March 2018

Billy Graham holiday petition climbing toward 150,000 goal

March 8 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A grassroots petition to honor the late Billy Graham with a national holiday had gathered over 106,000 signatures as of March 8 at change.org.
 
Kyle Siler, described in media reports as a 41-year-old heavy-equipment operator from Trinity, N.C., said honoring the evangelist would be good for America.

BP file photo
A sculpture of Billy Graham was presented to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. in 2006. The sculpture was commissioned by Bobby Welch, then-president of the SBC.


“True men of God don’t want recognition,” he said in a March 6 Facebook video posted by Spectrum News of Charlotte. “Yes, this is about Billy Graham, but also if it’s a day that we could recognize a preacher and if everybody could think about the Lord for a day or for a minute, it would be great for this country.”
 
Siler never attended a Graham crusade, he told The News & Observer March 5, but said his late grandfather was a Graham fan. After Siler’s grandfather died in February 2017, the family found among his belongings a large collection of Graham’s books and recordings, the News & Observer wrote.
 
“Mr. Graham preached the [g]ospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history – nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories – through various meetings,” Siler wrote in his petition. “Hundreds of millions more have been reached through television, video, film, and webcasts. Mr. Graham’s counsel was sought by presidents, and his appeal in both the secular and religious arenas is evidenced by the wide range of groups that have honored him, including numerous honorary doctorates from many institutions in the U.S. and abroad.”
 
The petition addressed to President Donald Trump, both houses of Congress, North Carolina State Sen. Jerry Tillman and both federal senators from the state was slow in receiving responses days after its Feb. 27 posting, but has since gained steam. Change.org notes several signatures a minute. Siler’s goal is 150,000 signers.
 
Baptist Press reached out to media representatives of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which indicated a delayed response because of the volume of inquiries since the evangelist’s Feb. 21 death at age 99.
 
The road to the establishment of a national holiday is steep. The creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in 1983 culminated a 15-year journey, and although King was a pastor, the day specifically recognizes his work in the civil rights movement, according to the 1999 Congressional report Federal Holidays: Evolution and Application. Of the 1,100 different national holiday proposals launched since 1870, only 11 have been successful, the report said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

3/8/2018 10:43:19 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



ERLC joins Supreme Court brief for pro-life centers

March 7 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has joined with other organizations in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to protect fully the free speech of pro-life pregnancy centers.


The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and three other groups signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Christian Legal Society (CLS) calling for the high court to review a lower-court decision they say restricts the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. The justices will be considering whether to accept the appeal by a California pregnancy care center.
 
The case, First Resort v. Herrera, involves a San Francisco ordinance that bars a pregnancy center that does not perform or refer for abortions from making “untrue or misleading statements.” The city proposed that First Resort – which operates Support Circle Pregnancy Clinics – violated the law by having a “paid Google search link” that enabled its website to appear in searches for “abortion in San Francisco.”
 
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled against First Resort, saying the pregnancy center’s speech qualifies as commercial, not ideological or religious. Commercial speech receives less protection under the law.
 
The case demonstrates the ongoing effort in recent years by abortion-rights advocates and their law making allies in cities and states to limit the impact of pro-life centers that provide free services to pregnant women. With the aid of ultrasound machines that demonstrate the humanity of the unborn child, pro-life centers are helping women decide to give birth.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press, “Time and again, we see the abortion lobby simultaneously hide from scrutiny and accountability all the while maneuvering to silence any and all dissent that would threaten their industry of death.
 
“In this case, the one-sided demands being made of these clinics are deeply un-American and wrong,” Moore said in written comments. “I am hopeful the court will act in a manner that protects freedom instead of forcing organizations to promote the predatory industry seeking to exploit the very women they are seeking to serve.”
 
The Supreme Court’s consideration of whether to rule on First Resort’s appeal comes as the justices prepare for oral arguments in a similar case. The high court will hear arguments March 20 in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, which involves a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers essentially to publicize abortion services by posting notices about public programs that offer the procedures for free or at little cost.
 
In the brief filed March 2, the ERLC joined CLS and its allies in calling for the Supreme Court to review and rule in the First Resort case to demonstrate that “speech that counsels women on alternatives to abortion ... should receive full First Amendment protection, not the relaxed form governing commercial speech.” The brief encourages the justices to grant review or hold the appeal while the court awaits its own decision in the NIFLA case.
 
The brief says the high court needs to clear up confusion in the lower courts on the definition of commercial speech. The Ninth Circuit has adopted the broadest definition of commercial speech, the brief says.
 
By its “breathtaking expansion” of commercial speech, the Ninth Circuit’s decision conflicts not only with other appellate circuits but previous high court opinions as well, according to the brief. The Ninth Circuit “contravenes several of [the Supreme] Court’s decisions concerning the speech rights of churches and charitable organizations,” the brief says. “The Ninth Circuit’s standard leads to treating ideological speech, at the core of the First Amendment, as commercial speech.”
 
The high court “has long protected churches and religious outreach from being deemed commercial enterprises,” according to the brief.
 
First Resort’s speech is not commercial, despite the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, just because its work includes services that have “monetary value,” the brief says. “A wide range of nonprofit organizations and ministries provide free goods or services that have ’monetary value.’ Many of these organizations operate directly in or through churches; others have a religious affiliation; still others are secular.”
 
The brief says, “Today it is pro-life pregnancy counseling centers that hostile government officials aim to restrict, in San Francisco and elsewhere. Tomorrow it may be immigrant or refugee-services centers in states or localities hostile to immigration, or food pantries or homeless shelters in comfortable suburban neighborhoods.”
 
In addition to the ERLC, Democrats for Life of America, the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod signed on to the CLS brief.
 
In addition to California, Illinois and Hawaii have enacted laws similar to the one the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to in the NIFLA case.
 
San Francisco is not the only city to regulate pro-life pregnancy centers. Some local governments have mandated pro-life centers post signs, for instance, that say they do not provide abortions or contraceptives or make referrals for the services. Courts have invalidated all or most of such requirements in Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Montgomery County, Md.; and New York City.
 
The ERLC aids gospel-focused pregnancy centers through its Psalm 139 Project, which provides funds to purchase and place ultrasound machines in such centers. The centers typically provide a variety of free services, including medical consultations, baby clothing and diapers, job training, mentoring programs and prenatal and parenting classes.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

3/7/2018 10:03:53 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



New VBS resource helps churches ‘go, tell’ worldwide

March 7 2018 by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources

Packing for your next mission trip may have just gotten a whole lot easier.
 
LifeWay Christian Resources has produced a new Vacation Bible School (VBS) program called “Go & Tell Kids” to serve as a gospel presentation tool that’s easy to transport to the mission field and works anywhere.

Photo by Ernestina Gonzalez, LifeWay
Three dozen children professed faith in Christ through LifeWay’s “Saddle Ridge Ranch” Vacation Bible School program in rural Mexico in 2014.


“‘Go & Tell Kids’ is themeless, meaning people don’t have to drag a bunch of stuff with them halfway around the world, and it’s stripped of uniquely American cultural references,” said Melita Thomas, VBS and kids ministry specialist at LifeWay. “It’s relevant to kids in any culture and setting.”
 
The idea came from churches who were already adapting LifeWay’s VBS for the mission field.
 
“Churches who were taking VBS overseas were telling us they needed content that begins with the very basics of Christianity for kids with absolutely no Bible foundation,” Thomas said. “These churches are serving kids who don’t know who God is, much less that He has a Son – and that through the Son, God has a relationship with people.”
 
Ernestina Gonzalez, an editor for LifeWay Global, has been taking VBS resources outside the U.S. for the past four years. She remembers the impact of one early trip in particular.
 
“I traveled to Mexico with my two boys in 2014,” she said. “We saved up money for a year to make our dream possible.”
 
Gonzalez took the VBS theme “Saddle Ridge Ranch” to a rural community in Tamasopo, Mexico. The first day, only six children showed up.
 
“Without being discouraged, we ran it as if we had hundreds of students,” she said. “The next day, 36 students came. The children from the first day enjoyed the stories, crafts, music, games and snacks so much, they invited everyone at their school.”
 
Gonzalez was overjoyed when all 36 students made professions of faith in Christ at the end of the VBS experience.
 
“We couldn’t have been happier,” she recalled. “We reached our goal of taking the gospel to those who hadn’t heard it. It was just us, God’s love for those seeking Him, and a VBS kit.”
 
LifeWay hopes “Go & Tell Kids” will capture more stories like Gozalez’s by focusing on the basics of the Gospel narrative.
 
“Go & Tell Kids” begins with the story of creation and traces God’s redemptive plan to Christ’s resurrection and the Great Commission. The content is divided into five 30-minute Bible study sessions for children and five 30-minute sessions for preschoolers. The entire program can fit inside an airport carry-on bag.
 
The “Go & Tell Kids” kit comes with group visuals and teaching plans preloaded on a flash drive that also contains more than 100 game ideas, crafts, coloring pages, director’s helps and large group presentation ideas and skits. It comes packaged in a backpack with extra room for transporting supplies to the mission field. “Go & Tell Kids” can also be purchased as a purely digital resource from LifeWay.com.
 
“We tried to create a resource to really fit the mission trip context,” Thomas said. “You can take “Go & Tell Kids” to Africa and into the rainforest or to a Backyard Bible Club. It’s the core of the Gospel that fits neatly into a suitcase. It doesn’t get any more basic than this.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Wilson is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
 

3/7/2018 10:02:04 AM by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



‘Flywheel’ began Kendrick brothers’ filmmaking ascent

March 7 2018 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

Evangelicals were introduced to a new level of faith-based filmmaking 15 years ago when brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick released “Flywheel,” a $20,000-budget film using church members as the cast and production crew to convey biblical truth.

Photo courtesy of Kendrick Brothers
Alex and Stephen Kendrick, two brothers from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., used their interest in storytelling through film to produce “Flywheel” 15 years ago, conveying biblical truth about integrity through a plot based on a used car salesman.


“We’re just amazed at what the Lord’s done with it,” Alex Kendrick told Baptist Press (BP).
 
The brothers, who served on staff at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., went on to produce “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” “Courageous” and “War Room.” They’re still astonished at how God used their meager skills and tools in Flywheel to change countless lives.
 
Flywheel tells the fictional story of a dishonest used car salesman who comes to know Christ and changes the way he operates his business, risking financial ruin to uphold his integrity.
 
The brothers grew up in the 1980s experimenting with editing between their camcorder and VCR to tell silly stories around the neighborhood, Kendrick recounted. “We’d do dangerous stunts – falling over fences and wrecking bicycles or jumping down into a ditch or something.
 
“We enjoyed that, but we slowly developed a knack for learning how to do basic shooting and editing and storytelling,” Kendrick said. “As we grew older and the Lord began calling us into ministry, that love for telling stories was always with us.”
 
When they arrived at Sherwood in the early 2000s, Kendrick could see a movie in his head, but it was “so much harder to pull off a two-hour feature-length story than we ever imagined.”
 
“My first concept was not surprisingly something with a lot of action, maybe some special effects,” Kendrick told BP. “It included a plot where a character asks God to reveal Himself to him and the Lord takes him back in time and he sees a piece of the biblical time when Jesus was with His disciples, and he sees Jesus at a distance doing some of His miracles, and then he comes forward in time as if in a coma.
 
“The more I prayed about it, the more the Lord clearly said, ‘Alex, this is your idea, not My idea.’ Plus, I don’t think it would have been shootable at the stage we were at. We did not have film degrees. We did not have prior professional experience shooting anything other than our little videos,” Kendrick said.
 
Sherwood’s pastor, Michael Catt, told the brothers they could attempt a movie if it didn’t hinder their staff responsibilities. And God made it clear to Kendrick that the movie should be about lordship.

Photo courtesy of Kendrick Brothers
After “Flywheel,” Alex and Stephen Kendrick went on to produce “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” “Courageous” and “War Room.” They’re still astonished at how God used their meager skills and tools to change countless lives with their first offering.


“At the time, I was buying a used minivan for my growing family, and when I went through that process of buying the minivan at the lot that we ended up shooting the movie at, that’s when it hit me that that could be the setting for a story about lordship,” Kendrick said. “So that developed into the Flywheel plot, which was at a shootable level, meaning there were no special effects, there were no explosions or car chase scenes or anything like that.”
 
The 2003 film, named for an auto engine key component, was mostly dramatic, with the story captivating audiences more than the film quality.
 
“I remember He humbled me so quickly because the movie I saw in my mind was way better than what I was looking at on the monitor,” Kendrick said. “I used to criticize cheesy Christian movies, thinking I could do so much better, until I tried to make one and I learned just how hard it is to do it effectively.
 
“But we did bathe that process in prayer, and the Lord – in spite of our meager skill level – still used it, and it sold over a million DVDs worldwide in numerous languages.”
 
Flywheel holds a special place in the Kendrick brothers’ hearts, he said, because God brought more fruit from it than they imagined. Used car lots across the nation give the movie when someone buys a car because that’s the standard of integrity they want to be known for, Kendrick said.
 
A company in Dalton, Ga., the carpet capital of the world, has a group of businessmen who get together and call themselves the Flywheel group because they challenge each other to operate at that level of integrity and lordship, he said.
 
Christian television networks still air Flywheel, which surprises Kendrick because the production quality is not in today’s high-definition tech standard.
 
“It’s standard definition, and there’s nothing visually impressive about Flywheel at all. If anything, I think the story grabs people’s hearts, and of course there’s truth in the movie, but it’s even hard for us to watch it because it was shot with a standard definition camera at 30 frames a second,” Kendrick said.
 
Movie critic Phil Boatwright, whose columns are carried by Baptist Press, said there’s always a spirit of sincerity in the Kendrick brothers’ productions. “One gets the impression this is their ministry, while at the same time understanding the No. 1 rule of cinematic storytelling – story must come first,” Boatwright said.

Photo courtesy of Kendrick Brothers
“Flywheel” tells the fictional story of a dishonest used car salesman who comes to know Christ and changes the way he operates his business, risking financial ruin to uphold his integrity. The film had a budget of only $20,000 and used church members as the cast and production crew but went on to sell more than 1 million DVDs worldwide.


Michael Foust, a movie critic who hosts a family life podcast for Heirloom Audio, said the impact the Kendrick brothers have had on faith-based films cannot be overstated.
 
“They’ve been the Lewis and Clark of the genre. No, they weren’t the first to make faith movies, but they did it better than anyone who came before – and Hollywood noticed. They were trailblazers who made first-class movies on shoestring budgets,” Foust told BP.
 
“Even more impressive, the Kendricks have continued to improve on their craft. War Room was better than Courageous, which was better than Fireproof, which was better than Facing the Giants, which was better than Flywheel.
 
“Remember: War Room was the No. 1 movie at the box office in its second weekend in 2015,” Foust noted. “That’s an accomplishment that many well-known Hollywood directors haven’t achieved. The Kendricks also have been models of humility, giving all credit to God while working to help raise up the next generation of filmmakers.”
 
Beginning with Fireproof, the Kendrick brothers – with an eye toward replicating their impact – employed a few young filmmakers who went on to make their own films. The Erwin brothers left the Courageous set and made “October Baby,” “Mom’s Night Out” and now “I Can Only Imagine.” For War Room, the Kendrick brothers enlisted 20 Christian college film students who were studying the craft and “hungry to learn.”
 
Alex and Stephen Kendrick were the executive producers for “Like Arrows,” a Family Life production about biblical parenting set for theaters May 1 and 3. The brothers plan to shoot their next film, with an undisclosed theme, this spring and summer.
 
“The power of a story has always impacted culture,” Kendrick told BP. “… Jesus told parables as the ramp-up to share truth. That’s the way we view our movies. We want each of our films to draw the viewer to a closer walk with the Lord.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)
 

3/7/2018 10:01:02 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



TRUSTEES: GuideStone’s 2018 year of ‘new beginnings’

March 7 2018 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources

This year’s 100th anniversary of the founding of GuideStone Financial Resources will be a time to glance to the past but remain focused on the ministry’s future, GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins told trustees during their Feb. 26-27 meeting in Dallas.

GuideStone photo
John R. Morris, left, retired banking president from North Carolina, and Renée A. Trewick, a vice president at Marsh USA in New York City, are the new trustee chair and vice chair, respectively, for GuideStone Financial Resources, joined by GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins.


Each year Hawkins frames the upcoming 12 months with a verse of scripture and a theme, with 2018 being the Year of New Beginnings, drawn from Ruth 1:16-17.
 
In addition to the annual theme, trustees elected a new board chair and vice chair and heard reports from the Southern Baptist entity’s various ministry areas. Trustees also toured the location of GuideStone’s new offices, to which the ministry will relocate in late summer.
 

New officers

John R. Morris of North Carolina, a retired bank president who has served as his church’s chairman of deacons, was elected trustee chairman, having completed a term as vice chair. A trustee since 2012, Morris has served on the board’s budget subcommittee, administrative policy committee and executive committee. He holds a graduate degree from and has served as an instructor with the American Institute of Banking.
 
Renée A. Trewick, a vice president responsible for risk management at Marsh USA in New York City, was elected trustee vice chair. She is active in her church, serving as stewardship director and treasurer. A trustee since 2014, Trewick has served on the board’s administrative policy committee. She holds degrees in finance/accounting and information systems.
 
“We have been blessed throughout our history with trustee boards that have sought to come alongside us with the right mix of churchmanship and business and fiduciary knowledge,” Hawkins said. “I believe John and Renée continue that tradition. I cannot imagine two better people to lead our board at this point in our history.”
 

Centennial anniversary

Hawkins told trustees he believes part of his stewardship of GuideStone is remaining true to founder William Lunsford’s clarion call in 1918.
 
“We are stewards of this ministry for a small snapshot in time until we pass it on,” Hawkins said. “As we enter this second century of service, we choose to give a fleeting glance to the past and a focused gaze on the future. We are reminded, as [the apostle] Paul notes in Colossians, that we have received this ministry from the Lord. We are stewards of this important ministry.”
 
Hawkins quoted to trustees what Lunsford said at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in 1918: “Give yourselves wholeheartedly to the work. We will stand back of you. If you fall in the work, we will care for you; if you die, we will not allow your family to suffer. If you grow old in the work, we will comfort you in your declining years.”
 
“If William Lunsford could see the ministry we are today,” Hawkins said, “we believe he would be pleased with our stewardship in this time.”
 

Retirement & investments

Chief Operating Officer John R. Jones reported on GuideStone’s work throughout 2017, noting that organizational assets exceeded $15 billion for the first time in 2017, growing 14.2 percent during the year. Jones commented that GuideStone Funds performed well against their peers in 2017 and praised the work of the investments team on behalf of retirement plan participants.
 
Total active retirement plan accounts continued to grow in 2017, totaling 186,000 participant accounts, up 2.2 percent year-over-year.
 
Additionally, total retirement and investment contributions exceeded $1 billion, an increase of 11.1 percent over 2016.
 
“For the first time in history, we garnered more than $1 billion in new assets under management,” Jones said, emphasizing the number was based on contributions, not market gains. GuideStone investments, including institutional and intermediary platforms, accounted for a little over one-third of that gain.
 

Insurance

Insurance continued to be a focus for GuideStone in 2017, Jones said. Medical plans enrollment declined slightly in 2017 due to the continued impacts of the Affordable Care Act and uncertainty in the medical coverage marketplace. Jones said the No. 1 goal for GuideStone in health care in 2018 includes offering an additional health care option that will provide lower premiums. An announcement on specifics regarding that option will come later in 2018.
 
For the property and casualty ministry area, the alliance with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company continues to benefit GuideStone and Southern Baptist churches. At the end of 2017, GuideStone had 1,146 accounts with total bound premiums of $23.9 million. Sales efforts resulted in $3.9 million in new coverage. GuideStone was able to retain 97 percent of its insured churches and ministries from 2016 to 2017.
 

Mission:Dignity

Mission:Dignity had its best year ever, raising nearly $7.7 million in gifts to the GuideStone ministry that provides financial assistance to retired Southern Baptist pastors, workers and, in most cases, their widows. The gifts reflect a 2.3 percent increase over 2016, Jones reported. Nearly 2,100 new donors gave first-time gifts to the ministry during 2017, which saw a record $1.1 million in gifts in December alone, as well as more than $125,000 given during the “Giving Tuesday” emphasis in November. That amount was propelled by $64,000 in matching funds provided by five generous donors.
 
“Mission:Dignity is truly the heart of GuideStone,” Jones told trustees.
 
GuideStone continues to seek people eligible to receive assistance from the ministry. Pastors, directors of missions and others who know a retired Southern Baptist minister or his widow in need can refer them to Mission:Dignity by calling 1-877-888-9409 or by visiting MissionDignity.org and choosing the “Refer Someone in Need” link on the right-hand side of the page.
 

Budget

Trustees approved an operating budget for 2018 that reflects a 1.1 percent increase over the 2017 budget, which itself was reduced approximately 10 percent from 2016. Jones emphasized that a core goal at GuideStone is to aggressively manage costs, which employees at all levels of the ministry are working diligently to achieve.
 
Jones said the move this summer from GuideStone’s longtime headquarters in Dallas’ Uptown neighborhood to new rented space in North Dallas’ Pinnacle Tower should yield more than $3 million annually in budget savings.
 

Farewells

GuideStone trustees thanked six of their members upon the conclusion of their terms of service on the board: Tom Evans (Oklahoma), Jim Law (Georgia), Pete Livingston (Missouri), David McMillan (Tennessee), O’Neal Miller (South Carolina) and Michael Rochelle (Nevada). Six new trustees will be elected at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 12-13 in Dallas.
 
Trustees will meet again in July in New York City.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

3/7/2018 9:38:08 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments



ChinaAid: Government likely killed Christian lawyer

March 7 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Religious freedom advocates are calling for an investigation into the mysterious death of noted Christian human rights attorney Li Baiguang, who died Feb. 26 in a Chinese military hospital after recent good health.

ChinaAid photo
Li Baiguang, second from left, is shown with former President George W. Bush, whom ChinaAid said met with Li three times to encourage the attorney’s courageous work.


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) likely killed 49-year-old Li, ChinaAid President Bob Fu said in a Feb. 26 news release, the same day physicians in China’s eastern Jiangsu province said Li died of internal bleeding from liver problems while seeking medical treatment for stomach pain.
 
Just 18 days earlier, Li had attended in seemingly good health the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, joined by Fu and a delegation of Chinese human rights activists. The circumstances of Li’s death indicate he was murdered by the CCP he often opposed, ChinaAid declared in its news release, noting the CCP’s history of abuse of Li and others advocating for religious freedom and justice.
 
“He was treated violently last year and was threatened a number of times recently by the Chinese regime,” Fu said. “He has been a bold and compassionate human rights lawyer, always ready in defense of the persecuted and vulnerable. Like in the sudden death of [Nobel Peace Prize laureate] Dr. Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese regime should be held totally accountable.”
 
China had released no additional details of Li’s death since Feb. 26, a ChinaAid representative told Baptist Press March 2. Li received death threats as recently as November 2017, ChinaAid reported at that time.
 
In October 2017, Li had suffered injuries while allegedly being beaten by plainclothes security agents, the Associated Press (AP) reported. According to Fu’s account, Li “was kidnapped by Chinese officials in Zhejiang province, beaten and forced to leave the area on the threat of dismemberment for defending farmers whose land was illegally taken by the government.”
 
William Nee, whom the AP identified as a China researcher for Amnesty International, said the injuries could have contributed to Li’s death.
 
“We do not know for certain whether those injuries may have contributed to his declining health, but the Chinese government should, as a party to the U.N. convention against torture, conduct a prompt and impartial investigation to determine whether those injuries may have played a role in his untimely death,” the AP quoted Nee as saying Feb. 26. “The government has the obligation to ensure that lawyers can carry out their professional duties without fear of intimidation or interference, and without being identified with their clients and causes.”
 
ChinaAid praised Li as a tireless advocate on behalf of the oppressed.
 
“Li’s bravery knew no bounds, and he steadfastly defended the oppressed despite death threats made against him,” ChinaAid said. Li, who received the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy for his efforts to advance human rights and religious freedom in China, has represented numerous illegally arrested Chinese pastors, ChinaAid said.
 
An employee of No. 81 People’s Liberation Army Hospital in Jiangsu province where Li died denied knowing the attorney, the AP reported Feb. 26.
 
“I do not know who this person is,” the AP quoted the hospital employee as saying, describing him as a propagandist surnamed Yang, who said the details of Li’s death are a “private matter.”
 
Fu and others encouraged the international community to seek answers.
 
“The whole world should demand that the Chinese government give a full, independent, and transparent account on what caused Dr. Li’s sudden death,” Fu said. “ChinaAid calls on the international community and leaders of the free world to speak out against Li’s death and call China to an account for its abusive and murderous actions so that no other person will suffer a similar fate.”
 
Others calling for an investigation include U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
 
China has a history of neglecting the health of human rights activists and of declaring dead those who were previously healthy, ChinaAid said, noting the cases of Nobel laureate Xiaobo, pro-Democracy activist and Christian Yang Tianshui, and prisoner of conscience Peng Ming.
 
In January, Fu said religious freedom in communist China was at its harshest in 50 years and was “increasingly deteriorating” under Chinese President Xi Jinping.
 
Religious freedom watchdog group Open Doors listed China as 43rd on its 2018 watch list of the 50 places where it is hardest for Christians to live. An estimated 97 million of China’s 1.4 billion people are Christians in the country that is mostly atheistic, Open Doors said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

3/7/2018 9:03:35 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Billy Graham funeral attendees reflect, marvel

March 6 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

“Billy Graham’s greatest crusade.” His “largest crusade.” “One of the most meaningful and profound moments in my life.” Those were among ways the late evangelist’s funeral was described by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity presidents and former SBC presidents in attendance.
 
Additionally, they told Baptist Press (BP) via email that Graham’s March 2 funeral has opened doors for personal evangelistic conversations and noted the array of Christian and world leaders present.

Photo by Bob Carey
Ronnie Floyd, bottom left, said Billy Graham’s funeral “brought together Christians from all over the theological landscape.”


Some 2,300 invited guests attended the funeral, which was held in a revival tent at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. Graham, who preached in person to more than 210 million people, died Feb. 21 at age 99.
 

‘His largest crusade’

SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page said even though it was Graham’s funeral, “the primary subject and focus of the day was the Lord Jesus Christ.”
 
“I was overjoyed to be there,” Page said, and “then to find out the vast coverage that the funeral received in both secular and Christian outlets. A BGEA [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association] staffer told me that this would be his largest crusade. So many gospel seeds were planted Friday. I thank the Lord for that fact.”
 
During the service, Graham’s son Franklin presented the gospel message and told listeners “there would be no better time than at Billy Graham’s funeral” to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. The BGEA told BP statistics are not available yet regarding response to Franklin Graham’s message.
 
Former SBC President Ronnie Floyd said a friend with the Billy Graham Library told him that “with 497 media outlets present,” the memorial service was “Mr. Graham’s greatest crusade.”
 
In addition to evangelism at the funeral, “Gospel conversations at all levels have happened ... because of Billy Graham’s legacy,” said Floyd, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
 
Former SBC President James Merritt said attending Graham’s funeral occasioned an evangelistic conversation with a waitress the previous evening.
 
“I told her that we were in town for the Billy Graham funeral and got to share with her about the Lord Thursday night over dinner,” said Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.
 

‘Moved to tears’

Former SBC President Jack Graham called the funeral service “a taste of what Heaven will be like,” adding he and his wife Deb “were moved to tears as the children of Billy and Ruth Graham shared personal reflections of their parents, and as Franklin Graham shared the gospel powerfully.”
 
“Billy’s granddaughter Cissie Graham Lynch told me after the service that the great evangelist would have said ‘too much Billy’ regarding the funeral,” said Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, “but in reality, it was all about Billy’s Savior and Lord. God’s man was honored appropriately and his life celebrated but, above all, Jesus was exalted.
 
“Deb and I have shared a lifetime of wonderful memories, but this was truly one of the best days of our lives,” Graham said.
 
LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer expressed similar sentiments.
 
“Billy Graham’s funeral was a testament to the man who always pointed others to Christ,” Rainer said. “I was totally amazed by the tributes of each of his children. We were given glimpses into the personal life of Billy Graham that were absolutely amazing. One of his children told us without hesitation the man we saw in public was the same man they saw at home.”
 
Rainer, founding dean of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, added, “Unequivocally, going to his funeral was one of the most meaningful and profound moments of my life.”
 
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley said he appreciated “the number of media members, celebrities and others who closed remarks about” Graham surrounding his funeral “by saying something like, ‘Billy Graham would want you to know you can find salvation and life change in Jesus right now.’”
 
“I have never,” Kelley said, “heard so much gospel from so many ‘non-professionals.’”
 

‘So many ... leaders’

Rainer noted opportunities at Graham’s funeral “to connect with many Christian leaders.”
 
“I have never been anywhere where so many of these leaders were gathered in one place,” Rainer said. Their “presence was a tribute to the incalculable influence of Billy Graham.”
 
Floyd recalled talking at the funeral with Chick-fil-A President and CEO Dan Cathy, “pastors from outside our nation” and a man “who told Billy Graham to plan his funeral because God wanted to use it one day in a great way.”
 
“His funeral brought together Christians from all over the theological landscape,” Floyd said. “While groups outside and within even our own denomination wrestle over secondary issues theologically, ... on this day none of this seemed to matter at all. Dr. Graham’s faithfulness to believing the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus is the only way to salvation and that the evangelization of the entire world is our priority, is what brought us each together on this day.”
 
Merritt recalled an occasion seven years ago when he visited Graham and asked him, “If you could gather the whole church together and could say one thing, what would it be?”
 
In response, Merritt recalled, “the old Billy Graham came to life with those blue eyes flashing and he pointed that long finger in the air” and said, “James, I would say to the church, ‘Stay true to the Word!’”
 
Jack Graham, who sat near President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence at the funeral, said he “was amazed to witness our nation’s leaders being fully engaged in singing the great hymns of faith and listening to every word spoken regarding Billy, and the strong testimonies of the gospel.”
 

‘What a preacher is supposed to be’

Attendees said they departed thinking of Graham’s legacy.
 
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson said, “Billy Graham has established the high-water mark for the uncompromised preaching of the gospel of salvation from a platform of moral godliness and humility. The message of his memorial service was a clear testimony to his remarkable life. Doctrinal purity, prophetic proclamation and a platform of righteousness serve as a reminder to us all of what a preacher is supposed to be.”
 
Kelley said Graham “showed us the fields really are ‘white unto harvest,’ having a significant public response to the gospel wherever he went, even when such a response was unexpected.
 
“He showed us the power of focus, focus, focus on evangelism, using every available means to share the gospel, including new technologies as they emerged over his lifetime,” Kelley, who studies evangelism, said. “The least noticed aspect of his evangelism strategy were the massive mobilization for prayer and personal evangelism that were incorporated into every crusade, the unprecedented efforts to follow up with those making professions of faith and the continuous teaching of evangelism and evangelists through the years.”
 
Two days after the funeral, Kelley’s experience preaching at a Virginia church suggested others had Graham’s legacy on their minds too.
 
“In each service I mentioned attending the Billy Graham funeral,” Kelley said. “After each service one or more people came to tell me how they or a family member came to Christ through a Billy Graham event. Their memories were very vivid. Their gratitude was profound.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/6/2018 9:47:29 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The end of international adoption?

March 6 2018 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD Digital

New regulations and fees announced by the U.S. State Department in February could spell the end of intercountry adoptions in the United States, according to adoption advocates.
 
The changes, which went into effect Feb. 15, include a new $500 monitoring and oversight fee for adoptive families, as well as an increase in the cost of accreditation for adoption agencies. Most agencies, or adoption service providers (ASPs), believe their costs to attain accreditation every four years will triple under the new schedule of fees.
 
But the costs are not the main concern, according to Daniel Nehrbass, president of Nightlight Christian Adoptions. In requiring the new fees, he said, adoption agencies are being forced to buy the rope that will be used to hang them.
 
“We aren’t going to be doing fewer adoptions [next year] because of $500,” Nehrbass said. “We will do fewer adoptions next year because of what the money is for.”
 
The additional dollars will fund a newly established accrediting organization called the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME), tasked with increasing monitoring and investigations of ASPs. The State Department argues that beefed up oversight is necessary to protect children and families.
 
The previous accrediting entity, the Council on Accreditation (COA), which had a significantly smaller budget and staff and used volunteers from ASPs to accomplish its work, withdrew late last year, citing differences with the State Department.
 
Some believe those differences were related to pressure from the State Department to take unwarranted adverse action against ASPs due to fears that intercountry adoption is riddled with corruption and abuse.
 
A growing group of ASPs and adoption advocates have contended IAAME does not qualify as a legal accrediting agency. A coalition of more than 80 agencies, called Save Adoptions, recently filed a complaint with the State Department’s inspector general claiming IAAME is unfit to operate under Hague Convention requirements. The investigation is ongoing.
 
Nehrbass conducted a straw poll of licensed ASPs after the February announcement. Of the 60 that responded, nearly half said they were uncertain about their future or planned to stop offering international adoptions due to regulations.
 
Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), believes that without significant changes, the current posture of the State Department toward ASPs will soon bring about the end of international adoption. He said that within the past three years, efforts to heavily regulate international adoption by the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) have been “devoid of any kind of advocacy for intercountry adoption,” adding, “We have seen an absolute unwillingness to sit down with the [adoption] community.”
 
In September 2016, OCI chief Trish Maskew proposed a number of stricter regulations for intercountry adoptions. The regulations – which were opposed by the Barack Obama-era Small Business Administration, COA, and a group of more than 80 adoption agencies who wrote a letter to then-Secretary of State John Kerry asking they be halted – did not go into effect because of the election of President Donald Trump. But Johnson said in the last year or so he has seen “an effort to backdoor those failed regulations into policies.”
 
The State Department’s announcement could be the last straw for a dwindling industry. Intercountry adoptions have continued a 13-year plummet from 22,884 children adopted by U.S. families in 2004 to an estimated 4,600 children in 2017, a nearly 80 percent drop. The number of licensed ASPs is also in decline, from more than 200 a decade ago to less than 160 now.
 
Maskew and others claim intercountry adoption is in decline due to corruption and abuse, necessitating stronger regulations. In recent decades, South Korea, Romania, Guatemala, China, Kazakhstan and Russia have banned or cut back on international adoption, often citing cases of child abuse. In January, Ethiopia joined the list, banning all adoptions of Ethiopian-born children by foreigners.
 
But Johnson disputed that claim, arguing corruption and abuse is incredibly rare, and politics and social pressure are most often to blame for a country shutting its doors to adoption. Research by two economists at Grinnell College in Iowa supported that claim, showing, for example, that Russia ended U.S. adoptions in 2012 two weeks after the United States sanctioned some of its officials.
 
Johnson, Nehrbass and others are lobbying Congress and the White House to step in and replace Maskew, reinstate COA instead of IAAME for accreditation, and move toward policies that further ethical practices without shuttering intercountry adoptions for Americans.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD Digital, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
 

3/6/2018 9:44:30 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD Digital | with 0 comments



N.C. roots part of Vermont church plant

March 6 2018 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Part of a series
 
For the moment, an office building on Main Street in Vergennes, Vt., is empty, dusty and floored in tattered old carpet.

BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Brandon Mendez, left, and Brett Cody are partnering on a new church plant in Vergennes, Vt. Mendez is from the Canton, N.C., area. Cody is a Texas native who served as pastor of Newton Grove Baptist Church in Newton Grove, N.C., before heading to Whiting Community Church, where he serves as pastor.


But the two men showing it off are happy about it: Some time in 2018 – maybe by Easter – this rented space will become home for a new church.
 
Brett Cody is pastor of Whiting Community Church in Whiting, Vt. Brandon Mendez, newly arrived from the Canton, N.C., area is associate pastor, but his main assignment will be launching the new church. Vergennes is about a 30-minute drive from Whiting.
 
Cody is a Texas native but he also has a North Carolina past. After getting an undergraduate degree in music in Texas, he moved to North Carolina in 2001 to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He met his future wife, Sabrina, there. After the two of them graduated in 2006, he started his first pastorate at Newton Grove Baptist Church in Newton Grove, N.C.
 
A vision-focused missions trip to Quebec got Cody wondering about planting a church, but his prayers were answered with no; stay in the pastorate.
 
But three-and-a-half years ago – when word came about a pastorate in Vermont where new churches were desperately needed – a new call clicked.
 
The Whiting church has just 62 members, but Cody told them, “If I’m your pastor, we will be a Great Commission, gospel-centered church. We want to be a church planting church.”
 
Mendez is serving a residency program with the Whiting church as members adjust to him and Mendez adjusts to life in Vermont. Mendez most recently served as youth pastor of Crestview Baptist Church in Canton, N.C., and he served six years as pastor of Old River Baptist Church in Bethel, N.C.
 
A missions vision trip to Vermont led by Lyandon Warren led to a call to serve there. Mendez said he was praying some of his Crestview youth would answer a call to missions, but “God said, ‘What about you? Are you willing to go to Vermont?’”
 
The Whiting church is studying how to best support the new church plant, but plans call for some of their members to become members – at least temporarily – of the new church in Vergennes, a gutsy commitment for a 62-member congregation.
 
Another building in a nearby town was originally chosen, but that possibility went away, so the Vergennes location was selected.
 
As the two men look at their new but worn building, they agree that teams of volunteers from North Carolina will again be needed. But they’re already seeing that new church, plus others around the county.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Vermont is a unique mission field, but North Carolina Baptists are helping increase the gospel influence in this New England state. Visit BRnow.org for more stories and look for stories in our Biblical Recorder print edition.)
 
Related articles:
Chris Autry carries the gospel to Barre, Vermont
Battling darkness in southeastern Vermont
N.C. Baptists make a difference in Vermont
A ‘strong and healthy church’ in Pownal, Vt.
Men with N.C. roots bond in Vermont
 

3/6/2018 9:41:04 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 1 comments



ERLC, Village Church to co-host conference in Dallas

March 6 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and The Village Church will co-host a conference on the church’s gospel engagement with the world just prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting this year in Dallas.


The two-day event – titled “The Gospel and the Future of the Church” – will be held the weekend before the SBC’s June 12-13 gathering in Dallas. The pre-conference, held in partnership with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), will be June 8-9 at The Village Church’s Flower Mound campus in metro Dallas..
 
The pre-conference will focus on how the gospel of Jesus is to form the church’s ministries and outreach to the world. The speakers will address such issues as preaching, evangelism, discipleship, church planting, missions, sexuality and cultural engagement.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press (BP) the ERLC is “looking forward to equipping our Southern Baptist pastors, leaders and churches on what’s happening in the world around us and how we can engage the culture with the way of the cross.”
 
“With so many issues before us, this time together promises to be beneficial in shoring up a faithful witness for confusing times,” he said in written comments.
 
The Village Church is excited to partner with the ERLC and SBTS in the event, said JT English, pastor, The Village Church Institute.
 
“At The Village, we are passionate about training and sending disciples of Christ to participate in the Great Commission,” English said in a written statement for BP. “At the center of the Great Commission is the local church, and we are eager to consider how local churches can faithfully participate in the mission of God in the days ahead.”
 
In addition to Moore and English, the speakers will include:

  • Matt Chandler, lead pastor, The Village Church.
  • Steve Gaines, SBC president, and senior pastor, Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis.
  • R. Albert Mohler, president, SBTS.
  • Kevin Ezell, president, the SBC’s North American Mission Board.
  • Danny Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
  • Frank Page, president, SBC Executive Committee.
  • J.D. Greear, pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh/Durham, N.C.
  • Jen Wilkin, author and Bible teacher.
  • Trillia Newbell, author and the ERLC’s director of community outreach.
  • Susie Hawkins, author and speaker.
  • Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor, Anacostia River Church, Washington, D.C.
  • Juan Sanchez, senior pastor, High Pointe Baptist Church, Austin, Texas.

 
Information on and registration for the pre-conference is available at erlc.com/upcoming-events/2018-sbc-pre-conference.
 
The main addresses will be live-streamed at erlc.com, and video of the sessions will be posted after the event.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

3/6/2018 9:31:27 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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