March 2019

Church sues state for requiring abortion insurance

March 14 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

An evangelical church is suing the state of Washington over a new law requiring employers to cover abortion in insurance plans if those policies also cover maternity.
 
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit March 8 on behalf of Cedar Park Assembly of God in Kirkland, Wash., challenging the Reproductive Parity Act signed into law a year ago.
 

Cedar Park Church photo
Pastor Jay Smith and his wife Sandy are fighting a new Washington state law requiring insurance coverage for abortions.

Cedar Park offers its 185 eligible workers group insurance through the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), which exempts churches from mandated abortion coverage. But the church is required to cover abortions because of the state law.
 
“What we are fighting and standing for are the rights of people of faith to not be forced into being complicit with something that’s inconsistent with our faith,” Cedar Park pastor Jay Smith said in a video at adflegal.org. “We distinctly do not cover abortion because it’s the antithesis of who we are as an organization, what our beliefs are, how we live out our faith.”
 
Before the Washington legislature passed the bill, a proposed revision failed that would have exempted churches and religious organizations, according to legislative documents. Those who violate the law face criminal penalties including monetary fines and imprisonment.
 
About 350 Southern Baptist congregations are located in Washington, but Northwestern Baptist Convention (NWBC) Executive Director Randy Adams said none have told the NWBC of any challenges stemming from the new law.
 
“We’ve not had anything from our churches regarding this new law,” Adams told Baptist Press (BP) March 13. The convention itself is insured through GuideStone Financial Resources of the SBC, Adams said, and to his knowledge is not affected by the state law. In a related matter, GuideStone in July 2018 won legal exemption from the federal ACA abortion mandate.
 
“I do know our attorney general [Bob Ferguson] and our governor [Jay Inslee] in Washington are as hostile toward religious and activities of faith as can be,” Adams said. Bob Ferguson “is always on the opposite side regarding these cultural issues, opposite from where we would be when it comes to religious liberty rights [for] employers, religious owners and churches.”
 
ADF is challenging the state law based on the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
 
“No church should be coerced to pay for abortions, least of all a church that dedicates its ministry to protecting and celebrating life,” ADF attorney Elissa Graves said in a press release. “Cedar Park believes and teaches that every human life begins at conception and is worthy of protection at every point until natural death.
 
“Further still, Cedar Park demonstrates its pro-life ethic in tangible ways: partnership with a local pregnancy care center, hosting an annual camp for children in foster care, operating a school that serves over 1,000 students, and ministering to hundreds of couples struggling with infertility,” Graves said.
 
ADF senior counsel Denise Burke blogged that the state is bullying the church.
 
“This bullying by the state of Washington is such an extreme intrusion, not just on individual rights but on the church itself,” Burke wrote in a March 11 blogpost at adflegal.org. “It’s important to challenge this law because the government should not have the power to force people to pay for abortions, let alone a church that has a religious conviction that life begins at conception.”

3/14/2019 11:55:17 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



GuideStone awarded Best Overall Small Fund Family

March 14 2019 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Services

GuideStone Funds has received the Lipper Fund Award as the Best Overall Small Fund Family for 2019 by the Refinitiv financial markets data firm, formerly a division of Thomson Reuters.
 

GuideStone photo
O.S. Hawkins, right, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, and John R. Jones, left, GuideStone’s chief operating officer, flank chief strategic investment officer David S. Spika, who was in New York to represent the Southern Baptist entity in receiving a top industry award for Best Overall Small Fund Family for 2019.

The entire GuideStone Funds family won the Lipper Fund Award for 2019 Best Overall Small Fund Family over three years (out of 29 eligible as of Nov. 30, 2018) based on risk-adjusted total return.
 
Only 29 Small Fund families met the standards to be considered for the prestigious Best Overall Small Fund Family award among 222 Small Fund families with up to $76.8 billion in assets under management.
 
This marks the second time in less than a decade that GuideStone was honored with this top award. GuideStone, the nation’s largest faith-based mutual fund family, also has been recognized in other Lipper categories in four of the last six years.
 
Several members of GuideStone’s leadership team were in New York to accept the award on March 7 on behalf of the Southern Baptist entity, including chief strategic investment officer David S. Spika and GuideStone Funds chief investment officer Matt Peden.
 
“It is a tremendous honor,” said John R. Jones, GuideStone’s chief operating officer, “to be recognized by the peers in our industry for this prestigious accolade. Performance plus values wins again.
 
“We give thanks to the Lord, first and foremost, for His leadership of this ministry and then thanks to the hard-working employees at GuideStone and the managers we have assembled to invest on behalf of our participants,” Jones said.
 
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins noted, “What this truly comes down to for us is the matter of stewardship. As a ministry organization, GuideStone believes every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord Himself. As the parable of the talents clearly communicates, we are called to be stewards – managers – of the resources with which we’re entrusted.
 
“This Lipper Fund Award helps demonstrate – in the accounting we are called to give – that our team is following a proven process that benefits pastors, missionaries, hospital employees and college and university faculty, plus thousands of individual investors.”
 
Spika, a frequent guest on CNBC and Fox Business, said the award speaks to the professional respect that GuideStone has assembled over its relatively short history as a fund family – the GuideStone Funds complex was first launched as a registered mutual fund company on Aug. 27, 2001.
 
“We founded our mutual fund family in 2001 on the belief that we could achieve competitive investor outcomes while at the same time aligning our portfolios with Christian principles. This recognition highlights our belief that investors can invest according to their values without sacrificing performance,” said Spika, president of Guidestone Capital Management.
 
A prospectus about GuideStone Funds, with $12.1 billion in assets, can be obtained by calling 1-888-GS-FUNDS (1-888-473-8637) or downloading one at GuideStoneFunds.com.
 
For more than three decades, the Lipper Fund Awards have evaluated mutual funds and fund management firms on risk-adjusted performance relative to their peers. Their methodology reviews fund performance based on three-, five- and 10-year periods. For more information about the award program, regarded as one of the most prestigious in the financial services industry, go to LipperFundAwards.com.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is director of denominational and public relations at GuideStone Financial Resources.)

3/14/2019 11:46:36 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Services | with 0 comments



Mohler campus tour touches on gospel, social justice

March 13 2019 by SBTS Communications

R. Albert Mohler Jr. took questions for nearly two hours at the University of Southern California (USC) addressing a range of hot-button issues.
 

Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. took questions for nearly two hours at the University of Southern California addressing some of the most significant hot-button issues in society.

The event was the third stop on the Ask Anything Tour, a series of public question-and-answer forums with Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on university campuses around the United States.
 
At USC, some 500 students crammed into one of the historic auditoriums on campus. Previous events took place last year at the University of Louisville and at UCLA in a partnership between Southern Seminary and the discipleship organization Ligonier Ministries.
 

Gospel and social justice

 
Early on, a student asked Mohler about recent discussions among evangelical Christians about the nature of the gospel and its relationship to social justice. Before answering the question, Mohler emphasized that debates about this question can make differing “sides” seem further apart than they are in reality. He gave an example of a hungry child in need of food, pointing out that any Christian would feel a responsibility to intervene and help the child.
 
“If we stop trying to frame these [questions] as ‘issues’ and just think about reality, it gets clarified,” Mohler said, noting that the debate about the gospel and social justice is exacerbated by a moment in American society in which almost everything is politicized and put into binary categories.
 
“We’re in an age in which people want to line up,” Mohler said. “But I think we have to step back as Christians and ask, ‘What is the gospel?’
 
“The gospel is the good news that salvation comes to anyone who believes.”
 
Mohler distinguished between Christian action and the gospel, describing a tendency among Christians to use the word “gospel” for all sorts of Christian thought and activity. “There are many good things in the Bible that are not the gospel,” he said.
 
He clarified that whether or not particular instances of justice are intrinsic to the gospel, Christians have an obligation to pursue justice – an even greater obligation than the world around them.
 
“We have to be more for justice than the fallen world because justice comes from God,” Mohler said. “What we have to make sure first and foremost is that the gospel is clear.”
 

Toxic masculinity

 
A few questions centered around manhood during the March 1 event, particularly in relation to how a young man can grow in manhood without falling into toxic masculinity. Mohler answered by acknowledging the tension and arguing that this represents a problem to which Christians claim a unique solution.
 
Mohler promoted a vision of older men discipling younger men in the context of a local church, noting, “The church ought to be one of those places where older men and younger are together.”
 
This will help not only in younger men becoming mature, Mohler explained, but it points to a solution to toxic masculinity in the broader culture. This problem has been at the forefront of the #MeToo movement during the past year or two. Part of the problem, he said, is men not holding other men accountable.
 
“One thing we need to develop is a culture where men expect more of each other,” Mohler said.
 

Christians and Muslim evangelism

 
Toward the end of the event, a man who identified himself as a Muslim suggested from the floor that theistic religions should work together in proselytizing atheists and non-theists. His question centered around proposed ways Christians and Muslims can work together toward this end.
 
Mohler responded by citing the foundational commonality between Christianity and Islam – theism, a belief in a god – but countered that Christians in evangelism do not merely promote theism.
 
“I don’t think we gain anything by people going from atheism to theism,” Mohler said.
 
“Christianity is not about who believes in God and who does not,” he said. “It’s about who is in Christ and who is not.”
 
In the nearly two-hour question and answer event, Mohler also answered questions about the believability of the Bible, gene editing technology, hell and politics.
 
The morning after the event, Ligonier Ministries 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 at USC and surrounding colleges about apologetics. The three organized their talks around three theological premises: God is, God speaks and God saves.
 
Video from the USC event, as well as information about future tour stops, is available at askanythingtour.com.

3/13/2019 3:42:51 PM by SBTS Communications | with 0 comments



Anti-child trafficking ministry goes national, global

March 13 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

From the National Palace in Guatemala to the Oval Office in Washington, leaders of the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes have found themselves advocating for child sex trafficking victims on international and national platforms.
 
This year, they have led a conference for Guatemalan government officials on child trafficking and were present at the White House in January when President Trump signed an anti-trafficking bill.
 


Submitted photo
One More Child President and CEO Jerry Haag, second from left, and Executive Director of Anti-Trafficking Christa Hicks, third from left, attended an Oval Office ceremony in January as President Trump signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

In battling child sex trafficking, “we really focus on seeing the whole person,” said Christa Hicks, executive director of anti-trafficking at the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, a ministry also known as One More Child to better reflect its national and international scope. “That includes a spiritual life and a life with God. We always are looking at how to reach [trafficking victims] with the gospel but first ... meet their tangible needs and look at safety and a way out.”
 
One More Child is among at least 21 Baptist children’s homes affiliated with some 19 Baptist state conventions. Though Baptist children’s homes are known primarily for their ministries related to adoption, foster care and residential care, anti-trafficking work has emerged among the major initiatives at One More Child.
 
Hicks and One More Child President Jerry Haag told Baptist Press their ministry’s anti-child trafficking initiative has sought to communicate across the world that children exploited in the sex trade are victims to be rescued, not criminals to be punished.

Economically disadvantaged children in particular, they said, are vulnerable to being propositioned for sex in exchange for basic necessities like money, food, shelter and school supplies. Such children need care and a way out, according to One More Child, before they reach their late teen years and resign themselves to a life as adult sex workers.
 


One More Child photo
Jerry Haag, president and CEO of One More Child, speaks to Guatemalan government officials Jan. 30 at a national anti-trafficking conference led by One More Child at the National Palace in Guatemala City.

In late January, One More Child took that message to the Guatemalan National Palace in Guatemala City for a two-day conference at the invitation of Guatemalan First Lady Patricia de Morales. The conference’s first day focused on educating some 150 government leaders about child sex trafficking. The second day was geared toward Guatemalan church leaders and community members concerned with the problem.

In the conference’s wake, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is continuing to develop a plan to fight child sex trafficking, Haag said.
 
The Guatemalan president and first lady “are Christians, so they have surrounded themselves with other Christians,” Haag said. “And they realize that the greatest impact we can make is a spiritual impact.”

The leader of a Guatemalan home for trafficked girls attended the conference, Hicks noted, and said “with tears in her eyes” that “everything we were saying that day about generational problems and complex trauma and vulnerabilities and the need to stop the cycles – every bit of it was stuff she had wholeheartedly prayed that Guatemalans would come to begin understanding.”
 


One More Child photo
One More Child executive director of anti-trafficking Christa Hicks, left, was among the presenters at a national anti-trafficking conference Jan. 30-31 in Guatemala.

Closer to home, One More Child has worked with the Trump administration to develop anti-trafficking legislation. Between Dec. 21, 2018, and Jan. 9, 2019, President Trump signed four anti-trafficking bills. Haag and Hicks were in the Oval Office for one bill signing ceremony.
 
The U.S. and other countries “have welcomed us to the table as a faith-based organization,” Haag said. Governments aren’t necessarily seeking “to incorporate a Christian mindset” into their anti-trafficking efforts, “but they recognize the excellence with which we do programs. And they [say], ‘We want you to come be a part.’”
 
Last year, One More Child impacted more than 249,000 children and adults with its full range of ministries, Haag said, including a safe home for child trafficking victims, mobile units to help trafficked children and advocacy and prevention programs.
 
Haag recalled one girl who had been trafficked and came to faith in Christ. “She was running down the aisle [at a ministry event] and running down the steps and just kept yelling out, ‘I’m free! I’m free!’”

3/13/2019 3:29:45 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



IMB website to better serve Southern Baptists

March 13 2019 by Julie McGowan, IMB

The International Mission Board’s website – IMB.org – has launched a new home page and renovation of other online pages to make it easier for Southern Baptists to partner with the IMB in global mission praying, giving, going and sending.
 

IMB.org Redesign – The International Mission Board recently redesigned its main site, IMB.org, with streamlined design, simplified navigation and stunning images.

“Our very task as Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board depends on a cooperative effort to strategically pray, give, go and send on mission,” IMB President Paul Chitwood said of the mission board’s improved online presence.
 
“Successful cooperation,” he noted, “is dependent on successful communication, and improving our communication with you – Southern Baptist churches and individuals – is a primary, immediate goal at the IMB. We’ve redesigned IMB.org to better connect churches with the IMB, and with global missions as a whole.
 
“Pastors and other leaders will find ways to support Southern Baptist missionaries through praying and giving, as well as easy access to hundreds of opportunities to serve on the field, from student endeavors to other short-term trips to full-time missionary roles,” Chitwood said.
 
Visitors to the site are met with aesthetic changes – streamlined design, simplified navigation and stunning images. Top navigation to the home page quickly leads users to ways they can:
 

Pray

 
Each day, prayer requests representing the peoples of the world, sent from Southern Baptist workers on the mission field, appear on the site. A print option for the requests makes it easy to share the full day’s requests with your church members or others. You’ll also find a link to the IMB Pray app, available for both iOS and Android.
 

Give

 
For more than a century, gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering have empowered IMB missionaries to evangelize, make disciples and multiply churches among unreached peoples and places. By giving, you join this legacy of critical support. You’ll also find a link to multiple specific giving opportunities.
 

Go

 
At this link, users can learn more about the options, as well as the process and timelines, for becoming a missionary. Scrolling down, you’ll find more details about short-term missions (one to eight weeks); mid-term missions (two months to three years); or long-term missions (three-plus years). Students and student leaders interested in missions can take a short-cut to IMB.org/students to find opportunities especially for them.
 
Scrolling down the new home page, users also will find:

  • Featured projects for engaging in missions through your prayers and gifts.

  • Latest articles by the IMB content team and guest writers about missions.

  • Missionary profiles that introduce you to fellow Southern Baptists living and working around the globe.

  • Featured trips for going to the mission field for a few weeks, a semester or more.

  • An opportunity to subscribe to an IMB e-newsletter to receive mission updates directly to your inbox.

The changes are the result of work between a team of designers, contractors and other creative professionals involving multiple IMB teams over several months. IMB.org launched a new web presence in late 2016 with a new editorial strategy in place, providing a place for Southern Baptists to engage in conversation around missions. The site served as version 1.0, the first of versions to come as IMB communicators continue to evaluate and respond to Southern Baptists’ many and varied needs.
 
The IMB web team said the current design update is the first step of a process to redesign the entire site and develop efficient and effective tools for deepening relationships and partnerships with Southern Baptist churches and church members.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie McGowan is public relations manager of the IMB. Rodney Calfee, IMB content manager, contributed to this story.)

3/13/2019 3:23:55 PM by Julie McGowan, IMB | with 0 comments



‘Unplanned’ shows abortion’s sin, offers redemption

March 13 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Abby Johnson was “vulnerable.” Raised in a Christian pro-life home and a church that never really talked about abortion, she believed her employer, Planned Parenthood, was “a woman’s empowerment organization.”
 

Then she became a clinic director and saw a 13-week-old fetus flinch and fight for his fleeting life during an ultrasound-guided abortion.
 
Shocked at the truth of abortion, she quit her Planned Parenthood clinic job in Bryan, Texas, started a ministry and wrote a book about her experiences in 2011 that is the basis for “Unplanned,” opening in theaters March 29.
 
“Moral relativism is rampant in our society,” Johnson told Baptist Press (BP). “In these times where everybody talks about her truth or your truth or my truth, I really think that people are just looking for the truth, and they’re going to find that in this film. They’re going to see the redemptive power of Christ in this film.”
 
Through her ministry – And Then There Were None (ATTWN) – founded in 2012 with husband Doug, Johnson helps other abortion clinic workers leave the industry, find redemption in Jesus and become active church members in their communities. To date, ATTWN has helped 487 abortion clinic employees leave their jobs, Johnson told BP.
 
Unplanned is rated R by the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), which Johnson believes only evidences the violence that is abortion. The film includes black-and-white sonogram images with special effects dramatizing an actual abortion.
 
“It’s rated R because the MPAA sort of stumbled backwards into the truth, admitting that abortion is violent,” Johnson told BP. The film is appropriate for teenagers, but should only be viewed by preteens with their parents’ informed judgment, Johnson said.
 
Johnson, pregnant with her eighth child, took her 12-year-old daughter to an Unplanned screening.
 
“My daughter is very knowledgeable about abortion. We talk about abortion all the time,” Johnson said. “My children have grown up hearing about this in our home. She goes and prays with me outside abortion clinics.”
 
Johnson was vulnerable to Planned Parenthood’s deception because the subject of abortion was not discussed much during her childhood, she said, even as her parents described themselves as pro-life.
 
“I think if that conversation has been breached in your home, then bringing a preteen to the film is appropriate. If it has not, and you are sort of just treading into this territory with your children, then I definitely think that now is a good time to start having that talk,” Johnson said.
 
“I tell people we’ve performed abortions on girls as young as 10 and 11, so you’re not doing your children any favor by sheltering them from the reality of pregnancy and abortion,” she said. “I feel very strongly that we need to be talking about these things with our children.”
 
Filmmakers believe a PG-13 rating would be more appropriate, producer Daryl Lefever told BP.
 
“I would say that it’s intense to watch, but it’s not gruesome or gory to watch,” Lefever said. “We tell everybody we were going for a PG-13 rating, and it would have been a serious PG rating.
 

Abby Johnson

“We definitely think that if a child is 13 or younger, then their parents really need to know the maturity level of their child and what other visual stimuli the child ... has already seen,” Lefever told BP. “There’s been 11-year-olds that have seen the movie and it actually initiated great conversation with their parents.
 
“And there might be some 11-year-olds who are just not as experienced in going to movies, and it could really be intense for them,” he said.
 
The movie chronicles Johnson’s employment that began at Planned Parenthood as a college student in 2001, the true story of her chemical abortion with the abortion pill in college, and her radically changed heart while assisting a doctor during an ultrasound-guided abortion in 2009.
 
Christians as well as the unsaved need to see the film, said Johnson, a member of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Round Rock, Texas.
 
“If we can get Christians to fill up these seats, maybe there will be a wave of conviction within the Christian church to really move and act and do something to help end abortion,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of apathy inside of our own churches.”
 
Self-described Christians account for a bulk of abortions performed today, Lefever said.
 
“Over half of all women that have abortions identify as Christian, and one third of them have never told anybody in their lives that they had an abortion,” Lefever said, although statistics vary. “So there’s a lot of shame; there’s a lot of grief in our church pews, and nobody’s talking about it.”
 
In a 2015 LifeWay Research study sponsored by Care Net, nearly 70 percent of women who had an abortion described themselves as Christians. And 43 percent attended church at least monthly at the time of their procedures. More than half, 52 percent, said no one in their church knows of their abortion.
 
“The other thing this movie does, in addition to making people aware of what an abortion is, is offer redemption and hope and love and forgiveness to women that have made that choice in their history,” Lefever said, “and are looking for an opportunity to share with someone and come out from under that grief and shame.”
 
Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, who wrote the theatrical hit “God’s Not Dead,” co-wrote and co-directed Unplanned. Ticket information and educational and promotional resources are available at unplannedfilm.com.

3/13/2019 3:15:51 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Committee extends deadline to make nominations

March 12 2019 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) Committee on Nominations has voted to extend the deadline to submit recommendations for individuals to serve in various leadership roles with the state convention.
 
Recommendations will now be accepted until March 25 for terms of service that will begin in 2020. Recommendations may be made for individuals to serve on the BSC Board of Directors, other convention committees, and boards of the convention’s institutions and agencies, which include the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, the Biblical Recorder, N.C. Baptist Hospital and the N.C. Baptist Foundation.
 
To learn more or make a nomination, visit ncbaptist.org/recommend.
 
“Recommendations of North Carolina Baptists for places of service and leadership in denominational work are essential for ongoing missions, ministries and evangelistic endeavors,” said Brian Davis, BSC associate executive director-treasurer.
 
Convention officials desire to see a broad representation of N.C. Baptists nominated to serve in various capacities. Recommendations are sought from churches of all sizes and geographic locations.
 
Convention officials also desire a diverse pool of nominees, which includes pastors, laity, men, women and individuals from different ethnicities.
 
Individuals may only occupy one place of service per term, and no more than six members of any one church may collectively serve at any one time on all boards and committees. Only one individual from an N.C. Baptist church may serve on the BSC Board of Directors.
 
Questions may be directed to Cynthia King at (800) 395-5102 or cking@ncbaptist.org.

3/12/2019 10:35:17 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Parolee housing units become church’s mission field

March 12 2019 by Erin Roach, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Imagine a person was just released from prison and wanted to get his life on the right track, and he knew going to church needed to be part of that plan. But because of his criminal record, he was required to stay away from churches.
 

Photo submitted
Freedom Church pastor John Earle tells parolees "unless they have a 'heart transplant' they're going to be the same old, same old."

Such a person in Fort Worth, Texas, is able to find help and hope through Freedom Church, a ministry of First Baptist Church in nearby Colleyville. Freedom Church reaches men and women re-entering society from prison by offering weekly worship services, small groups and life skills classes.
 
“Since these individuals for whatever reason – their paperwork, a stigma they may carry with them – don’t feel comfortable walking into a church or maybe they’re not thinking about church, I thought, ‘Hey, let’s bring church to them,’” said John Earle, Freedom Church’s campus pastor.
 
“When we reach ‘the least of these,’ it’s individuals who maybe committed murder, hardened criminals who have done their time and now they’re trying to get back into society,” Earle told the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
 
The ministry began a couple of years ago when First Baptist Colleyville deployed small group leaders to offer Bible studies in parolee housing complexes in Fort Worth, about half an hour from the church. They’d meet in laundry rooms or wherever they could find space.
 
About a year ago, Earle said, Freedom Church emerged, with Wednesday night worship services in a rented room at the Resource Center of Tarrant County. After eight years on staff as a youth pastor, Earle transitioned last fall to his new position leading the ministry.
 
Earle, who was an offensive tackle for five seasons in the NFL before entering ministry, soon realized the church volunteers weren’t able to maximize their efforts while meeting in the resource room. For one, parolees had to fill out extensive paperwork just to get permission to attend the services.
 
“They had stipulations within their parole if they were allowed to leave the campus,” he said. “I saw that sometimes they came and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes it might be in their paperwork that if they worked in the daytime they can’t leave their campus at night.”
 
So starting in January, the worship services moved to the housing units where the parolees stay as they transition back into society. “It gives us a lot more people to reach with the gospel,” Earle said.
 
“We know that we’re never going to be autonomous because of the turnover,” he said. “We have these parolees anywhere from three to five months. They go into these housing units and then they leave and go back into society. Our impact has to be fast and furious.”
 
When a parolee is allowed to leave prison, Earle said, “immediately they want a job. They need clothes. They need a place to stay. They need food. Those are all big-time urgencies on their hearts.
 
“But as I roll with them, I let them know that unless they have a heart transplant they’re going to be the same old, same old, and that urgency is going to cause them to make bad choices and get back in prison again.
 
“We see people getting saved daily. This past Sunday at a small group we had eight people get saved,” Earle said. “We’re going to get them baptized and walking with God.
 
“I’ve heard stories of people getting attached to Freedom Church and six months later when they’re out and not living in the housing unit anymore, they still come to the services. They’ve told our volunteers that Freedom has had the biggest impact on their life.” They talk about their transformation, Earle said, and how they have better lives now that they walk with Christ.
 
God repeatedly offers forgiveness when true repentance is present, he said.
 
“When these people are turning their backs on their sinful ways, who are we not to offer an opportunity to do life with them and help them get back on their feet and help them understand that they can be a returning citizen in society?”
 
It’s normal for people to feel uneasy when someone with a criminal record crosses their path, Earle said, especially if the person is a sex offender. “People want to forgive them from afar, but that’s not true forgiveness. True forgiveness is offering to do life with somebody.”
 
Earle was born and raised in Keyport, N.J., and went to college in Illinois before being drafted into the NFL. After playing pro football, he joined Sports World Ministries and traveled the country sharing his testimony in public schools for 12 years. 
 
Part of that testimony is that football had been everything to him, and then he saw it slipping away; within a 14-month span he broke his right foot twice and his left foot twice. He thought of suicide, and he called his dad, who told him Jesus loved him and would never leave him. That night in 1991 he surrendered his life to Christ.
 
Around 2008, after he had spoken in a Texas school, a pastor called him and asked him to consider being a youth pastor in Gainesville, Texas. “I lived in Illinois. I was from New Jersey. I had no thoughts about going to Gainesville, Texas, but I went down there and became a youth pastor and enjoyed every minute of it,” Earle said.
 
After three years there, he went to First Baptist Colleyville. What led him into prison ministry there, he said, is that Guy Earle, his identical twin brother who also played in the NFL, is executive pastor of GracePointe Church in Denton, and the two brothers founded Think Twice Ministries.
 
“We do prison ministry,” John Earle said. “We probably do about 100 speaking events in prisons a year, and we see thousands of salvations. … We’ve been doing that for like the last 10 years. That’s where the love for prison ministry has come from.”
 
To give a prisoner the opportunity to rehabilitate himself with Christ starts with hearing the Word of God and includes a small group setting where he can receive individual attention, Earle said. “We can offer anger management classes and other things.”
 
But prison ministry can go beyond showing up, preaching and leaving, he said.
 
“The parolee ministry is a little different because you’re doing life with them, you’re offering yourself, walking side by side with them as they are learning how to figure out life again,” Earle said. “I guarantee every city has parolee houses. I would encourage your church to find the parolee houses that are in their area and start impacting them.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net.)

3/12/2019 10:29:57 AM by Erin Roach, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Trump’s Bible signing called Southern tradition

March 12 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

When President Trump signed Bibles in an Alabama region devastated by tornadoes, he was giving comfort to survivors by participating in a time-honored Southern tradition, some observers say. Others claim signing scripture was inappropriate.
 

Screen capture from www.youtube.com
President Trump signed Bibles, among other items presented to him, while visiting a tornado-devastated region in eastern Alabama March 8.

In the South, signatures in a person’s Bible “bring back great memories of relationships and friendships and moments in our life,” said Rusty Sowell, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Opelika, Ala., where Trump signed tornado victims’ Bibles March 8.
 
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visited Providence in the aftermath of an EF-4 tornado that killed 23 people. The church has been used as a staging area for disaster response. While gathering at Providence with survivors, first responders and volunteers, Trump and the first lady signed memorabilia including Bibles for those who asked, Sowell told Baptist Press (BP).
 
The Bible signing provoked media reports over the weekend, with some critics voicing strong opposition to Trump’s actions.
 
Sowell said he “didn’t think anything about it” when Trump began signing Bibles. The pastor noted signatures in his own Bible of friends and other significant people dating back to the mid-1970s.
 
Individuals whose Bibles Trump signed – most of whom were young teens or children – “are going to remember the leader of the free world came down to our little corner of the world and said, ‘I care,’” Sowell said.
 
Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian and founding dean at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, told the Associated Press (AP) Bible signing is a Southern tradition. He elaborated on the importance of that tradition to BP.
 
“I was kind of grateful” when AP called about Trump, Leonard said, “because I thought probably this generation of Baptists and others didn’t know about the tradition of people having others sign their Bibles. That was a kind of historical qualification ... I thought would be worth talking about.”
 
Though Leonard does not know the tradition’s genesis, he said Christians in the South have sought signatures in their Bibles, especially from traveling preachers and evangelists who visited their churches. “It wouldn’t be unheard of that presidents, particularly coming to events that were celebrative or traumatic, would do that,” he said.
 
Among presidents to sign Bibles in the past were Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, according to media reports.
 
Bible signing in Opelika likely “was a way of marking time” at a significant moment when survivors “were trying to find something to undergird them” and “respond to their own grief,” Leonard said.
 
Wayne Flynt, a Baptist deacon and history professor emeritus at Auburn University, saw Trump’s Bible signing differently. He told AP it was “right next to a sacrilege.” Flynt told BP it was not appropriate for Trump to sign Bibles because he does not appear to live by scripture.
 
“If Jimmy Carter had signed a Bible ... I would have no problem with that,” Flynt said. “Donald Trump signing a Bible as if he affirms what’s in the Bible” is a different matter.
 
Hershael York, dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told AP and BP some believers may be uncomfortable personally with the tradition of Bible signing, but there’s nothing objectively sinful about the practice.
 
“It falls into the category of personal preference and conviction,” York told BP. “There’s nothing in the scripture [stating] that somehow it defiles the Word of God if we write anything on it ... I imagine President Trump would have hurt [people’s] feelings had he refused to sign the Bible.”

3/12/2019 10:20:04 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Trump visits storm-ravaged Alabama, DR volunteers

March 11 2019 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visited storm-ravaged Lee County, Ala. on Mar. 8 in the aftermath of an EF-4 tornado that killed 23 people.
 

Photo by Sam Porter
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania visited with several family members who lost loved ones in the March 3 tornado that hit Lee County, Ala., and Rusty Sowell, senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church, prior to addressing survivors and volunteers in the church’s sanctuary.


After disembarking from Air Force One, Trump met with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, telling her that he had seen “unbelievable” destruction during his flight, according to The New York Times. See related Biblical Recorder report.
 
Trump traveled to Beauregard, Ala., and toured the area on the ground, shaking hands, visiting survivors and witnessing some of the destruction. Trump and the First Lady also paused to view the 23 crosses set up to memorialize the victims.
 
Along with touring the damaged area, Trump also met with volunteers at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, which has been used as a staging area for the response.
 
Trump visited privately with several family members who lost loved ones and Rusty Sowell, senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church, prior to addressing survivors and volunteers.
 
Many gathered inside the church to hear from Trump who visited survivors and thanked first responders and volunteers for their efforts to help the community. Trump and Melania signed hats and other memorabilia for those who asked.
 
Sam Porter, national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) director with the North American Mission Board, was in the room while the president spoke with survivors. Porter stated that between 150 and 200 people were in the room.
 
“Anytime a sitting president visits a disaster area, it encourages the people of the community and reminds survivors that they’re not forgotten,” Porter said. “Visits like these also energize volunteers as they serve and minister following devastating storms.”
 
Sowell opened the church’s campus to be the major gathering point following the tornado. The church’s worship center was transformed into a distribution center where supplies were given to hundreds of individuals who have lost their homes.
 
Alabama’s SBDR team also set up their incident command center in the Providence Baptist Church facility. There, volunteers received calls and information from residents in need of relief work.
 
SBDR chainsaw and heavy equipment teams have been aiding homeowners in Lee County where fierce wind, downed trees and other debris destroyed homes and damaged property. Laundry units have been set up to help survivors wash their clothes.
 
Chaplains have been providing spiritual and emotional care for those who have lost loved ones.
 
Mark Wakefield, disaster relief strategist for Alabama Baptists, has been providing tireless support in the days following the storm, directing Alabama’s response and sharing the gospel with survivors.
3/11/2019 11:06:32 AM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments



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