March 2014

Scriptural error abounds, but Christians promote, blast ‘Noah’

March 31 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

No one seems to be arguing whether Paramount Studios’ “Noah” is a factual representation of scripture, as the filmmaker has admitted it is not, but Christians disagree whether the movie will advance the Lord’s Kingdom.
 
Christian academia, pastors and movie critics laud the production as a tool to encourage dialogue about the Bible, while some caution that viewing the film might birth doubt and inaccuracies in the hearts of believers. The $130 million production, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe in the title role, opened March 28 in theatres.

Under an agreement with National Religious Broadcasters, Paramount has added to the opening credits the message, “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

Paramount did not stop there, but has released an 8-minute video encouraging Christians to see the film. Such leaders as Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, Mosaic Church pastor Erwin McManus and The King’s College president Greg Thornbury encourage Christians to attend the production.

“‘Noah’ is nothing short of astonishing,” Thornbury says in the video. “I am confident that it will be remembered as a film that helped re-enchant a new generation with the biblical narrative. Honestly, it is path-breaking.”

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Thornbury, who has taught philosophy of film courses in a variety of settings, also critiqued the movie in a blog on “The Gospel Coalition” evangelical website. He acknowledged the movie has a “ton” of “extra-biblical material,” and pointed out two major theological objections. The movie does not present God as an actual character, as does the biblical account, and the movie totally misses God’s grace, even as it seeks to portray justice and mercy, Thornbury blogged.

“Because Noah is seized by the Lord through dreams in the film, we never really develop an imaginative sympathy with the Creator,” Thornbury wrote. “Second, the film entirely misses the covenantal structure of the Noah story. In the text, God clearly sets his love upon Noah as an expression of grace. Through Noah, a righteous man, the entire family is saved. ... Exploring the theme of God’s justice and mercy, if pursued apart from the notion of covenant, is a risky proposition with unreliable theological results.”

The movie can only be enjoyed if we realize it’s not true to Scripture, Thornbury indicated.

“If you go into it saying, ‘That stuff is not in the Bible!’ you are going to be a very grumpy camper when you leave the theater,” Thornbury wrote. “But of course we all realize that Genesis 6-10 actually underdetermines much granularity in terms of the precise details of a story.”

Phil Boatwright, whose movie reviews appear in Baptist Press and on previewonline.org, points out one such extra-biblical feature of Noah.

“When Noah tells an angry biblical figure that he’s not alone, he doesn’t just mean God is with him! Noah is also backed by ... fallen angels known as the watchers (Nephilim, spoken of in Genesis 6:14), here portrayed as giant rock creatures who seek forgiveness from their Creator by aiding Noah,” Boatwright said. “The rock people (the watchers) must be discussed because for this reviewer, they were the one ingredient that made the $130-million production seem a little like a Sci-Fi Channel refugee.”

At a press conference, Boatwright garnered Aronofsky’s explanation of the watchers.

“We thought for a long time about how to bring the Nephilim to life,” Aronofsky said of himself and co-writer Ari Handel. “Lots of sources talk about the Nephilim, including the book of Enoch. Of course, we had to use imagination to bring them to the screen.

“I was inspired metaphorically when I conceptualized these ethereal beings as falling in love with Earth and humans, and attempting to start another race. And because of doing this, their Creator imprisoned them by the earth,” Boatwright quoted Aronofsky. “I wanted this sense of crippled creatures, weighted down with their own punishment. I think there’s a sense that they are in pain with every step they take. It’s their punishment.”

Boatwright recommends the production.

“Noah is an epic movie experience that engages not only the cerebral but the emotional. On the way to the car, people discuss it,” Boatwright said. “That’s when you know you’ve experienced true art. It’s not just a time-filler before going to some other time-filler. It’s a film that demands debate.”

Answers in Genesis CEO Ken Ham is among those who are critical of – and do not recommend – the film, urging Christians to ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit before buying a ticket. AiG launched on March 25 the website www.TheTruthAboutNoah.com, and scheduled Ham’s webcast review of the film on the site March 28. Ham has called the movie “anti-biblical” and a “major corruption of the Bible’s account of the global Flood.”

Christians “may be able to embrace this movie, but I sincerely ask you to consider if a Christian who trusts in the inspired, infallible, inerrant, and sufficient Word of God can embrace it,” Ham writes in his latest Noah review on his website.

“Many professing Christians don’t believe that Noah was a real person from whom we all descended. Many believe that the Flood was simply a regional event,” Ham said. “Others believe the Flood is simply allegory that communicates a certain theme that we are to embrace. I pray that we will all stand for the authority of God’s Word and seek to defend His honor at all costs, even at the expense of our own entertainment.”

Ham admits he himself will see the movie with colleagues, but not for entertainment purposes.

“Paramount Pictures wants your money,” Ham said. “Before you buy that ticket, for this or any movie, read Ephesians 4:17–5:21 and ask for wisdom from the Holy Spirit that you may walk in obedience to your Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission and director of its Movieguide of family movies and entertainment, advises caution for some violence and intense moments in the film.

“Noah is a spectacular epic with a hopeful, inspiring ending,” he wrote in a review. “Although it stumbles along the way, it delivers enough modern spectacle and dramatic conflict to please most moviegoers.”

Among the movie’s faults are an environmentalist spin and the fact that the movie never mentions the name God, Baehr said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press general assignment writer/ editor.)
3/31/2014 12:09:59 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Moore, Lynn debate Hobby Lobby's liberty

March 31 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell D. Moore defended America's long-standing religious liberty in a debate with church-state separationist Barry Lynn on C-SPAN March 28.

Appearing on the network's “Washington Journal,” Moore, the leading religious liberty advocate for the Southern Baptist Convention, and Lynn, executive director of a strict church-state separationist organization, expressed disagreements on the free exercise of religion and on a case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court only three days earlier.

The disparity between their views seemed to become most evident when they began discussing the Obama administration's abortion/contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide drugs and devices that have the potential to cause abortions. The Supreme Court heard arguments March 25 from the federal government in support of the requirement, as well as two family owned businesses – nationwide retail chain Hobby Lobby and Pennsylvania-based Conestoga Wood Specialties – that contend the federal rule violates their owners' free exercise of religion rights and a 1993 law protecting religious liberty.

Asked by C-SPAN host Peter Slen about the Hobby Lobby case, Moore said the Green family, which owns the arts and crafts stores, “is simply asking to be able to live out their religious convictions without this burdensome and unnecessary government mandate.... The Green family says, 'We don't object to contraception, but we do object to contraceptive technologies or devices that we believe can possibly have an abortion effect. We don't want to be forced to participate in something that we believe could arguably be the taking of a human life.'
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“And so that's the question – whether or not the religious liberty rights that we have are simply at the level of what we believe in our hearts and what we sing from our hymn books,” the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) said, “or whether that religious liberty is the freedom to be able to live out one's life according to one's religious convictions.”

Slen asked Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, if the Green family shouldn't be able to operate its company as it desires.

“No, within limits frankly they can't do that,” Lynn responded. “We cannot allow the boss who happens to have one particular religious viewpoint to set up a corporation” in which he decides the company's interests “override the religious convictions of the women employees who choose to obtain contraceptive coverage, which the Green family says should not be available under their plan.”

Lynn said, “I don't believe that the free exercise of religion can be practiced by a for-profit company that's in the business of making do-it-yourself crafts.... Their purpose is not to practice religion. That's what you do if you form yourself as a religious charity or as a church or other place of worship. A company like this or a company that makes wood cabinets [as Conestoga Wood does] does not and cannot seriously claim a free exercise of religion right protected by [the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) “is about: Can Muslim firefighters grow a beard? That's about things that do not have an adverse effect on a third party like the Green family has a serious adverse effect” on Hobby Lobby's female workers, Lynn said.

The Constitution, Moore said, does “not mandate that we give up our free exercise and conscience rights when we enter into the workplace. Simply to say that because people are incorporated together and working in the marketplace this means that somehow their free-exercise rights are placed in a blind trust, I think that's a serious distortion of a great American principle.”

The Greens have “been for years and years and years seeking to put into practice their religious convictions,” Moore said. “It's the reason why they don't open on Sunday. It's the reason why they pay their employees at a higher rate than some of their competitors. They've tried to do everything they can to incentivize family time.... And so I don't think that we can say that simply because someone is in the marketplace this means that free exercise is gone.”

Moore also said, “No one is arguing that a sincerely held religious belief trumps everything. Instead, what [RFRA] entails is to say that the government must have a compelling interest in overriding religious free exercise and must find the least restrictive means to do that. And so simply because someone holds a sincerely held religious belief, that doesn't mean that the religious belief argument is over. It means that has to be weighed and that has to be balanced. And what we're arguing is that this government mandate is not necessary to achieve these goals and it isn't consistent with what we've always agreed to do as a country.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the rule in question in the Hobby Lobby case to implement the 2010 health care law. It requires employer coverage of federally approved contraceptives, including the intrauterine device (IUD), the Plan B “morning-after” pill and “ella.” Both the IUD and morning-after pill are described as possessing secondary, post-fertilization mechanisms that could potentially cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. In a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486, “ella” can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.

Lynn rejected the abortion concerns of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, which object only to coverage of the drugs and devices with abortion-inducing qualities and not other contraceptives.

“It is true in America you can have a sincerely held belief about anything,” Lynn said. “You can believe in Bigfoot. You can believe that all the Sesame Street animals, including Snuffleupagus, are going to move into your neighborhood. You can have all kinds of beliefs, but you can't put those beliefs into practice if they're claimed to be scientific beliefs if they're inconsistent with science.

“[T]he use of these medications prevents an egg or delays an egg from being released,” Lynn said. “It is never fertilized. Therefore, it is impossible for you to call it an abortion. We have to make public policy based on sound science, not on someone's religious view with this kind of overlay of pseudo-science.”

Moore replied, “The idea that 'ella' or an IUD can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb is not the equivalent of believing that Snuffleupagus is in one's neighborhood. This is a serious argument between people, and one will notice that in the oral arguments in the Supreme Court the government never argued that this isn't the case. They argued that these drugs aren't classified in this way.”

He also said, “[It] is not really up to Barry Lynn to dictate to the consciences of people who say, 'We believe the science shows that arguably this could cause an abortion. This could cause the womb to become inhospitable to an already fertilized embryo.'“

Moore defined religious freedom in response to Slen's first question as “the freedom to be able to live out one's religious convictions without coercion or pressure from the state.”

When Slen asked about the state of religious freedom in the country, Moore said he is “very concerned.”

“We have one court case after another dealing with very basic constitutional questions of religious liberty as well as a cultural climate that concerns me,” Moore told Slen, “when religious liberty is often presented in headlines in scare quotes, as though this were a political invention of recent times rather than what it really is – one of the bedrocks of this country, a natural right that the founders of this country believed was given to the people not by the government but by God.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
3/31/2014 11:39:12 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Unity found amid conflict in Ukraine

March 31 2014 by Marc Ira Hooks, IMB/Baptist Press

As Russian tanks rolled through Crimea and thousands of people staged demonstrations both for and against the governments of Russia and Ukraine, there was one group united by something other than nationalism or a common language.

More than 80 Russian-speaking Baptist church planters, pastors and Russian ministry workers from across Europe gathered in Germany this month for their annual summit of the Network of Russian Speaking Churches of the European Baptist Federation. Little did they know when the conference was planned that their theme of unity and peace would be particularly timely.

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Photo courtesy of Igor Gricyk, www.spasenie.eu.
Pastor Lev Shultz, left, from Prague, Czech Republic, leads church planters, pastors and Russian ministry workers from across Europe in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. More than 80 Russian-language church workers gathered together in Germany for the fourth annual summit of the Network of Russian Speaking Churches of the European Baptist Federation.

“We prayed for Ukraine numerous times together,” International Mission Board (IMB) representative Russell Kyzar, who attends a Russian-speaking immigrant church in Prague, Czech Republic, said. “You genuinely sensed that regardless of where they were from, people were pained by the situation. The truth is, we all have a much higher allegiance – and that is to the Kingdom of God. And we must use this opportunity, as people’s hearts are open, to come to Him.”

Millions of Russian-speaking immigrants and refugees are spread across Europe. This presents church-planting opportunities for immigrant church pastors who gather together annually during the summit.

Usually this conference is a time for these leaders and workers to share about their ministries and church-planting strategies. But this year’s conference theme – “A Spirit of Unity in the Bond of Peace” – was particularly appropriate as the group spent much of their meeting praying for the current situation in Ukraine and Crimea.

The meeting was both unique and heartwarming, Kyzar said, as Baptist leaders from the different countries lifted each other up in prayer.

“There were leaders from Russia praying for representatives from Crimea,” he said. “And there were Ukrainian leaders praying for the leaders and people of Russia.

“There was a sense of Christian brotherhood that was overriding any tension caused by nationalism or patriotism.”

Those who attended the conference said the meetings were uplifting, and there was a sense that even though different nations were represented, they were there to demonstrate something bigger than a collection of people from different Russian-speaking countries.

“Right now the hearts of people are tender,” Kyzar said. “And we were talking about how to maximize this as an opportunity to talk with people about spiritual things. The structures of men do not provide the security that you need ... and definitely not for eternity.”

Igor Gricyk, pastor of a Russian-speaking church in Kladno, Czech Republic, and one of the organizers of the conference, said the recent unrest in Crimea and Ukraine will most likely cause many new immigrants and refugees to flee from post-Soviet countries into the rest of Europe.

Churches across Europe are willing to cooperate and support ministry among Russian-speakers in Europe, he said.

Gricyk said, “Meeting together and praying for one another gives us courage to be ready to accept those people and help them find God, church, home and family.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marc Ira Hooks is an IMB correspondent based in Europe.)
3/31/2014 11:28:28 AM by Marc Ira Hooks, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Sweet 16: Stokes’ big footprint carries Tenn.

March 31 2014 by Victor Lee, Baptist Press

A successful team has to be built on a solid foundation. None gets much more solid than 6-feet-8, 260-pound Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, whose size 23 shoe, basketball skill and steady off-court influence are leaving a big footprint.

Stokes is the rock of the Tennessee Volunteer basketball team, the 11th seed that faced the 2nd seed Michigan Wolverines Friday, March 28 in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in Indianapolis. While the Michigan team had a tough time ending Tennessee’s Elite Eight dreams, the Wolverines did just that with a 73-71 victory. But Michigan was defeated March 30 by a talented Kentucky team (75-72).

Stokes has been the quiet, steady type all along – just like quiet, steady head coach Cuonzo Martin likes.

“Both of them are intense competitors with calm exteriors,” Vols chaplain Roger Woods noted.

Stokes is tied for first in the nation in double doubles (22 games with double-digit rebounds and points), averaging 10.7 rebounds and 15.2 points, and he and fellow post player Jeronne Maymon (also 6-8, 260) are a double-wide mismatch inside. (These numbers were calculated before the game against Michigan.)
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Jarnell Stokes was a valuable member of the Tennessee Volunteers during the season and throughout the NCAA tournament. He’s known not only for his double-digit rebounds but for also leading the team with a calm demeanor and faith in God.


A senior-laden team (starters Jordan McRae, Maymon and Antonio Barton), the tone is nevertheless set by the junior Stokes.

“He is quiet and respectful but everybody knows where Jarnell stands with his faith,” Woods said. “I believe it impacts the entire team. All those guys are growing and striving.”

None more than Jarnell. Former Vol post player Rob Murphy mixed it up with Stokes in practice every day during Stokes’ first two years at UT. Off the court, he saw a young man (17 when he played his first game for Tennessee) clearly working to honor God.

“Jarnell is a quiet guy, reserved, but he has definitely taken the steps to live a Christ-filled life,” said Murphy, who graduated in 2013 and is now athletic director and basketball coach at Concord Christian School in Knoxville. “He attends church consistently, and I can see his faith by how he lives his life day to day, how he deals with his girlfriend and the way he treats people around him. He has really invested in living a life that glorifies the Lord.”

Coach Martin is a big part of that effort. In Martin’s first phone call to Stokes, the coach spoke of his faith in God. “It was a very engaging conversation,” Stokes told Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter Mike Griffin in a video shortly after arriving at Tennessee in December 2011. “He said he worked hard but he said he worked hard because of God. I said to myself, ‘I need to check this situation out.’”

Stokes had been recruited from age 14 and had risen to the state’s top prospect. A shy young man, he said recruiting “was a long hard process. With prayer comes answers. In beginning, I was thinking ‘Cuonzo Martin? This guy from Missouri State? You serious?’ But I walk by faith, not by sight, and I thought Tennessee was the right fit.”

For Stokes, that meant mixing basketball and faith in God – and having a godly leader.

“Coach Martin makes it very clear that he is a Christian,” Murphy said. “He’s very up-front about his faith, and I think that has impacted Jarnell very much. Coach Martin is careful and smart about it – he has to be in a public institution. He gives players the option to leave before we have chapel, but we have them consistently. We have team prayer. The presence of the Lord is always around the program. Coach Martin brings glory to the Lord.”

Stokes’ faith has garnered attention of late as he openly – but briefly and with poise – voiced praise to God on nationally televised interviews after NCAA tournament games.

“He does it on his own,” Woods said. “He just wants to make sure before he says anything else that he honors the Lord. He is living Matthew 6:33, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God....’ So he just says that before anything else. It’s not rehearsed or stated, it’s from the heart.”

And it’s from conviction, which he spoke of in the video more than two years ago.

“I think there should be more guys out there trying to bring faith in Jesus and not so worried about what others think about them,” Stokes said. “Like Tim Tebow, who has the faith to say, ‘I work hard, but God gets me where I am now.’”

Stokes earns respect when he speaks because of his work ethic. He is much improved this season, a big reason Tennessee made the tournament and has won three games so far.

“You can really see a difference in the quality of his play,” Murphy said. “His fundamental base is much better. He has gotten away from some moves he used in high school that he figured out didn’t work in college. His passes, his moves – everything he does with the ball – are at a more advanced level.”

While every hard-working and successful athlete is not a Christian, Murphy said he believes Stokes’ faith stokes his effort.

“I think it is impossible to be a Christian and not have it affect your work ethic,” Murphy said. “He works like a man who is doing everything unto the Lord.”

The work ethic extends to academics and faith. His father Willie pushed him to honors classes in high school, and the discipline positioned Stokes to graduate early and begin his college career in what should have been his high school senior year. As for faith, he learns from some of the best in Woods and Sevier Heights Baptist Church’s Tim Miller. Miller leads “Inside the Walk” each Wednesday night at 9. Stokes is regularly there.

“He’s been classy,” Miller said. “He comes across as an extremely shy guy, but he’s always made himself available to students. He always stays afterward and mingles with the crowd. He’s always a gentleman in how he handles himself, even though a lot of people want to approach him.

“There is a quiet confidence about him. He has never wanted to be the center of attention. I’ve admired that from a distance.”

The quiet confidence and low-key demeanor came through long talks and discipline from his father and some humbling experiences as an early teen.

“I was the first one to read every article that came out about Jarnell Stokes,” Stokes said upon arriving at Tennessee. “I think I let it get to my head. My game started falling. I stopped doing what I was asked.

“I grew up as always the underdog. I was this big kid with the afro. I never made friends ... guys didn’t like me; they said I was garbage. That adversity has pushed me through a lot. My faith in God has helped me get to where I am right now. I want to thank my dad for the long nights we talked about basketball, and the discipline. Now I appreciate it.”

He has been molded by God, parents and coaches into a winner. He has influenced teammates to be winners. Stokes had a goal when he arrived. He said in December 2011:

“I’ve never been a loser. I know they [Tennessee basketball] are down right now. But I plan on winning.”

Mission accomplished. On and off the court.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Victor Lee is a writer based in Knoxville, Tenn.)
3/31/2014 11:08:55 AM by Victor Lee, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



NCMO provides for the Shelby Mission Camp

March 28 2014 by Marty Simpkins, BSC Communications

David and Janet Brown are the new camp leaders for the Shelby Mission Camp. David is very familiar with the ministry of the Shelby Mission Camp as he has been a missions leader for his church, Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby.
 
Through Elizabeth Baptist, Brown spent many years ministering to young men through Royal Ambassadors, and as the men’s ministry director, he was instrumental in organizing the church’s disaster relief and handyman ministries as well.
 
Professionally, he was an auto technician for 40 years and the owner of his own automotive service for 32 of those years.
 
As the new camp leader, Brown is excited and looking forward to the opportunity to further God’s Kingdom through the missions and ministries of Baptists on Mission or North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM).
 
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BSC photo
David and Janet Brown are the new camp leaders for Shelby Mission Camp.

“Besides just maintaining this facility, we want to make sure that it is used to help minister to the needs of the people of Cleveland and surrounding counties,” Brown said.
 
“We host volunteer groups from our local communities, throughout the state and across the nation.”
 
Volunteers give anywhere from one hour to several weeks of their time as they participate in the camp’s various missionary and ministry efforts. Volunteers may be involved in organizing projects for future teams as well as completing projects begun by other teams. Some of the projects include home repair, Vacation Bible Schools, sports camps and evangelism.
 
More specifically, volunteers have worked with the Cleveland County Homeless Shelter and the Pregnancy Resource Center in remodeling their facilities. However, in order to participate in these ministries, the Shelby Mission Camp needs consistent financial support – that’s where the North Carolina Missions Offering comes in.
 
“The N.C. Mission Offering is our lifeline of support,” Brown said.
 
“While very grateful for what we have, we also have needs. Many of our tools are becoming worn out and need replacing. Initial plans called for more use of this wonderful property that we have been blessed with. I would like to see these plans carried out so this property can be fully utilized to glorify God.”
 
This special offering being received across North Carolina supports all of the missions and ministries of NCBM, as well as provide critical support for church planting efforts through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
 
The Shelby Mission Camp is just one of the 18 unique ministries of NCBM.
 
Through the ministries of NCBM, individuals like Brown come to recognize that God is calling them to missions and ministry. There are thousands of men, women and students who are involved in missions through the Missions Camps at Shelby and at Red Springs.
 
Generous support of the North Carolina Missions Offering may be used by the Lord to provide experiences for others through which God may call them to His service.
 
For more information about the Shelby Mission Camp, visit www.baptistsonmission.org/camps. To learn how you and your church can support the North Carolina Missions Offering, visit www.ncmissionsoffering.org or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5515.
3/28/2014 11:35:40 AM by Marty Simpkins, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Baylor hits Sweet 16 at 26-11 & 5 baptisms

March 28 2014 by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press

Nothing changed in how Baylor men’s basketball coach Scott Drew went about his work this year.
 
Nothing, that is, except the results – especially the results off the court where five of his players, in professing faith in Christ, were baptized.
 
“I’ve been with [Drew] for 11 years, and the concentration has been the same every year to expose people to the gospel and be able to present the gospel,” said Mark Wible, one of the team’s two chaplains. “There have been a lot of seeds sown over the years, and we’re seeing it come to fruition this year.”
 
When the Bears face Wisconsin tonight in the NCAA’s Sweet 16, most fans will see only what happens on the court. They won’t see the efforts and energy that Drew regularly pours out in teaching his players not only the game of basketball, but the gospel of Jesus.
 
“Winning the game of life is a lot more rewarding than a 40-minute basketball game that’s so temporary,” Drew said in a Fox Sports Southwest story by Dave Ubben. “To have an opportunity to help be a part of an impact on a young person’s life is the best feeling.”
 
Although the preseason AP poll had Baylor ranked 25th, everything started off according to plan for the team this season and the wins came quick and often.
 
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Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics
Scott Drew, Baylor men’s basketball coach, while leading the team to a Sweet 16 berth, says having “an impact on a young person’s life is the best feeling.”

Six straight wins to start the season. A loss to Syracuse. Six more wins, including a big one over Kentucky on Dec. 6. By early January, Baylor had climbed to seventh in the nation.
 
But as quickly as the Bears had ascended, they fell. Big 12 conference competition proved much tougher than the teams Baylor had been beating. The Bears dropped eight of their first 10 conference games, including five in a row at one point.
 
Drew’s frustration could have been excused after Baylor lost to Kansas on Feb. 4 in the midst of the disastrous slide. Before facing the media after the game, he approached Scott Brewer, the team’s other chaplain.
 
Drew didn’t ask Brewer to pray for composure as he addressed the media. He didn’t ask Brewer to pray for the team’s freefall to stop. He had something far more significant on his mind.
 
“We may not win another game this year, and I may be a horrible coach,” Drew told Brewer, as reported by Ubben, “but if any of these guys leave without knowing Christ, that will be the real loss.”
 
Though the team was struggling, the Lord was working, through Drew, Brewer, Wible and others. On Feb. 25, Wible baptized five of the players – Kenny Chery, Taurean Prince, Gary Franklin, Royce O’Neale and Ish Wainright – at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, where he is associate pastor.
 
Wible said it’s the first time in his 11 years the team has seen these kinds of spiritual results. He credits the testimony and witness of former player Jacob Neubert, who graduated last year and had a strong influence with several of the players. Neubert played a major role in bringing Baylor guard Brady Heslip to Christ in 2011.
 
“This year, it just kind of took off,” Wible said, “and Brady has been instrumental in bringing other guys to faith in Christ or just to have a deeper walk with the Lord and being more conscious of God in their everyday lives.”
 
Weslip’s guidance and counsel were significant factors in Chery coming to faith in Christ.
 
“I felt like I was a new person,” Chery said in the Fox Sports Southwest story about his conversion. “I felt like everything I’ve done bad in the past is gone. I’m starting new. I’ve accepted God into my life. The next morning I woke up, thanked God for waking me up, and I just had a whole new outlook.”
 
As chaplain, Wible gives pregame talks to the team, and this year’s theme was “One,” based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21 that His people might be one as He was one with the Father. Wible talked about topics such as one faith, one attitude, one mindset and one promise.
 
That instruction proved valuable as the losses mounted.
 
“Through it all, those guys never once wavered,” Wible said. “Now there were questions – what’s going on? – but they never wavered in their faith.”
 
The players hung together, Wible said, not pointing fingers or accusing others. And eventually, the wins started coming again in mid-February. Baylor won 10 of 11 games before losing to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament title game. Seeded seventh in the NCAA tournament, Baylor defeated Nebraska and Creighton to advance to the Sweet 16.
 
Regardless of what the NCAA tournament holds for Baylor, Wible said this season has been an immense success.
 
“Scripture says one plants, one waters and God gives the increase,” he said. “This has been the year that God has given the increase, and we rejoice in that.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth is editor of BP Sports, the sports affiliate of Baptist Press.)
3/28/2014 11:12:14 AM by Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Heart languages soar with songs of faith

March 28 2014 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press

KATHMANDU, Nepal – Emotion was palpable amid cautious but fervent prayers as Nepalese women dabbed tears with their shawls and men let intense worship furrow their brows.
 
One man lifted his shaking hands in worship during the music workshop in Nepal.
 
“If you’ve never worshipped from your heart tongue, I want to give you an opportunity to now,” workshop leader Deepak Nepali* told the participants.
 
For many, it indeed was such a moment to worship Jesus in their own language in a land where Nepali is the official language in schools, the workplace and churches.
 
As languages came to life in prayers and praise, high notes of traditional Tibetan songs revealed a heart yearning for God. The almost-forgotten languages found breath in the lyrics that participants jotted on notebook paper. Traditional drums pounded praise for the Savior.
 
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IMB photo by M.B. Harris
Limbu people group pastor Bikram Yekten (left) and a fellow Limbu believer perform the “Ke Lang” dance while singing a worship song they wrote in the Limbu language. The “Ke” drum is famous in Nepal for its powerful bass sound that carries across the Himalayas. Yekten said six people in his community became believers as a result of listening to worship songs in their native language.

International Mission Board ethnomusicologist Ethan Leyton*, who helped coordinate the four-day workshop last fall, said it was history in the making, as 16 people groups composed 120 songs in 18 languages.
 
“[God] wants everyone here to use their mother tongue, the language of the heart, the language they pray in, the language they dream in, the language they talk to their family members in,” Leyton observed.
 
Participants discovered the music hidden in their hearts – music that had been forgotten, stifled, never realized or never given the wings or words to fly.
 

Passionate instruction

Deepak Nepali is passionate about music, language, culture and passing this fervency on to his countrymen.
 
Deepak hopped from one foot to his other at times, leading the group in singing, “I need Jesus, you need Jesus, Nepal needs Jesus.” He bounced his way over to less-enthusiastic participants and, with his energetic facial expressions, succeeded in eliciting a smile and wholehearted participation.
 
“How often do you use your mother tongue?” he asked two young men from the Tamang people group.
 
“When we are out cutting grass,” they answer, laughing. The men soon found that they could talk with God and praise Him in a language that had been beyond the bounds of worship for many years.
 
“We’re here to write new songs, but we’re also here to start a new history,” said Nepali, whose teaching varied based on the audience and what he sensed the Holy Spirit telling him to say.
 
He broke with his plans and spontaneously opened the floor for believers to pray in their heart language. In Nepal, like many places in Asia, believers pray out loud and all at once.
 
“Even if you don’t have the vocabulary, ask the Lord to release that and give you the words,” Nepali said.
 
One Tamang believer began praying in Tamang but faltered, switching to the Nepali language during the impromptu session.
 
There’s a power in worship and in song, Leyton said. For people who’ve never done so in their tribe’s language, it’s a life-altering experience.
 

Unity in diversity

Churches had encouraged the sole use of Nepali in worship as a way of unifying the people, Leyton said. For the most part, churches in Nepal do not encourage incorporating other languages or traditional instruments into worship services. “The church was the place you can feel equal,” he said.
 
Leyton and Nepali were nervous about bringing different people groups from different castes together for fear it would become divisive. It did not.
 
“It actually unites people because everyone feels validated and everyone is seeing that Jesus can be worshipped in all of these languages and they are appreciating that and realizing that it is important,” Leyton said. “It’s beautiful to watch everyone come together.”
 
Leyton said he loved listening to four older Lorung Rai believers write and perform songs rich with the history of their people group.
 
“This is soul. This is the soul of the Lorung Rai people coming out of this song praising Jesus. It really did feel like I had stepped back 50 or 100 years or more,” Leyton said.
 
A song Anila Rai sang moved him.
 
“She hit this high note ... I felt it was better than Aretha Franklin,” Leyton said. “That note is still in my head. Even though I had no idea what she was saying, knowing that she was worshipping Jesus and she was doing it with the music of her heart..., that is one of a few seconds that I am going to keep in my heart for a long time.”
 
Many people groups worked late into the night, crafting songs that wouldn’t allow them to sleep until they’d been penned. One man said he dreamt of some lyrics and woke up, wrote them down and then went back to sleep.
 
In addition to praise and worship songs, the believers wrote Christmas songs, wedding songs, songs of personal testimony and evangelistic songs. The Sampang Rai attendees wrote the first songs ever written in their people group’s language, secular or religious.
 
Participants took seriously the responsibility to share their worship music with their people.
 
“We didn’t have any Christian songs in our language; now we have eight,” a believer from the Dimal people group said. “Now, we are asking how we can use these songs to share the glory of God with our people.”
 
Another goal of the workshop was to use the newly written songs as a ministry tool.
 
“I hope God puts in your heart a prayer that every language, every tribe will be able to sing and preach the praise of God,” Nepali told the believers.
 
In the months following the workshop, Bikram Yekten, a pastor from the Limbu people, reported that six Limbu became believers after listening to the worship songs.
 
An older Nachhiring Rai man collapsed into a bale of hay, exhausted after 30 minutes of dancing at an outreach event in a neighboring village. He removed his baseball cap to release the percolating heat. He couldn’t stop smiling.
 
The man had danced from his heart, singing the worship songs he helped write in the language of his Nachhiring Rai forefathers.

*In Nepal, individuals’ last names are often the name of their people group.
 
*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson writes from Asia for the International Mission Board.)
3/28/2014 10:47:01 AM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Feds admit abortion mandate in SCOTUS

March 27 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Obama administration’s acknowledgment that its stance would require businesses to underwrite abortions without the right to a legal challenge may have been a particularly telling moment in a March 25 U.S. Supreme Court case that likely will be a landmark in religious liberty.
 
It seemed that way to some who oppose the government’s position, and they expressed an opinion that it seemed that way to some of the justices.
 
The Supreme Court heard 90 minutes of oral arguments regarding the federal government’s abortion/contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices for their workers. Two family owned businesses – nationwide retail chain Hobby Lobby and Pennsylvania-based Conestoga Wood Specialties – had their opportunity to present their contention that the federal rule violates free exercise of religion rights and a 1993 law protecting religious liberty.
 
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the Obama administration’s advocate, if he thought a for-profit corporation “could be forced in principle to pay for abortions.”
 
At first, Verrilli seemed to deny it would, saying, “[T]he law now is to the contrary.”
 
Kennedy countered: “But your reasoning would permit that.”
 
Verrilli eventually said, “Well, I think that if it were for a for-profit corporation and if such a law like that were enacted, then you’re right, under our theory ... the for-profit corporation wouldn’t have an ability to sue.”
 
Lawyers for both plaintiffs cited the exchange in their assessments of oral arguments.
 
“The justices were extremely concerned about the idea that just because a family tries to earn a living in business they abandon their constitutional and statutory freedoms,” said Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). “I found it interesting that the justices also were very explicitly concerned about the notion that the government’s position is so extreme that if they force families and businesses to provide abortions of any kind, even presumably surgical or late-term abortions, those families would not even be able to have a day in court to object.
 
“[T]hose are extreme positions on the part of the government,” he told Baptist Press.
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“Ultimately, what the government is doing here is forcing people to buy abortion products for other people,” said Bowman, whose organization has represented Conestoga Wood. “And that unprecedented mandate – given at the same time that the government is exempting a hundred million people from it for secular, political reasons – can’t be squared with the deference that we give in our country to religious freedom itself.”
 
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has represented Hobby Lobby, said, “I think the court had a lot of very hard questions for the government. The government essentially admitted the theory that they’re offering in this case would support an abortion mandate.”
 
After Verrilli said there is no current law requiring for-profits “to provide abortions,” Chief Justice John Roberts cited the current case.
 
“Isn’t that what we are talking about in terms of their religious beliefs? One of the religious beliefs is that they have to pay for these four methods of contraception that they believe provide abortions,” Roberts told Verrilli. “I thought that’s what we had before us.”
 
Verrilli admitted it was the belief of the business owners but said federal and state law did not support a belief that the methods constitute abortion.
 
The regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement the 2010 health care law requires coverage of federally approved contraceptives, including the IUD intrauterine device and such drugs as the morning-after pill Plan B. Both the IUD and morning-after pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
 
While some conscientious objectors to the HHS rule oppose underwriting all contraceptives, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood protest paying only for abortion-causing drugs.
 
Roberts, Kennedy and associate justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer seemed suspicious of Verrilli’s arguments, but justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg repeatedly challenged Paul Clement, who represented the businesses.
 
Kagan told Clement, solicitor general under President George W. Bush, the corporations have another choice – they could refuse to provide health insurance and pay the $2,000 tax per employee.
 
“Well, just to put this in concrete terms, for Hobby Lobby, for example, the choice is between paying ... a $475 million per year penalty [for refusing to abide by the mandate] and paying a $26 million per year [tax],” Clement said. “You have a government law that specifically says you must do something that violates your religion – and it’s enforced with a penalty, and with all due respect I think $2,000 per employee is a penalty.”
 
Kagan disagreed, saying, it is “not saying you must do something that violates your religion. It’s giving you a choice. You can do this thing or if this thing violates your religion you can do another thing.”
 
After the arguments, Hobby Lobby co-founder Barbara Green said in a written statement her family had built the business based on the Greens’ Christian faith and wants “to continue to live out our faith in the way we do business.”
 
“We believe that no American should lose their religious freedom just because they open a family business,” she said, adding, “[W]e prayerfully await the justices’ decision.”
 
Anthony Hahn, chief executive officer of Conestoga Wood, said his family never expected to see a time when the government “would force us to be complicit in the potential destruction of human life.”
 
“We didn’t choose this fight,” Hahn said in a written statement after the arguments. The Hahns, Greens and others, he said, “would have been happy to just continue providing good jobs and generous healthcare benefits. But the government forced our hand. We hope and pray that the Supreme Court will uphold the religious freedom of all Americans who seek to glorify God even as they go about making a living.”
 
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-choice America and a leading supporter of the HHS mandate, told reporters outside afterward, “We will not have our rights extinguished. Our bodies are not our bosses’ business.”
 
The plaintiffs’ lawyers expressed encouragement after the arguments.
 
“I won’t make guesses, but it felt like a good day,” Rienzi said outside the court. “It felt like they asked really good questions, and we’re happy with it.”
 
Bowman added, “I’m hopeful. I’m a Christian, and I’m hopeful.”
 
Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards expressed optimism as an advocate for the mandate.
 
“It was a wonderful day I think for women, and I really believe that this court understood that women have the right to make their own decisions about their health care and their birth control, and it’s not their bosses’ decision,” Roberts told reporters.
 
Supporters of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood have said religious free exercise for Americans is in the balance as the Supreme Court ponders its decision, which is expected to be issued before its term ends in late June or early July.
 
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has described the case as “the most important religious liberty case in a generation.”
 
The decision “will set the tone for the next hundred years of church/state jurisprudence in this country,” he said. “If the federal government can force organizations and businesses to pave over their own consciences, to choose between being believers and being citizens, what will stop the government from imposing its will on anyone’s conscience next?”
 
The justices heard arguments about the mandate after more than two and a half years of protests by pro-life and religious freedom advocates. Objections to the regulation failed to produce either a withdrawal from HHS or adequate conscience protections requested by religious liberty proponents.
 
HHS provided an exemption to the rule for churches and their auxiliaries. The administration also offered an accommodation for non-church-related religious organizations, but critics called it inadequate because it still forces such groups to provide access to the drugs through third parties.
 
More than 300 parties, including non-profits and for-profit corporations, have combined to file 94 lawsuits against HHS, according to the Becket Fund. The consolidated case the justices heard March 25 only involves for-profit businesses. The non-profit cases have yet to reach the high court.
 
The case arrived at the Supreme Court after divided opinions at the appellate level. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled against Conestoga Wood, saying for-profit, secular organizations “cannot engage in religious exercise.” In ruling for Hobby Lobby, however, the 10th Circuit Court in Denver rejected the Obama administration’s argument that protections under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act do not extend to for-profit companies. It ruled corporations “can be ‘persons’ exercising religion for purposes” of the RFRA, which requires the government to have a compelling interest and to use the least narrow means to burden a person’s religious exercise.
 
The ERLC signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Christian Legal Society in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Also among the 59 briefs supporting Hobby Lobby and/or Conestoga Wood, according to the Becket Fund, was one signed onto by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; its president, Daniel Akin, and Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, a mega Southern Baptist congregation in Lake Forest, Calif.
 
The Green family has said it will not comply with the mandate if it loses in court. The arts and crafts retail chain of more than 600 stores could face fines totaling $1.3 million a day. The Christian bookstore chain Mardel, also owned by members of the Green family, is part of the suit as well. Both are based in Oklahoma City.
 
The Hahn family has been living under the mandate since its group health plan was renewed in January 2013. Refusal to abide by the mandate could cost the family an estimated $95,000 a day. Conestoga Wood is a wholesale manufacturer of kitchen cabinet parts.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington Bureau chief.)
3/27/2014 1:26:45 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pastors’ conference to focus on God’s glory

March 27 2014 by BR staff

The 2014 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, June 8-9, will be held in Baltimore, at the Baltimore Convention Center right on Inner Harbor.
 
Notable speakers include Francis Chan, Tony Evans, Ronnie Floyd, J.D. Greear, Johnny Hunt, Clayton King, James MacDonald, Eric Mason, David Platt and Rick Warren.
 
“What Moses was begging for [was] a manifestation of God’s presence,” said Bruce Frank, lead pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Asheville and 2014 Pastor’s Conference president, about the conference theme “Show Us Your Glory” based on Exodus 33:18-23.
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“Whether that be saving a marriage, [breaking from] addiction, reviving a pastor who may be burned out. Man can’t do those things. God can.”
 
Frank said the theme follows along with his personal journey over the last few years of learning to tilt things vertically toward God.
 
Many churches are doing things that are “pragmatically cool but [do] not glorify God,” Frank said.
 
Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, serves as an officer of the Pastors’ Conference. He will be nominated for the office of first vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, June 10-11.
 
To make accommodations for the Pastors’ Convention and/or Southern Baptist Convention, visit sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc14/.
 
The Pastors’ Conference has secured special rates at area hotels when you register via sbcpc.net. This event is free of charge and open to the public.
 
Church messengers, be sure to pre-register at sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc14/PreRegistration.asp.
 

2014 SBC Ministers’ Wives luncheon

Priscilla Shirer is set to be the speaker at the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Ministers’ Wives luncheon June 10 at noon.
 
The event will be held in Key Ballroom at the Hilton Baltimore. The theme is “No fear. No excuses. He is able.
 
Shirer has been married to Jerry for 13 years and is the mom to three boys. She has authored several books including, One in a Million, The Resolution for Women and most recently God is Able.
 
Advance tickets are $15 each; $20 at door (if available).
 
A table for 10 is $150 and the person reserving the table will serve as hostess and is responsible for notifying guests and distributing tickets.
 
Call (800) 254-2022 or visit lifeway.com/Keyword/sbc+wives?type=events.
 
3/27/2014 1:14:01 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



‘Why?’ Disaster relief volunteers ready with answers of hope

March 27 2014 by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press

Camille. Hugo. Andrew. 9-11. Katrina. Haiti. Tuscaloosa. Joplin. Sandy. Oklahoma City.
 
Those words often bring to mind disasters; they trigger emotions and memories difficult and poignant. Southern Baptists have had a common response to all of them: Help.
 
Disaster relief has captured the hearts of volunteers from all backgrounds. Regardless of race, age, gender or social status, there seem to be no barriers to keep volunteers from serving people in need. Hundreds of thousands of survivors of disaster, both natural and manmade, have received tireless service from tens of thousands of Southern Baptists.
 
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NAMB photo by John Swain
Russell Henry, a Moore, Okla., homeowner who survived a tornado that hit the Oklahoma City suburb last year, listens as Billy Puckett of New Orleans shares the gospel. Puckett, a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer, is a member of First Baptist Church, New Orleans.

“The mission of every disaster relief team is to bring help, healing and hope,” said Fritz Wilson, executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “Meeting a family’s physical needs with practical help starts their healing process, which leads to a sense of hope that things will be better. This gives us the opportunity to share a different type of hope that is only found in a relationship with Jesus.”
 
That important spiritual element sets SBDR apart from other large relief entities. NAMB has placed the national SBDR team in its Evangelism Group to maintain an intentional evangelistic focus in Baptist relief ministry.
 
One by one, survivors have asked the question, “Why?” Why would people come help someone they do not know? That question has led to tens of thousands of gospel presentations and thousands of professions of faith in disaster settings.
 
Innovation and adaptation have marked SBDR efforts across 46 years of service. Need often drove innovation, including the introduction of laundry and shower units and the creation of childcare teams. Southern Baptists’ heart of compassion also led to more long-term responses, culminating in the two-year Sandy Rebuild project now underway in New York and New Jersey.
 
“The disaster relief team at NAMB works not only to coordinate volunteers from across the country to meet physical needs, we also partner with local churches, associations and conventions to be sure both the gospel is shared and that new believers are connected to a body of believers so they can grow as Christ followers,” Wilson said.
 
SBDR has also developed a bridge to Southern Baptist church planting efforts. The strategy is now an integral part of SBDR efforts.
 
“If there is no local congregation, we work with the NAMB mobilization team to explore the possibility of planting a church in that area,” Wilson said. “During the 2013 flooding response in Boulder, Colo., SBDR teams from Oklahoma worked with a church planter, Derek Barnett, so he could meet the families we were helping. This allowed him to build relationships with the families, which will accelerate his ability to start his church plant.”
 
There are approximately 90,000 trained SBDR volunteers from every state Baptist convention and Canada. It is a rare day when there is not an SBDR volunteer working somewhere around the world sharing the gospel in the midst of disaster recovery.
 
To learn more about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and how you can be involved in bringing help, healing and hope in crisis, visit http://www.namb.net/dr/.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)
3/27/2014 1:05:46 PM by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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