March 2015

Fla. city official’s threat called ‘war on Jesus’

March 13 2015 by Baptist Press staff

A south Florida church has received notice from local officials that it must obtain a business license or shut down, even though federal and local laws exempt churches from obtaining such licenses.
“That’s a violation of the First Amendment, but number two, it’s a violation of their own code,” Liberty Counsel chairman and founder Mat Staver said, “because churches [in Lake Worth, Fla.] are not required to get business licenses.”
Common Ground Church was told by Lake Worth city officials that it would have to cease its activities and pay up to $500 per day in fines if it did not obtain a business license by March 2, Staver said. Since that time, the city has opted not to enforce its demand, saying instead that the church, which meets in a coffee bar owned by the pastor, must obtain only a “use license” that regulates the number of people permitted to gather.
The city still claims Common Ground technically needs a business license, Staver said. He noted the Liberty Counsel will file a lawsuit if Lake Worth tries once again to enforce its policy. But even the use license requirement represents inequitable treatment of the Florida Baptist Convention church plant, he said.


Common Ground Church photo
Common Ground Church, which has been threatened by city officials, held a prayer rally for local government on the steps of Lake Worth, Fla., City Hall March 3.

“If you’re running a coffee bar, there’s no limit on the number of people in Lake Worth,” Staver said. “If you’re watching Monday Night Football in the coffee bar, there’s no limit. But if someone stands up, reads the Bible and prays, now the city of Lake Worth wants to put a limit on the number of people that can participate in worship. That’s not only unconstitutional, but it violates their local code.”
Pastor Mike Olive called the city’s treatment of the congregation “a war on Jesus.”
“Politicians and lawyers can frame it a different way, but I’m a preacher,” Olive said. “I really believe this is about Jesus and the message of light.”
The church’s trouble began following a December 2014 conversation between Olive and openly gay city commissioner Andy Amoroso in which Amoroso said, “You better not have a church down there,” according to a letter from Liberty Counsel to Lake Worth City Manager Michael Bornstein.
Amoroso did not return the Florida Baptist Witness’ call requesting a comment.
There is a large homosexual community in Lake Worth, Olive said, especially in the downtown district where Common Ground is located. But Olive said he has a good relationship with his neighbors, including a hard rock nightclub next door and a gay club three doors down.
The first time Olive heard that his church could be shut down was when a Lake Worth code compliance officer paid a courtesy call on a Sunday morning after services. Three days later, Olive’s landlord received a letter from the city code administration department detailing the church’s alleged violation of city law and instructing it to apply for a business license or face court proceedings.
The letter prompted Olive to contact Liberty Counsel, an international nonprofit that provides pro bono assistance to those whose religious freedoms are being threatened.
The city of Lake Worth, saying that it had received complaints regarding Common Ground’s services, conducted an investigation into its activities and determined that the church was in violation of city ordinances pertaining to business licenses.
Common Ground, which has approximately 120 members, is not the only church in Lake Worth to feel pressure from local government. Last December, the city sent out 900 letters to nonprofit and for-profit entities, asking them to comply with the municipal code requiring business licenses – though no such code exists for nonprofits.
First Presbyterian Church, which has ministered in Lake Worth for nearly 100 years without a business license, was among the groups notified of the license requirement, Staver said.
“The light is on downtown, and it can’t be put out,” Olive said.
Bornstein said in an emailed statement to the Witness that “while called a business license, not-for-profits and churches do not pay the business tax as they are tax free.”
Lake Worth director of community sustainability William Waters said in an email, “With regard to churches it seems many have complied [with the city’s order to obtain business licenses] or submitted applications.”
Waters said the letters to churches went out “as part of an outreach” to businesses that did not have a business license on record, whether for-profit or not.
But Olive noted there could be a deeper issue. He said government corruption and abuse of power possibly could have played a role in the city’s attack.
“We’re not a victim, and we’re not mad at the city,” Olive said. “We’re just living with the light on and want to exercise constitutional rights in the country we live in.”
Olive and Common Ground held a prayer rally on the steps of City Hall March 3. Olive said 150 people came to pray for the city and the local government.
“It was about talking to God, not talking to each other or the issues,” he said. “It wasn’t a spectacle – just people touching God on behalf of the city.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled from a release by the Florida Baptist Witness ( with reporting from Nicole Kalil and David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

3/13/2015 11:23:15 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

A generous gift offers life to others

March 13 2015 by Brian Blackwell, The Baptist Message

Donna Reed was known by many as a generous giver. Whether it was saying a prayer or going out of her way for others, Reed never seemed to miss a moment of giving to someone else.
When Reed died from a hemorrhage of irregular blood vessels in early January, her legacy lived on with one last gift – a donation of her liver, both kidneys, and her left lung.
But this was no ordinary organ donation. Reed didn’t give her liver to an anonymous donor as what typically happens. Reed’s kidney went to Louis Robertson, the father of her pastor, Philip Robertson of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville, La., on behalf of the family’s request.
Given the minute chance that it could have been a match, and the fact that Louis Robertson had 5,000 people ahead of him waiting to receive a liver, Reed’s loved ones and friends consider it nothing short of a miracle.
“When you donate a liver and it’s a perfect match, with circumstances working out like they did, that’s like a million to one odds,” her husband Marvin Reed said. “So we recognize this as God’s providence.”


Donna Reed poses with her daughters, Jenna Barnes and Jessica Dubea. According to her daughters, Reed taught more than 4,000 youth during her 32-year teaching career.

On a Friday evening in January, Donna Reed spent an evening out with friends.
Shortly after ordering her food, she complained of pain in her forehead that traveled to the back of her head. Immediately, her husband drove her home but her condition didn’t improve and he took her to the hospital.
“She kept on saying she was okay,” Marvin Reed said. “Now knowing what we know, she was telling us is that she was okay spiritually but not physically.”
After arriving at the hospital, Donna Reed went into a coma. The week drudged on with small signs of improvement. She was breathing over a ventilator, her vitals were perfect, and she was showing brain activity. Six days into the hospital stay, the doctor said there was a major setback. The family was notified that she no longer had any brain activity. After Reed died, the family agreed to honor what she would have wanted – giving life to another.
Among those at the hospital with the family was Philip Robertson. His father, Louis Robertson, had been on the liver transplant list since October. In addition to a liver transplant for Louis, Reed also donated a left lung to a man who was 60 and her kidneys to two different 40-year-old men, though the family is unaware of who the recipients of those donations are.
The result of the liver transplant has resulted in a special bond between the Robertson and Reed families.
“With organ donations you never know who will get an organ,” said Reed’s daughter, Jessica Dubea. “For it to go to Mr. Louis who is a godly man and raised Brother Philip, we are very proud.”
Philip Robertson knew the odds of his dad receiving the liver were slim. When he found out that the Reed family had designated the liver to his dad, he was overcome with emotion.


Philadelphia Baptist Church pastor Philip Robertson, his father Louis Robertson and Marvin Reed, Donna Reed’s husband, stand together, The Robertson and Reed families have established a special bond after Donna Reed donated her liver to Louis Robertson.

“There’s a big difference in saying we want to designate this liver to your dad and this actually working,” Robertson said in his message during Reed’s celebration service at Philadelphia Baptist Church. “There have been numerous medical doctors who have told me from a medical standpoint that is unheard of, that it doesn’t happen.
“Some people say luck,” he said. “We say the providence of God and the sovereignty of God.”
Louis Robertson said he understands how God had His hand over this situation.
“God did this,” he said. “The Lord orchestrated this whole thing. There is no other explanation for how everything went so smoothly for me other than God.”


Fisher of people

As a follower of Christ, Reed touched many lives.
A teacher in Rapides Parish for 32 years, she invested in the lives of her students, family, church family and others in the community. She gave up Friday nights to babysit another couple’s kids, gave away prized recipes, participated in a mission trip and encouraged her students to strive to be better people. More than 1,000 people showed up for a nearly four-hour visitation and filled a worship center for her celebration service.
Jenna Barnes, Reed’s other daughter, said her mother taught more than 4,000 youth during her 32-year teaching career at Buckeye High School and Pineville High School, in addition to her involvement in various ministries at Philadelphia Baptist Church. Barnes said rarely a week went by without a former student telling someone in the family how her mom impacted their life.
“She led by example,” Barnes said. “They wanted to be around her because of the joy she carried.”
Philip Robertson, who was Reed’s pastor for nine years, said a person did not have to be around her long to realize she was a bright light to those around her. He said he is looking forward to the day when he gets to see her again.
“Jesus gave His life and out of His death came life,” Robertson said. “But He didn’t stay dead. He conquered death.
“So out of Ms. Donna’s death has come life but she is not dead,” he said. “She is alive because of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ and the fact she is rejoicing in Heaven. And she’s more alive now than she’s ever been. One day we’ll hug her. And she and Dad will hug and get to know one another and I’ll thank God for that.”
Robertson said whenever he looks at his dad, he will forever remember the ultimate gift Reed left behind for so many.
“The eight letters that say ‘thank you’ are not enough to say thank you for the gratitude me and my family have for life,” he said. “Every day my daddy wakes up and watches the sunrise with a cup of coffee in his hand, that’s his thank you. Every time he hugs his little granddaughter that’s our thank you. Every opportunity he has to serve the Lord is a thank you. I make you this promise. We will never forget. Never.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for The Baptist Message, where this story first appeared.)

3/13/2015 11:12:53 AM by Brian Blackwell, The Baptist Message | with 0 comments

Church’s role, same-sex attraction addressed

March 13 2015 by RuthAnne Irvin, SBTS Communications

Jesus calls all people, including those with same-sex attraction, in the same way: to repent and believe, said British author and pastor Sam Allberry in a March 4 lecture at Boyce College.
“Often, we treat homosexuality as if it’s a kind of self-contained issue on its own, and we don’t quite know what to do with it because we’re not anchoring it in what the gospel tells all people to do,” Allberry said.
“Jesus says all of us need to repent and believe in the gospel.”
Allberry is associate pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, United Kingdom, and author of Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction. He shared his testimony, including his struggle with same-sex attraction, and lectured about Christian engagement with homosexuality in a series of lectures hosted by Boyce’s Center for Gospel and Culture at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Boyce College is the undergraduate arm of Southern Seminary.


Boyce College photo
British pastor and author Sam Allberry speaks about ministry to homosexuals during a March 4 event sponsored by Boyce College’s Center for Gospel and Culture at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

According to Allberry, the Bible’s prohibition of homosexuality should not be the first thing Christians talk about. Instead, he said, Christians need to treat homosexuality like other sins rather than treating homosexuality more seriously. The church needs to call all people to repentance and acknowledge that temptations may linger, but in Christ, Christians are new creations.
He began the first of his two-part lecture, “Homosexuality and Ministry,” explaining the Bible’s teaching about marriage. Referencing passages from Genesis to Revelation, Allberry said marriage foreshadows the spiritual union between Christ and his church.
“Marriage is the joining together of like and unlike to reflect the marriage of Christ and the church,” he said. “We believe what we do about homosexuality because of what we believe about marriage. When we talk about marriage, we will soon be talking about the gospel.”
Allberry further said that a study of scriptural teaching about marriage leads not only to conversations about the gospel but also about homosexuality: “Just from what the Bible says about marriage alone, we would know what to think about homosexual practice.”
From 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Allberry emphasized homosexuality “is a gospel issue because people’s eternities are at stake.”
Paul encouraged the Corinthians with the beauty of the gospel. “Such were some of you,” Paul wrote.
But in Christ, “it’s no longer who they were, but who they are,” Allberry said. “Repentance is possible. We have been washed and sanctified and justified. I am now most myself when I am pursuing holiness.”
In his second lecture, Allberry suggested ways Christians can better minister to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Church leaders must teach the Word of God, which will lead to exposition about difficult topics, including homosexuality, he said.
Church leaders need to make homosexuality a safe topic to discuss, according to Allberry, who said Christians and non-Christians alike struggle with same-sex attraction. Allberry also emphasized the helpfulness of remembering that same-sex attracted Christians struggle with other sins, too. He encouraged pastors and leaders to remember that homosexuality, like other struggles, does not define a Christian – Christ does.
Congregations need to celebrate a biblical understanding of sexual identity, which is eternal, he said, and is defined by the human body, not feelings. Sexual identity feelings are like sinking sand – unreliable and inconsistent – and ultimate fulfillment is found in Christ, Allberry said.
Church leaders also need to honor singleness in the church, he said. Long-term singleness is a viable means of human flourishing. Churches need to provide a safe, family-like environment for the old, young, single and married, he said, and rediscover the art of friendship among Christians.
“There is a theme of friendship in Proverbs: you can’t live a wise life without friends,” he said. “In Proverbs, friendship is a soul-to-soul relationship.”
Church leaders need to encourage church members to become family. From 1 Timothy 5:1, he highlighted Paul’s words to Timothy that older men and women should treat younger men and women like sons and daughters. And church leaders need to provide pastoral care for all sheep, including those who struggle with same-sex attraction, he said.
Ultimately, he said, when the whole church lives according to scripture, the world will see people with diverse issues flourishing. “If you take the church away, God’s truth has no outlet in the world. We are, as the church, to uphold the truth and commend it to the world around us,” he said.
And as Christians commend the truth in a loving way, he said, they will gain credibility with the world.
“The way we will most gain credibility is if people see those struggling with same-sex attraction in our churches flourishing far better than they would have in the gay community,” he said.
Audio from Allberry’s lectures is available at
(EDITOR’S NOTE –RuthAnne Irvin writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

3/13/2015 10:58:49 AM by RuthAnne Irvin, SBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Couple offers undocumented youth new life

March 12 2015 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

The first time Cesar Virto met his neighbors Don and Carol Ann Webb, they called the police on him. The second time, they introduced him to Jesus.
“I would not be at LifeWay without them,” says Cesar, who is now a bilingual customer service representative at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn.
Cesar was in elementary school when his family moved to the small town of Guin, a community of 2,500 in northwest Alabama. Carol Ann and Don lived a few houses away.
Like many young boys, Cesar got into a bit of mischief. He and his brother liked to play in an empty house the Webbs owned across the street.
“He and his brother were breaking windows in the house,” Carol Ann said. “We were afraid they were going to get hurt.”
That first encounter led to an unlikely friendship between the couple and Cesar.
“It was a blessing, and we didn’t even know it,” Don said.
The next summer, Cesar appeared on Don and Carol Ann’s doorstep, asking if he could mow their lawn or do some other odd jobs. Before long, he was a regular at the Webbs’ house. He’d come over on Saturdays for breakfast and work around the house most of the day.


Photo by Katie Shull
Cesar Virto (center) developed an unexpected friendship with Carol Ann and Don Webb that changed his life.

When things got rough at home, Cesar would stay at their house. That was fine with Carol Ann, who laid down the law with Cesar. He could stay at their house, as long as he abided by their rules.
“It was a lot of tough love,” Carol Ann said.
As a teenager, Cesar made a startling discovery. He’d asked his dad if he could sign up for a learner’s driving permit. That wasn’t possible, his dad told Cesar, because the family had no legal status.
“He told me, ‘Son, you don’t have any papers,’“ Cesar recalled. “That’s the first time I realized I was undocumented.”
Cesar knew his family had come to the United States from Mexico when he was 2 or 3 years old. But he didn’t know his family had crossed the border without legal permission. At first Cesar was angry. Then he was disappointed and frustrated.
“My thought was, ‘Why would you do that?’” Cesar said.
The more he learned about his father’s background, the more Cesar understood. His family came from the state of Guerrero, one of the poorest in Mexico, and struggled to put food on the table.
Coming to America offered a chance at a better life.
“My dad always said, ‘When the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and your kids are starving – you’re going to jump the fence,’” Cesar said. “No matter who you are.”
Being undocumented meant certain rites of passage were out of reach: getting a part-time job or a driver’s license, going to college, or voting. He started to see school as a waste of time. He was already struggling. What’s the point of studying hard and getting good grades, he thought. No college would accept him without legal status. Even if he were accepted, he couldn’t afford tuition.
Enter Don and Carol Ann.
“You take care of the little things,” Don told Cesar. “Let God take care of the big things.”
Growing up, Cesar’s family didn’t have interest in matters of faith. So he never went to church or learned much about Jesus or the Bible.
Things changed as he got to know the Webbs. That first day he arrived at their door, as they sat down to have something to eat after the yard work was done, Don led all three in a prayer.
“That was the first time I wanted to know about God,” Cesar said.
Cesar started going to church with Don and Carol Ann on Sundays and Wednesdays, and even joined them on several mission trips. During a trip to Texas, where the mission team led basketball camps for kids, Cesar accepted Jesus as his Savior.
When they got back from the trip, Cesar began to take his newfound faith – and his school work – more seriously.
Carol Ann began to help him with his homework and to teach him study habits. At the time, Cesar said, he could barely read.
On Friday nights, instead of going out with friends, he spent time with Carol Ann and Don, working on reading.
“Imagine a 17-year-old kid, hanging out with two older people, reading books,” Cesar said.
Some nights they’d be up after midnight studying. At times, Cesar wanted to give up. But Carol Ann kept encouraging him.
Don wasn’t always so sure. Some nights he’d throw in the towel and head to bed, sure that Cesar’s schooling was a lost cause. That earned Don a lecture from his wife.
“I told Don, ‘God didn’t give up on us, and we are not going to give up on Cesar,’” Carol Ann said.
Cesar graduated, and Carol Ann and Don helped Cesar find a college that would accept him despite his legal status. They found a sympathetic admissions counselor at Blue Mountain College, a Baptist school in Blue Mountain, Miss.
His first semester at Blue Mountain was a disaster. He flunked most of his classes and feared Don and Carol Ann would give up on him. Since he was undocumented, Cesar didn’t qualify for financial aid and the couple was paying for his schooling. By failing, he felt he let them down.
“I thought that was it,” he said. Instead, after some heated words during the drive home, Carol Ann told him it was time to start over. Her persistence left Cesar in tears.
“A lot of people would have given up on me,” he said. “She told me, ‘Okay, we failed. Now let’s go back and try again.’“
Cesar went back and kept at his studies, and his grades improved. But he still worried about his legal status. Carol Ann and Don had taken him to several lawyers, but his options were limited.
Then in 2012, President Barack Obama announced a new program called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” or DACA for short. The program, known as the Dream Act, allows students like Cesar, who came to the United States as children, to receive a renewable work permit to stay in the U.S.
The Dream Act allowed Cesar to get a social security card and a driver’s license, as well as a job on campus to help pay his bills.
In 2014, Cesar graduated from Blue Mountain with a degree in business and Bible. He began working for LifeWay last summer.
He set aside part of his first paycheck to buy a Christmas present for Carol Ann and Don – gift cards to use on a weekend to Nashville, so they could attend the Grand Ole Opry. They’ve become like family. He calls them Grandma and Grandpa, and says he doesn’t know what he would have done without them.
Don and Carol Ann have also shown him how to live out his faith. They told him about Jesus, but they also showed him God’s love. He wants to do the same for other people, including his parents. Carol Ann says she and Don were simply trying to do what God has told them to do – love their neighbor in Jesus’ name.
It’s no accident, she said, their lives crossed with Cesar’s. “We knew God put Cesar on our street for a reason.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine. This article first appeared in LifeLines, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)

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3/12/2015 10:50:30 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

N.Y. Baptist leader Samuel Simpson dies

March 12 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Samuel G. Simpson, a retired Southern Baptist leader and New York pastor known for a legacy of faith, vision and integrity, died Feb. 23 at his home in Bronx, New York. He was 83.
Simpson served two terms as president of the Baptist Convention of New York, was the founding pastor of the Bronx Baptist Church and Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church, both in New York, and was a Home Mission Board (now called North American Mission Board) missionary. He was often called the “Bishop of the Bronx.”
He helped pave the way for African Americans to serve in Southern Baptist life, said Gary Frost, vice president for the North American Mission Board’s Midwest Region.


Samuel Simpson

“He was a pioneer, a true trailblazer at a time when not many African Americans were connecting with Southern Baptist work. He was a wonderful ambassador for Christ and representative for the work of Southern Baptist missions,” Frost said. “If any of the ethnic leaders in the Southern Baptist Church family are reaching high, it’s because we’re standing on the shoulders of giants like Samuel Simpson. And he is truly one of the giants of the Southern Baptist family.”
Frank I. Williams, current senior pastor of the Bronx and Wake-Eden Baptist churches, said Simpson will be greatly missed by the church and community, where he left “a legacy of faith, vision, and integrity that can be best understood in his own simple yet profound words, ‘God is good, it is good to be good, and it is good to do good.’”
Simpson was a founding member and two-term president of the Clergy Coalition of the 47th Precinct of New York and was a past chairman of the Board for the Council of Churches of the City of New York. Simpson was instrumental in founding several New York churches, including Protestant Community Church in Northern Bronx, Honeywell Baptist Chapel and New Hope Mission in Spring Valley, and Grace Baptist Chapel in the Bronx.
“The Bronx is a better place because of Dr. Simpson, and I am a better servant because of Dr. Simpson, who was not only my mentor, but my spiritual father as well,” Williams said. “Dr. Simpson was a dreamer; he truly believed that with God nothing is impossible.
“He concluded his [2003] book, To Dream the Impossible Dream, with these words, ‘And I saw a new Bronx. Hope replaced despair; redemption blotted out condemnation. Meaning brought life to material success. For Christ’s constraining love had permeated her streets, through the poured-out lives of His people,’” said Williams, quoting the book. “This hope, this dream, this vision is a part of his great legacy. His dreams are etched in my heart and are now a part of my vision.”
Simpson was born in Jamaica, West Indies, relocated to the United States in the early 1960s, and was ordained at Evergreen Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1963. He pastored Bronx Baptist Church for 45 years and Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church 39 years.
Simpson received a Master of Professional Studies from New York Theological Seminary, was a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School, and a Senior Common Fellow at Regents Park College of Oxford University. He received honorary doctorates from Asia Bible College and Martha’s Vineyard Theological Seminary.
K. Marshall Williams, president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, referenced Simpson’s “awesome legacy of integrity, faith and vision.
“He labored, planting several churches over 20 years as a Home Mission Board pastor/director of church planting in the Bronx, New York. May the Lord bless his dear wife, family and congregations in their hour of sorrow,” he said in a written statement.
Viewings are scheduled 12:30-8 p.m. Thursday, March 12 at Bronx Baptist Church; 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday, March 13, at Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church, and at 4 p.m. March 13 and continuing until the 6 p.m. funeral at North Bronx Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Survivors include his wife Lola Simpson, their three children Erica Simpson, Stephen Simpson, and Kim Simpson-Turnbull, and five grandchildren.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/12/2015 10:46:27 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Caraway expansion offers opportunity for growth

March 12 2015 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Four new buildings plus a 9,000 square-foot auditorium that is nearly complete at Caraway Conference Center will greatly expand the facility’s ability to serve North Carolina Baptists.
The 299-seat auditorium is located in front of Caraway’s existing administration and guest room wings.
The structure is expected to be ready in May 2015, said Jimmy Huffman, Caraway’s director.


BSC photo by Chad Austin
With the main Caraway Conference Center building in the distance, a group nears Hollifield Hall, which is currently in construction to serve as the center’s auditorium for conferences and special events.

Two new group housing buildings, a new classroom building and a new multiple-purpose building now stand in Caraway’s new Awesome Children’s Outdoor Recreation and Nature Study section (ACORNS), located separately from the main conference center and Camp Caraway. Caraway is located on Caraway Mountain Road in Sophia, near Asheboro. The facilities are spread across forested, rolling hills.
Funds for the expansion have come partly from Caraway’s New Beginnings capital campaign and from the sale of Hollifield Leadership Center, a 30-acre conference facility on Lake Hickory, near Conover.
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina purchased Hollifield in 2000 for about $3 million, but low use by non-profit organizations and churches did not sufficiently cover the cost of operating the facility.
In 2013 the convention sold Hollifield to North Carolina Boy’s Academy, a branch of Teen Challenge that has established a Christian, Bible-based ministry to boys on the site. The $2.5 million purchase price will be paid over five years, following a $250,000 down payment.
Caraway’s new $1.3 million auditorium will be known as Hollifield Hall in honor of Gwendolyn Hollifield, who provided a significant gift to establish Hollifield Leadership Center.
She was a long-time member of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and served on the board of Gardner-Webb University from 1992-95.
Hughey and Gwendolyn Hollifield provided generous gifts to Gardner-Webb University and North Carolina Baptist institutions and agencies over the years.
“Hollifield Hall will be a really nice building,” Huffman said. It will include state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment and a covered veranda so guests can load and unload out of the weather.
Caraway’s existing auditorium will be divided into two large conference rooms, providing more flexibility in hosting conferences and other events, Huffman said.
In the new ACORNS section, two new group-housing buildings have been completed and were dedicated Oct. 28, 2014.
Each of the identical buildings can accommodate 40 guests in bunk beds. The buildings were named the Jim and Nancy Nell Jacumin Retreat Lodges. Baptist layman and retired businessman Jim Jacumin provided a significant part of the $750,000 construction cost for the two lodges.
The Joyce Classroom building was created by adapting an existing building and is named for Margaret Joyce, who provided a significant part of the renovation costs, Huffman said.
Joyce, a retired educator, is a longtime and generous supporter of various ministries such as church music, children’s ministries and college scholarships. A multi-purpose building will provide classrooms for meetings and dining area.
“ACORNS will be a fully self-contained area that church groups and others can book to hold their retreats and conferences, with accommodations in the Jacumin Retreat Lodges and space for meeting and eating in the other two buildings,” Huffman said.
ACORNS is the name of the popular environmental education program hosted at Caraway. It became fully operational earlier this year, Huffman added.
While visitors at Caraway will focus mostly on the buildings, Huffman said a lot of work was required that is mostly out of sight.
For example, an eight-acre septic field was required to handle the new construction.
“This was a major investment, but one which will handle present and future growth,” Huffman said. In addition to all the new construction, driveways have been widened, drainage has been expanded and electrical service has been upgraded.
Huffman said the New Beginnings capital campaign is continuing. Overall plans call for a stand-alone housing building to provide an additional 12 to 16 bedrooms for guests.
If individuals or churches are interested in donating to the New Beginnings capital campaign, please contact Jimmy Huffman at

3/12/2015 10:40:41 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Survey: Evangelicals ready for immigration reform

March 12 2015 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

When it comes to immigration reform, American evangelicals appear to have high expectations, a LifeWay Research study shows.
Nine out of 10 (86 percent) want more border security. Six in 10 (61 percent) support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. More than two-thirds (68 percent) favor both. And they want Congress to take action soon.


Those are among the results of a new survey of evangelicals from Nashville-based evangelical research firm. The study, sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table and World Relief, found widespread support for immigration reform.
“Evangelicals are united in their desire for significant immigration reform,” Scott McConnell, vice-president of Lifeway Research, said.
A number of high profile evangelical groups have promoted immigration reform in recent years, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. Many evangelical pastors also support reform.
A November 2014 LifeWay Research study found many pastors want a mix of justice and mercy when it comes to immigration. More than half (54 percent) support a path to citizenship. Most (91 percent) evangelical pastors also say the government should stop illegal immigration.
In the February 2015 study, researchers found similar views among all evangelicals.
Nine out of 10 (88 percent) say reform should respect the rule of law and secure the national borders (86 percent).
They also want to protect the unity of immigrant families (72 percent) and to respect people’s God-given dignity (82 percent).
More than two-thirds (68 percent) of evangelicals say it is important for Congress to take action on immigration reform this year. And half (50 percent) are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports border security and citizenship.
“Evangelicals care about immigrants and want immigration reform,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “We pray for Congress to stop waiting and start legislating.”


Evangelicals have some worries about immigration

Researchers found some differences by age and ethnicity among evangelicals.

Those over age 64 (84 percent) are more likely to want Congress to act than those 18 to 34 (59 percent). Those 18 to 34 are more likely (72 percent) to say reform should include a path to citizenship.


Hispanic evangelicals (79 percent) are more likely than white evangelicals (54 percent) to support a path to citizenship.
Some evangelicals are uneasy about the number of recent immigrants to the U.S., according to the survey.
Almost half (48 percent) say immigrants drain the country’s economic resources.
About a quarter (22 percent) say immigrants are a threat to law and order. One in five believe immigrants threaten traditional American customs and culture.
Others evangelicals view immigration as a chance to love immigrants (40 percent) or to share Jesus with newcomers (42 percent).


Few connect faith and immigration

Few evangelicals say their faith directly shapes their views about immigration.
Researchers asked evangelicals to list which factor has most influenced their beliefs about immigration. About one in 10 (12 percent) chose the Bible, and only 2 percent named their church.
Among other influences: relationships with immigrants (17 percent), friends and family (16 percent) and the media (16 percent).
LifeWay Research also found many churches don’t talk about immigration, and few take action on this issue. Two thirds of evangelicals (68 percent) say their church has never encouraged them to reach out to immigrants.
Still, evangelicals are interested in what their faith says on this topic. About half (53 percent) are familiar with the Bible’s teaching about immigrants. Two-thirds (68 percent) say they’d value hearing a sermon about the Bible’s views on immigration.
“The sad part of this research on immigration is that American evangelicals are more influenced by the media than by their Bibles and their churches combined,” Anderson said. “We need to turn off our TVs and open up our Bibles.”
Methodology: A demographically balanced online panel was used for interviewing American adults between Feb. 17-27, 2015. Quotas were used to balance gender, ethnicity, age, region and education. Respondents were screened to only include those who consider themselves an evangelical, a born-again, or a fundamentalist Christian. This report refers to these as “evangelicals.” The completed sample is 1,000 surveys.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

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3/12/2015 10:25:56 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

Michael Barrett’s long history of lively ministry

March 11 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Michael Barrett brims with energy and excitement when he talks about pastoral ministry. He describes church programs and activities like a newly minted seminary graduate dreaming of future endeavors, except Barrett has been pastoring his church for 27 years – longer than most seminary students have been alive.
Barrett became the pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, N.C., in 1988. He served as a trustee of the International Mission Board (IMB) from 1998 to 2006, and recently finished a three-year term as the president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) Board of Directors.
He is the third person to have occupied the board presidency for three consecutive terms, preceded by Glenn Holt and K. Allan Blume, currently president and editor of the Biblical Recorder.
Barrett’s longtime pastoral service at Pleasant Garden and leadership in both the state and national Baptist conventions make him a unique figure among North Carolina Baptists.


Contributed photo
Michael Barrett has been the pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, N.C., since 1988.

His journey into ministry began when Barrett was a teenager.
At 16 years old, Barrett felt called into ministry at a Billy Graham evangelistic event in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. The young minister began to exercise his preaching gifts occasionally at his home church, Quankey Baptist Church, and at Union Mission homeless ministry events, also in Roanoke Rapids.
“I got some great early opportunities and early training,” said Barrett. Door-to-door evangelism was another way he engaged in the work of ministry.
Quankey licensed him as a minister of the gospel in 1970, his senior year of high school. Then in college he preached youth revivals as a part of the Fellowship of Christians United in Service at Gardner-Webb University. Following his undergraduate study, he went on for further training at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.
After a serving in a few churches, revitalizing declining ministries, Barrett received a call to pastor Pleasant Garden.
“It was a perfect match,” he said. The church’s former pastor had served there for 25 years, and they were looking for someone to cast a new vision for the church. Barrett jumped right in.
The years that followed were – and still are – full of lively ministry where both church and pastor worked together to cultivate a growing and healthy local church.

Green pasture at Pleasant Garden

Reflecting on his 27 years at Pleasant Garden, he said there are “certain things that have been great strengths through the years that have, I think, created the environment that we have of spiritual health at our church.”
The prayer life of the church was first on his list: “I’ve had people … for years that say, ‘Every day I pray for you. Every day I pray for God to be honored in this ministry.’”
Barrett also identifies longevity of pastoral staff as another contributor to their church health. Pleasant Garden has other ministers that have served alongside Barrett for almost 20 years.
Another strength of the church, according to Barrett, is its wide array of programs. “We have done a great job through the years,” he said, “at specialized ministries – whether it’s preschool or children or students or senior adults ministry.”
They have also emphasized missions for over a decade. The church hosts several mission trips each year. They have plans to go to British Columbia, Jamaica, Peru, and other locations later in 2015.
Pleasant Garden’s ministry is not a one-way street, though. Barrett’s wife, Teresa, was diagnosed with Leukemia almost four years ago. “God really opened our eyes,” he said, “to not only ministering to the church but the church ministering to us. … Not only do you get to shepherd people; you get to do life with people.” The church is a “wonderful gift from God,” according to Barrett.
The greatest testimony Pleasant Garden has, said Barrett, is that the church loves its pastor, and the pastor loves his church, and together they love the community.

Reaching out to the community

Pleasant Garden draws on several ministries to serve the Greensboro area.
One of their special emphases has been Week of Wonder (WOW), which is similar to Vacation Bible School. WOW is unique not only because it has garnered upwards of 1,000 attendees, but because it is an event for the whole family, not just children.
Barrett said the church has focused more on family ministries in recent years to equip parents to disciple their children.
“Our church has a shepherding heart,” said Barrett, while describing another of Pleasant Garden’s ministries.
“All over Greensboro we’re known for our hospital ministry.”
At least one staff member and one deacon make hospital visits each day.
They are currently gearing up for an ongoing ministry in April 2015 called Hope Out Loud. Kicking off Hope Out Loud are two service projects.
They have paired individual church members with 136 elderly men and women in assisted living facilities. Church members will connect with an elderly person, offer them gifts and pray with them. Barrett says the church is doing this “to let everybody in that nursing home know they matter.”
The church has also adopted a nearby school where they will refurbish the exterior and take care of landscaping on the campus.
Barrett hopes that every small group in the church will do one or two projects each year to bless the community.
The real strength of the church lies in its biblical foundation, said Barrett. They value preaching the gospel. Church members once told him, “Anytime you get in that pulpit, you be ready. You be prepared. You be in tune with the Lord.”
Pleasant Garden’s focus exemplifies the old saying, “As the pastor goes, so goes the church.”

Serving IMB, BSC Board of Directors

When asked whether his involvement with the IMB and BSC had any influence upon his church, Barrett responded, “We wouldn’t have the missionary heart if it hadn’t been for that connection [to the IMB] – bringing the personnel, missionaries; hearing those stories; having them pray for me.”
It mattered greatly, according to Barrett. The same is true with the BSC. “Getting to learn and rub shoulders with the leadership … Those relationships mean everything to you.”
Barrett’s connections to the state convention through the BSC Board of Directors helped Pleasant Garden partner with Baptists on Mission (also known as North Carolina Baptist Men) to build houses in Haiti and water wells in India, and with Great Commission Partnerships to join with other churches for ministry in New York City.
Recent collaboration with Michael Sowers, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Strategy Coordinator for the Triad region, allowed Pleasant Garden to begin developing a strategy to engage Nepali people in the Greensboro area.
Barrett hopes to use that strategy to help his church take the gospel to their ever-changing community.
He wants to bring up a new generation of pastors as well.

Raising up new leaders

Barrett mentors young pastors and church planters through roundtable discussions in Hendersonville, Greensboro and Pilot Mountain. He said there are three things that new pastors need to hear.

  • Be kingdom focused. It’s not about building your own kingdom.

  • Be connected to others. You don’t want to do this alone; you need others to invest in your life.

  • You have something to say too. “We [seasoned pastors] need to learn from you and you need to learn from us.”

After a long history of ministry, Barrett is still eager to learn. And so he continues on with energy and excitement as he ministers to the people of God.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Barrett, senior pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church, lives in Pleasant Garden, N.C., with his wife, Teresa. They have two daughters, Shannon and Shelley, and four grandchildren.)

3/11/2015 12:50:20 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 7 comments

Spencer Tillman talks college football, impacting others

March 11 2015 by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q & A

As an All-American running back for the University of Oklahoma, Spencer Tillman was the captain of the National Championship team in 1985. After that he was drafted in the fifth round of the 1987 NFL draft by the Houston Oilers.
Two seasons later he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers where he became co-captain with Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott as part of the Super Bowl XXIV championship team. He went back to play for the Oilers in 1992, where he stayed for two more seasons, completing his football career.
Tillman transitioned to sports broadcasting and eventually joined CBS Sports in 1999 as lead studio analyst for “College Football Today,” the network’s pre-game studio show. Currently he co-hosts a radio show for Houston-based KTRK called “Houston Texans: Inside the Game.”


Contributed photo
Roman Gabriel III, right, interviews Spencer Tillman during media days for Super Bowl XLIX in February. Tillman played for the University of Oklahoma before being drafted by the Houston Oilers. He was on the Super Bowl XXIV Championship team when he played with Joe Montana for the San Francisco 49ers and completed his football career back at the Oilers. He currently has a radio show in Houston, Texas, and is a CBS sports analyst.

I caught up with Tillman at Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix, we talked about the new college football playoff and his commitment to walking closely with God and making a difference in the lives of others.
Q: You have covered college football for CBS Sports for over a decade. What was your take on the new college football championship format, and did we get it right?
A: I think we got it right, and that’s the most important thing. The panel we started off with had 13, but Archie Manning had to step aside to get a surgical procedure. But we ended up with a biblical 12-member panel. It was an awesome finish – Ohio State the way they finished. [I had] a little bit of acrimony with Baylor and TCU in the Big 12 being left off. I don’t think anyone can refute what Ohio State did, obviously, one of the best teams in the nation.
Q: How do you feel about the four-game playoff system?
A: You’re not having the sense that they got it wrong. For me having tracked these teams all year long, if there was a team among the final four that got a mulligan, it would probably be Florida State. In my opinion the other teams – Oregon, Ohio State, Alabama – you could not refute the fact that they belonged there. If there is an aspect that could be improved it would be putting more scrutiny on an incumbent team like Florida State. To have an expectation that they would be as good as the undefeated team the year before was not fair. I think FSU got a pass on more than a few of those close games.
Q: You are committed to your faith. Who has had an influence on your Christian walk ?    
A: I’m the son of a missionary, my mom did work all over the world, as a kid she would quote scripture, and there’s one passage I remember, “As the sun and the rain come down from heaven the water recedes and causes it to bring forth after its own kind, So shall my word not return void until it achieves the purpose for which it was sent.” But she wouldn’t leave it there; she would explain it to me. She’d say, “Spencer, do you understand that?” I’d say, “No ma’am.”
“Well God is so arranged the affairs of nature, so that you take a seed … and you put it in the ground and you water it, the sun kisses it.
“The seed really has no choice in the equation. It must do what God designed it to do. ‘So shall then my word be.’ The word cannot return void until it achieves the purpose by which is been sent.
“So shall I send you – and all the things you’ve been set up to do with my gifts and talents – as long as you confess what God says about that situation. Do your part, leave the outcome to Him and leave it alone from there. And move on. You are exercising faith when you do this.”
Q: What do faith, family, and football mean to you?
A: “Faith, family, and football” is kind of my mantra.
I wrote a book with Thomas Nelson Publishers called Scoring in the Red Zone: Leading successfully when the pressure is on.
The theme of it was, first, find out what a red zone is – more importantly, understanding what is necessary to thrive in the red zone.
Life is nothing but a metaphor and sports is a metaphor for life. Who would approach a game without having a game plan, without having a way to deal with mitigated risk and pressure. … Paul told Gaius, “I wish above all things that you would prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers.”
The bottom line is you don’t do that devoid of some sort of system of approach, adhering to the word of God, admonishing yourself and others around you as to what is right and what is wrong.
Q: As Christians we are called to use our influence and platform to make a difference where we work. How are you able to minister effectively in the media environment, on national television?
A: That’s a great question. You know here’s what I would say: Know that God has created this thing called time, as a module for man to dwell in, and God stands out in time-eternity. And He sees our travails and our triumphs pressed into this eternal now.
What that does for me is it gives me some sense of how to look at problems. And in our business there are always problems, and those problems bring about opportunities to minister.
So by giving me a platform to be at CBS as long as I have … I get a chance to say, “Hey, here’s a solution to that problem. Let me show you how God would have me handle it.”
And how you would handle it, of course, is your life and your responsibility. … That’s how I do it; I look for opportunities.
People gravitate to you if they see you as a person who came in during the difficulties. There’s no shortage of opportunities to minister.
Q: Why is taking advantage of the platform God has blessed us with so critical?
A: It’s straight forward to leverage the platform wherever God places me.
The bigger that platform and the bigger that challenge may be, I know He’s able to equip me.
The Bible says that He will perfect those things and He will watch over his Word and see things through. I will leave it to Him to do that. But if you put me there, I will make something of it. … I need to stay in His perfect will for my life and get done what He has called me to do.
Follow Spencer Tillman on Twitter: @spencetillman.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Hear his Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at Visit his website:; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: @romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email:

3/11/2015 12:07:29 PM by Roman Gabriel III, BR Sports Q & A | with 0 comments

Abedini’s ‘dark day’ sparks more calls for release

March 11 2015 by Baptist Press staff

After imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini witnessed fellow prisoners being beaten and taken to their executions in Iran’s Rajai Shahr prison last week, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) called the U.S. not to make any nuclear deal with Iran until it releases Abedini.
“We have continued to work with the U.S. State Department as we pressure the administration not to leave Pastor Saeed behind as it sits at the negotiating table with Iran,” ACLJ executive director Jordan Sekulow wrote in a March 7 news release. “... There can be no deal with Iran as it imprisons and torments our own citizens.”


Saeed Abedini

The U.S., Iran and five other nations are in negotiations concerning a deal that reportedly would limit Iran’s nuclear program. A March 24 deadline has been set for establishing the framework of a final accord.
Abedini was “quite shaken” after he witnessed “six fellow prisoners being beaten and taken to be executed” March 4, his wife Naghmeh Abedini wrote on Facebook March 5. “It was a hard and dark day having witnessed that and seeing life being taken.”
Naghmeh Abedini’s report came after Saeed’s father visited him in prison, a visit that was “very hard as the families of those who were executed were crying and wailing,” Naghmeh wrote.
The visit was also “emotional” because the Abedinis’ son Jacob is approaching his seventh birthday and has not seen his father since he was 4, Naghmeh Abedini wrote. She requested prayer “for Saeed to have the strength to endure in that harsh prison and that Jesus would continue to meet him there and give him hope.”
She added, “Please pray that this will be the year that Saeed is released.”
Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned since Sept. 26, 2012, because of his Christian faith. He was sentenced Jan. 27, 2013, to eight years in prison on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier, and had been under house arrest since July 2012.
Abedini suffers from internal injuries sustained during prison beatings, Sekulow reported, adding that “summary executions, inmate violence and beatings are commonplace” in the facility where he is detained.
President Barack Obama met with Naghmeh Abedini and the couple’s two children near their home in Boise, Idaho, Jan. 21 and said securing Saeed’s release remains a “top priority.” Obama received a letter from the imprisoned pastor a week later thanking the president for visiting his family.
“President Obama, you have my prayers from inside of these walls,” Saeed Abedini wrote.
Sekulow said in his March 7 release that the Obama administration “must do all within its power to bring this wrongfully imprisoned U.S. citizen home to his family in America.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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3/11/2015 11:56:06 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

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