers to “think beyond ourselves.”
“I want our pastors and our church people to become great thinkers,” he said.
Speakers include J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president; J.J. Washington, campus pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock in Austell, Ga.; Daniel Ritchie, a speaker and author living in Huntersville; Mike Stone, senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., and chairman of the SBC Executive Committee; Mike Cummings, pastor of Deep Branch Baptist Church in Pembroke; Alvin Summers, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Indian Trail in Marshville, N.C.; and James Fisher, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Greensboro.
Music will be led by Matthew Slemp, minister of music at First Baptist Church of Indian Trail.
The first 500 individuals to register will receive a bundle of free books and resources provided by conference sponsors.
Visit ncannualmeeting.org/event-pastors-conference.

7/15/2019 5:50:06 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Editor | with 0 comments

‘Gospel Above All’ study follows Greear’s SBC theme

July 15 2019 by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources

Having exhorted messengers to place the “Gospel Above All” at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, SBC President J.D. Greear is aiming to mobilize Christians to take gospel action in their homes, churches and communities.

LifeWay photo

Through the aptly named “Gospel Above All,” Greear leads an eight-session Bible study that includes videos featuring conversations with such Christian leaders as David Platt, Jen Wilkin, Walter Strickland, Vance Pitman, Rosaria Butterfield, Kevin Smith, Greg Laurie and R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said the study is timely, not because Gospel Above All was the theme of June’s SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., but “because there are a lot of other things – good things, but secondary things – that compete with the one essential thing, which is the gospel.”
“It’s the source and strength of our power. It’s what occupies our bandwidth. And when you peel back the layers, it’s what moves us and keeps us going,” Greear said.
The sessions, filmed in Nashville, Raleigh-Durham and Washington, D.C., cover the following topics:

  • Gospel Above All (introduction): What does it mean to identify as a gospel people, making the gospel central to everything we do?

  • Gospel Change: Why are we tempted to enact change through our flesh, rather than let the power of the gospel work through us to achieve real transformation?

  • Gospel Multiplied: How does the gospel empower us to make disciples who make other disciples?

  • Gospel Mission: Why should believing and living the gospel compel us to share the gospel?

  • Gospel Grace: How do we balance truth and grace in carrying out the work of the gospel?

  • Gospel Community: Are we willing to set aside preferences in order to reach our neighbors with the gospel?

  • Gospel Unity: Does the way we approach secondary issues hinder the advance of the gospel?

  • Gospel Victory: How will we look forward and take gospel-focused action?

Greear hopes the messages in the study, released by LifeWay Christian Resources, will reach a self-reliant culture that has heavily infiltrated the church.
“We tend to want to perfect in the flesh,” he said. “The flesh is easier for us to turn to. And in some ways, it feels more reliable to us. But the gospel requires us to admit our incompetence and forces us to walk in humility.”

LifeWay photo
J.D. Greear

Another purpose of Gospel Above All, Greear said, is to keep the church looking ahead, knowing that the gospel is timeless as God works just as powerfully today as He did yesterday.
“We have to ask: ‘How is the gospel going to change this generation?’ he said. “How is the gospel going to answer the unique questions our community will ask? If the gospel doesn’t re-express itself in every generation, it becomes nostalgia.”
It’s important to look at the great movements of the gospel that came before this generation – not to stay in the past, but to inspire and to demonstrate what the Holy Spirit can do and how He can work, Greear said.
“I hope Gospel Above All will lead to a sober self-reflection on whether or not anything has displaced the gospel as being of first importance in people’s hearts,” he said.
“I also hope it leads to an analysis of our witness. I want individuals to ask, ‘What am I known for?’ and I want church leaders to ask, ‘What is my church known for?’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joy Allmond is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

7/15/2019 5:39:02 PM by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Persecuted church draws 2 passionate advocates

July 15 2019 by Tim Tune

One is a former FBI intelligence analyst supervisor, the other a longtime missionary.
In their respective ways, they’re intent on raising awareness of Christians facing persecution across the world.

Photo submitted
Aleppo, Syria, and other regions where Christian communities face severe persecution are depicted in the new movie, “Christians in the Mirror.”

Patrick Carberry, who was with the FBI for 17 years, worked on intelligence matters in the Middle East war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nik Ripken has served with his wife Ruth as International Mission Board missionaries for 35 years.
And each of the men, through their nonprofit organizations, has produced a film.
Recently in Washington, Carberry premiered “Christians in the Mirror,” focusing on members of persecuted and displaced Christian communities in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The documentary will be screened again the evening before the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom opens July 16 in the nation’s capital.
Ripken adapted his autobiographical book The Insanity of God – A True Story of Faith Resurrected into a dramatic movie released in 2016 recounting his family’s experiences as they ministered in the Middle East and Africa.

Patrick Carberry ‘had to do something’

Photo submitted
Patrick Carberry, a former FBI intelligence analyst supervisor who initiated the new film “Christians in the Mirror,” wants to raise awareness that persecuted believers around the world often are facing “basically genocide.”

Observing persecution among Christians in Iraq and Afghanistan is what compelled Carberry to establish Joshuacord, based in Valrico, Fla. The nonprofit’s name refers to the red rope mentioned in Joshua, chapter 2. It was a symbol of support – a lifeline – for the family of Rahab, the ancestor of Jesus who helped the Israelite spies escape from Jericho.
While working in Mideast war zones, Carberry said he saw “the travesty that’s been happening to so many minority religions, including Christians” who have been persecuted by ISIS and other anti-Christian factions.
“So when I got back I asked, ‘What are we doing as a community – the big ‘C’ church – in helping these Christians?’” He said he found little being done “to raise awareness of what was going on out there,” which he said was often “basically genocide.” In this “an epiphany of sorts … I believed I had to do something” as “a wakeup call to the churches.”
Joshuacord encourages prayer for the persecuted, as well as support through donations, volunteerism and participation in the annual Joshua 1:9 Freedom 5K Run, an event established in 2013, which collects entry fees.

Carberry forwards donations and other financial support to four organizations in Joshuacord’s countries of primary focus: Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria. He said he has carefully vetted these partners: Good Shepherd Academy in South Sudan; the American Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East; Syriac Orthodox Church for the Little Angels Orphanage; and Coptic Orphans.
To create the documentary, Carberry contacted producer-director Jordan Allott of In Altum Productions, whose work includes documentaries on human rights and religious freedom. The project partnership also includes financier Paul Jallo, a Florida oil distributor.

Christians in the Mirror tells the first-person stories of Christians in war-ravaged cities of Aleppo, Syria, and northern Iraq and in rural villages of India, South Sudan and Egypt. The title challenges Christians to look in their “Christian mirror” to see who is reflected back.

Photo submitted
Producer-director Jordan Allott, on location in Juba, South Sudan, aims for “Christians in the Mirror” to stir the church’s concern for believers in regions of intense persecution.

Allott said in a phone interview that since the documentary’s Washington premiere, “we’ve gotten a lot of interest in the film for screening it in different venues. … I think that a lot of people realize there is this crisis of Christian persecution globally that is at a point that people are starting to take notice.”
The goal, Allott said, is for every church in the nation to screen the film, as well as getting the film and free study guides to Christian student groups at universities and Christian high schools of all denominations so students “can have their own mini-screenings and start to get educated. This might be the only film or documentary they ever see about this issue or about Syria for example, or Egypt or Sudan.’
“And so, for the rest of their life, when they hear about this part of the world, they’re going to hopefully think back to the film and it’s going to guide their view of these issues in a really, really important way. So, for 10, 20 years, I hope that the film is still bearing fruit in that way.”
To view the trailer and to get more information about scheduling a screening, visit ChristiansInTheMirror.com/screenings.

Nik Ripken underscores persecuted church’s witness

Ripken, in a phone interview from his home in Kentucky, said he experienced persecution firsthand during a 35-year missions career. “I’ve been shot at; I’ve been held for half a day at a time, just people trying to shake me down for money. And there’s been a lot of dangerous situations.” Also, in 1997 their son Timothy died in a Nairobi, Kenya, hospital of cardiac arrest from an asthma attack.
The couple plans to retire from IMB service in March 2020 but will continue their work through Nik Ripken Ministries, which produces and distributes materials “to challenge believers to boldly follow Jesus, sharing their faith with others – no matter the cost,” the nikripken.com website states, noting the ministry’s mission: “to expand the Kingdom of God by sharing truths and practices learned from believers in persecution.”
“We’re booked through 2020,” Ripken said. “We’re speaking at least two to three times a month.” And “for the first time,” Ripken said he’s “actively trying to raise support so we can continue doing what we’ve been doing for a long, long time. I’m 66 and we’ll do this as long as we’re healthy, but there’s such a hunger for this message,” which the website explains:

Photo submitted
Longtime missionary Nik Ripken is focused on stirring Christians to learn from the persecuted church. Those who fail to share their faith, he says, can be like persecutors of those who are perishing without the gospel.

“From the world’s point of view, the cross of Jesus will always be a stumbling block.... Today, as throughout all of history, a God who ‘so loves the world that he gave his only begotten Son’” is seen as having committed “an act of insanity.” And “For those of us who know Jesus, we want to model such insanity,” which, Ripken said in the interview, “believers in persecution have modeled for us.”
“The western church has taught that the way we identify with believers in persecution is through prayer and advocacy,” which are “unbelievably important to believers in persecution.”
But, he continued, “the hardest thing we ever say to churches, civic organizations or whoever is that when I keep my faith to myself – I don’t share with my family, my friends, my boss, whoever – not only do I fail to identify with my brothers and sisters in chains, I am absolutely identifying with their persecutors, the ones that chained them.
“So I either identify with the persecuted church or I identify with the persecutors. A failure to witness across the street and across the oceans is to condemn people to eternity without Jesus, and that indeed would make us a persecutor.”
That message, Ripken said, is “central to the Bible. It’s not western and it’s not eastern. It’s not Chinese and it’s not North Korean. It’s just central to the biblical message.”
In addition to The Insanity of God, Ripkin also has authored The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places and, to be released in October The Insanity of Sacrifice: A 90-Day Devotional.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Tune is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)

7/15/2019 5:21:08 PM by Tim Tune | with 0 comments

Singer looking for identity finds it in Christ

July 15 2019 by Lucy Campbell

She is a ball of energy with laugh lines deeply engraved at the corners of her eyes. And she is one of millions living in an Eastern European metropolis, but one of only a few pastors’ wives in her city.

IMB Photo
Musicians and artists frequent the famed Arbat walking street in Moscow. A popular pastime, most Russians love to gulyat (“go for a stroll”) around the center of the city.

A few years ago, Tanya* and her husband moved to the city to start their now-thriving church of 30 to 40 members. They are part of a church planting movement of at least six new churches in about three years – church growth that is extremely unusual here after the tumult of Soviet repression.
Tanya became a Christian in 2002. As a singer in a band, she had dreamed of love and popularity.
“I wore beautiful dresses, sang songs … lived brightly and loudly – but inside, I was empty,” she acknowledged. “I thought no one loved me. … When I repented, I understood that I was lovable and God accepts me.”
Now Tanya has a deep desire to show God’s love to those around her – those who, like her, are “catastrophically in need of love.” One Sunday, Tanya poured out her heart to a young, single mom, who had traveled two hours to get to the church’s worship service. The connection was life-changing; a few weeks later, the single mom was baptized.
Pray for the new churches in Tanya’s area.
Pray for the men and women in the churches to continue to grow spiritually, to have a passion to share the gospel, and to desire to see new churches planted.
Gifts through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering make it possible for Southern Baptists to partner with local believers such as Tanya to share the gospel in Eastern Europe.
To learn more about ministry to European people, go to imb.org/Europe.
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lucy Campbell is a Journeyman serving in Eastern Europe.)

7/15/2019 5:15:03 PM by Lucy Campbell | with 0 comments

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