March 2018

‘Under attack’: Campus ministries see changes ahead

March 9 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With Wayne State, Harvard and the University of Iowa among the latest universities to take action against Christian ministries on campus, some Baptist state convention leaders say Baptist campus ministry may be forced to shift its methods as religious liberty is constricted.
 
“Our religious liberty and our opportunity to share as openly as we have in the past” at colleges and universities “is under attack,” said Tim Patterson, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan, where Wayne State is located. Baptists “have to rethink how we do ministry on campus because the campus has changed.”

Photo from Vanderbilt University
Baptist collegiate ministries across America “certainly” will face attacks against their religious liberty like one at Vanderbilt University in 2012, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board executive director Randy Davis said.


The Wayne State chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship filed a lawsuit against the Detroit-based university March 6, alleging Wayne State stripped the ministry of recognition as a campus student group in 2017 after university officials deemed “discriminatory” an InterVarsity requirement that student leaders affirm a Christian doctrinal statement.
 
Since then, the InterVarsity chapter has lost its access to free meeting space and has been forced to pay a total of $2,720 to reserve space on campus for Bible studies and other ministry events, according to a complaint filed in federal court by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit legal organization representing the Wayne State InterVarsity chapter.
 
InterVarsity is not affiliated with Michigan Baptists or the Southern Baptist Convention.
 
Patterson told Baptist Press (BP) the Michigan convention has stopped funding most traditional Baptist campus ministry in favor of collegiate church plants that will focus on reaching college students but not seek recognition as student organizations. Though the shift was based on evangelistic strategy, he said, it may also become necessary as a safeguard for religious liberty.
 
Religious liberty “is going to be restricted,” Patterson said, and “we have to find ways to continue sharing the gospel no matter what the cultural norms might be.”
 
At Harvard, university administrators placed the Christian student group Harvard College Faith and Action (HCFA) on “administrative probation” for a year after a student leader allegedly was pressured to resign her position following her decision to date another woman, the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported in late February.
 
A Harvard spokesman told the Crimson “HCFA conducted itself in a manner grossly inconsistent with the expectations clearly outlined” in university policies.
 
HCFA is not affiliated with the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE), but there are two Southern Baptist chaplains at Harvard, BCNE executive director Terry Dorsett told BP.
 
“We are praying that the relationships [that have been] built ... will allow us to continue to have a ministry presence on campus,” Dorsett said in written comments.
 
Still, Dorsett acknowledged, “it is very likely that other colleges and universities in New England will look to the actions at Harvard as a precedent for taking similar action on their own campuses. But we know the gospel is powerful enough to overcome this cultural attack, just as it did in the first century.”
 
Dorsett added, “Our culture has moved from being religiously neutral to being religiously hostile. The situation at Harvard is the latest evidence that the radical left is no longer interested in having any form of historic Christianity on campus.”
 
At the University of Iowa, a Christian student group was kicked off campus for allegedly violating the university’s human rights policy, but a federal court temporarily restored the group’s registered student organization status in late January.
 
Litigation is pending in the case, which arose when a member of the student organization Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) who said he was pursuing homosexual relationships requested to serve as BLinC’s vice president, according to case materials posted online by Becket. When BLinC’s president told the student she “needed to discuss his candidacy for leadership with the rest of the executive team,” the student filed a complaint with the university.
 
Baptist ministry to Iowa college and university students includes church plants near campuses funded by the Baptist Convention of Iowa (BCI) in partnership with the North American Mission Board, BCI executive director Tim Lubinus told BP.
 
The BCI also helps fund campus outreach events and “a few other ministries,” Lubinus said. “Campus ministries in Iowa that relate to the BCI are registered, staffed and supported by local BCI affiliated churches.”
 
“In most cases,” Lubinus said via email, “the ministries are recognized student organizations, but even if they lose their recognition, the ministries will remain strong since many of their events take place off campus and they do not receive university funding.”
 
Iowa Baptists are “praying that cool heads will continue to prevail and that the practice of upholding constitutional rights of religious freedom and association will be upheld as well as the long-held practice of all campus groups to define their own standards of conduct for organizational leadership,” Lubinus said.
 
“It seems odd that Christian ministries are coming under the microscope for simply upholding the same biblical values and mission that they have embraced for thousands of years,” Lubinus said.
 
Tennessee Baptist Mission Board executive director Randy Davis said traditional Baptist collegiate ministries across America “certainly” will face decisions like the one which confronted the Vanderbilt University Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) six years ago. In 2012, the Vanderbilt BCM declined its longstanding status as a university-recognized student organization after the university announced a nondiscrimination policy that could have forced the BCM to permit non-Christians in leadership.
 
In the future, BCMs with buildings on university campuses may “have to do without those buildings,” Davis told BP. Additionally, BCMs “will need to be more strategic with their marketing and mobilization dollars” if they lose the free advertising many currently receive in campus newspapers as registered student organizations.
 
“We need to continue to adjust our methods to this culture, but never the gospel message,” Davis said. “In the first century, the church got off to a pretty good start in a pretty pagan culture. I don’t think we should whine about the culture being dark. We ought to step up and be the light the Lord wants us to be.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – With reporting by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

3/9/2018 8:39:29 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Rainer shares tips on church hospitality

March 9 2018 by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources

Church members think of themselves as a welcoming bunch – but they tend to be friendly only to one another, says LifeWay Christian Resources President and CEO Thom S. Rainer.
 
Most guests feel as though they’ve crashed a private party, Rainer found after extensively surveying church visitors.


His latest book, Becoming a Welcoming Church, released March 1 from B&H Publishing Group, offers a game plan for churches to become more hospitable.
 
Rainer discusses several tangible markers churches should have in place to leave a positive impression on guests – and to encourage them for a return visit:
 
– Clear directional signs and easy-to-navigate websites.
– Visible safety measures – particularly for children.
– A clean, well-maintained facility.
– Outgoing, engaging people to greet guests, answer questions and offer guidance.
 
For a congregation to become hospitable, Rainer explained, it must be a spiritually healthy church that studies the scripture, spends time in prayer and disciples its people. He said being an inviting church and being a healthy church have a clear connection.
 
“A healthy church engages the community,” Rainer said. “People are growing to greater maturation in Christ, and there is greater unity in the healthy church. There are fewer distractions, fights, bullying and criticism. A healthy church is focused on reaching and inviting.”
 
Each chapter of Becoming a Welcoming Church concludes with discussion questions for individual reflection or group dialogue. The book’s appendices provide audit forms for evaluating a church’s facilities and a secret guest survey to allow visitors to provide feedback on their experiences.
 
As a companion to Becoming a Welcoming Church, B&H simultaneously released We Want You Here, a resource intended for churches to send home with guests to give them a vision of the local church’s ministry and to encourage them to reflect on their visit.
 
For more information on Becoming a Welcoming Church, visit welcoming.church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joy Allmond is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

3/9/2018 8:36:45 AM by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Mental illness, kids and how churches respond

March 9 2018 by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources

Child advocate and mental health consultant Kelly Rosati has spent her fair share of time in psychiatric hospitals. Not for herself, but visiting her kids.
 
She and her husband adopted all four of their children out of foster care. Three of them suffer on some level from mental illness, be it depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
 
During a recent parenting conference hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, she and other experts discussed how the church should approach ministering to teens and kids who suffer from mental illness, and serving their families.
 
Rosati, Focus on the Family’s vice president of advocacy for children, wants to debunk the notion that mental health is a spiritual issue – particularly for others, like her, who struggle to parent kids who’ve been diagnosed with mental illness.
 
“It’s harmful for the church to tell people who suffer from mental illness and their families to pray harder,” Rosati said from the stage this past August.
 
“Don’t tell someone whose brain isn’t working to pray a little harder. Don’t confuse parenting with getting professional help.”
 
Rosati says 20 percent of teens will experience depression before adulthood. And those teens, she added, are 12 times more likely to die by suicide.
 
Ever since 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz – a teen diagnosed with depression – opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, the national conversation has turned toward several factors that may have contributed to the tragedy.
 
The shooting has prompted chatter in Christian social media circles about gun control and multi-system failures. But there also has been focused conversation around mental health and prayer – or lack thereof – in schools and in the public square.
 
Once Cruz turned 18 he reportedly refused mental health services offered to him by the school district. There are also reports suggesting behavioral health professionals made the wrong call when they failed to hospitalize him following a 2016 examination.
 
Furthermore, it’s been said his mother, who died of pneumonia in November 2017, had called the police on several occasions when his behavior escalated – as an attempt to scare him into compliance.
 
If Cruz had been a churchgoer, might he have received pastoral or congregational care – and perhaps avoided carrying out the massacre of 17 people?
 
A 2014 study conducted by LifeWay Research and sponsored by Focus on the Family showed two-thirds (66 percent) of the 1,000 pastors surveyed do not address mental health issues from the pulpit.
 
It also found more than a quarter (27 percent) of churches don’t have a plan in place to minister to individuals and families affected by mental illness. And less than a quarter (21 percent) of family members are aware such a ministry exists within their church.
 
In another study a year prior, LifeWay Research found a third of Americans and nearly half of evangelical, fundamentalist or born-again Christians believe spiritual activities like prayer and Bible study can overcome serious mental illness.
 
While prayer and church involvement are important for any struggle – corporate or individual – more is needed to treat depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue, Rosati said.
 
She urges families to seek church-led spiritual guidance and prayer on behalf of their loved one who suffers from mental illness. But she also cautions them not to ignore the clinical side of treatment.
 
“What I want to say to parents and families is, please keep in mind that neurochemical issues are not spiritual issues,” she said during the panel discussion.
 
“When our kids are broken and don’t work the way they should, our duty as parents is to advocate for them and give them the help they need.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joy Allmond is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. This story first appeared at the Facts&Trends website factsandtrends.net.)
 

3/9/2018 8:34:29 AM by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Group seeks new U.S. religious freedom post for Nigeria

March 9 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A religious and secular coalition will urge Congress to create a U.S. coordinator for religious freedom in Nigeria as terrorism against Christians and other religious minorities intensifies in the African nation.
 
Termed the special coordinator for religious minorities and terrorism, the post would serve as a direct link between U.S. and Nigerian governments to address religious persecution, terrorism and the resulting economic crisis in Nigeria, a coalition representative told Baptist Press (BP) March 8.

Screen capture from Biafra Television
Muslim Fulani herdsmen are helping drive a resurgence of terrorism in Nigeria that is largely directed at Christians.


The Global Coalition Working to Defeat Persecution and Violence in Nigeria, including representatives of the Baptist World Alliance (BWI), the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative (21Wilberforce) and the newly formed International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), decided to petition Congress for the new post after hosting a meeting with Nigerian governors and others Feb. 27-28 at BWI headquarters in Falls Church, Va.
 
The U.S. State Department currently operates an Office of International Religious Freedom, headed since Feb. 1 by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, as well as an embassy and consulate in Nigeria.
 
“But there’s been no sort of special coordinator, no individual that’s taken up the cause or mantel of addressing specifically the Boko Haram and the Fulani pastoralist militia,” ICON Director Kyle Abts told BP today.
 
Joining the coalition at the February meeting were Adeniyi Ojutiku, a North Carolina Southern Baptist working to help his Nigerian homeland through the Lift Up Now grassroots group. Also in attendance were several governors from Nigeria’s Middle Belt, the Church of the Brethren, International Christian Concern, Doctors Without Borders and other groups.
 
Boko Haram terrorists and a militant group of Fulani herdsmen have reportedly strengthened in Nigeria’s Middle Belt in recent months, more than two years after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared a technical defeat of Boko Haram.
 
Texas native Elijah Brown, BWI general secretary since Jan. 1, said Nigeria is at a critical human rights juncture that could affect the entire continent of Africa with global consequences. The longstanding dispute between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers can no longer be viewed simplistically, Brown told BP.
 
“I believe that the violence sweeping through Nigeria is no longer best understood through an analysis of farmer-herder conflict,” he said, recapping an address he made at the coalition meeting. “With thousands of individuals killed, entire communities burned to the ground, famine-inducing conditions inflicted upon entire populations, and the use of helicopters, machine guns mounted to vehicles and sophisticated weapons, this conflict has morphed into one of militant attack.
 
“Predominantly Christian communities currently account for over 85 percent of the victims,” Brown said. “With ongoing discrimination against religious minority communities across northern Nigeria, Boko Haram to the northeast, and Fulani militancy in the Middle Belt, Nigeria is the only country in the world to be currently facing two of the top five most lethal terrorist organizations, and Christians, including some Baptists, are caught in the crossfire.”
 
Within the next month, the coalition will seek a Congressional hearing and request the new post, Abts said. ICON promotes itself as a diverse “group of committed Nigerians and other nationalities joining forces, resources, and voices” to strengthen oppressed and minority groups in Nigeria.
 
In most recent waves of violence, Fulani herdsmen have been blamed for killing at least 170 Christians in attacks on villages and towns in Nigeria’s Middle Belt in January, according to reports. Nigeria’s military has launched a six-week offensive to combat the violence that has increased in conjunction with several new local anti-grazing laws meant to protect the farmers.
 
In February, Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped as many as 101 Nigerian schoolgirls who remain missing, mirroring the terrorists’ kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls in 2014 from a school in the Christian town of Chibok.
 
Buhari claimed in December 2015 he had technically defeated Boko Haram, weakening the group so much that it would only be able to carry out isolated suicide bombings.
 
Boko Haram, which began attacking first Christians and then others in its attempts to establish Sharia law in Nigeria, has killed an estimated 20,000 people and displaced 2 million in Nigeria and neighboring nations since 2009. The terrorists have claimed allegiance to the Islamic State and have been accused of killing Christian farmers increasingly in raids since 2017 in cooperation with or under the guise of Fulani herdsmen.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

3/9/2018 8:31:02 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Former gang member reaching Canada’s largest city

March 9 2018 by NAMB staff

“Everyone is welcome!” That is the motto of Fellowship Church Rogue Park located in Toronto’s East End. This multiethnic, multigenerational church plant rents space in a local Catholic school on Sunday mornings and hosts events throughout the week.

NAMB Photo
North American Mission Board church planting missionary Kesavan Balasingham prays with a man attending Balasingham’s church plant, Fellowship Church Rouge Park in Toronto’s East End in Canada. He and his wife Viji are Annie Armstrong Easter Offering 2018 Week of Prayer missionaries.


Strategically launched near an area known for gang violence, the ministry is led by church planting missionary and a former gang member Kesavan Balasingham and his wife Viji, both immigrants to Canada who found new life here.
 
Known as the most multiethnic city in the world, Toronto’s metropolitan area has a population of nearly 6 million. “More than half of the people here were born outside the country,” Balasingham said. “An estimated 4 percent of the population is evangelical Christian. We thank God the world is here, but the multicultural nature brings a lot of confusion. So, clarity of the gospel is a major need.
 
“We believe that this is the harvest where God wants us to work, to pray, to labor and to see people who don’t know Jesus becoming worshippers of Christ. And then they themselves reach out to others. That’s our prayer, our dream.”
 

The pursuit of freedom

Originally from Sri Lanka, Balasingham was raised Hindu and lived in several countries before his family moved to Canada. Differences in background, culture and religion caused great divides in the community, and at the age of 19, he was arrested for gang violence. He said, “While in prison, I got to read the Bible for the first time and came to understand the gospel as the Good News.”
 
Darryl McCullough, a volunteer from a local prison ministry, met weekly with Balasingham, and became a trusted mentor to the young Christian.
 
“I believe that anybody can be redeemed,” said McCullough in a television interview about his work in the prison system. “I believe the question needs to be asked, ‘Why does somebody get to where they are’ and then start working on that premise rather than throw them away. I believe most guys in prison are going to get out sometime – how do we want them out?”
 
Balasingham grew in faith through discipleship with men like McCullough. He found freedom in Christ during his incarceration and discovered a heart to help others do the same. He studied the Bible with fervor and took college courses to become a counselor.
 
“The Lord saved me very early on in my journey in prison,” Balasingham said. “I kept reading through the Bible, and I came to read the story of Joseph, a young man who ran away from sin. And then afterward, the story of Moses, a man who ran into sin. I saw how God still used him. Then I saw the story of David. And most importantly, in the New Testament the story of Saul who became Paul, how God used ...” He pauses and laughs, “Um, violent people for His good glory. I began to have hope that God can most certainly use my life, in whatever way it pleases Him.”

NAMB Photo
Kesavan and Viji Balasingham with their three children – Josiah, Micah, and Abigail.


After his release, he continued his studies and graduated from seminary. During this season, God brought Viji back into his life.
 
Though she, too, was from Sri Lanka, they met in Toronto while at school. The two eventually were engaged and married. Together, they made the move into full-time ministry.
 
After two and a half years pastoring at a community church in Toronto, Balasingham felt called to return to the same area where he was once a troubled youth to plant Fellowship Church Rogue Park (FCRP), which initially began in his living room. The goal: to minister to internationals dealing with challenges like the ones he and his family had faced.
 

Reaching out

FCRP hosts open gym and field nights for area youth to play and connect. For Balasingham, this ministry opportunity is close to his heart as it targets young men who are in similar situations to his own as a teenager.
 
Shooting hoops and praying together has built trust as well as community, and in the summer of 2016, two young men were saved and baptized.
 
“Both are being discipled and growing,” he said. “They are now co-leading our young men’s sports outreach every week. They have anywhere from 20 to 30 young people showing up and hearing the gospel. Both know the value of having gospel conversations with these young men and follow up with them from week to week.
 
“It’s a joy to see fruit in their lives and our local church being blessed by their service. This week, I took both of them to a three-day workshop on biblical exposition so that they would learn important principles on faithfully teaching God’s Word to others.”
 
At FCRP, relational ministry is a core value. Every other week, they host “Eat, Serve, Love.” Members and guests sit around a table, share a meal and work on building community and growing spiritually. A babysitter and a place to connect is provided. Their desire: “Everyone is welcome but especially those who don’t have a community of their own.”
 
One member has an interesting connection. Gajan Raveendran and Kesavan Balasingham were members of rival gangs and therefore sworn enemies during their teenage years. “I was in and out of jail all the time, in and out, in and out,” Raveendran said. But in 2010, after nearly a decade of recurring prison terms, he decided he wanted a different kind of life. He approached a friend who was a Christian and that friend said he knew someone who could relate and may be of help. Would he, Gajan, be willing to give this guy a call? When Raveendran asked what the guy’s name was, his friend replied, “Kesavan.”
 
Raveendran called and a friendship formed. He could see the difference in his former enemy.
 
“When you talk to him, he doesn’t raise his tone; he doesn’t curse,” Raveendran said. “He is always quoting scripture. Whenever I tell him I want to be like him, he says, ‘No, you want to be like Christ.’”
 
Like many of the immigrants in the area, Raveendran has spent most of his life between cultures, trying to find a place to belong.
 
“The devil always brings up the past to make you feel like you can’t – makes you feel worthless,” he said. However, he has seen firsthand how God can change a person for the better.
 
Raveendran attends church because he says he likes a lot of the things about Christianity, and he likes the way Christians treat one another. Going to FCRP helps him remember he is not alone.
 
“I’ve lived my entire life doing my own thing, so it’s sort of like hard for me to just give that up, and then give it all to God,” he noted. “But eventually one day, I do want to just give to God and just live my life freely, you know?”
 
Balasingham’s new church plant is greatly needed in Toronto. As the city’s multiethnic population grows, so does the spiritual darkness. The urban landscape can be a concrete jungle for many residents, especially immigrants in search of a new home. FCRP wants to meet these physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
 
Kesavan and Viji consistently pray for God’s guidance and that more will join them in expanding the church’s reach.
 
“We want to keep going into the harvest and never settle,” Balasingham said. “We have the world living around us and they have their religions with them. Our aim is to point toward the gospel by proclaiming and demonstrating its power in our lives by the way we engage the community.”
 
Learn more about the Balasinghams at AnnieArmstrong.com.
 
Watch a video about the Balasinghams here:


(EDITOR’S NOTE – The North American Mission Board communications team provided this story.The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provide support for missionaries who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists across North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year’s offering theme is “On Mission: Here and Now.” Kesavan and Viji Balasingham are Week of Prayer missionaries for the North American Mission Board.)
 

3/9/2018 8:30:30 AM by NAMB staff | with 0 comments



Carving a new path in the spiritual desert of Las Vegas

March 8 2018 by NAMB Communications

Established in 1905 near the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, this city that was once a pass-through in the Mojave Desert has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Las Vegas hosts more than 42 million visitors each year. The draw includes novelty resorts and casinos with enough lasers and neon lights to make it visible from space, earning NASA’s distinction for Brightest Spot on Earth. But spiritually, the statistics tell a different story.

North American Mission Board photo
Annie Armstrong Easter Offering 2018 Week of Prayer missionary, Heiden Ratner, has a vision to combine his love and professional career in sports with his passion to share the gospel in Las Vegas, Nev. Heiden and members of his church plant, WALK Church, in Las Vegas pray for the ability to expand their church with a gymnasium and reach more youth.


The city’s resident population is estimated to be around 630,000. Of that number, 92 percent do not know Jesus. Less than 37 percent of residents identify as religious; less than 5 percent align with the Protestant faith. The numbers underscore the reputation by which this place is known – “Sin City” and “The Entertainment Capital of the World” – but a new church plant is at work to bring transformation.
 
Leading the way are Las Vegas natives Heiden Ratner, wife Neena and the team at WALK Church. Their mission is to free people to walk in Jesus. “We believe that Jesus has placed a primary calling on all of our lives and that is to make disciples of all nations,” says Ratner. He explains that the church engages people and Jesus sets them free. Planting a church, leading, sharing the Good News – it isn’t what he planned to do with his life, but now he can’t imagine doing anything else.
 

History in the making

While growing up, Ratner’s dreams consisted mostly of playing Division 1 college basketball. As a sophomore, he was selected as the Gatorade Player of the Year for Nevada, and consistently made all-state teams. He went on to play as a guard for James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Va. Some teammates invited him to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) meeting, and everything changed. He says, “It was during that time that I realized I was missing something. I thought, these people have something I don’t. I was able to hear the gospel, get myself a Bible for the first time, ask questions, and it was there that God really began to draw me to Himself.”
 
Heiden became a believer in Christ, and while getting to know Jesus, he began to develop a passion for teaching, preaching and sharing the gospel. The journey led him back to his hometown. “The thing that was crazy was, all I knew back in Las Vegas were people who didn’t go to church or didn’t have a relationship with Jesus,” he says. “So when I came back home that summer, I just decided that, you know what, I know enough that I can maybe start a small group Bible study. I’d never been to church in Las Vegas in my life. And so I just decided to hit people up that I knew.”
 
Neena, whom he had known from high school, was among those he called to attend the study. Says Ratner, “That’s where we connected again, and I saw something change in her life, as well as mine.” Their friendship grew, as did their respective relationships with the Lord.
 
When he returned to JMU for another semester, his love for basketball was still present, but not the same. He explains that most of his life the game and the fame had been an idol, “a little ‘g’ god,” but now as a follower of Christ, he realized that the game was not a god but a blessing from God. “I’m living out the dream that I always had of being on T.V. and playing at this high level,” he says. “While at JMU, God drew me to Himself, and He allowed me to then continue to use the game as a platform for His glory. And that took me to Israel where I was playing professionally. That was an amazing time out there – where I was able to do what I loved and do it for His glory.”
 
While in Israel, he and Neena were married. And the season was a sweet one. But seeds that had been planted years before were starting to take root. The Ratners eventually returned to Las Vegas, and Heiden continued leading Bible studies for friends and former teammates. He says, “I really sensed God placing his finger on my heart, saying, ‘I’m calling you to something different. I’m calling you to something bigger, where basketball’s still going to be a part of it, but it’s going to look more like full-time ministry. It’s going to look more like a church plant in the city.’ I didn’t know what was going to come with that, but it was enough to put my “yes” on the table and to trust God with the next step.”
 

Forward motion

Ratner began studying as a church planting apprentice at his home church, Hope Church, and then began forming a launch team that included people from around the city. They circled a launch date on the calendar and met often to study the Bible, pray and plan. Says Heiden, “I love this city. I love the people in this city. I love the lights in this city. I love the noise. But more than anything I love what God is doing in this city.”
 
Rooted in Colossians 2:6, the name of WALK Church points to the foundational directive to walk in the ways of Christ. “Our church publicly launched on Sept. 20, 2015,” says Ratner, “out of the middle school I went to growing up.” The number of believers who gather in the cafeteria on Sunday is growing, currently averaging around 180 to 200 each week. But WALK Church does more at Schofield Middle School than simply lease space. The church members have turned it into a community by hosting cookouts, tackling improvement projects and starting a food pantry.
 
Ratner’s love for basketball plays a large part in his ministry. WALK Hoops draws a crowd of players, and some of them join Ratner in a competitive league at the Tarkanian Basketball Academy. People from the church regularly come and support the team. For WALK Church as a whole and for Ratner specifically, it’s a chance to connect with people outside of a church service.
 
WALK Church is all about getting out into the city. Their small groups are dubbed “Charge Groups,” and they meet in homes around Las Vegas throughout the week. People are charged to get involved in the areas about which they are passionate. For Neena Ratner and many members, that includes working with children; for others it’s connecting with teens, hotel workers and the list goes on and on. Teenager and varsity basketball player Ana found the way to life in Christ through WALK Church’s involvement with FCA. She had experienced a knee injury and was struggling with depression and the responsibility of taking care of her mother and brother. When the church community surrounded her, it pointed her toward the love of Jesus, and now she is helping others find purpose and life through the gospel.
 
One of the dreams for WALK Church is to have a building that serves as a facility to meet and worship and also provide a gym for people to connect and exercise. It would be a place, says Ratner, “where people can experience freedom on and off the court. He adds, “We think that’d be an awesome opportunity to really engage in an effective way in our city and would allow us to use our domains and passions for the glory of God. We trust that God’s going to provide for us as we take those steps of walking in him.”
 
Every move the Ratners and WALK Church make is about expanding the gospel into the “Sin City” of Las Vegas. They want to plant more churches in the city, meet more needs and give lost, hopeless people a place to find support. They’re learning how to raise up leaders and develop strong teams. In the midst of mesmerizing sights and sounds and the influx of millions of tourists, this church is on a mission to make Jesus known.
 
Heiden recently completed a master of arts degree in church planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. Englewood Baptist Church in Rocky Mount serves as one of WALK Church’s partners in ministry.
 
Heiden and Neena Ratner are church planting missionaries featured in the Week of Prayer for North American Missions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. Learn more about the Ratners at AnnieArmstrong.com.

 

3/8/2018 11:41:59 AM by NAMB Communications | with 0 comments



Danny Wood to be SBC Pastors’ Conf. nominee

March 8 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Danny Wood, pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors’ Conference, according to an announcement by Texas pastor Gregg Matte.
 
Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, told Baptist Press (BP) March 7 Wood “has shined with integrity, love and wisdom” through more than 20 years at his current pastorate.

Danny Wood


“With the Pastors’ Conference and Southern Baptist Convention being in Birmingham for 2019, he is the right choice to lead us in his hometown,” said Matte, a former Pastors’ Conference president. “Most importantly, Dr. Wood understands the joys and challenges we face as pastors and will plan a conference that inspires our hearts with great theology and application.”
 
Current first vice chairman of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) trustees, Wood has served on church staffs in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. Prior to entering ministry, he had eight years of business experience with AT&T Information Systems and South Central Bell in Alabama.
 
This year’s Pastors’ Conference, which will feature messages from key leaders and music and worship, will be June 10-11 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas preceding the SBC’s June 12-13 annual meeting there.
 
Matte called Wood “a man worthy of following, an example in rightly dividing the Word of truth along with shepherding the flock well in the daily tasks of the local church.”
 
“Danny and I have been friends for over a decade,” Matte said. “I’ve spoken in his church and often listen to him via podcasts. He has led his church in Cooperative Program and missions giving to the extent that Shades Mountain is numbered among the top churches in Alabama year after year. While 25 percent of their giving goes outside the walls of their church to missions, they are more than just a generous church – they are also a sending church.
 
“With 35 mission trips a year including 1,300 people, serving as the lead church with NAMB’s Send efforts in New York City, while also having one of the best special needs ministries in their state, along with adopting local schools for ministry, Shades Mountain Baptist with Dr. Wood as their pastor are fulfilling Acts 1:8 to a degree we can all be thankful for,” Matte said.
 
Wood has served as pastor of Shades Mountain since 1997. The church averages 2,350 in Sunday morning worship attendance, according to data from the SBC’s Annual Church Profile (ACP). In 2017, the congregation gave 10 percent of its $8.5 million in undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified channel for supporting missions and ministries in North America and around the world.
 
Shades Mountain has baptized at least 70 people each of the last 10 years, with a high of 116 in 2011, according to ACP data.
 
Wood has served in leadership positions at multiple levels in Southern Baptist life, including the SBC Committee on Committees and Credentials Committee, the Alabama State Board of Missions Executive Committee and as evangelism director for Louisiana’s Concord Union Baptist Association.
 
Before serving at Shades Mountain, Wood pastored First Baptist Church in Ruston, La., and served on staff at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
 
Wood earned a doctor of ministry degree from Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, where he has served as a trustee since 2017. He also holds a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a bachelor of science in business administration from Auburn University.
 
Wood and his wife Janice have an adult daughter.
 
Wood’s nomination is the first to be announced for the Pastors’ Conference.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/8/2018 11:28:54 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Donna Gaines fields questions on racism, ministry

March 8 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Loving your neighbor as yourself is a sure path to overcoming racial prejudice, Southern Baptist women’s minister Donna Gaines said in the March cover article of Today’s Christian Living magazine.
 
“When we love our neighbor, that erases racial prejudice,” Gaines said in the cover story. “If we were all actually doing that, we’d be able to turn the world upside down just like the early disciples.”

Donna Gaines, wife of Southern Baptist Convention president Steve Gaines, was featured on the March cover of Today’s Christian Living magazine.


Expounding on what Jesus described as one of the two greatest commandments, the wife of Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines gave an example from her own life in an interview with Baptist Press (BP) March 7.
 
In 2017, she befriended a 32-year-old African American mother of eight who is now a baptized believer and every Sunday attends Bellevue Baptist Church, where Gaines’ husband is pastor. Gaines and her ARISE2Read ministry have helped the mother find housing and secure a van large enough to transport the mother’s children ranging in age from three months to 14 years. The mother and her oldest child made professions of faith in February after Gaines began influencing their lives.
 
“It’s like the Lord will not let me go [concerning] her, from find her a house to help her with transportation,” Gaines told BP. “And I just told her one day, ‘I said you know what, if I [help] you, I’m going to get into your business; I’m going to treat you like a mom,’” Gaines said, “because she’s younger than my oldest child. And so she has teasingly called me Ma sometimes.”
 
Gaines sees such relationships as the substance of racial reconciliation.
 
“It’s what happens when we stop seeing other people as ‘them,’ and we go into the areas of the city that typically people have been driving around [avoiding],” Gaines told BP. “When those areas become destinations,” she said, disparaging statistics transform from being just numbers to representing “individuals with incredible potential.”
 
Her literacy ministry partners evangelical churches and businesses with local school districts to improve the lives of inner-city children through tutoring, school-based Good New Clubs, and church outreaches to neighborhood families, according to ARISE2Read.org. The site describes the ministry as “working to reach the next generation in breaking the poverty cycle through the [g]ospel and education.”
 
Gaines, who leads the women’s ministry at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis and has also taken several overseas mission trips, describes ARISE as an acronym for A Renewal in Student Education and Evangelism, taken from Psalm 78:6-7.
 
“It is time for the body of Christ to join hands across denominational and racial lines and be the body,” she said in a video at ARISE2Read.org. “Evangelical churches need to partner with each other, and take the light of the Gospel to a world that is perishing. Jesus is our only hope, and He is our greatest hope in saving a child, saving a family, and saving our city and beyond.”
 
Gaines grew up in Memphis, which changed from being called “Memphis the beautiful,” she said, to representing racial turmoil because of the assassination of civil right leader and pastor Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
 
“You don’t live in Memphis and not work toward racial reconciliation,” Today’s Christian Living quoted her. “There’s only one race, the human race. I can’t fathom that you claim the name of Christ and harbor prejudice in your heart.” Loving neighbors enables Christians to see others as people in God’s image and as people for whom He died, she said in the magazine.
 
She told BP that Memphis’ racially contentious past led to spiritual and economic devastation that Christians have the power to heal. She sees no reason for 44 percent of the city’s children to remain in poverty.
 
“I believe that is going to be defeated by the church of the living God coming together across racial and denominational lines, and being the body of Christ and reclaiming our city,” she told BP. “Ultimately Jesus Christ is the unifier. There’s no race, no slave, no free, no Jew, no Gentile in Christ.
 
“We’re all individuals created in His image to know Him and to glorify Him, and it is our command from God to go and make disciples of all nations,” she said. “So when I go into my city, which is my Jerusalem, it’s my responsibility to take the gospel and to help meet the needs of every person in my city.”
 
Southern Baptists can make a difference through prayer and action, she told BP.
 
“We have the cure for what ails the human soul and the brokenness of our world,” she said. “Do we really believe that if [people] die apart from Christ they enter a Christless hell? Do we believe that? Because if we do, we’re not going to be able to sleep at night.”
 
Read earlier story on ARISE2Read.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

3/8/2018 11:16:27 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Transgender teens: New study ‘no surprise,’ says ethicist

March 8 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A medical journal’s finding that the number of transgender teens may be three times greater than previously thought should not shock believers, says a Southern Baptist ethicist, but it should summon them to ministry.
 
“It should come as no surprise that more teens are identifying as transgender or gender-nonconforming,” said Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and author of God and the Transgender Debate.
 
“The question is whether that’s the result of there being greater openness about self-disclosed gender identity conflicts, or whether impressionable teens are tempted to question gender norms as the culture around them encourages,” Walker told Baptist Press in written comments.
 
According to a study published by the journal Pediatrics, 2.7 percent of nearly 81,000 Minnesota teenagers surveyed self-identified as “transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or unsure about [their] gender identity.” Among girls, 3.6 percent self-identified as transgender of gender nonconforming (TGNC). The figure was 1.7 percent among boys.
 
Published in the March issue of Pediatrics, the study entailed University of Minnesota researchers analyzing a 2016 survey of 9th and 11th graders coordinated by the Minnesota state government. TGNC teens, the researchers found, “reported significantly poorer health” than their peers and should be screened “for health risks.”
 
A tandem article in Pediatrics by University of Michigan transgender medicine specialist Daniel Shumer claimed the Minnesota team’s conclusions support “recent findings that reveal that previous estimates of the size of the TGNC population have been underestimated by orders of magnitude.”
 
A University of California Los Angeles study released in 2017, for example, estimated .7 percent of U.S. teens ages 13-17 identify as transgender, CBS News reported.
 
Walker said the study published in Pediatrics “is not without its own problems,” including its apparent assumption students “can discover a supposedly innate, fixed gender identity” even though the researchers also seemed to accept the “premise of gender fluidity.”
 
Other studies show, Walker said, “that 80-95 percent of young persons who express a discordant gender identity end up resolving these conflicts naturally. But allowing, and in some cases, encouraging students to identify as transgender may encourage individuals to pursue ‘transitioning’ services despite the high likelihood that such conflicts might naturally resolve. The tragedy ... is that encouraging gender fluidity ends up becoming self-reinforcing.”
 
The “worst conclusion” readers could draw from the study, Walker said, “is that questioning one’s gender identity leads to personal fulfillment.”
 
“No teenage girl can be a boy or vice versa,” Walker said. “Anyone who says otherwise is relying on ideology, not biology, to make such a claim.”
 
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) professor Owen Strachan highlighted the absurdity of transgenderism-affirming logic by noting the analogous case of Joseph Roman, a Chicago man who in January countered charges he sexually assaulted two 6-year-olds and an 8-year-old by claiming he is “a 9-year-old trapped in an adult’s body,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
 
“Let me put it plainly: if a man can become a woman, then a 38-year-old can become a 9-year-old,” Strachan wrote in a commentary published by MBTS’s Center for Public Theology, which he directs. “If you affirm the former, you must affirm the latter. And affirming these ideas means you are cut off from intellectual coherence.
 
“Our culture is not only opposed at present to the gospel. It is opposed to the very concept of reality itself,” Strachan wrote, adding, “Praise God, we are not left to trust in nonsense like this. If we do battle gender dysphoria, further, we are not left a prisoner of our internal sensations. The Word of God cuts through our confusion and our culture’s ideology.”
 
Walker concluded, “The church needs to do diligent and discerning work in ministering to those who express a genuine gender identity conflict” and distinguishing them “from those who are caught up in a cultural movement that encourages exploration. The church is going to find itself increasingly at odds with prevailing cultural attitudes on this matter.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/8/2018 10:55:13 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



At UCLA, Mohler tackles ‘Ask Anything’ questions

March 8 2018 by Aaron Cline Hanbury, SBTS

One University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) student asked about the Christian understanding of gender and transgenderism. Another asked R. Albert Mohler Jr. why God allows “80 percent” of the world’s population to spend eternity in hell. Yet another student asked about Christians participating in stem cell research and therapies.
 
In all, Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), answered questions as varied as the people in the room.

Photo by Emil Handke, SBTS
At UCLA, 1,000 students hear R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of SBTS, field questions about faith in the context of today’s culture in the second stop of an Ask Anything Tour.


In the second stop on an Ask Anything Tour – a series of question-and-answer forums with Mohler on university campuses around the United States – an estimated 1,000 students crammed into a conference space in UCLA’s Carnesdale Commons, with overflow spaces streaming the session on TV screens. The first stop on the tour was the University of Louisville in February.
 
Each question received a specific answer from Mohler, but every answer came from the same place: historic Christian thought based on the Bible.
 
“The two biggest questions that frame my understanding of where to begin and how to proceed [with important, difficult questions] are ‘Does God exist?’ and ‘Does He speak?’” Mohler told UCLA students March 2.
 
“I believe God does exist, that He’s the self-existent, self-revealing God,” Mohler said. “He exists and He speaks. He speaks to us in nature – the Bible is very clear about that. He speaks to us in scripture definitively. He speaks to us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ savingly.
 
“If I didn’t have that assurance, I wouldn’t dare stand up in front of an audience ... to talk about how we can ask and answer the biggest questions of life. But if indeed we have that confidence that He is there and He is not silent ... we know where to begin.”
 
Mohler returned to the authority of the Bible and its foundational place in Christian theology throughout the evening. For nearly two hours, he addressed wide-ranging questions related to the problem of evil, evolutionary theories and God’s exclusive means of salvation. And for each, Mohler said Christians must begin their reasoning with the Bible.
 
Asked about Christianity’s response to transgenderism and the growing cultural acceptance of non-binary gender identity, Mohler emphasized that only God owns the right to answer that question – and He’s revealed His answer in the scriptures.
 
“I believe [gender] is a fixed identity,” Mohler said. “I believe it’s not fixed by me, certainly; it’s not fixed by the individual. It’s fixed by the Creator. ... Let me clearly state what Albert Mohler thinks about this should be of virtually no consequence.
 
“What God thinks about this, and has revealed about this, is of ultimate consequence. So anything I say about anything, and especially something like this, you should test by scripture, because that’s the only way we can possibly know about what the Creator has instructed us about ourselves.”
 
Mohler’s appeal to the Bible, he made clear, isn’t simplistic and isn’t a call to proof-texting or finding a passage of scripture that fits a reader’s already-formed opinion. Answers to tough questions often require careful biblical study.
 
One student asked Mohler if he “agrees with the apostle Paul” in his descriptions of homosexuality as “degrading” and “detestable.” Mohler affirmed Paul’s assessment. But he said Christians cannot escape that Paul’s “bracing” language applies to all of humanity.
 
“Those words are addressed in the scripture to every single son and daughter of Adam,” Mohler said. “Those words are not uniquely addressed in the entirety of scripture to those who may either struggle with same-sex attraction or be engaged in actual same-sex behavior.”
 
He went on to explain – demonstrating the kind of work that goes into interpreting the Bible – that what is unique in Paul’s treatment of homosexuality is that he uses it as an example of how far sin will take people in distorting God’s design. They will take it even to the point of acting against their very nature. That doesn’t mean, Mohler noted, that homosexuality is in some way a more sinful type of sin.
 
“The struggle and pattern of sin may be different, but the need is the same and the call of obedience is the same,” he said.
 
Other questions from UCLA students ranged from racism in America and issues of bioethics to Mohler’s strategy for reading books.
 
The Ask Anything Tour is a partnership between SBTS, in Louisville, Ky., and Ligonier Ministries, a discipleship organization in Sanford, Fla., founded by the late theologian R.C. Sproul. Future Ask Anything dates at other universities are in the planning stage.
 
The next morning, March 3, Ligonier hosted Truth and Consequences, where Mohler was joined by Ligonier teaching fellows Burk Parsons and Stephen Nichols in teaching Christian students and student ministry leaders about apologetics. The three organized their talks around three theological premises: God is, God speaks and God saves.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Cline Hanbury is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
 

3/8/2018 10:49:24 AM by Aaron Cline Hanbury, SBTS | with 0 comments



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