March 2009

Leaders dedicate Jordan River baptism center

March 26 2009 by Bob Terry, The Alabama Baptist

The baptism of more than 120 Christian believers marked the dedication of a new Baptism Center along the Jordan River in the region where most Christian scholars believe Jesus was baptized more than 2000 years ago.
The March 20 dedication in the region known as Bethany Beyond Jordan (see John 1:25–27) drew participants from the United States and Europe as well as more than 1,700 Christian believers from the Middle East.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain was the keynote speaker. Blair currently serves as Quartet Representative (U.S.A., U.N., Russia and the European Union) for the Middle East and sponsors a Faith Foundation dedicated to interreligious cooperation.

Also on the program were HRH (His Royal Highness) Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammed of Jordan, Baptist World Alliance (BWA) President David Coffey and BWA General Secretary Neville Callam.

“So this is where John the Baptist, in his garment of camel’s hair, fed on locusts and wild honey, preached and worked and baptized our Lord,” Blair observed. “This baptism happened on these banks nearly 2,000 years ago — a moment in time with a consequence in eternity.”

Blair reminded the audience that John challenged people to worship God through deeds, not words, and to give up selfish desires and seek the common good rather than offering burnt sacrifices.

Jesus and John both taught that doctrine may be a support but it can never be a substitute for the essence of faith, he said, noting that the essence of faith is demonstrating God’s love, mercy and power in ways that gives meaning to daily living.
Blair said faith also demands honesty to witness to truth.

“Our Lord refused to deny His nature or His mission, preferred to lose His life when so easily He could have yielded to Pilate and kept it,” Blair said. “But He chose not to save Himself from pain but to save us for redemption.

“So here we are, 2,000 years later, in this same spot. Except today, we are in a Muslim land. And a short distance from here lies Jerusalem and sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.”

Blair noted it took courage and leadership for Jordan to allow a site for Christian baptisms in the Jordan River. He commended the royal family for its leadership and contribution to the Baptism Center. He said the new center “is not a place of archaeology — it is a place that now, as in John’s time, is a place of renewal.”

Blair said when Moses shattered the golden calf, he removed faith from the real of superstition and planted it in the realm of belief. Likewise Jesus opened eyes to the true will of God, not in legalistic ritual but as love of God and love of neighbor.

“So in dedicating this site, let us renew our faith in our God, in our Lord and in His message that true love is not measured in receiving but giving and giving … by the infinite possibility of the love of God.”

Responding to Blair, Prince Ghazi said the royal family’s commitment to the Baptism Center demonstrates that “all Jordanians are equal. All are welcome in Jordan and in this place,” he said. “We look forward to the Baptismal Center serving as a meeting place where people can learn to know each other.”

The Jordanian government first offered the land for the Baptism Center in September 2007 during a meeting between Coffey and King Abdullah. As chairperson of the board of trustees for the baptismal site, Prince Ghazi oversaw the building project, which also was paid for by Jordan. The government has also provided land for churches from other denominations to be built near the site where it is believed John baptized Jesus.

Earlier Coffey pointed out the Baptism Center is not a church. “It is a place where Christian believers can renew their faith commitments to Jesus Christ through the act of baptism,” he said.
A plaque unveiled during the service reads, “The Commission of the Site of the Baptism of Jesus Christ welcomes here visiting pilgrims from the member churches of the Baptist World Alliance.” The site will be available for use by any Christian group that believes in baptism by immersion.

During the service Coffey read letters from former United States presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Baptists.

Callam described the Baptism Center as “a place where people for all parts of the world may assemble for a journey and an experience.” Callam said he prays the “waters of the Jordan (will) extinguish the crippling fires of hopelessness that burn in the hearts of those who have no knowledge of God.”

Also participating in the dedication ceremony were Fawaz Ameish, president of the Jordan Baptist Convention; Nabeeh Abbassi, former Jordan Baptist Convention president and chief organizer of the event; Toma Magda and Tony Peck, president and general secretary of the European Baptist Federation, respectively, which includes the Middle East.

Nizar Haddad, an agricultural scientist and bivocational Baptist pastor in Jordan, called the dedication of the Baptism Center “very important to evangelical Christians in Jordan.” He said “it clearly shows that as evangelical Christians we enjoy the same rights in Jordan that other historic churches enjoy even though we are a minority of the Christian faith. Every part of the big Baptist and evangelical family has the right to come and worship the Lord on this spot.”

He said the letters from the former presidents of the United States illustrate that Baptists are not a cult group but a recognized and central part of the Christian tradition.

Haddad praised the royal family for the gift of the Baptism Center and for the wise leadership and vision King Abdullah provides for the nation.

Bethany Beyond Jordan was a frequently used area for baptisms prior to the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It then became a military restricted area off limits to all civilians. Following the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, archeologists again began work in the area and have uncovered numerous sites indicating the area was used by Christian pilgrims for baptismal services from the fourth century.

Tourism in the area has grown steadily since Bethany Beyond Jordan was reopened to the public. It is one of the places Pope Benedict XVI will visit during his May visit to Jordan.  

The Baptist World Alliance is a fellowship of 214 Baptist conventions and unions representing more than 37 million believers and a community of more than 105 million.

3/26/2009 2:59:00 AM by Bob Terry, The Alabama Baptist | with 0 comments

S. Baptists involved in creation care event

March 26 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

ATLANTA — An upcoming national conference on churches and the environment features several well-known evangelical speakers, including some prominent Southern Baptist leaders who will be speaking for first time on the increasingly high-profile theological issue known as “creation care.”

The gathering is scheduled May 13-15 at Cross Pointe Church near Atlanta, where former Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt is senior pastor. Merritt is scheduled to speak, along with other Southern Baptists including Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research and Mark Liederbach, professor of ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Merritt’s 26-year-old son, Jonathan Merritt, is organizing the gathering, called the Flourish National Church Leaders Conference on Creation Care.

While still in seminary, the younger Merritt spearheaded A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change, which was signed by 550 Southern Baptists, including the SBC president at the time.

Other Southern Baptist leaders quickly distanced themselves from the initiative. A Baptist Press headline declared “Seminary student’s climate change project is not SBC’s,” while Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, released a statement explaining why he did not endorse the statement.

Land said Southern Baptist public-policy advocacy “is most effective when it is supported by the broadest possible consensus among Southern Baptists.” He cited a 2007 SBC resolution that urged Southern Baptists “to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research” and to support only policies that “improve the stewardship of the earth’s resources without resulting in significant negative consequences” on the economy.

During that time Merritt met Jim Jewell, who has worked more than 30 years with Christian causes and organizations including World Vision, Trinity Forum, and Prison Fellowship; and Rusty Pritchard, a volunteer lay leader for three decades who taught environmental studies for seven years at Emory University in Atlanta.

Last year Jewell, former CEO of the Evangelical Environment Network, and Pritchard started Flourish, a ministry aimed at helping churches and families build environmental stewardship into their Christian commitment and witness. The May conference is the organization’s inaugural event, but plans include a quarterly magazine, web-based communications and other resources.

A 2008 Barna poll found that 90 percent of evangelicals said they would like to see Christians take a more active role in taking care of the environment, but two-thirds believe the media has over-hyped the story and most are skeptical that humans are a primary cause of global warming.

Jewell says part of the problem is that calls for environmental stewardship in the past have come largely from secular voices with values contrary to the Bible. Moreover, they have focused only on political action to combat climate change.

That prompted some evangelical leaders to overreact, he says, by telling followers that even modest care for God’s creation is misplaced concern and has nothing to do with preaching the gospel.

The intent of Flourish, he says, is to bridge the chasm between those who prescribe only political solutions and those who would do nothing at all.

Jewell says there are plenty of good reasons for Bible-believing Christians to care about the environment.

For one thing, he says, Christians are called to be the very best citizens, and one way to do that is by rolling up their sleeves to improve their local communities by planting trees, working for pedestrian and bike paths or cleaning area watersheds.

Another is that Christians are called to love others, and research shows that interrupting delicate balances in the environment through pollution most hurts the needy.

Reducing dependence on foreign oil is important not only for national security, he says, but it also helps stop enriching regimes that restrict Christians’ religious freedom.

There are also practical benefits. Jewell says churches can save a lot of money through energy-saving changes, which in turn can be used for programs and missions of the church. Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, for example, where former SBC president Jack Graham is pastor, undertook an environmental retrofit in 2006-2007 that saved the congregation more than $1 million in water and utility bills.

Jewell says environmental problems, like all others, are at root the result of sin, and Christians recognize the ultimate solution to conquering sin is faith in Jesus Christ. For that reason, he contends that creation care is important enough to be a major focus of the church, rooted in scripture and religious tradition instead of simply reacting to modern trends.

Other scheduled speakers at the Flourish conference include Chris Seay, pastor of the Ecclesia Christian community in Houston; Joel Hunter, pastor of the Orlando-area Northland Church and author of books including A New Kind of Conservative; and Andy Crouch, senior editor at Christianity Today International.

“A new kind of evangelical conversation about God’s creation is beginning, and Flourish will be one of the milestones,” said Crouch, author of Culture Making. “Those who attend will be on the leading edge of a significant new movement that I believe will, and must, shape the church and our culture for generations to come.”

Jonathan Merritt told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he hopes the conference will be a starting point for change in how churches think about their God-given responsibility to care for the world.

“I think it’s going to be a primary touchpoint for the church to get involved in the 21st century,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

3/26/2009 2:52:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Open Door offers hope for better life

March 26 2009 by Shannon Baker, Baptist Press

BALTIMORE — It’s an economic reality. The poor are becoming poorer. Amid the economic downturn, people with little education are losing entry-level service jobs to high school and college graduates. With dwindling opportunities to work, the poverty-stricken often wind up roaming the streets in a survival mode that often includes drugs, crime and despair.
Bill Simpson’s office, nestled in a row house in what he calls the “poorest neighborhood in Maryland” — Baltimore’s McElderry Park — is surrounded by distress.

Within one-third mile of Simpson’s office, 846 households scrape by on less than $15,000 a year — 30 percent below the U.S. poverty level for a family of four. Reach out to two-thirds of a mile and the number triples to 2,559 households.

“In any given month, about 60 percent are unemployed. Our high school dropout rate is over 65 percent, and our teen pregnancy rate exceeds 80 percent,” says Simpson, executive director of Open Door Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to revitalizing families and neighborhoods on Baltimore’s lower east side.

“Business as usual won’t get it done here.”

For Simpson, who moved his office into the neighborhood this past summer, it is worth the hour-long commute to simply “show up” and seek to make a difference in the hurting community. The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware helped the ministry get started.

Simpson feels McElderry Park is “quarantined” from the rest of the city because of its overwhelming needs. But he also knows that, through Christ, much can be accomplished there.

“Emphasizing the redemptive principles of renewal, restoration and reconciliation, we believe it’s wrong for 140,000 Baltimoreans to live in poverty in the nation’s most affluent state,” Simpson asserts. “We are strong advocates for addressing the generational poverty that devalues life, immobilizes families and communities, and feeds a cycle of failure and futility.”
Open Door’s mission, he explains, is three-fold: “1) to be a source of hope and encouragement for people who need a new start; 2) to be a community hub that links folks to positive and constructive activities; and 3) to be a safe haven where God’s heart for hurting people and struggling families is made real every day.”

Open Door’s initiatives include adult learning; workforce development; life skills training; computer literacy; family services, information and referral.

“We also place a strong emphasis on emergency compassion outreach and strategic community organizing,” Simpson adds. “In the final analysis, we’re convinced that if you help parents and adults with their education, employment, housing and other ‘felt need’ issues, you really are helping the whole family and the larger community.”

Simpson saw that happen when Open Door helped a 45-year-old man find a full-time job for the first time in his life.

“We helped him develop a resume, strengthened his soft skills (appearance habits, ability to fill out forms, communication and motivation skills) and practiced interviewing with him,” Simpson says. “It felt really good to know that we helped him get meaningful employment.”
In spite of the great challenges they face, the people Open Door serves are remarkably proud, resilient, determined and optimistic, Simpson says.

“Most believe life can be better for their families. Nearly all just need a helping hand from someone who cares,” he notes.

Because the need in the community is so great, Simpson describes Open Door’s ministry as a “long-term proposition.”

“Our goal is to not only provide short-term emergency relief, but to also form relationships that can help lead to larger life solutions for those in need,” he says.

It is necessary to build trust in the community, and it takes time for Open Door to be a place people turn to if they need food for the day or simply somebody to talk with, Simpson says.

“We may not be fully resourced, but they can see us work to help them,” he says.

To that end, according to a statement on its web site, Open Doors “works collaboratively with schools, civic groups, businesses, foundations, government agencies, congregations and other nonprofits to identify resources, build community capacity and coordinate solution-focused holistic responses to community needs.”

As part of their mission to offer compassion and encouragement to hurting people, Open Door provides limited “emergency” food, clothing and financial assistance to families in crisis. Like other nonprofits, Open Door can keep its doors open only through the generosity of others.

“It is only through the donations of food, clothing and financial support from our many friends and partners that we are able to provide emergency assistance,” Simpson says. “Because we greatly appreciate their generosity, we make every attempt to be good stewards of our emergency relief resources.

Sometimes that generosity takes the form encouraging others to help, Simpson adds.

“Never underestimate your influence with others,” he says. “Many of our current individual and congregational donors first became interested in supporting Open Door because someone encouraged them to get involved.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Baker is the national correspondent for BaptistLIFE, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.)

3/26/2009 2:45:00 AM by Shannon Baker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Purpose Driven magazine debuts

March 26 2009 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

LAKE FOREST, Calif. — Rick Warren has joined with Reader’s Digest Association to produce a quarterly magazine called Purpose Driven Connection (PDC), which is intended to reach people who aren’t connected to churches.

“PDC magazine is all about transformation, not merely information. That’s what sets this magazine apart from many others. It is the purpose behind every word,” said Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of The Purpose Driven Life.

The premier issue, which debuted in January, has exceeded expectations in sales, Larry Ross, a spokesman for Warren, told Baptist Press.

“Rick Warren is a big visionary, and this is one of the most ambitious projects he has ever undertaken,” Ross said, noting that Warren serves as editor in chief of the project. “... Gallup and Barna have both done studies that show that 19 percent of the U.S. population, about 59 million people, has read The Purpose Driven Life.

“This has created a whole population of people out there who have started out on a spiritual journey but aren’t really connected with a church to go deeper in the Christian life,” Ross said.

Contributed photo

The first issue of Purpose Driven Connection has been so successful that Reader's Digest plans to increase the number of copies for the next issue.

Reader’s Digest Association (RDA) publishes 92 affinity magazines worldwide, including 50 editions of Reader’s Digest.

“According to our Reader’s Digest colleagues, they’ve termed this ‘category-busting, genre-breaking,’“ Ross said of PDC.

“People are looking to connect with the church and with God but also for tools to find spiritual solutions to the problems they face,” Ross said. “So connecting and equipping are the two dimensions of this project.”

One feature of the magazine is a link that directs people to the website for discussion. People then have an opportunity to provide input or share their own story related to the material they’ve just read in the magazine, Ross said. Also, because the magazine is quarterly, the website provides additional news and feature articles between printings.

Purpose Driven Connection also offers a perspective on the news that is overlooked by the mainstream media, Ross said. For example, Warren was in Cambodia two years ago when he heard about a former Khmer Rouge leader who was responsible for the deaths of 17,000 people at a prison he managed.

A pastor in the region who was part of Warren’s network of half a million pastors trained in the Purpose Driven paradigm shared the gospel with the man, and he accepted Christ, went to seminary and became a pastor himself. When Warren told Reader’s Digest about the man’s testimony, RDA sent personnel to Cambodia to cover the story for the magazine.

“The story was driven by Rick but carried out by Reader’s Digest,” Ross said. “In the last several weeks this story has been covered almost daily in the international press including The New York Times. They’ve been carrying the story where he’s now on trial by the international court for his crimes.

“In the secular press there’s been no reference to this fellow’s dramatic conversion,” Ross added. “He’s the only one of all the (Khmer Rouge) people that has confessed his crimes. All of that is laid out in the Purpose Driven Connection.”

Also, the project is backed by two Reader’s Digest staffers who have experience with major publications. Alyce Alston, who is overseeing the project from the RDA side, helped launch O, The Oprah Magazine, and Frank Lalli, who is editorial director for PDC, was responsible for the launch of Every Day with Rachael Ray, which was the largest magazine launch in history, Ross said.

“So they’ve got the A-team on this,” Ross said.

For the premier issue, Reader’s Digest printed 400,000 copies of Purpose Driven Connection, and they plan to increase the number to half a million for subsequent issues, Ross said.

“We’ve heard reports that it sold out at some of the Wal-Marts the first days and weeks it was available,” he said. “So it’s been very well received in the first few weeks, far exceeding expectations.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.)

3/26/2009 2:41:00 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Follow God rather than worry about money

March 25 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

Christians who are financially free can more easily fulfill the purpose God has for them, according to a Christian financial expert.

Dave Scobey, national seminar liaison with Crown Financial Ministries, spoke to a group of about 25 ministers at the Raleigh Baptist Association March 12. The meeting was one of five around the state sponsored by Crown, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

The gatherings were part of the “It’s a New Day” stewardship emphasis by Crown and the SBC. The program includes a sermon series, Sunday School lessons, a 10-week financial course and a financial seminar.

Scobey said Christians who are free from the “bondage of debts, oppression of others, envy, greed or resentfulness” can respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings without hesitation.

“True financial freedom is a total lightening of the load, where you can respond when God says, ‘Have you thought about this? This is where I want you to be,’” Scobey said.
Scobey’s presentation to the ministers was a condensed version of Crown’s “Journey to True Financial Freedom” seminar.

He gave the biblical basis for Crown’s financial programs and then talked about practical applications of money management.

Scobey said Crown’s teaching starts with “the bottom line” assumption that God owns everything.

After reading several supporting verses, he said, “I have not found an attorney who can find a loophole in any of those verses.”

Scobey said God is sovereign over Christians’ ability to make money and of their futures and failures, because, “He is already there in the future.”

Christians are to be good stewards over what God has entrusted to them and Scobey said, “He wants us to be obedient, faithful and trustworthy.”

God wants Christians to have financial peace, according to Scobey, but they can’t when they try to serve both God and money.

“Sometimes we try to straddle that line, but we can’t do it,” he said. “You have to make a decision.”

Scobey said Jesus calls Christians to be free from bondage, including the love of money.

Money neutral

“Money is neutral,” Scobey said, but wealth can be established as an idol.

Scobey gave four biblical principles of borrowing:

  1. Borrowing is discouraged.

  2. Avoid long-term debt.

  3. Avoid surety, which Scobey said means co-signing.

  4. Repay what you borrow.

Scobey said the Hebrew word for borrow can also mean twine or to twist together. The borrower is easily entangled in debt, he said.

“We find it very difficult to get out,” Scobey said.

Budget first step

The journey to financial freedom starts with a budget, Scobey said. The thought of a spending plan makes some people cringe, but it’s a critical element that makes decisions simpler.

Scobey said the first step in making a budget is to track spending for 30 to 60 days.

“We must know where we’re spending the money to have any hope of managing it,” he said.

Those spending habits should be compared with Crown’s guidelines. This analysis leads to a balanced budget that is obtained by decreasing spending, increasing income or selling things.

The budget puts spending into categories, making it easier to manage, Scobey said. This allows for decisions based on facts rather than emotions, he said.

The budget also encourages people to spend based on the plan instead of the amount of money they have in their checkbook.

“This is the biggest mistake I see people making,” Scobey said.

Making these types of decisions creates dialogue in relationships.

“Money is the number one case of marital conflict,” he said.

Spouse tips

Scobey gave several tips for husbands and wives.

  • Husbands and wives must agree not to spend more than they make.

  • The most adept of the two becomes the accountant, but the other person must participate in the process.

  • The husband and wife must recognize their differences.

Scobey said it’s easier to make a budget work if the couple keeps up with it every few days. He said that without a plan, money has a tendency to leave.

“It goes to people with a plan,” he said. “People who have a plan accumulate money. That’s the way it works.”

Scobey went over three “budget busters” that tend to give people the most trouble — credit card debt, automobiles and housing.

Credit cards often lead to “impulsive purchases,” Scobey said. He suggested keeping an item on an “impulse list” for 30 days before buying it.

Scobey said credit cards should only be used for budgeted items, should be paid off at the end of each month and should be cut up if they can’t be paid off.

Buying tips

People buying automobiles make mistakes when they don’t calculate the total cost of the vehicle, including insurance and maintenance. Other errors include leasing, frequent turnover and lack of maintenance, he said.

The best time to buy a car is when it is three to five years old, Scobey said. Those vehicles cost about half the original price and will possibly last eight or nine years, he said.

Housing mistakes include buying too much house, buying without a budget, borrowing the down payment, buying another house before the existing one is sold, buying to get a tax deduction and buying while life or work is unstable.

Scobey said people buying a house should compute all the potential costs and put them in the budget.

“We have to put it in the plan and plan ahead or we’re in trouble,” he said.

Scobey suggested getting tax deductions by giving to church instead of paying interest on a house. He said homeowners should resist home equity lines.

Ignorance, indulgence, imprudence and isolation foster debt, Scobey said. He encouraged people to seek God’s help, establish the right balance of priorities in life and commit to the journey to financial freedom. He suggested that people avoid careless spending, generate excess cash and apply that cash to debt reduction.

Most people can realistically get rid of their credit card debt in a year and a half, pay off consumer debt in four years and become debt-free in 10 years, according to Scobey.

Jesus tells His followers in Matthew 6 not to worry about tomorrow, according to Scobey.

“If we’re serving Him, the anxiousness of life is dealt with because He deals with it,” he said. “It’s a lordship issue. That’s the message.”

For free help from a Crown Money Map coach, call Jim Roberts (704) 375-1774.

3/25/2009 8:08:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Rodgers: Non-tithers risk God’s wrath

March 25 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

Christians who don’t tithe risk God’s curse, according to Southern Baptist Convention leader Bob Rodgers.

Rodgers, the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for Cooperative Program and Stewardship, said in Raleigh March 12 that those people might as well walk around with a sign on their back saying, “God, take your best shot.”

Rodgers was speaking to a group of ministers at the Raleigh Baptist Association building.

The gathering was one of five around the state sponsored by Crown Financial Ministries, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
The meetings were part of the “It’s a New Day” stewardship emphasis by Crown and the SBC.

Rodgers pointed to a passage in Malachi 3 where God says He doesn’t change, then tells the people they are robbing Him by not tithing.

The people who keep tithes are cursed, he said.

God “will absolutely mess with your finances,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers used a basket of 10 apples to illustrate the resources God gives Christians to manage.

One of the apples should be given back to God, he said.

Those who even “nibble” on God’s apple are cursed.

“God’s going to test us until we learn that lesson,” Rodgers said.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 teaches that God intentionally gives people what they have, Rodgers said.

“Christians as a rule get very uncomfortable with this,” he said. “What we want is not what we have, but what somebody else has.”

Rodgers said he believes baptisms are down in the SBC because bondage to debt is keeping church members from witnessing.

“We as a Southern Baptist Convention have not done a lot to deal with this issue,” he said.
“That’s why we put this (It’s a New Day) program together.”

The program is not about raising money, but about freeing Christians from the financial bondage that separates them from a right relationship with God, Rodgers said.

Baptist churches can use a financial seminar available through the program to help and reach even people who would not come to a Baptist church, Rodgers said.

“They’re hurting so much they don’t care,” he said.

Symptoms of Christians using God’s tithe can be seen in consumer debt that has increased 82 percent in the last eight years in the United States, according to Rodgers. The number of Visa and MasterCard accounts in the country now number more than 1 billion, a number equal to three for every man, woman, child and illegal alien, he said.

At least before the recession hit, the average American spends $1.26 for every $1 they earn, Rodgers said. He told of a man he knew who couldn’t pay for all his debt even though he was making more than $100,000 a month.

Rodgers quoted Christian financial expert Dave Ramsey as saying that 70 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

“The folks sitting in that pew looking back at you with that glassy-eyed look are hurting,” Rodgers told the pastors.

3/25/2009 8:05:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Vermont moves to legalize ‘gay marriage’

March 25 2009 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont took a major step March 23 toward becoming the first state voluntarily to legalize “gay marriage,” although it’s not the only New England state where such a bill is advancing.

A bill that would legalize “marriage” for homosexual couples passed a second reading in the Vermont Senate by a veto-proof margin of 26-4, setting up a much-anticipated vote in the House, where its passage is likely and the primary drama will be whether it can muster a veto-proof majority there as well. Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, has yet to pledge to veto it although he has said he opposes “gay marriage” and has criticized legislators for taking it up.

The bill, S. 115, passed via voice vote March 24 on the third and final reading, formally sending it to the House, where it must first be heard in committee.

Connecticut and Massachusetts also recognize “gay marriage,” although both changes in law came via court order.

New England has become a hotbed for “gay marriage” supporters in the wake of stunning losses elsewhere last fall. The Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) has a goal of seeing all six New England states legalize “gay marriage” by 2012. Although 30 states nationwide have adopted constitutional marriage amendments aimed at preventing the redefinition of marriage, the six New England states have not.

Democratic leaders in Vermont, having made the bill a priority, put it on a fast track; it could be on the governor’s desk within a week or two. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee a mere three days prior to the full body considering it.

Bill opponent Steve Cable, president of Vermont Renewal and spokesperson for the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council, told Baptist Press that despite the Senate’s vote margin, all hope is not lost. The House vote is expected to be much closer.

“Round two of five rounds is over, and we do have two black eyes,” said Cable, who urged Vermonters to call not only their representatives (at 802-828-2228) but also Gov. Douglas. “But usually that makes the (traditionally minded citizens) in Vermont more angry and have more energy, and that’s what’s happening.”

Vermont, though, isn’t the only New England state where “gay marriage” supporters are making progress. Elsewhere:
  • In New Hampshire, the House Judiciary Committee deadlocked at 10-10 on a “gay marriage” bill March 18, although it still will advance to the full body and is expected to be voted on within days. Democrats control both chambers, and Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has not taken a position on the bill but has said in the past he opposes “gay marriage.” The bill is H.B. 436.
  • In Maine, a bill that would legalize “gay marriage” is before the Judiciary Committee, comprised of members of both chambers. It has 55 co-sponsors in the 151-member House and 10 sponsors and co-sponsors in the 35-member Senate. Among those sponsors are the House speaker and the Senate majority leader, both Democrats. Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, has in the past opposed “gay marriage” but has not taken a position on the bill. The bill is L.D. 1020.
  • In Rhode Island, the Senate Judiciary Committee has heard testimony on a “gay marriage” bill but has yet to vote. A spokeswoman for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, which supports the bill, told The Boston Globe it has 31 co-sponsors in the 75-member House and five co-sponsors in the 38-member Senate. Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, has pledged a veto. The bill is S. 147.
Cable said adopting the bill in Vermont would result in dramatic societal change.

“If Vermont passes same-sex marriage, it would be saying, No. 1, that men and women are completely interchangeable because the bill neuters all gender terms in all laws, and No. 2, that Vermont no longer seeks to promote children to have both a mother and a father. As it stands now, it’s inherent in marriage law that children have a legal bonding right to their mother and father that created them.”

Vermont state Sen. Kevin J. Mullin, a Republican, supported the bill but also backed a failed amendment that would have allowed Vermonters to have their say on the issue. Mullin’s amendment, which lost 19-11, would have placed a non-binding referendum on the ballot asking Vermonters if they supported “gay marriage” legalization.

“There is a perception that this is being rammed down the throats of Vermonters,” Mullin said during floor debate

Democratic Sen. John F. Campbell, the bill’s sponsor, spoke extensively during floor debate and answered various objections to it. He said by passing the bill the body would not be “condoning homosexuality.” He also criticized opponents for arguments related to the traditional family.

“I will not stand by and let someone tell me that just because of someone’s sexual orientation they can or cannot be a good parent,” Campbell said.

But Republican Sen. Randolph D. Brock, who opposed the bill, said the traditional family is “unique” in what it can provide.

“Like President Obama, Vice President Biden and Gov. Douglas, I believe that marriage is an institution that should be between one man and one woman,” Brock said. “Marriage as we’ve known it for centuries has been the union of one man and one woman, and it’s unique. It’s the only publicly sponsored institution that can result in the procreation of children — the essential element in the continuation of our society.”

He also criticized the speed with which the bill has been pushed.

“We have spent more time in this session licensing landscape architects than we have on dealing with an issue of immense social importance and a public policy issue that will affect Vermonters and the history of our state,” he said.

In 2000 Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions, which grant homosexual couples all the legal benefits minus the name.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

3/25/2009 8:00:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ministers’ wives share blessings, challenges

March 25 2009 by Polly House, Baptist Press

The life of a man in the ministry can be taxing to say the least, but at least he signed up for it. What about life for his wife? In some cases all she did was marry the guy she thought hung the moon.

About 300 ministers’ wives from across the United States and as far away as Japan met at the Between Us Ministers’ Wives equipping event March 12-13 in Nashville, Tenn. The women’s events area of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention organized the event, which preceded a Beth Moore Living Proof Live event for ministers’ wives.
One of the best reasons to be there, according to one wife*, was to see she was not alone.

By and large, the ministers’ wives attending the event said they were happy to be married to men on church staffs.

“I felt like I knew what I was getting into because he was already in the ministry when we got married,” one wife said. “I married the man, but got the ministry along with him.”

Chris Adams, LifeWay’s senior lead women’s ministry specialist, said, “LifeWay has wanted to host this equipping event for ministers’ wives for some time. We thought having it in conjunction with the Living Proof Live event for ministers’ wives was ideal. I think the women agreed.

“Ministers’ wives are such special women,” she continued. “They deal with all the issues that being married involves, but in a fishbowl. Then, if they have children, they may feel like the church is looking at her, expecting her to be a perfect mother of perfect kids. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone.”

Panel of wives

A panel of ministers’ wives, past and present, opened the event. Becky Badry, director of women’s missions and ministry for the Colorado Baptist General Convention and a chaplain’s wife from Centennial, Colo.; Pam Case, director of LifeWay’s women’s ministry area and a pastor’s wife from Nashville, Tenn.; Karen Alexander-Doyel, a LifeWay Ministry Multiplier, author and pastor’s widow from Lenoir City, Tenn.; Jennifer Landrith, a LifeWay Ministry Multiplier, conference leader and pastor’s wife from Hendersonville, Tenn.; Rachel Lovingood, a writer, teacher and student pastor’s wife from Hendersonville, Tenn.; and Leighann McCoy, author, coordinator of prayer and women’s ministries and pastor’s wife from Thompson’s Station, Tenn., sat on the panel.

They talked about some of the issues they face:

  • “I’m really lonely.”

  • “Who can I trust?”

  • “How do I raise my kids in ministry?”

  • “What do I do about all these other women who love and adore my husband?”

  • “There’s so much criticism.”

  • “Church members always want me to be a messenger from them to my husband.”

They offered advice based on their own experiences and wisdom:

  • “Be real. Be who God designed you to be,” said Landrith.

  • “Never forget that you are the absolute best, perfect minister’s wife for your church because God specifically placed you there. It’s no accident you are where you are,” said Alexander-Doyel.

  • “Your first call is to walk with God. Your second is to take care of your husband and your family. Your third is to the ministry,” said Badry.

  • “Every day when something hard comes up remember that there will be something awesome on the other side,” said Case.

  • “Remember that you are only responsible for you. I can’t control anyone else’s spiritual growth, passion or anything. Seek God first every day,” said Lovingood.

  • “Wear only waterproof mascara,” said McCoy, getting a hearty “amen” from the crowd.

  • Breakout groups

A number of small break-out sessions were offered to the women, running the gamut from laughing at yourself to balancing life to dealing with difficult people.

Alexander-Doyel led a session on making Sunday the best day of the week.

“You have to get ready for Sunday,” she said. “Start on Monday thinking about getting clothes ready, getting your house clean, (and) getting an after-church lunch plan. If you are ready for Sunday on Saturday afternoon, you can have your day of rest and worship.”

Laughing at situations that come up in church can help ministers’ wives keep their sanity, according to McCoy. She led a session on laughing a little.

“You have to be willing to laugh at yourself and at all the truly bizarre situations that will come up in your life with your church,” she said. “And you need to have a friend who will laugh with you!”

Badry reminded the wives attending her small group that ministers rely on their wives for comfort and support.

“You know him as a man, a husband and a father,” she said, “but do you know him as a minister? Ministry is not an occupation — it’s a calling. He probably feels like he’s always running for office.”

Jealousy of his time

During the closing panel time, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions. One young wife asked, “How do you handle being jealous of your husband’s time?”

Lovingood said, “We have to have some parameters, of course, but we also have to remember that ministry is a 24/7 job. You need to develop some cues to let him know that you need him. Never forget, though, that you are his wife and you have a relationship with him that nobody else has.”

(*EDITOR’S NOTE — Because of privacy concerns, no wives, other than the platform/small group speakers, were identified by name or church.)

3/25/2009 7:55:00 AM by Polly House, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Baptist Men rebuild house in Kenly

March 24 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

After a tornado tore through Kenly in Johnston County on Nov. 15, Baptist men and women cleaned up debris, cut down and removed trees and repaired houses for six days.

They didn’t stop there.

Baptist Men was one of three organizations to commit to rebuilding efforts. Three families needed help.
The Baptist Men in the Johnston Baptist Association agreed to help Alan and Christina Hooks and their family.

When the members considered how best to help the family recover, they didn’t have to look far.

A shell of a house sat behind the remains of the Hooks’ doublewide mobile home, which was badly damaged by the storm. The house was started by Alan Hooks’ father, but had sat empty since he died in November 1999.

The outside walls and roof were on but little was done inside.

“We didn’t have enough money to finish it,” Christina Hooks said.

Scott Daughtry, who coordinated the rebuilding effort, said the house had deteriorated significantly and the roof leaked.

“We realized we had a foundation we could build on,” Daughtry said. “It worked out great having that start.”

The house was redesigned to change it from having two bedrooms to three because the Hooks have three daughters, who are 11, 7 and 3. The oldest has her own room in the new house.

“It’s still plenty big,” Christina Hooks said.

The Hooks got a family Bible and the keys to the house at a dedication ceremony on March 1.

“This house is wonderful,” she said. “We love it.”

The house looks like a new house, Hooks said.

“You can’t even look and tell that this house sat here for 10 years,” she said.

The mobile home the Hooks’ had lived in was twisted by the tornado, making it uninhabitable.

“We didn’t have insurance because at the time we couldn’t afford it,” she said.

“Who would expect a tornado to come through Kenly in the middle of November?”

Hooks said the family was sleeping when the tornado hit at about 3 a.m. When they were awakened by the storm, they initially thought someone was trying to get in. Alan Hooks opened the door to look outside.

“The door flew out of his hand,” Christina Hooks said.

A piece of wood blew through a window showering the youngest girl’s bed with glass. Fortunately, she wasn’t there.

“I’m just glad that our little one slept with us at the time,” Christina Hooks said. “I used to complain that she wouldn’t sleep in her own room.”

Daughtry said volunteers started working on the new house on Dec. 27.

Kelton Hinton, the Johnston’s association’s associational missionary, organized the association’s churches into eight groups with a work rotation for each group.
Volunteers from 31 association churches, five other Baptist churches, six Free Will Baptist churches and a group of student volunteers from the University of North Carolina worked on the house.

“I never expected so many volunteers,” Christina Hooks said.

Daughtry said the house cost about $30,000, with $22,000 coming from the Hooks family’s Emergency

Management grant and the rest from donations to the association for tornado relief efforts.

Thirteen companies and organizations provided labor, materials, discounts and donations.

The heating and air conditioning system, furniture and appliances were donated.

Daughtry said on some days as many as 100 people would be working on the house.

“I told my wife, ‘If the Lord keeps sending volunteers out here, we’re going to have to take turns driving nails,’” he said.

Daughtry said when plumbing was needed, a plumber was among the volunteers. When tile work was needed, someone proficient in that area was there.

“Every time I needed someone, the Lord sent them,” Daughtry said.

3/24/2009 4:54:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Study Bible wins ‘Christian Book of the Year’

March 24 2009 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

The ESV Study Bible has been named the “Christian Book of the Year” by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, marking the first time the honor has been given to a study Bible.

The Bible, which is in the English Standard Version, includes study notes from evangelical Christian scholars and other reference materials. Published by Crossway, it also won in the best Bible category.

The honoring of the study Bible follows two previous first-time wins of other products. In 2008, the Word of Promise New Testament Audio Bible became the first audio product to win; in 2007, Karen Kingsbury became the first woman and the first novelist to win, for her book, Ever After.

The award was announced March 19 at the kick-off for the 2009 Christian Book Expo in Dallas. The Christian Book Awards, which previously were known as the Gold Medallion Book Awards, were established in 1978 to recognize Christian books for excellent content, design and literary quality.

The other winners are:
  • Bible Reference & Study: Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, edited by Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns (InterVarsity Press).
  • Children & Youth: For Young Men Only by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice with Shaunti Feldhahn (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)
  • Christian Life: Spectacular Sins by John Piper (Crossway Books & Bibles)
  • Fiction: The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)
  • Inspiration & Gift: Holiness Day by Day by Jerry Bridges (NavPress).

3/24/2009 4:52:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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