June 2011

Gallup says 9 in 10 Americans believe in God

June 27 2011 by Troy Reimink, Religion News Service

A new Gallup poll finds 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God, a figure that has dropped by only a few points since Gallup first asked the question in the 1940s.

Gallup pollster Frank Newport offered some background on those numbers:

Americans’ self-reported belief in God has been relatively constant over the last 6 1/2 decades; the percentage of Americans who respond that they believe in God now stands within six points of the all-time high in the 1950s and 1960s.

Previous Gallup surveys have shown that when respondents are given the ability to express doubts about their belief, the percentage of Americans who report a certain belief in God drops to 70 to 80 percent.

Additionally, about 12 percent of Americans say they believe in a universal spirit or higher power instead of “God” when given that option.

Still, the May 2011 poll reveals that when given only the choice between believing and not believing in God, more than 9 in 10 Americans say they do believe.

The age group least likely to claim belief in God is 18-29-year-olds, at 84 percent, compared to 94 percent of older Americans. In addition, 98 percent of Republicans claim belief, compared to 90 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of independents.

The most recent (2005) Eurostat study of religious beliefs among Europeans found that 52 percent of Europeans believed in God, 27 percent believed in “some sort of spirit or life force,” and 18 percent claimed no belief whatsoever.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Reimink writes for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich.)
6/27/2011 4:40:00 AM by Troy Reimink, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

U.S. examines politicians’ financial, sexual failings

June 27 2011 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Americans are tougher on politicians for their financial misdeeds than their sexual ones, but men are more willing than women to tolerate sexual misbehavior in their elected officials.

The findings, released June 22 in a detailed survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, show that Americans across religious groups consider it worse for a politician to cheat on taxes or take bribes than to commit adultery or send sexually explicit messages to someone who’s not their spouse.

“There’s a dramatic difference when people are evaluating public officials’ financial versus sexual misbehavior,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director. “A significant number of folks think they can separate public officials’ personal and public lives,” and tend to think of sexual misbehavior as personal and therefore private.

More than nine in 10 Americans say it’s an “extremely” or “very serious” moral problem for a public official to take a bribe, and more than eight in 10 say the same for a politician who cheats on taxes.

But less than seven in 10 Americans say it’s a serious moral problem for a public official to have sex with a prostitute.

The poll was conducted in the wake of several high-profile cases of politicians making headlines for their sexual behavior, including U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who resigned after he lied about sexually explicit texts he sent to women he met online.

The poll also showed that Americans resent politicians lying about sexual behavior more than the behavior itself. While three in four (77 percent) of those polled consider lying to cover up an immoral sexual act a serious moral problem, only two-thirds believe that a politician who has sex with a prostitute had committed a serious moral transgression.

“This is what we’ve been hearing about Anthony Weiner,” Cox said. “He may not have done anything illegal but he went out of his way to conceal it, and people are saying that this is what got him into trouble. This is rated more serious than sexual misbehavior.”

There are no significant differences, however, in Americans’ views of virtual and actual sexual misconduct. Roughly two-thirds of those polled said it was a “serious moral problem” for a politician to send a sexually explicit message to someone other than a spouse or to have sex with a prostitute.

White evangelicals, however, are more likely than other religious groups to consider immoral personal behavior a disqualification for public office: 64 percent of evangelicals said a politician who commits an immoral act in private life cannot behave ethically in public life, compared to 43 percent of white mainline Protestants, 49 percent of Catholics and 26 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

Significant gender differences emerged from the poll on views of politicians’ sexual behavior. Sixty-three percent of women say a politician who has sex with a prostitute should resign, compared to 46 percent of men. And 64 percent of women said that a male politician who cheats on his wife should resign, compared to 50 percent of men.

Women were somewhat less willing, however, to condemn a female politician who cheats on her husband, with 56 percent of women calling for her resignation, compared to 51 percent of men.

Other findings from the poll include:
  • Republicans (71 percent) are more likely than Democrats (53 percent) to say a politician who has sex with a prostitute should resign. Republicans and Democrats are in closer agreement on whether a politician should resign for financial improprieties.
  • Americans are split — 44 to 44 percent — as to whether politicians who misbehave in their personal lives can behave ethically in their public lives. The remainder say “it depends” or are unsure.
  • More than six in 10 Americans say public officials should be held to a higher moral standard than people in other professions.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents say the moral behavior of politicians is about the same today as in the past, with 28 percent deeming it worse and 6 percent considering it better.
  • By a margin of 54 to 33 percent, younger Americans (ages 18 to 34) are more likely than those over age 65 to believe that a politician can behave honorably in office despite a personal moral failing.
  • The poll, conducted by PRRI in partnership with Religion News Service, is based on telephone interviews with 1,006 U.S. adults between June 16 and 19, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
6/27/2011 3:56:00 AM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

6-week revival fuels SBC resolution

June 24 2011 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — A resolution on prayer and repentance adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Phoenix traces its roots to a church’s revival experience in east Tennessee.

The resolution was initiated by Jamie Work, pastor of Candies Creek Baptist Church in Charleston, Tenn., and a member of the SBC Resolutions Committee and the SBC Executive Committee.

Work’s proposed resolution — which grew out of six weeks of revival meetings at Candies Creek — was edited by the Resolutions Committee and presented at the SBC annual meeting.

In introducing the resolution to messengers June 15, Work said God turned an “11-day summit into a six-week revival” at Candies Creek, and the revival is continuing. “As a result of corporate prayer and repentance, God is birthing us into a brand-new church,” Work told the convention.

Work gave an extended testimony during the SBC Executive Committee meeting June 13 prior to the SBC annual meeting, recounting how Candies Creek spent weeks in prayer before the initial April 10-20 meeting at the church led by Life Action Ministries, based in Buchanan, Mich.

As a result of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the people at Candies Creek, there were 25 hours of public confession of sin, Work told the Executive Committee.

“We are still dealing with what God has been saying to us. Our world has been turned upside down,” he said.

In addition to the confession of sin by individuals, the church itself confessed its corporate sin, the pastor said.

Sins confessed by the church, Work said, were prayerlessness; superficiality with God and one another; failure to practice biblical, redemptive church discipline; lukewarmness (a lack of commitment); preoccupation with mammon (money and stuff); and programmatic worship (non-Spirit led).

What has happened at Candies Creek “hinged on prayer and repentance,” Work said in an interview with the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Though the revival meeting ended after six weeks, people are still meeting regularly for prayer, Work said, voicing a certainty that the church will not be the same after what has occurred.

Work hopes the revival’s long-term effects will include a greater sensitivity to the Lord and a greater sensitivity to the sins that offend the Lord.

In addition, Candies Creek will “push all ministries off the table and put prayer in the center. Then, we will rebuild our ministries around prayer,” Work said.

The pastor also noted the church will seek to establish a method of biblical, redemptive church discipline and to end superficiality not only with members with each other but in their relationship with God.

“We need to take people deeper into their walk with the Lord in order to get them into a deeper relationship with each other,” he said.

During his testimony before the Executive Committee, Work shared that “we are still trying to figure out how we now function as a revived church” and asked for prayer for the church and “for a Great Awakening to come to America and our world.”

He also presented several books to EC members written by Greg Frizzell, a prayer specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, as a gift from the church.

The resolution, titled “On Corporate Prayer and Repentance,” calls on SBC churches, pastors and leaders to “seek the Lord in the manner of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Joel 2: 12-17, and to repent corporately in their various churches of all sins which God’s spirit reveals.” It also calls on churches “to renew their first-love devotion to Jesus Christ through full confession of and repentance from all revealed sin.”

The resolution also exhorts Southern Baptists to “pursue a life of genuine repentance, Kingdom-focused prayer times for sweeping revival and spiritual awakening and consistent prayer for specific lost people, missions and ministry.” The resolution concludes by urging churches to “embrace corporate prayer and repentance for revival in the hope that God would be merciful to our churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United States of America and the peoples of the world for the glory of His great Name.”

In a note to his congregation on June 14, Work said he was encouraged “that beyond the presentation of this resolution, there are prayer and spiritual awakening leaders across our nation who are ready to follow up on the subject of the resolution with God-led attempts to put materials in the hands of pastors that will enable them to lead their churches to re-prioritize prayer and to lead their churches in corporate repentance and solemn assemblies.”

Work was excited that the resolution has been well received and was adopted overwhelmingly by convention messengers.

“God is doing something bigger than just Candies Creek,” he told his members. “Keep praying!”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

The full text of the resolution ON CORPORATE PRAYER AND REPENTANCE follows:

WHEREAS, Both the Old and New Testaments, as well as church history, attest to the reality that God works powerfully and manifests His presence among His people through authentic God-seeking prayer and repentance; and

WHEREAS, Jesus expressed deep grief and righteous anger when He came to the temple and found it to be something other than a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17); and

WHEREAS, The book of Acts teaches through the birth of the church that what is birthed in prayer is of necessity sustained by prayer (e.g., Acts 1:14; 2:1, 42; 4:31); and

WHEREAS, The common corporate sins of many churches include, but are not limited to, prayerlessness, lukewarmness, neglect of biblical church discipline, and shallow relationships with God and with one another; and

WHEREAS, In our preoccupation with Mammon, we have too often embraced unbiblical priorities in our spending, our giving, our response to the poor, and our allocation of resources, assuming by our actions, contrary to our Lord’s explicit teaching, that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions (Luke 12:15); and

WHEREAS, For the past fifty years wickedness and family collapse have been increasing rapidly, and at the same time we have seen that programs and strategies alone cannot revive lagging baptism rates or anemic discipleship; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention adopted the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report in 2010, a part of which called for pastors to lead their churches in Solemn Assemblies “for the purpose of calling Christ’s people to return to God, to repentance, and to humility in service to a renewed commitment to Christ and the Great Commission”; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention adopted the addition to the Convention Calendar of Activities a focused Day of Prayer for the SBC in 2011 and for the years to follow; and

WHEREAS, God has already promised that He will not despise a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, do hereby beseech all pastors, congregations, ministry leaders, and denominational workers to seek the Lord in the manner of 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Joel 2:12-17, and to repent corporately in their various churches of all sins which God’s Spirit reveals; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on all Southern Baptist churches to renew their first-love devotion to Jesus Christ through full confession of and repentance from all revealed sin, and that they humbly declare their utter dependence upon, and glad surrender to, His grace; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptists to pursue a life of genuine repentance, Kingdom-focused prayer times for sweeping revival and spiritual awakening, and consistent prayer for specific lost people, missions, and ministry; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we urge Southern Baptist churches to embrace corporate prayer and repentance for revival in the hope that God would be merciful to our churches, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United States of America, and the peoples of the world for the glory of His great Name.  
6/24/2011 8:27:00 AM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Podcasts could help churches, families connect

June 24 2011 by BSC Communications

Considering how to best train and equip the next generation in the truths of God may seem a daunting task — and it is, but even more so when churches and parents try to do it alone.  

The dilemma is not, as Reggie Joiner writes in Think Orange, trying to figure out which is worse: “the church trying to assume a parent’s responsibility because parents are not…or parents stop assuming responsibility because the church makes them feel like the church should assume it.”  

Throughout Scripture, in passages like Deuteronomy 6:1-9 and Psalm 78:5-8, the family is declared to be the primary agent in discipling children. Families in those same Bible passages, though, live out their responsibility in the context of a broader faith community that serves to resource, train and encourage parents.  

The fact is, both the church and the family have room for improvement when it comes to taking responsibility for a child’s spiritual growth. Although two out of three parents in the United States with children under age 18 attend religious services at least once a month, the majority of parents spend no time during the week talking with their children about spiritual issues.  

Yet, the local church sometimes tries to be the primary disciple-maker instead of helping equip parents to do what God intends for them to do. Joiner writes, “We do what feels like the right thing to do — we implement programs to replace the parents who should be the spiritual leaders. We gradually create a mindset that allows the parents to believe that the church should assume responsibility for the spiritual growth of their kids.”  

On average, church leaders have about 40 hours a year with the youth at their church, while parents have about 3,000 hours with them at home.  

This means parents and church leaders must work together in order to make the greatest impact.

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) is launching a new audio resource to help bring churches and families together. The Church & Family Connect podcast will help church leaders and parents answer questions about how to make fruitful disciples of the next generation.

“Churches cannot give up on the family and the family cannot give up on the church,” said Brian Upshaw, BSC church ministry team leader.  

“Many families want to teach and train their children. The church can help equip families, but also serve as a great source of encouragement. We pray that this podcast will motivate churches and families to elevate discipleship among our children and youth.”  

The first two interviews are with Randy Stinson, dean of the School of Church Ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Steve Wright, pastor of family discipleship at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh.  

“We are serious about creating a disciple-making culture in churches and families where lives are changed by the power of God,” Upshaw said.  

Listen to the interviews here.
6/24/2011 8:18:00 AM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

VBS 2012 to have aviation theme

June 24 2011 by Polly House, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — “Amazing Wonders Aviation: Encountering God’s Awesome Power” will be the 2012 Vacation Bible School theme for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A LifeWay news release June 6 noted:

Amazing Wonders Aviation: Encountering God’s Awesome Power takes participants to some of the most beautiful God-made creations in the world.

“Think vintage aviation from the 1930s and 40s: biplanes and bomber jackets.

“Children, students and adult VBS participants will fly to some of the world’s greatest natural wonders as they encounter an awesome God and His amazing power. They will take off each day from the Amazing Wonders Aviation airstrip and visit some of the world’s most beautiful and marvelous God-made creations: Victoria Falls, the Northern Lights, Paricutin Volcano, the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon, and the Matterhorn.”

The theme is taken from Psalm 147:5: “Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite” (HCSB).

The June 6 announcement coincided with a live online VBS announcement event from Nashville featuring Jeff Slaughter, creator of all things musical for LifeWay VBS; Jerry Wooley, LifeWay’s VBS specialist; and others who introduced the theme from a vintage airstrip/hangar.

“This year we changed things up a bit,” Wooley said. “In the past the VBS theme has been based on one location or idea. This year, the theme is based on six beautiful God-made natural wonders.”

Decorating will be easy for the aviation-themed VBS because each location is the site of one of the rotations, Wooley said.

The rotations, as noted in the news release, will be:
  • “Bible Study at Victoria Falls — located in Africa in both Zambia and Zimbabwe, it is the world’s largest waterfall based on width and height.
  • “Missions under the Northern Lights — This natural phenomenon can be seen from many places in the world, with gorgeous multicolored lights dancing across the nighttime sky.
  • “Snacks at Paricutin Volcano — This volcano in Mexico is the youngest volcano in North America and is considered a natural wonder because mankind witnessed its birth.
  • “Crafts at the Great Barrier Reef — Found off the coast of Australia, the GBR is the largest coral reef system on the planet and hosts some of the most amazing and beautiful sea life anywhere.
  • “Recreation at the Grand Canyon — Located in northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is recognized for its overall size and beautifully colored landscape.
  • “Music at the Matterhorn — Located in Switzerland, the Matterhorn has a four-sided pyramidal peak, with each side facing the four compass points – a real wonder!”
“We want everyone who attends VBS to know the power of our awesome God,” Wooley said. “He has the power of create these awesome natural wonders, but He also has the power to make an awesome impact on our lives.

“We want them to know they can rely on God’s power to do whatever He wants them to do.”

VBS is one of the most effective evangelistic activities within the SBC. For 2009 (latest figures available), more than 25,000 churches hosted VBS. More than 2.8 million children, students and adults were enrolled and more than 88,000 people made professions of faith in Christ.

The 2012 VBS Previews — events that sell out every year — will be Jan. 6-7 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina; Jan. 13-14 at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; Jan. 26-27 and 27-28 at LifeWay’s headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.; and Feb. 17-18 at First Baptist Church in Kissimmee, Fla. Discounts are available for those who register early.

Continuously updated information about the 2012 VBS can be accessed at LifeWay.com/VBS.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — House writes for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
6/24/2011 8:11:00 AM by Polly House, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Jim Hamilton resigns as Dakotas exec

June 24 2011 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Members of the Dakota Baptist Convention’s (DBC) Executive Board discussed in a June 7 conference call Executive Director Jim Hamilton’s June 3 notice of resignation and made plans for a transition in leadership.

After his last day of work June 17, Hamilton said he will give full attention to a national network he has launched to strengthen and start churches and to pastoring Journey Church, which he planted 18 months ago in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Garvon Goldon, associate executive director of the Dakota convention, has been named interim executive director “to lead our convention in navigating these changes,” according to an Executive Board news release. Golden also is the DBC’s southwest regional missionary and Sharing Christ strategist.

“Dr. Hamilton has served our Convention as Executive Director for eight years, and we appreciate his service,” Executive Board chairman Paul Young wrote in the letter sent June 8 to the 94 churches that comprise the Dakota convention. Young is pastor of Dakota Baptist Church in Fort Totten, N.D.

The impact of Hamilton’s influence on ministry in the Dakotas includes an increase in Cooperative Program receipts six of the last seven years, and they are on track for a year-to-date increase, DBC records show.

The 2010-11 budget calls for $265,000 to be given through the Cooperative Program, “and we’re meeting that,” Hamilton said. “Baptisms have been up; ACP (Dakota Annual Church Profile) stats have been up in several categories. I think God has done some good things in our churches and our people during the last years.

“Looking back, I think we can say we’ve seen God do something significant in the Dakotas during the eight years I’ve been executive director,” Hamilton continued before explaining the reason for his resignation. “I came to the place of recognizing that I needed to choose between my exec role and this new direction. I’m not sure what that means yet, but I know it means shifting to consulting and coaching roles as well as getting back to the local church as a pastor.”

Journey Church, started by Hamilton in late 2009 as “a downtown church for the city,” meets in Sioux City’s Gourley Building. About 70 people now participate in Sunday morning worship.

Journey Church is the third church Hamilton has helped plant during his eight years in the Dakotas.

“For the last 20 years I’ve had a passion for planting churches,” Hamilton said. “I think new churches reach people who are aren’t attending an established church. Church planting equals reaching people.”

In its press release, the Executive Board requested prayer for Hamilton and his family, for DBC staff and “for our Convention as God leads us into His plan for our future.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Willoughby is managing editor of the Dakota Baptist Connections, Louisiana Baptist Message and The Montana Baptist newsjournals.)
6/24/2011 8:09:00 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New York team sees fruitful harvest in N.C.

June 23 2011 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

When Barry Lawrence pulled into the apartment complex in Rocky Mount he saw something that would be a rare sight back in New York. He saw members of his mission team from New York. City knocking on doors and meeting people. Lawrence had to pull the car over to take it all in. “It was that moving,” he said.

Going door-to-door doesn’t work as easily in New York as it can in North Carolina. Many apartment buildings do not have easy access for guests, and Lawrence said people just aren’t as open to people they do not know.

That didn’t matter to the 11 men who came to North Carolina to serve for about a week. They were willing to try whatever strategy might work in the context in which they were serving. They’re willingness paid off, as that day five people prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

BSC photo

Boto Joseph, pastor of House of Worship Church in Queens brought a group to North Carolina for a mission trip.

This was the first time for members of Union Missionary Baptist Church in Rocky Mount to reach out to people living in this apartment complex. Pastor Gene Brooks said the mission team’s excitement and eagerness for evangelism motivated the church in their outreach.

The church and mission team served alongside one another in the Saturday outreach event as they hosted a lunch and played games with children, led in music and shared the gospel. The night before the mission team led the congregation in a special time of worship.

Brooks said he realized that night how long it had been since he truly worshipped God, and he is grateful for the team’s ministry in leading worship. “It was cold water washing over my soul,” he said.

Union Missionary members have been to New York twice this year to serve. On their second trip they met Boto Joseph, pastor of House of Worship Church in Queens. Joseph helped Lawrence coordinate the mission trip to North Carolina.

For the past year Lawrence and his wife have managed the David Dean House in Brooklyn. Later this year they will move back home to North Carolina in order to plant a new church.

The team Lawrence brought from New York represented three different churches: House of Worship; New Testament in Yonkers (which planted House of Worship about six years ago); and Amazing Grace in Queens. The team helped lead worship services and shared their testimonies in different churches. They also led worship and volunteered at Cameron Boy’s Camp.

Joseph said the team spent many hours in prayer before the trip, and then they saw God answer those prayers. “I saw God doing everything. In every service, something was happening. It wasn’t us. I saw God work,” he said. “I saw Him do what He intends to do. I could see everything unfold in front of my eyes.”

What unfolded that week were lives changed by the gospel. The team saw nine people come to faith in Jesus Christ.

One Sunday morning during service a young boy, a middle-aged adult and a woman in her 70s all came to faith in Christ. “It was a great picture of what God can do,” Joseph said.

All Joseph could say at first about the baptism later that day was, “oh my goodness,” at a loss for how to describe what he experienced in his heart. The team participated in a baptism service for a woman who prayed to receive Christ as her Savior when she went to New York on a mission trip. She met Joseph and other team members while in New York working with ministers’ wives. During the baptism service, her son prayed to receive Christ.

It took a visit to New York for a North Carolina woman to open her heart to the gospel — and it took a trip to North Carolina for a man from New York to open his.

A 22-year-old team member prayed to receive Christ during the Sunday evening service.

“When (Metro New York Baptist Association) and North Carolina Baptists began this partnership, we both wanted to see what took place on this mission trip — the mutual sharing of gifts and ministries that would be mutually beneficial,” said George Russ, executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA).

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina began a partnership with MNYBA last year through the Office of Great Commission Partnerships (GCP).

“Partnerships are what happens when relationships, a mutual concern and a shared commitment come together. This is what is happening through the partnership between North Carolina Baptists and MNYBA,” Russ said.

As part of the mission trip the team also went to Southside Baptist Church in Greensboro. Pastor Patrick Fuller went to New York City earlier this year on a vision trip with GCP, and a team from Southside will go this summer to serve. Southside has developed a five-year commitment to adopt House of Worship, New Testament Church and Amazing Grace Church. They are also committed to working with them to help plant between 5-10 new churches.

After the mission team led a Thursday night worship service at Southside, Fuller said the altar was full. “We had people saved and people made rededications. God really moved in that service,” he said.

Fuller said hearing testimonies from team members about how God saved them and how much they want others to know Him as Savior was powerful.

“Sometimes we can become complacent and take for granted the church. They (the team) are very much filled with the Holy Spirit and engaged in a relationship with Jesus.”

To learn how your church can get involved in New York City, visit www.ncbaptist.org/gcp or contact Michael Sowers at (800) 395-5012, ext. 5654, or msowers@ncbaptist.org.
6/23/2011 10:02:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Suit against housing allowance dismissed

June 23 2011 by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press

DALLAS — A lawsuit in federal court challenging the minister’s housing allowance has ended, according to a report from GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The challenge to the minister’s housing allowance tax exclusion was dismissed Friday, June 17, in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento.

The case, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Geithner, was originally filed in 2009. The case was voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2011 on the issue of standing, a legal concept that only parties who have been directly harmed by a statute can challenge its constitutionality. Because the plaintiffs are not directly impacted by Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code — the section that governs the housing allowance exclusion — they do not have the standing to challenge it.

“This is the most recent challenge to the minister’s housing allowance exclusion,” said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources. “We remain committed to making known to Congress the importance of the minister’s housing allowance and will continue to work with other church pension boards in Washington to keep this important tax benefit for ministers.”

The minister’s housing allowance is among the most important tax benefits available to ministers. Section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code allows “ministers of the gospel” to exclude some or all of their ministerial income — as designated by their church or church-related employer — as a housing allowance from income for federal income tax purposes. Rules and limits are discussed in a special Q&A on GuideStone’s website, www.GuideStone.org/housingallowance.

“GuideStone, along with other denominational pension boards, filed friend-of-the-court briefs in another case in 2002 challenging the constitutionality of the housing allowance exclusion, and we continue to work to ensure the housing allowance is maintained for all pastors,” Hawkins said. “We are especially aware of how important this benefit is to those pastors at the crossroads, in rural areas where their housing and lower income would make a new tax burden particularly onerous.”

While there are no further challenges to the housing allowance exclusion in process, GuideStone remains vigilant, Hawkins said.

“Moving forward, we can expect more challenges, either through other court cases or through the legislative process, to the housing allowance exclusion,” he said. “One of the sacred trusts we have at GuideStone is to stand as an advocate for the pastors we serve. We also serve as advocates with churches in helping them understand the most advantageous way to develop a compensation plan, as well as within the corridors of power in Washington and elsewhere. It is our privilege to help serve those who serve the Lord in these important matters.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hayhurst is editorial services manager for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
6/23/2011 8:09:00 AM by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

TIM continues to bring water, spiritual relief

June 23 2011 by Norman Jameson, North Carolina Baptist Men

Drought is gripping 17 of the 39 districts in the Indian state of Bihar. In many of Bihar’s 45,000 villages the only water source is a deep water well bored by Transformation India Movement (TIM), a Christian ministry led by Biju Thomas and supported by many North Carolina Baptist churches.

Thomas, a regular speaker at the North Carolina Baptist Men’s annual N.C. Missions Conference, said villagers blessed with TIM wells say, “Yeshu Baba” (Lord Jesus) bore wells are working.”

Wells dug in Jesus’ name and that declare Jesus as the Living Water provide an entry point for church planters trained by TIM. Times of drought demonstrate the perilously thin margin between survival and catastrophe to many millions of villagers.

In one village, Rajput’s, or higher caste people, opposed drilling a well to which poor people would have access. Now Rajput’s wells are dry and they are glad to use water from TIM bore wells, wherever they are dug.

NCBM photo

A village gets a well as part of the Transformation India Movement (TIM) led by Biju Thomas. North Carolina Baptist Men supports this ministry that helps get clean water as well as church planters to remote villages in Bihar, India.

Thomas reported in his most recent newsletter that 19 wells were dug in April. Well drilling was temporarily suspended when the TIM well drilling truck was confiscated by police to transport police and election personnel.

It was only released after “much request and prayer,” Thomas said.

To North Carolina Baptists, Thomas said, “The wells you sponsored are life giving as well as a great relief in high temperatures for villagers in Bihar.”

The well drilling success has created demand for more wells, which is the cycle Thomas was anticipating. Each well is a key to open the door to a village or the gospel.

Other TIM ministries changing lives
More than 150 women are training at seven sewing centers offered by TIM.

Gaining the skill to sew offers these women an economic opportunity they would not normally have. It makes them more attractive as a potential spouse, and they have gained the currency to begin their own business.

Several students have received Christ as savior while they were in training, reported Thomas.

Typically, each graduate receives a sewing machine just like the one on which they trained.

TIM currently does not have the funds to provide the machines to all graduates, which cost $100 each. They are foot-powered machines so they can operate anywhere.

To buy a machine for a sewing school graduate, send your gift designated “sewing machine” to N.C. Baptist Men, 205 Convention Drive, Cary, NC 27511.

50 baptized in April
Fifty new believers were baptized in April, most from a Hindu background, Thomas said. They could not be baptized in a river as is the custom because drought has dried up area rivers. Many new believers endure threats and excommunication from their families as a result of a public stance for Jesus.

Ajit Kumar Singh, who is from a high caste, was excommunicated from family for his faith in Christ. He is staying in a coaching center and his situation is similar to others who are told, “If you go to church or any Christian prayer meetings, we will not attend your marriage or social functions.”

Thousands curious about Easter message
TIM church planters found positive response as they organized Easter meetings in villages and shared about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“Many people were convinced of their sins and received Christ,” Thomas said. As many as 2,000 heard the message in one field, many of them for the first time.

TIM church planters are witnessing to villages that have never had a Christian outreach. Church planters peddle their bicycles many miles to share the gospel, Thomas said.

They are getting prayer meetings started among several previously unreached groups.

Some 50 children have gained admission to public schools because of training at TIM literacy centers in past months.

Students leave the literacy centers prepared for school and having heard the message of Jesus.

Thomas is planning two-day discipleship training events for new believers — 50 at a time — and would like to conduct 60 such training camps. Cost is about $150 each.

Training and encouragement is very important for new Christian believers in a hostile environment. It can be discouraging when families and communities disown them.

Hindu priest converts
One recent convert is Kashinath, formerly a Hindu priest.

He used to conduct prayers and rituals for other people but his own life and family was a mess. Thomas said. He had no peace and evil spirits tormented his wife. He found no relief in more intensive Hindu worship. One day a TIM church planter visited his village and shared the gospel with him. He received Christ, as did his entire family.

Today, Kashinath is a Christian priest, traveling to villages and sharing his new life in Christ.

“Praise God for the transformation the gospel can bring in a person’s life,” Thomas said.

To support the work of Transformation India Movement, send your gift designated TIM to N.C. Baptist Men, 205 Convention Drive, Cary, NC 27511.

TIM currently operates out of 5 rented buildings, including an orphanage and training and sewing centers. Its largest need is to build a facility in which it can consolidate its ministries on land it already owns.

The most efficient design on the precious land calls for five floors, at a cost of $100,000 per floor. Thomas is praying for donors for that project.
6/23/2011 8:02:00 AM by Norman Jameson, North Carolina Baptist Men | with 0 comments

Study examines what families want from church

June 23 2011 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

WACO — Conventional wisdom says “the family that prays together stays together.” But one study of 15 Baptist congregations found that what families want most from their church are opportunities to serve.

In 2004, Baylor University researchers polled more than 3,000 members of churches in 12 states affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or both. While not statistically representative of all Baptists, researchers Diana Garland and Jo Edmonds said findings shed light on the struggles church families face at different stages of life.

Seventy percent of families in the survey were married couples with or without children, far higher than the general population. One in four of those was a second marriage. Fewer than 1 percent were unmarried or separated couples, far below the national norm, while widowed single adults were double the rate of society as a whole.

Researchers asked respondents to mark items from a list of 37 possible causes of family stress. Four of the top five reported stressors involved physical or mental health. A third reported serious illness or disability of a family member, close friend or relative had caused stress for their family in the previous year. About one in four mentioned death of a loved one, depression or other serious emotional problems or financial strain.

Some stressors varied by age. Teenagers felt the same stressors their families reported, like death, illness and depression, but others—such as school problems and parent-child conflict—were unique to their age.

Among families in their 20s, 61 percent reported financial strain. Thirty-eight percent cited problems balancing work and family. Three in 10 reported stress about moving from one home to another.   Financial strain was somewhat less common for families in their 30s, but a new issue emerged—30 percent reported difficulty on the job for a family member.

Families in their 40s continued to experience stress from balancing work and family and finances, about 40 percent each, while death of a family member, close friend or relative entered the top five most prevalent stressors, affecting 28 percent of families in the survey.

Respondents in their 50s carried the dominant stressors of younger groups, along with higher rates of worries related to physical or emotional health. Nearly half (46 percent) reported stress from serious illness or disability of a family member, close friend or relative, 38 percent from caring for a sick or disabled family member, and 36 percent because of a death. Financial strain remained a problem for more than a third (36 percent) of families in their 50s.

Financial strains decreased to 19 percent for families in their 60s and older, while health-related worries became more common. Nearly half (46 percent) cited stress from serious illness or disability of a loved one, 38 percent mentioned pressure of caring for a sick or disabled family member and 36 percent the death of someone close to them.

In terms of religious practice, daily Bible study and prayer historically have been considered important for Baptists, and 86 percent of individuals reported praying on a daily basis. Barely half, however, (55 percent) reported doing so as a family.

Fewer than one in four individuals said they studied their Bible daily. That rose to 62 percent on a weekly basis. Researchers said that probably is a result of Sunday school and weekly Bible studies, but daily Bible studies by families was reported by a scant 5 percent. The most common religious activities engaged as families were caring for the created world (more than 50 percent weekly), caring for others in need and helping their community to be a better place.

“These examples suggest that families are more likely to be engaged in the world around them as expressions of their faith than to be engaged in studying the Bible together,” researchers surmised. A majority also mentioned forgiving and encouraging others and talking and listening to one another’s deepest thoughts at least once a week.

Respondents also marked up to six items in a list of 47 ways in which they would like to see their church help their families. The most common were:
  • Serving others outside our family, 26.8 percent.
  • Family prayer and devotional time, 21.8 percent.
  • Communication skills, 20.6 percent.
  • Developing a strong marriage, 19.6 percent.
  • Developing healthy habits—eating, exercise, rest and recreation, 19 percent
  • Talking about our faith together, 18.5 percent.
“A majority of these families already is engaged in their communities—serving others in need, caring for the created world, offering hospitality, seeking more justice in the world and stronger communities—and still list help in these areas at the top of their requests from their congregation,” researchers reported.

Second, researchers said, families wanted more help in developing prayer and devotional time as families instead of as individuals.

“Perhaps the most interesting challenge for the church is to offer guidance and support for families in these needs of common areas of concern that are grounded in the beliefs and values of the Christian faith,” researchers noted.

“Families can go to schools and community centers for marriage or parent education or anger or money management, but only the church can ground these life issues in Christian values and practices.

“Similarly, families can go to any number of social service agencies seeking volunteers and find ample opportunities to serve their communities. There are a myriad of ‘walks’ for various causes, community cleanups and so on. These families are asking their churches to ground their service in Christian mission.”

“They not only want to offer charity, they want to strengthen their communities,” the study concluded.

“The data suggest that these families are seeking an integration of the life of service with the life of prayer and worship.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is managing editor for Associated Baptist Press.)  
6/23/2011 7:58:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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