March 2016

Data-driven strategy focuses on prayer, evangelism

March 21 2016 by Mark Kelly, SBC Life

Pastor Louis Rosenthal sits at his desk, praying through a list of one hundred names from his neighborhood in McKinney, Texas. He had printed the list from Pray4EveryHome.com, a tool his congregation uses to pray specifically – by name – for all their neighbors.
 
Afterward, Pastor Louis makes a lunchtime run to the store. As he stands in the checkout line, he notices a woman nearby is crying softly. Pastor Louis asks if he can help.

 
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Photo by Marc Hooks/Collin Baptist Association
Pray4EveryHome’s technology allows a church member to better understand her community and even pray by name for neighbors she has yet to meet.

After a few moments’ earnest conversation, he leads the woman to faith in Christ. As Pastor Louis heads back to his office, he is praising God for the unexpected “divine appointment.”
 
Along the way, however, the woman’s name keeps bobbing around in his head. Why is it so familiar?
 
When he gets back to his desk, he realizes: She was one of the one hundred people for whom he had just been praying.
 
Stories like this are surfacing continually in McKinney, ever since Collin Baptist Association launched the Pray4EveryHome (P4EH) tool two years ago, said Vince Smith, the association’s director of missions.
 
Smith was new in his role, and the association’s 135 congregations had just finished a self-assessment exercise with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) that showed the churches had two crying needs: implementing vision and prayer.
 
“And that was true in not just the life of our churches, but in the prayer lives of our pastors,” Smith said. “Of course, we know prayer is what moves the hand of God. I saw that as something we needed to work on.”

 

‘Born out of desperation’

It was no mere coincidence, Smith felt, that at the same time Collin Association was confronting the need for better prayer, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd was leading his own congregation, Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., into intensive prayer for revival in America and challenging 46,000-plus Southern Baptist churches to extraordinary prayer as well.
 
“I looked at our churches in McKinney, and you can’t really ‘do church’ much better when it comes to getting people to come in,” Smith said. “But in order for us to reach 700,000 lost people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we needed God to do something only He could do. I guess you could say P4EH was born out of desperation. If you are doing everything you know to do, and you are still being overwhelmed, then we need to pray.”

 
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Photo by Marc Hooks/Collin Baptist Association
As church members have prayed by name for their neighbors, doors have opened for spiritual conversations and people are coming to faith in Christ.

Smith already understood the value of NAMB’s “God’s Plan for Sharing” (GPS), a strategic framework that helps churches reach a Great Commission goal of “every believer sharing the gospel and every person hearing the gospel by 2020.” In the spirit of GPS, the Collin Association team began planning their strategy: canvassing door-to-door, mapping the city, and prayer walking every street.
 
Then they had an “aha!” moment.
 
“I would say it was a God-coincidence that, at this same time, we were working with Mapping Center for Church Growth and Evangelism and they had data available about who lives in each of these homes,” Smith said. “We asked the question: What happens if we can generate for every church member the names of the people who live around them, so that eventually we will pray for every household in the city by name?”
 
In that moment, the GPS strategy from NAMB intersected with the power of GPS technology.
 
A vision of praying by name for every home in McKinney suddenly was overtaken by a vision of praying by name for each of the 300,000 households in Collin County. In conversation with leaders of the two Baptist state conventions in Texas, Collin’s leaders raised their eyes to that great harvest field. Before long, however, they realized God wanted them to say yes to an even bigger vision: praying by name for every home in America.
 
“Each step of the way, we said, ‘Imagine what God might do if we prayed for all of these people by name,’” Smith said. “Let’s face it, Amazon and everybody else knows where everybody lives already, how much more so does God? And we want each of them to have a living witness to Jesus Christ.”
 

Now in 40 states

Collin Association leaders met with a group of Christian businessmen whose work involves extracting data to understand neighborhoods and design marketing campaigns, Smith said. Alongside those men’s donated efforts, Texas Baptists invested significant time and dollars to help create a church “dashboard” that helps congregations launch every-home outreach campaigns.
 
As church member addresses are added to a campaign, a database generates neighborhood maps with household-level attributes, including names, addresses, age groups, marital status, presence of children, education level, ethnicity, language spoken in the home, and length of residence. Individual church members can use the lists to pray by name for their neighbors, and the congregation can leverage the information to efficiently promote church outreaches like food drives, backyard VBS, block parties or neighborhood Bible studies.
 
A pastor can see a real-time view of prayer coverage by church volunteers, as well as identify strategic neighborhoods – mission field “sweet spots” – where church member homes are clustered.
 
Each church pays a flat $120 annual fee for its dashboard. Individuals interested in praying for their neighbors on their own can join without cost.
 
In the six months since the P4EH platform was rolled out, the network has grown to 40 states and the District of Columbia.
 
Pastor Rosenthal leads a 300-plus member, predominantly African American congregation in an area of McKinney that includes both housing authority apartments and $500,000 single-family dwellings. He likes the way P4EH complements his congregation’s Tuesday night S.H.O.P. (Sweet Hour of Prayer) gathering, plus how it supports their evangelism efforts.
 
“Church members may have apprehensions going into a community,” Rosenthal said. “Now we can pray for the people by name before we even knock on the door. This gives people the strong feeling they are going somewhere God is already at work.”
 
“The most rewarding part are the stories that I am hearing back from the street,” Smith noted. “As people begin praying for their neighbors, their neighbors – even the ones they never knew before – are coming and talking to them, and that is opening the door for spiritual conversations.
 
“We are hearing about more and more people who are coming to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and it all started because someone in their neighborhood started praying for them,” he said.
 
To learn more about Pray4EveryHome, visit pray4everyhome.com. For more information about GPS, visit namb.net/gps.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly is a freelance writer and is a member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. This story first appeared in SBC LIFE.)

3/21/2016 11:56:45 AM by Mark Kelly, SBC Life | with 0 comments



Kerry’s genocide label for ISIS commended

March 18 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist and other religious freedom advocates commended the Obama administration’s declaration March 17 that the Islamic State’s murderous campaign against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East is genocide.
 
The announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry provided a satisfactory resolution to what concerned observers had feared for four months would be a disturbing decision by the administration. Religious liberty advocates urged Kerry and President Barack Obama to reverse course after it was reported in mid-November the State Department was preparing to label as genocide in Iraq and Syria only the Islamic State’s campaign against the Yazidi sect.
 
In his announcement Thursday morning, Kerry said it is his judgment the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as Daesh, “is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.”
 
The Islamic State, he said, “is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions – in what it says, what it believes and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities.”

 
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Screen capture from ABC News

Southern Baptist religious freedom leader Russell Moore – who petitioned the administration three times not to exclude Christians from a genocide designation – expressed gratitude “that at long last this administration is willing to acknowledge the ISIS campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis and many other ethnic and religious minorities.”
 
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), described the genocidal campaign in Iraq and Syria as “an urgent human rights crisis.”
 
“Millions, including many of our Christian brothers and sisters, have experienced the most brutal forms of persecution, and entire cultures are now on the brink of extinction,” he said.
 
Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom in the ERLC’s Middle East office, said the ERLC and many other organizations “have been working on this issue for months, and we are thankful that the Obama administration has responded to what we now all agree is the genocide perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State.”
 
“We are thankful, of course, for what this means for our brothers and sisters,” Wussow said, “but we are mindful also that this statement shows that the United States will stand with all victims of genocide, regardless of ethnicity, faith or creed.”
 
Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, also expressed thanks for the declaration and said he hopes “immediate actions can be taken to eliminate this evil persecution.” He added the international community “needs to stand strong together in this hour for the cause of human dignity and religious liberty for all people globally.”
 
A 1948 United Nations treaty defines genocide as murder and other acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
 
Kerry cited the following among ISIS’ crimes against minority groups in the two Middle Eastern countries:

  • The execution of Christians and the sexual enslavement of Christian women and girls.

  • The killing of hundreds of Yazidis and raping and sexual enslavement of thousands of Yazidi females.

  • The massacres of hundreds of Shia Turkmen and Shabaks, as well as the kidnapping and rape of Shia Turkmen women.

Other ISIS atrocities named by religious liberty advocates include assassinations of church leaders, torture, mass graves and the destruction of churches, monasteries and cemeteries.
 
ISIS “kills Christians because they are Christians, Yazidis because they are Yazidis, Shia because they are Shia,” Kerry told reporters at the State Department. “Its entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.
 
“One element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group, in whole or in part. We know that [ISIS] has given some of its victims a choice between abandoning their faith or being killed, and that for many is a choice between one kind of death and another.”
 
The United States’ response to the Islamic State must be in part “to destroy it by military force,” but other efforts are also important, said Kerry, citing more than $600 million in aid during the last two-and-a-half years for Iraqis displaced by ISIS.
 
“Naming these crimes is important,” Kerry said. “But what is essential is to stop them. That will require unity in this country and within the countries directly involved.”
 
Religious liberty leaders said support for and protection of religious minorities threatened by or suffering at the hands of the Islamic State must continue.
 
Moore said, “Evangelical Christians will continue to advocate and work compassionately for refugees and others, and pray that our country always stands up for religious liberty and human dignity wherever it is threatened.”
 
Douglas Napier of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) called Kerry’s genocide designation “an important first step in the necessary process by the United States, the U.N. and the international community to stop the killing in the Middle East.”
 
Napier, senior counsel and executive director of ADF International, said in written comments the United States and the 146 other countries who are part of the U.N. genocide treaty “have an obligation to do all they can to bring the killing of innocent people to an end.”
 
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R.-Neb., applauded Kerry’s decision and expressed the hope it “will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands.”
 
The House of Representatives unanimously passed March 15 a resolution sponsored by Fortenberry that named the Islamic State’s violence against religious minorities as genocide.
 
Moore was among more than 110 signers of a Feb. 17 letter to President Obama urging his administration to categorize ISIS’ actions as genocide. He wrote Kerry in mid-November to urge him not to distinguish between different groups suffering at the hands of the terrorist organization. In early December, Moore and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, were among 30 signers of a letter calling on Kerry to heed evidence that Christians are targets of genocide and to meet with representatives of their coalition before issuing a decision.
 
Kerry’s announcement came a day after a deadline for such a report set by Congress in an omnibus spending bill enacted in mid-December.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/18/2016 11:50:40 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



In new book, Hawkins redefines ‘VIP’

March 18 2016 by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins, a golfer since boyhood, says his favorite holes to play are the par threes. “It only takes one really good shot out of three to make par,” Hawkins noted.
 
But while one good shot out of three can lead to success on a golf course par three, it doesn’t lead to success for influential people, he acknowledged. It takes all three factors – vision, integrity and purpose – to be men and women of influence. That’s the thesis behind Hawkins’ newest book, VIP: How to Influence with Vision, Integrity, and Purpose. Hawkins said influential people must possess a clear vision, high integrity and a God-given purpose that drives them each and every day.
 
Acronyms, Hawkins noted in the book, are an everyday part of life for English speakers.

 
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O.S. Hawkins

“In elementary school, our parents joined the PTA,” Hawkins writes. “When we hoped to get into the college of our choice to earn a BA, we paid careful attention to our GPA and studied hard for the SAT. Sportscasters talk about a pitcher’s ERA, a hitter’s RBI or a kicker’s PAT. In the business world, we speak of men and women who are CEOs, COOs or CFOs who are CPAs. In the health arena, men need to check their PSA. We communicate with FAQ, FYI and IMO while sitting at the lunch counter ordering a BLT.
 
“Perhaps no other single acronym has muscled and maneuvered its way into our mainline English vernacular like VIP (very important person),” Hawkins noted. “Being important seems to be the personal goal of many who climb from rung to rung up the ladder of perceived success. We’ve seen too often it raise its ugly head in business, in athletics, politics and even ecclesiastical circles.”
 
Given the dangers of seeking to become very important people, Hawkins said he wants to redefine the VIP acronym to reflect “Very Influential People.”
 
Citing 2 Corinthians 10:13, 15 (ESV), where Paul says we should “boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us” and that “our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged,” Hawkins said that everyone has a specific area of influence assigned by God. And becoming a Very Influential Person – a true VIP – requires vision, integrity and purpose.
 

Vision: People of influence know where they are going

“Those who create a winsome and lasting influence on the people around them are men and women of vision,” Hawkins said. “People with influence can definitely answer ‘where am I headed?’”
 
Hawkins noted that everybody, from the biggest names in the world to people whose spheres of influence may be much smaller, has someone to influence like no one else can.

 
Integrity: People of influence know who they are

“People who influence others for good are men and women of impeccable integrity,” Hawkins writes.
 
Integrity’s role is important in the four spheres of life: a private world, alone with God; a personal world, shared with family and a few close friends; a professional world, connecting at work, school, church or socially; and a public world, interacting with the world at large.
 
“Some people think integrity is rooted in the public world, but its presence or absence is only revealed there, for our good and God’s glory,” Hawkins said. “Some people maintain that integrity is rooted in the professional world, but it is only reinforced there. Some people insist integrity is rooted in those close, interpersonal relationships of our personal world, but it’s only reflected there.
 
“Integrity is rooted in the private world: alone, between a person and God,” he said.
 

Purpose: People of influence know why they are here

Hawkins noted that epitaphs often reveal an individual’s earthly purpose posthumously. Hawkins specifically pointed to what Paul said of King David: “When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep” (Acts 13:36, NIV).
 
“Could any better words be written on our own tombstones than these?” Hawkins asked. “People of influence must be people who are driven and directed by a focused purpose in life.”
 
Like all of Hawkins’ books, author proceeds from sales benefit Mission:Dignity, the GuideStone ministry that provides financial assistance to retired Southern Baptist pastors and their widows near the poverty line. The book, released March 8, is available from popular online and brick-and-mortar bookstores.
 
The book has been identified as a good gift for graduates from all levels of school: Liberty University has ordered thousands of copies to be given to each of its graduates. Some churches and other schools have indicated a desire to purchase the book for their own graduates, and businesses can use it for people in sales and other important roles.
 
For more information, including how to make deeply discounted bulk orders, visit OSHawkins.com/books/VIP.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

3/18/2016 11:36:35 AM by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Family seeks to reach ‘unwanted’

March 18 2016 by Butch Blume, The Baptist Courier

Imagine quitting your job, putting your roomy home up for sale, paring down your possessions by way of a yard sale, saying goodbye to family and friends, and moving your family nearly two hours away to set up housekeeping in a singlewide in the middle of a crime-plagued trailer park.
 
Grant and Amber Hinson can’t imagine doing anything else.
 
In May 2013, after praying about the move they felt God was preparing them for, Grant and Amber and their two children – a toddler and an infant – left behind the security of steady jobs and a middle-class lifestyle in order to immerse themselves as missionaries in a neighborhood law enforcement officials had tagged as a “hot spot” for criminal and drug activity.

 
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Grant and Amber Hinson sold everything and moved their family into a mobile home park as missionaries.

Grant was a church youth pastor, and Amber a hospital nurse, when they walked away from their jobs in Rockwell, N.C., to move to Countryside mobile home park, a cluster of about 185 trailers housing more than 700 people in Lancaster, S.C.
 
Three local churches – one white, one black and one Hispanic – had committed themselves to establishing a Christian foothold, a mission outpost, in the park, and Grant and Amber accepted the challenge to live and minister among the “unwanted” residents of Countryside.
 
Grant said he and Amber have known what it feels like to be unwanted, which includes “anything from being the last picked on the playground to not being grouped with the cool kids.”
 
“There are always those who feel they are the person nobody wants,” said Grant, noting God had given his family an opportunity to reach out to those people.
 
The Hinsons and their children – Asher, 6; Evan Grace, 4; and, now, 5-month-old Adah Ruth – invest their time in getting to know their neighbors and establishing human connections with them. “Our purpose is to connect our neighbors to Christ and show them that we all are equal and have a purpose in life,” Amber said.
 
“We spend a lot of time in neighbors’ homes and yards, and many have spent time at our house,” she said. “People don’t care about your Jesus until they know you care about them.”
 
Amber takes women to the grocery store and to doctor appointments, and she helps Spanish-speaking moms communicate with their kids’ schoolteachers. Grant meets with men in the neighborhood almost daily, where he counsels and prays with them. He also plays basketball with them on Friday evenings. The Hinsons schedule events like fall festivals and yard sales in an effort to bring neighbors together.

 
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Volunteers circle for prayer following a day of ministry at Countryside mobile home park.

Grant and Amber hold ministry activities in a rented trailer called The Connection, where, with the help of area church volunteers, they have “Homework Helpers” for school kids three days a week, English-as-a-second-language classes, and a men’s prayer meeting.
 
The Hinsons also connect the residents of Countryside with local church congregations. In the summers, area churches and visiting mission groups from out of state work with Grant and Amber to hold backyard Bible clubs, sports camps and Vacation Bible Schools. Each week, a local church sends over a bus to pick up kids for an Awana club meeting.
 
The Hinsons’ work is supported by several churches, by Moriah Baptist Association and by a construction company. Grant and Amber also receive some funding from the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC).
 
Daryl Price, SCBC church planting director, said the Hinsons “exemplify sold-out, living-for-Jesus missionary behavior.” Price said the couple is “doing what we are training our churches to do: cross cultures and barriers and take the gospel to everyone.”
 
Lee Clamp, evangelism director for the state convention, echoed Price’s statement. “Grant and Amber are living out what we would hope all believers would do – live life as a missionary where they live, work and play,” he said. “They moved into a neighborhood that was under-reached and full of need and began to take responsibility for those around them.”
 
Bryant Fersner, director of missions for Moriah Baptist Association, said the Hinsons’ work represents a “biblical model of discipleship, evangelism and incarnational missions.” He said Grant and Amber are discipling a married couple and an individual – residents of Countryside – to also be “incarnational missionaries.” The vision is to multiply the model in other communities and neighborhoods, Fersner said.
 
Grant’s message to the “unwanted,” drawn from Acts 17:26-27, is that God “is never far from each of us.” It doesn’t matter if the people aren’t white, or if they’re not middle-class, or if they don’t know who their parents are, he said, because they’re “just as valuable to God as we are.”
 
“There’s nothing they’ve done – nothing they can do – to make God run away screaming,” Grant said. His message to his neighbors: “God has a perfect plan for you to seek and find Him.”
 
When asked how they knew the time was right to quit their jobs – even before they knew what God’s plan was for their future – Grant and Amber said they, in fact, did not know. But both, in separate interviews, uttered the same phrase: “Commitment comes before clarity.”
 
“We had to commit to God before we had any clarity,” Amber said. “Now, looking back, we’ve seen His protection on our family. We know it’s His will for us to be here. Blessings come with clarity, and faith deepens.”
 
A year after their move to Countryside, Amber wrote in her blog: “We have seen death and life. We have seen tears and joy. We have seen abuse and love. We have seen handcuffs and chains break. We have seen addictions and re-dedications. We have seen depression and forgiveness. We have seen our faith grow. We have seen people love.
 
“We have leaned into our Savior’s embrace and felt Him guiding and teaching,” Amber said. “He has never left us.”
 
Today, almost three years after abandoning their safe, predictable lives to move to Countryside, Grant and Amber say it was the best decision they’ve ever made, the most transformative experience of their lives.
 
To those who likewise feel led to follow God to an unknown place, Amber has a word of advice: “Take that leap of faith. It’s so worth it.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier, the news magazine of the churches of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, where this article first appeared.)

3/18/2016 11:29:13 AM by Butch Blume, The Baptist Courier | with 0 comments



Use of ‘Creator’ in article sparks controversy

March 18 2016 by Julie Borg, WORLD News Service

A scientific journal has retracted an article about the complexity of the human hand after receiving backlash to the authors’ use of the C-word, “Creator.”
 
“Hand coordination should indicate the mystery of the Creator’s invention,” researchers wrote for the online, peer-reviewed journal, PLOS ONE, in January. The article also stated, “The mechanical architecture is the proper design by the Creator for dexterous performance of numerous functions following the evolutionary remodeling of the ancestral hand for millions of years.”
 
In March, appalled readers and tweeters exploded in scathing responses on #Creatorgate and #HandofGod. The readers complained “Creator,” a term related to religious belief, had no place in a scientific journal.
 
Commenters called the journal a joke. “Authors, editors, and journal should be deeply ashamed. This should never have happened! Now ID [intelligent design] guys have what they wished for decades!” one reader with the handle “paleosp” wrote in the comment section of the journal. Readers threatened to boycott, and editors threatened to resign if the article wasn’t immediately retracted.
 
Several experts said the science seemed credible even though they disagreed with using the word Creator. Even popular atheist biologist PZ Myers acknowledged on his blog, Pharyngula, there appeared to be nothing wrong with the data.
 
The four Chinese authors of the study, whose native language is not English, pleaded for mercy on the grounds they were not creationists and their use of the word Creator was a linguistic mistake. Nonetheless, the journal quickly retracted the article, apologized for the inappropriate language, and said on closer evaluation there were also concerns with the scientific rationale and presentation.
 
David Klinghoffer, author and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, believes PLOS retracted, instead of simply editing the paper, to punish the authors. The incident shows “how the mechanism of intimidation works,” he said. “Retracting a paper is serious business; it can destroy careers. In such an oppressive atmosphere, honest investigation hardly stands a chance.”
 
The scandal is turning into a witch hunt, Klinghoffer blogged on Evolution News and Views. It appears the academic editor of the article, Renzhi Han, had an affiliation with Chinese Evangelical Church in Iowa City, where he had previously worked, The Chronicle of Higher Education News reported. David Knutson, PLOS public relations manager, acknowledged PLOS had dismissed Han. “The academic editor who handled this paper has apologized to us for the oversight. He has been asked to step down,” Knutson told For Better Science.
 
The incident highlights the dilemma faced by creationist scientists, according to Ken Ham, president of Answers In Genesis. Many secular journals will not publish creationists’ papers regardless of the quality of their research and credentials simply because what they write isn’t based on the ideology of naturalism, he blogged.
 
“If it in any way supports a Creator God (and it doesn’t even seem to matter which creator; it doesn’t even have to be the God of the Bible), they throw it out,” Ham wrote.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Borg writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine at worldmag.com based in Asheville, N.C.)

3/18/2016 11:23:05 AM by Julie Borg, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



SCOTUS pick lacks record on social issues, critics say

March 17 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Merrick Garland, a federal judge described in media reports as a “moderate” with little judicial record on abortion or same-sex marriage, is President Barack Obama’s choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
 
Announcing his pick from the White House Rose Garden March 16, Obama praised Garland’s ability to build consensus among “colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies” and told Senate Republicans failing to consider the nomination would be “an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty.”
 
But in a speech on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reiterated his pledge not to take up or confirm the nomination.
 
“The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration,” McConnell said. “The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”

 
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Screen capture from C-Span
President Obama praised Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland (right) as “thoughtful” and “fair-minded” during a White House announcement March 16.

Garland was appointed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton and, following a lengthy confirmation battle, has served there since 1997, being elevated to chief justice in 2013. Prior to that, he served as a federal prosecutor, an attorney in private practice and a clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. As a prosecutor, he oversaw the government’s investigation of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995.
 
Statements from conservative evangelical leaders tended to state principled opposition to confirming any justice during a presidential election year rather than opposition to particular rulings or positions espoused by Garland.
 
Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said “the American people should at least have a chance to vote in November before this president gets to place a third and likely generational altering pick on the Court.” Similarly, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, said blocking confirmation until after the presidential election “is the correct course of action” for the Senate to pursue “based soundly on constitutional principles, historic precedent and prudence.”
 
Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland comes at a very tumultuous time in our national politics. We shouldn’t forget that Judge Garland is seeking to fill the vacancy left by one of the Court’s most brilliant jurists and defenders of life and religious liberty in Antonin Scalia.
 
“Regardless of the outcome of the president’s nomination, my hope is that Justice Scalia’s legacy of constitutionalism and the defense of unborn people would live on through whoever is ultimately confirmed to judge in his place,” Moore said.
 
At least one pro-life group, the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA), said Obama would not have nominated Garland were he not a supporter of abortion rights.
 
“We do not know this nominee but we do know Barack Obama,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “Anyone he nominates will join the voting bloc on the Court that consistently upholds abortion on-demand. The president should not be permitted one last opportunity to stack the Court with pro-abortion justices.”
 
LifeSiteNews reported Garland “has never ruled or commented on abortion.” When Obama considered Garland to fill a previous Supreme Court vacancy in 2010, “left-wing activists” criticized him as “insufficiently outspoken on abortion.”
 
Garland did not take part in a 2-1 ruling in which the D.C. Circuit struck down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, LifeSiteNews said.
 
Gun rights activists have taken issue with Garland’s decision to rehear a case concerning D.C.’s strict gun restrictions, NPR reported, adding, “Garland has a lengthy record on the D.C. circuit court, but that court deals mainly with regulatory issues and not hot-button social issues of the day, such as abortion and gay rights. That has served as a confirmation advantage for previous nominees from the appeals court, and it likely will for Garland, too.”
 
In announcing Garland’s nomination, Obama highlighted his experience on the D.C. Circuit, which is commonly regarded as America’s second highest court.
 
“On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law,” Obama said. “He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions. And this record on the bench speaks, I believe, to Judge Garland’s fundamental temperament – his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing.”
 
The president cited praise of Garland from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Obama criticized Senate Republicans for threatening not to hold confirmation hearings.
 
“I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing and then an up or down vote,” Obama said. “If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.
 
“... The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer. Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer. Our democracy will ultimately suffer as well,” Obama said.
 
Garland, who fought back tears as he expressed gratitude for the nomination, said “trust that justice will be done in our courts without prejudice or partisanship is what, in large part, distinguishes this country from others. People must be confident that a judge’s decisions are determined by the law and only the law.
 
“For a judge to be worthy of such trust,” he said, “he or she must be faithful to the Constitution and to the statutes passed by the Congress. He or she must put aside his personal views or preferences and follow the law, not make it.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/17/2016 12:18:10 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



St. Patrick not 'a closet Baptist'

March 17 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In William Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopedia, a catalog of Baptist doctrines, organizations and individuals, there is a surprising entry under the letter P: “Patrick, Saint, the Apostle of Ireland.”
 
Perhaps more surprising is that Cathcart, a 19th-century Baptist historian, was not alone in claiming Patrick for the Baptist tradition. Pastor W.A. Criswell of First Baptist Church in Dallas and pastor Wayne Dehoney then of First Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn. – both of whom went on to become Southern Baptist Convention presidents – were among the 19th- and 20th- century Baptists to argue the namesake of St. Patrick’s Day espoused Baptist principles some 1,200 years before Englishman John Smyth founded what is commonly regarded as the first Baptist congregation.
 
Two contemporary Baptist historians said that Patrick was not, in fact, a nascent Baptist, but those who sought to claim him as one rightly noted the error of associating him with the modern Roman Catholic Church.

 
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“There is a romance about [Patrick],” said Michael Haykin a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor who has written a book about Patrick. “During the 19th century, with the rise of Landmarkism, there was a desire to claim as many people as Baptists as possible. In some respects, Patrick falls easily into that [classification]. He was almost definitely baptizing people by immersion. But he was almost definitely not a congregationalist – which we would view as central to being a Baptist.”
 
Landmarkism was a Baptist movement that began in the 1800s and espoused, among other beliefs, the idea that an unbroken succession of baptistic churches has existed since the time of Jesus, said James Patterson, University Professor of Christian Thought and Tradition at Union University. Though not all 18th- and 19th-century Baptists were Landmarkists, their concept of unbroken succession gained broader acceptance and helped fuel the effort to identify as many “Baptists” as possible dating back to New Testament times, including Patrick.
 
Born in the late 300s in Roman-controlled Britain, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders at age 16 and trusted Christ for salvation during his captivity, according to his autobiographical work Confession. God’s providential guidance led to his escape after six years, and several years later he returned to Ireland as a missionary, seeing thousands of former pagans commit their lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior.
 
Thanks to Patrick’s influence, the Irish Christians – known as the Celtic Church – led the way in evangelizing Europe for a hundred years following his death in the mid to late fifth century.
 
When Baptist William Carey launched the modern missions movement in the early 19th century by setting out for India, he cited Patrick’s work in the British Isles as one of his inspirations, according to Haykin’s book Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact.
 
Later that same century, Cathcart and Canadian Baptist pioneer William Fraser were among those to argue explicitly that Patrick was a Baptist.
 
As Cathcart put it in his 1894 book “The Ancient British and Irish Churches Including the Life and Labors of St. Patrick,” “It is a little remarkable that this grand old believer in sovereign grace, in full salvation in the blood of the Lamb, and in the immersion of believers, should give his name to popish churches, where his gospel is denounced, and his Baptist brethren, with whose doctrines his writings are in singular agreement, are branded with heretical infamy.”
 
Cathcart’s argument led Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal to editorialize in 1894 under editor Edgar Folk, “He proves, beyond a doubt, that Saint Patrick was a Baptist missionary.”
 
In the 1950s, Criswell’s sermon “St. Patrick Was a Baptist Preacher” made similar arguments, as did New York pastor John Wimbish’s sermon “St. Patrick Was a Baptist.” When Dehoney preached a sermon in 1960 during his pastorate at First Baptist Jackson titled “St. Patrick Was a Baptist Preacher,” an advertisement in the Jackson Sun newspaper noted, “This is a special message for every Irishman, for every Baptist, for every seeker after truth.”
 
Haykin and Patterson agreed with the claim of Cathcart, Criswell, Dehoney and others that Patrick was not a Roman Catholic in the modern sense. He has been wrongly remembered since the Middle Ages, they said, as a missionary sent by the bishop of Rome, who later become known as the pope.
 
“The argument that he was a missionary sent out by Rome is tenuous,” Haykin said. “A number of the standard features of Roman Catholic piety and theology are just completely absent. There is no mention of Mary. There is no mention of the mass.”
 
Haykin added that Patrick did not appeal to a commission from Rome when opponents challenged the legitimacy of his mission – a logical appeal had he been a representative of the developing church hierarchy.
 
If Patrick was connected to Rome, Patterson said, it was only “in a more general way because they didn’t have the hierarchy in place at that time. In fact, I think one could argue the papacy as we know it wasn’t really fully in place at that point.
 
“There were bishops,” Patterson continued, “and I think he probably, as far as we can tell, would have supported the idea of bishops. But Catholicism in his age was very different. ... He was Catholic, but in the context of his own times.”
 
Patrick, Patterson said, was not “a closet Baptist,” though Baptists are justified in admiring his missionary zeal.
 
“It’s one thing to admire someone because of their missionary spirit and maybe even some of their strategies,” he said. “It’s another thing to say, ‘Well, that makes them an evangelical or a Baptist.’”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

Related Story:

The real St. Patrick: ‘incredible’ missions zeal

3/17/2016 12:06:38 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Despite wins, Trump may face ‘very difficult path’

March 17 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton continued to dominate their political parties’ primaries March 15, but the maverick billionaire’s wins did not eliminate the possibility he will face a contested convention to gain the Republican nomination or a third-party challenge even if he becomes the party’s standard-bearer.
 
In voting in five primaries, the former first lady and secretary of State won four states among Democrats and held a narrow lead in another. Trump took three states and maintained a close lead in a fourth. In both cases, Clinton and Trump led in tight races in Missouri with nearly all votes counted. Trump lost only in Ohio, where that state’s governor – John Kasich – gained all 66 delegates in the winner-take-all format.
 
While Clinton holds a comfortable lead on a path to the 2,383 delegates required for the Democratic nomination, Trump’s road to the necessary 1,237 GOP delegates is more challenging. He has won only 47 percent of the delegates so far, but he would need to win 54 percent of the remaining ones to secure the nomination before the convention, according to the FiveThirtyEight website.
 
Southern Baptist cultural commentator Bruce Ashford said Trump “faces a very difficult path ... to win outright.”

 
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If no candidate reaches the 1,237 delegates required at the Republican convention, many delegates would be free on a second ballot to change their votes.
 
Baptist academic and author Thomas Kidd pointed to a growing reality about Trump’s candidacy – many evangelicals and conservatives have already pledged not to vote for either him or the Democratic nominee, who will be an abortion-rights advocate no matter who wins that party’s nod.
 
If Trump wins the GOP nomination, “legions of conservative Christians will simply not vote for him,” said Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. “If it was a Clinton vs. Trump matchup, they would either not vote for president, or they would choose a conservative, third-party option.”
 
The resistance to Trump – including the use of the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter – has produced no-vote promises based on his inconsistent and even harsh policy positions on some issues, his insult-filled speech and a lifestyle marked by adultery. Questions also have been raised about some of his business enterprises.
 
The controversy over the billionaire intensified in the days leading to the March 15 primaries, expanding to include his rhetoric against protestors at his rallies and his refusal to condemn the violent response of some of his supporters.
 
Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “In upcoming weeks, it will be interesting to see to what extent Trump is affected by the violence at his rallies and the sharp questions raised about his business record and personal character. It appears that Trump will not lose any support from his conservative base but stands to lose support from the general electorate.”
 
Americans, said Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., “face the reality that the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, someone who has never held electoral office previously, is someone who is running on a platform that includes positions that would’ve been anathema to any previous cycle of Republican voters. He holds to positions that the Republican Party has either avoided or repudiated.
 
“Running on a dangerous mix of populism and nativism, he has also resorted to language and to tactics in the campaign that would’ve been an embarrassment to any major American political party until the 2016 cycle, where it should be an embarrassment,” Mohler said on the March 16 edition of his podcast, “The Briefing.”
 
With the Missouri race yet to be settled, Trump has a total of 646 delegates, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas 397 and Kasich 142, according to The New York Times. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has 169 delegates, but he suspended his campaign Tuesday night after losing his home state to Trump. The delegate count in the four states settled Tuesday was 162 for Trump, 79 for Kasich and 27 for Cruz.
 
In her four confirmed wins, Clinton outpaced Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 333-232, increasing her delegate count to 1,599. Sanders, a self-described socialist, has 844 delegates. Much of Clinton’s 755-delegate lead is based on her 467-26 advantage in Democratic superdelegates.
 
The Republican race has witnessed the recent departure of two candidates favored by a sizable number of evangelicals, famous surgeon Ben Carson and Rubio. Carson suspended his campaign March 4 and endorsed Trump a week later.
 
“Many conservative Christians are disappointed to see Marco Rubio drop out of the race, of course, but the timing was not right this year for his relatively optimistic candidacy,” Kidd said.
 
Kidd suspects “most of the evangelicals who supported Rubio will now coalesce around Ted Cruz and, to a lesser extent, John Kasich,” he said.
 
“Although Cruz will now become the primary standard-bearer for conservative Christians, some evangelicals are concerned about his strident tone regarding immigrants, which mimics Trump’s vitriol on that issue,” Kidd said. “The big question now is whether Cruz’s added support can give him enough momentum to prevent Trump from securing a majority of the GOP convention delegates and position Cruz to supplant Trump at the convention.”
 
Ashford pointed to Kasich’s win and Rubio’s loss and departure from the race as the biggest stories in the March 15 primaries.
 
Kasich’s victory probably “ensures the nomination debate” will continue to the convention floor, he said. While he thinks Rubio’s campaign suspension “will probably favor Kasich more than Trump or Cruz,” Ashford said the Ohio governor “will have to face Trump’s unfolding attacks and prove to voters that he can make the changes in Washington that voters expect.”
 
In the Democratic race, it appears Sanders “faces an almost impossible path to the nomination,” Ashford said.
 
The next primaries for both parties are March 22 in Arizona and Utah. The Democrats hold a caucus the same day in Idaho.
 
(EDIT0R’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/17/2016 11:57:22 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Teenagers lead 5 to Christ at Wendy’s restaurant

March 17 2016 by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN

A group of Texas cheerleaders in a crowded Wendy’s restaurant near the University of Texas at Arlington wound up with more than fast food one Saturday when they met a group of teens in town for a youth evangelism conference.
 
“We encouraged the [students] to pray for one person to share the gospel with,” said Bobby Worthington, Criswell College associate professor of missions and evangelism who assisted that weekend with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s (SBTC) Student Evangelism Conference North at Arlington’s Fielder Church.
 
Worthington accompanied youth from First Baptist Church of Bells to Wendy’s where they discovered that students from First Baptist Church of Paris had just shared Christ with the cheerleaders.
 
Nate Law, student pastor of First Baptist Church Paris, said he spoke to the cheerleader coach to let her know his students were with a youth conference and asked if some of the girls could talk to hers.
 
A college cheerleader accompanying the group from First Baptist Paris facilitated the encounter, Law said. “That just opened up the door big time.”
 
Law challenged two high school girls to share their faith with half the 10-member squad while a college student shared with the others. Four of the cheerleaders made a profession of faith that day.
 
“Our girls stayed in touch with them afterward,” Law said, “texting them and sharing scriptures.”
 
Cheerleaders weren’t the only ones who made a profession of faith at Wendy’s that day.
 
Worthington and the First Baptist Bells students met a man, whose car had stalled in the parking lot. After helping jumpstart his car, Worthington invited him into the restaurant and bought him lunch. “He seemed interested,” Worthington said. “We sat around the table. As I shared the gospel with him, the students began to talk, too.”
 
The Holy Spirit’s presence was clear, Worthington said. The man decided to put his trust Christ as restaurant employees watched.
 
The 2016 Student Evangelism Conference (SEC) North and South events drew a total of 1,708 students from all over Texas, SBTC student ministry associate Garrett Wagoner told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. The SEC North event was held the Jan. 15-16, and the South event was held Jan. 22-23 at San Antonio’s Castle Hills First Baptist Church.
 
“We challenge lost students to come to Christ, and we equip saved students to share their faith,” Wagoner said, reporting 130 salvations among SEC attendees, 13 salvations from evangelism efforts, 28 calls to ministry and 58 requests for baptism.
 
“We are seeing a generation of students embrace the gospel and accept the challenge to take the gospel to Texas and to the ends of the earth,” Wagoner said. “There is a real harvest among teenagers today, and we believe that we can see a true movement of God when teenagers are challenged with the gospel.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where this story first appeared.)

3/17/2016 11:44:52 AM by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



The Trinity: Prof notes key biblical variations

March 17 2016 by Kathie Chute, GGBTSS

Rick Durst of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, was reading 2 Corinthians 13 one day in 2005, which he had read many times before.
 
This time, the Trinitarian benediction in the last verse caught his eye: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
 
Was there a reason for that particular order?

 
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“I looked up every place in the New Testament where the members of the divine Trinity are referenced and quickly found 30,” said Durst, professor of historical theology and director of the seminary’s new Bay Area Campus. “Then I did it again and found 50 – and ultimately ended up with 75 instances.” The ordering of the members of the Trinity, he said, can be in six variations depending on the context and intention of the passage.
 
Durst discovered that each of the different orders was normally used in specific contexts. Most of the 18 instances of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit order are found in a missional or “sending” context.
 
In a “saving” context, he found the Trinity listed as the Son, the Holy Spirit and the Father. And in the context of Christian service or ethical standing, he found the Holy Spirit, Father and Son.
 
Durst shared his findings with students in an evening class and asked them: “If the New Testament uses these orders to identify the Trinity and calls us to different works, would you be willing to try a prayer experiment? Would you be willing to speak to the Triune God in whatever order makes the most sense to you tonight? If the New Testament authors use each of the six different orders in their invocations, instructions and benedictions, why can’t we do the same?”
 
The class prayed for five minutes and then shared their experiences. Durst found that something significant had happened with many of the students. For example, one student confessed she had come from an abusive home, but this new way of praying changed her heart.
 
“I have never called God ‘Father,’“ she said, “because my own father was abusive. I started praying to Jesus, then the Spirit and finally for the first time I prayed to God as Father, and I felt something totally different.”
 
Durst has written a book on his discoveries, Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament, published by Kregel Publications in November.
 
Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Seminary, said he found the conclusions in the book to be creative, original and inspiring.
 
“This book takes the word order of the words in scripture seriously,” Iorg said. “It is a fascinating study of different orders of Trinitarian expression and their exegetical significance.”
 
The ways the early church thought and spoke about the Trinity had a great deal of richness and diversity that has since been lost, Durst said. The six Trinitarian orders in the New Testament, he said, reveal God’s calling to join Him in six different works.
 
“Most people read scripture from about 2,000 feet up,” Durst said, “but I went up to 30,000 feet to identify all the pieces to the way we view the Trinity. When these pictures move together, we see how dynamically God moves, and how that can affect the way we pray, witness and work.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathie Chute is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, with campuses in the Bay Area and Southern California, Phoenix, Denver and the Pacific Northwest.)

3/17/2016 11:33:41 AM by Kathie Chute, GGBTSS | with 0 comments



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