May 2017

ERLC Academy provides equipping on ethics

May 26 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Pastors, seminary students, Bible teachers, ministry leaders and writers were among those who gathered in Nashville for a crash course in Christian ethics. Participants testified they came away better prepared to address the difficult issues of the day.

Screen capture from Facebook
“This is a week I treasure every year,” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said of its ERLC Academy on May 22-23 in Nashville.


The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) sponsored its ERLC Academy for the third consecutive year May 22-23 and followed it with a three-day doctoral seminar.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore lectured on ethics and answered questions during the two days of the academy before nearly 250 participants at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) building and, in some sessions, an audience watching on Facebook. He first provided an ethical paradigm and then addressed such issues as the sanctity of human life, gender identity, religious liberty, marriage, artificial reproductive technology, capital punishment and poverty.
 
Author and Bible teacher Jen Wilkin said she “left better equipped with a framework for thinking through the ethical implications of dilemmas common to pastoral ministry.”
 
“The lectures helped me identify where my implicit assumptions or personal experience were shaping my responses to ethical dilemmas,” Wilkin said in email comments for Baptist Press (BP). “The academy created space for me to think in directions my normal schedule doesn’t always allow me to.”
 
Raleigh Sadler – executive director of the Let My People Go Network, an anti-human trafficking, non-profit organization in New York City – said Moore’s “treatment of Christian ethics was refreshing, to say the least.”
 
“Rather than merely regurgitating a list of hot-button issues and a subsequent list of the ‘right’ answers, Moore did the opposite,” Sadler told BP via email. “[H]e began by addressing ethics at the level of basic beliefs. Equipping the student with a biblical framework through which to understand ethics, he began to address issues that we face on a daily basis. Through each seminar, Moore would show how each of these basic categories was important when thinking through the ethical dilemmas that we face on a daily basis.”
 
Lauren Konkol – a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who is on staff at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. – said the academy prepared her “to think rightly about difficult ethical issues facing the public square by challenging [her] to use scripture as the lens, rather than cultural stereotypes.”
 
Moore told BP he was “delighted to once again host the ERLC Academy.”
 
“This is a week I treasure every year, and my prayer for all those who attended or watched sessions is that they would come away with a renewed understanding and passion for the truths of scripture and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom,” Moore said in email remarks.
 
The academy and doctoral seminar continued the cooperation between the ERLC and the convention’s seminaries. Doctoral students from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary participated in both the academy and seminar.
 
Randy Stinson, provost and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary, told BP the partnership between Southern and the ERLC “is fruitful for our students in multiple ways.”
 
“Not only are they able to be taught by great leaders like Russell Moore, but they are exposed to the great work of the ERLC and it strengthens the students’ relationship and commitment to the SBC,” Stinson said in email comments.
 
This year’s registration, 249, nearly doubled the 125 registrants at the first ERLC Academy in 2015. The initial academy also was held in Nashville, while the 2016 event took place in Washington, D.C.
 
Speakers in the doctoral seminar were Moore and ERLC staff members Phillip Bethancourt, Daniel Patterson and Travis Wussow, as well as National Review senior writer David French.
 
Wilkin – a member of The Village Church in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex and a part of the ERLC’s Leadership Council – explained to BP why she chose to take part in the academy.
 
“My path into ministry was not via seminary, so I jump at the chance to receive seminary-level instruction when possible,” she said. “The academy presented the perfect condensed learning opportunity on an area of Christian thought in which I need development. Dr. Moore is adept at teaching complex concepts in accessible ways, so the scope and the instructor made the academy an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.”
 
Sadler said he “had no idea what to expect of the ERLC Academy. This is because, frankly, there is nothing like the ERLC Academy available for those in local SBC church ministry or those aspiring to the office of pastor.”
 
“[E]verything was practical and easily applicable while also being thoroughly saturated with the gospel,” Sadler told BP, adding he expects the training to benefit his anti-trafficking efforts.
 
“As I work with churches helping them to address the vulnerability that is rampant in their respective communities, I am always coming face to face with ethical issues,” Sadler said. “This class helped me to have a better understanding of how to not only think through these issues but how to help others do the same.”
 
Konkol told BP by email the academy “far exceeded my expectations – the teaching was clear; the production was excellent; and the hospitality was outstanding.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

5/26/2017 6:16:16 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Fossils said to be ‘at odds’ with evolutionary theory

May 26 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A cache of newly discovered fossils from an ancient human species, says a biologist associated with the intelligent design movement, underscores the inadequacy of materialistic evolution to explain human origins.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons


A Southern Baptist paleontologist claims the fossils, discovered in South Africa, fit well with biblical chronology, representing a human species alive shortly after God dispersed men and women from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9.
 
Remains of a species dubbed Homo naledi were first discovered in 2013-14. An article published this month in the journal eLife revealed scientists now have unearthed remains of at least 18 Homo naledi, a species said to stand about five feet tall, weigh 100 pounds and possess small brains and curved fingers as well as many features that resemble modern humans.
 
Lee Berger, the article’s lead author, told The Guardian the fossilized remains seem to have been deliberately buried after death and date to approximately 300,000 years ago. Because the remains were located in deep underground chambers, he suspects Homo naledi were able to control fire and utilize it for illumination.
 
The May 9 eLife article noted “no paleoanthropologist anticipated that a species like H[omo] naledi existed in this region during” its time period.
 
Jonathan Wells, a biologist at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, told Baptist Press (BP) evolutionary scientists’ surprise at Homo naledi is a significant aspect of the discovery. The Discovery Institute advocates the theory of intelligent design, which argues the universe is the product of intelligence rather than chance.
 
“Human origins are as mysterious now as they have ever been,” Wells, author of Zombie Science: Icons of Evolution, said in written comments. “Science educators tell materialistic stories about how we are accidental byproducts of unguided evolution, and the stories are illustrated with iconic drawings of apes morphing into humans.
 
“But the stories came first; fossils were plugged in later. As Yale paleoanthropologist Misia Landau once wrote, stories of human evolution ‘far exceed what can be inferred from the study of fossils alone,’ so fossils are placed ‘into preexisting narrative structures,’” Wells said.
 
The alleged “story of human evolution,” Wells said, seems to become less clear as additional fossils are discovered.
 
Kurt Wise, professor of natural history at Truett McConnell University and a Harvard-trained paleontologist, told BP Homo naledi were “descendants of Adam and Eve” who lived some 4,100 years ago.
 
Wise, who believes the universe was created by God’s direct action approximately 6,000 years ago, claimed “radiometric dates” calculated by scientists to be 100,000-800,000 “radiometric years are found on fossils actually dating” more recently.
 
A clue to the dating of Homo naledi fossils, Wise said, is their discovery in the types of caves likely formed during or immediately after Noah’s flood.
 
He reasons Homo naledi were humans “because humans are the only organisms known to cache or bury the bodies of their dead. Since it is unlikely that humans would go to all this trouble to bury non-humans, Homo neledi are humans, and the chambers of the cave with Homo neledi fossils are almost certainly burial chambers,” Wise said in written comments.
 
“Since the fossils date from after the Flood and are found in South Africa – a very long way from wherever Babel was located – these fossils must date from after the dispersion of people from Babel,” Wise said.
 
The fact that “their skeletal structure is markedly different from modern humans,” Wise said, suggests “that the human population at the time of Babel and soon afterward was much more diverse than the present human population.” Homo naledi are “different enough” from modern humans “to warrant a different species name.”
 
The eLife article noted in a similar vein, “Subequatorial Africa appears to have been a source of biological diversity and innovation” among species related to modern humans.
 
In summarizing the findings, eLife’s editors wrote, “The existence of a relatively primitive species like H[omo] naledi living this recently in southern Africa is at odds with previous thinking about human evolution.”
 
The full eLife article is available online and titled “Homo naledi and Pleistocene hominin evolution in subequatorial Africa.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

5/26/2017 6:15:19 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



7-year-old turns lemonade into ministry for foster kids

May 26 2017 by Lauren Capraro, Baptist Messenger

Those who know her would probably describe A’Layah Robinson as no ordinary 7-year-old, but a giver.

Submitted photo
A’Layah Robinson of Sulphur, Okla., started “Lemonade for Love,” a lemonade stand with all proceeds going toward giving foster children hope.


Growing up in foster care, she and her brothers know the struggles of going from one house to the next. One Saturday afternoon, Robinson saw a group of teenagers at a lemonade stand, and something sparked in her heart. She decided to start her own stand to help foster kids.
 
What started out as a small idea turned into “Lemonade for Love,” a ministry that seeks to give hope to hundreds of Oklahoma children.
 
When asked why she started a lemonade stand, Robinson simply stated, “I help foster kids, and I want to give them hope.” She said what really inspired her was seeing her brother have no possessions of his own. “When I came to my forever home, I had lots of boxes of things, but my brother had nothing. He only had one outfit.”

The proceeds of her lemonade stand – which have accumulated to approximately $20,000 – go toward stuffing bright yellow bags for foster children. Each of the bags contains what she proclaims are “the essentials” for foster kids – a “blankie,” a Bible, a stuffed animal and a toothbrush. So far, Lemonade for Love has donated around 700 bags to Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services. Their goal is to donate 900 by the end of the summer.
 
It’s very important to Robinson to include Bibles in the bags. “I didn’t have a Bible, and I had never heard the Word of God before. I want other foster kids to know Jesus,” she said. Robinson made it very clear that Christ is the most important part of her ministry; she never wants that to be overshadowed or censored.
 
Such passion for others has not gone unnoticed, as Robinson was recently recognized by Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children (OBHC), as a recipient of their Loaves and Fishes Award. The award recognizes children and youth who have donated time, talent or treasure to help others through the ministries of OBHC. The name of this award refers to a passage of scripture, John 6:5-13, which demonstrates what God can do with even a small gift when it is placed in the Lord’s hands.

Submitted photo
Standing with family, A’Layah Robinson, center, was presented with the Loaves and Fishes Award May 7 during a special foster care awareness service at Calvary Baptist Church in Sulphur, Okla.


Robinson was presented with the award May 7 during a special foster care awareness service at Calvary Baptist Church in Sulphur, Okla. During Calvary’s morning service, OBHC Foster Care Coordinator Teri Blanton presented the Loaves and Fishes Award. She emphasized Robinson’s desire to share Christ’s love with foster children.
 
“Someone in this sanctuary has been investing in the lives of others,” Blanton said. “She has been making sure that no child feels unloved. It’s important to her that children who come into foster care know someone out there is praying for them.”
 
Behind Robinson’s ministry is her biggest fan – her mom Misty. Misty adopted Robinson and her two brothers from foster care.
 
As Pastor Tom Hefley gave a sermon about the importance of loving one another, he highlighted the mother’s dedication to her daughter’s ministry.
 
“To see the doors that you’re opening and the walls you and your family are kicking down; I know A’Layah’s name is all over it, but I know mom is doing a lot of work,” Hefley said. “I know it came from seeing what A’Layah saw, and her sharing her testimony with you.”
 
The service concluded with the entire church body gathering on the stage to pray for Robinson and her family. After the service, Robinson shared about her upcoming birthday plans.
 
“I don’t want any gifts for my birthday. All I want is donations for foster kids,” she said with a smile. Robinson is having a “Birthday Bash” with all proceeds going toward her ministry. “We’re going to have cotton candy, hot dogs and even a bounce house!” The birthday celebration will be June 10 at the Murray County Expo Center in Sulphur. To learn more about Robinson’s Lemonade for Love or her Birthday Bash, visit facebook.com/alayahslemonadeforlove.
 
To learn more about Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, visit obhc.org.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Capraro writes for the Baptist Messenger, baptistmessenger.com, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.)
 

5/26/2017 6:14:14 AM by Lauren Capraro, Baptist Messenger | with 0 comments



Workplace devotion leads to baptisms, discipleship

May 26 2017 by Scott Vaughan, Baptist Courier

After more than a year of traveling 40 miles roundtrip to lead weekly devotions at a Mauldin landscaping company, South Carolina pastor David Walker of Impact Community Church has witnessed 21 people claim Jesus as their Savior and has baptized several of them on the company’s property.

Submitted photo
A Capstone Landscape Management employee celebrates his new life in Christ with a workplace baptism.


This story of chaplaincy in business in South Carolina has gained national attention through a network of Christian business owners.
 
The story begins with Derek and Heather Gracely, who started Capstone Landscape Management in Mauldin about 10 years ago. The business has grown from operating out of their home’s driveway to a small business employing about 30 people. They are members of NewSpring Church’s Greenville campus.
 
Derek Gracely is also a member of a local C12 Group, which, according to its national website, is the “nation’s largest network of Christian CEOs, business owners and executives.” Gracely’s group meets one day per month. Each of the members is assigned a monthly meeting and presents a lengthy report on how things are going spiritually, personally and financially in business.
 
“Each meeting is like a board of directors meeting,” Gracely said. “The presenter gets unbiased feedback, pushback and suggestions. At one of our 2016 meetings, a very successful businessman gave his presentation, and everything seemed to be focusing on his financial progress. Another member, an attorney, raised his hand and asked, ‘This all sounds great, but what have you done to impact your company for the Lord?’ You could have heard a pin drop.”
 
“I was so burdened by that question,” Gracely said. “What if it had been asked of me? I felt God mashing on my heart.”
 
The next morning, Gracely walked into his office and called together his wife Heather and his administrative assistant, Fotini “Fanny” Mason. He asked, “What can we do to make a spiritual investment in our employees here?”
 
Mason mentioned Pastor Walker at Impact Community Church in Duncan, where she is a member. She said he had been talking about reaching out and getting involved in the community. Right then, the trio assembled in the conference room and called Walker, who is a member of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s Immersion network and a church planter, to discuss starting a weekly devotion. Impact Community Church meets on Sundays at the Middle Tyger YMCA in Duncan.
 
“David was excited and came to see me,” Derek Gracely said. “We talked for over an hour. He was a great fit for us, and I knew he would relate well to our employees. I wanted to make sure that he would speak the gospel, and he did not disappoint. In fact, that first devotion meeting, I thought it would just be about introductions, and David began preaching.
 
“I was listening and wondering how my employees would react, and it was all positive,” Gracely said. “In fact, some of the ones I thought would be offended were the first ones to thank me for having David visit with us.”
 
Pastor Walker soon began traveling to Mauldin on Fridays, leaving home at 6 a.m., to lead the devotion for the Capstone Landscaping crews before they went out to work. “It wasn’t always easy,” Walker said, “but I knew the Lord was using those mornings.“
 
About 18-25 employees regularly attended the devotions as Walker built relationships with Gracely and his employees.
 
This past October, one of the Capstone employees died tragically in a motorcycle accident on his way to work. Gracely immediately reached out to Walker, and the pastor asked if he could visit with the company’s employees the following day.
 
“So the day after this tragedy, I went with one of my church members, and we met with the other employees, about 25 people,” Walker said. “After a time of remembrance for their friend, I shared the gospel with them. God blessed that time, and 16 people immediately gave their hearts to Jesus.”
 
Excited and blessed, the two men began talking about how wonderful it would be for the employees to have Bibles. Impact Community Church purchased new Bibles for each employee. David delivered them.
 
But that’s not all.
 
“We had the idea to baptize these new believers in the yard behind the landscaping company’s shop,” Walker said. “But we had no idea how to put that portable baptistry together.”
 
That’s where NewSpring’s Greenville campus stepped in.
 
Gracely reached out to Greenville campus pastor David Nasim. After a meeting with Gracely and Walker, NewSpring provided the portable baptistry and donated four containers of shorts, T-shirts and even underwear, kept on hand for spontaneous baptisms. Gracely transported the portable baptistry on one of his Capstone Landscaping trucks.
 
“So, with four of our Impact members, we visited Capstone for our regular Friday devotion, and I talked about next steps after salvation,” Pastor Walker said. “I explained baptism, and you should have seen their faces when I told them everything was on hand for them to be baptized right there. I gave another salvation invitation, and five more responded to the gospel. That was 21 salvations. When I said that those wanting to be baptized could step forward, nine new believers responded. Others said they wanted to be baptized later in a church or with family present.
 
“There are so many things to celebrate about this story, and God gets all the glory,” Walker said. “I think it’s a beautiful example of a [Southern Baptist] church plant taking the church out into the world to push back the darkness in people’s lives. … I was really blessed by NewSpring’s generosity. This is the kingdom at work in South Carolina, and we need to celebrate it.”
 
While Walker continues to visit Capstone each week and lead devotions, Gracely’s C12 Group heard about the partnership. One of the organization’s objectives is to promote workplace chaplaincy.
 
“C12 heard about our work on a national level and wanted to produce a video about it,” Gracely said. “That video was shared with C12 groups all across the country. God is so much bigger than we think He is.” The video can be seen at bit.ly/2joHyQO.
 
Just recently, Pastor Walker was able to show the C12 video to his congregation, inviting more of them to participate, not so much at Capstone, but at their own place of business.
 
“I ask the question of our folks and of churches across the state convention, ‘What are the possibilities where you work? Is there a way your church can sponsor a group that meets at your workplace?,” Walker said. “Is there a way my church can sponsor a workplace meeting for our members?’”
 
“Impact Community Church partnered with Capstone for a solid year before life suddenly happened, presenting an opportunity to get real with people,” Walker said. “We were in a position to respond. We must take advantage of our relationships, be there for people and pray for them at their workplace to have a great day. I believe the door is open for that within South Carolina businesses, probably more than we really realize.”
 
Gracely, of Capstone Landscape Management, says, “When Heather and I started our business, we kept saying that we weren’t called to ministry someplace, but we wanted to be about something greater than ourselves. We wanted our business to glorify the Lord we love and serve.
 
“I believe those of us in business miss such an opportunity to minister in people’s lives,” Gracely said. “We spend so much time with the people where we work. … We are missing a huge opportunity to have an impact every day.”
 
For more information about workplace chaplaincy contact pastor David Walker at (864) 263-8406 or david@impactcommunity.church. Or contact Derek Gracely at Capstone Landscape Management, call (864) 270-6769.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Vaughan writes for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. This story first appeared in the Baptist Courier, the official Christian news magazine of the churches of the SCBC.)
 

5/26/2017 6:11:01 AM by Scott Vaughan, Baptist Courier | with 0 comments



Pastor, wife grow family with adoptions through Sunrise

May 26 2017 by Brandy Crase, Kentucky Today

Since the beginning of their marriage 16 years ago, a Kentucky Baptist pastor and his wife had always wanted lots of children.

Submitted photo
The Grigg family poses for a photo with the judge after an adoption proceeding earlier this month. Bryan and Krista now have Luke, 13; Elijah, 9; Samuel, 9; Jed, 7; Abby Grace, 4; and Zeke, 2.


Bryan and Krista Grigg’s hopes were fulfilled earlier this month with the adoption of three additional kids through Sunrise Children’s Services, the Kentucky Baptist ministry that, at last count, was serving more than 1,200 abused and neglected children.
 
The Griggs’ child count now stands at six – three of them biological.
 
It was while scrolling through Facebook that Krista came across a post from the Kentucky Baptist Convention promoting an initiative to recruit Christian families and their churches into foster care.
 
As Krista and Bryan read about the need, they were both moved to tears. They say it was in that moment they realized that this was the route God would use to grow their family.
 
As senior pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Lyon County, Bryan invited Sunrise representatives to conduct training in their church, after which the Griggs agreed to become foster parents.
 
“We were commanded in God’s Word to care for the orphans,” Krista said about their decision, “so it wasn’t something we needed to pray about long.”
 
Once the Griggs took this leap of faith, it wasn’t long before three biological siblings – children they would later adopt – came into their home as foster children.
 
“We first met the children on March 26, 2015, when they pulled in the driveway with the Department of Community Based Services,” Bryan said.
 
Bryan, Krista and their biological children – Luke, 13; Elijah, 9; and Samuel, 9 – quickly came to love the three foster children – Jed, 7; Abby Grace, 4; and Zeke, 2.
 
Being foster parents gave the Griggs an opportunity to “love the least of these” with actions instead of just words. And when given the chance to adopt the three siblings, the family of five made the decision to become a family of eight.
 
“I could not bear the thought of them leaving us,” Bryan said.
 
The adoption became final on May 8.
 
“While we were standing before the judge, I was holding our youngest,” Krista recalled. “He had his arm around my neck. Bryan was standing next to me and he reached over and grabbed Bryan’s neck pulling us together.”
 
Krista said it was a moment that signaled to her that even their newly adopted 2-year-old understood the significance of the occasion – that they truly became a family, and not just legally.
 
Macedonia Baptist Church hopes to have adopted eight children into homes by the end of this year through Sunrise, which provides care and hope for hurting families and children through Christ-centered ministries. So far, four families from Macedonia Baptist Church have become foster parents through Sunrise.
 
Bryan and Krista say they believe the foster care system in Kentucky could be radically changed if every church encouraged their members to get involved.
 
The Griggs have a message to anyone considering foster care or adoption:
 
“Go for it,” Bryan said. “Children need someone to be committed to them and love them unconditionally and without any strings attached.”
 
Krista noted that fostering and adoption is also a wonderful way to be a Godly example to your biological children.
 
“Don’t just be a Christian mom who says ‘I want you to love the least of these,’ but actually take your kids and go love them,” she said. “As a Christian, you have something they need. They need the love of Jesus Christ.”
 
For more information, contact Sunrise Children’s Services at (800) 456-1386.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandy Crase writes for Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)
 

5/26/2017 6:09:48 AM by Brandy Crase, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments



Texas governor signs bill to ‘shield’ pastors’ sermons

May 25 2017 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation May 21 that prohibits Texas government agencies from subpoenaing the sermons of religious leaders.

Photo from Facebook
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation Sunday that prohibits Texas government agencies from subpoenaing the sermons of religious leaders.


In a ceremony choreographed to highlight the bill’s benefactors Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick signed the bill surrounded by Houston area clergy during the May 21 worship service at Grace Church, Woodlands, Texas.
 
Four of the five Houston pastors whose sermons became the target of a sweeping 2014 subpoena “fishing expedition” by City of Houston attorneys and then-Mayor Annise Parker joined the signing ceremony. In messages emphasizing spiritual and political courage, Abbott and Patrick also spoke of their Christian faith before signing the legislation that gives pastors protection from future incursions by the government into Texas houses of worship.
 
“We’re grateful for the bill,” Steve Riggle, one of the subpoenaed pastors, told Abbott and Patrick. “Thank you for that backup. We never thought we’d need that but this is a crazy day. We never thought we’d have to define ‘men’ and ‘women’ either but here we are.”
 
Whether or not men who identified as women could use women’s public restrooms, locker rooms and showers – and vice versa – became the key issue during the 2014 fight to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). A diverse contingent of Houston pastors had rallied their congregations, unsuccessfully, to fight passage of the ordinance that gave protected class status to gays, lesbians and transgender persons, including access to public restrooms according to gender identity, not biological sex.
 
Parker and then-City Attorney David Feldman thwarted a repeal effort and the pastors sued. During the pre-trial investigations, attorneys representing the city served the subpoenas which requested material in 17 categories including “all speeches, presentations or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by or approved by you or in your possession.”
 
The pastors refused to relinquish the sermons. The city balked and withdrew the subpoenas but not before the incident gained national attention as an apparent example of government overreach and an affront to First Amendment liberties.
 
“You are freedom fighters,” Abbott told the congregation at Grace Church, Woodlands, a non-denominational multi-site church. “You realized that when subpoenas were issued on your own pastor, when you had to fight against your own government right here in Houston for your freedom – your freedom of religion,” Abbott said.
 
The controversy sparked a national furor and pleas from Houston’s gay-affirming pastors before Parker and city attorneys withdrew the subpoenas. But the fact that they had been issued at all disturbed religious liberty proponents.
 
Senate Bill 24, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, protects clergy from government overreach in civil investigations. No governmental agency can force religious leaders to turn over their sermons or compel clergy to testify about their sermons according to the bill.
 
“You will be shielded from any other efforts from any other government official anywhere in the state of Texas from having subpoenas trying to pry into what you are doing here in your churches,” Abbott said.
 
Patrick cited several Bible verses to encourage the congregation to seek God’s wisdom and then ask for the courage to act upon it.
 
A small band of protestors stood at the church driveway holding signs that read, “Church in state is unpatriotic,” and “God and politix [sic] don’t mix.” Critics questioned the propriety of mixing a church service with a bill signing ceremony. But governors and presidents often take the occasion of bill signing to surround themselves with the people the bill is drafted to help.
 
“Freedom of religion is the most sacred of our rights – it is what makes us America and is what gave our nation its start,” said Abbott in a statement following the signing. “Efforts to erode religious liberty are a threat to all liberty, and our religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that religious freedom is beyond the reach of government. I am proud to sign this bill to shield our pastors’ sermons from subpoena and their right to speak freely about their faith.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
 

5/25/2017 10:47:54 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Association pioneers church revitalization model

May 25 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Two years ago, First Baptist Church of Affton, Mo., knew it was dying. So it sought help from the local St. Louis Metro Baptist Association.

Photo courtesy of Jason Helmbacher
Formerly a declining congregation, Church at Affton in St. Louis was replanted in March 2016 and has since baptized 15 new believers.


In a process facilitated by executive director of missions Jim Breeden, First Baptist decided to replant itself in March 2016 as Church at Affton, led by replanter Jason Helmbacher. During its first year, the replant baptized 15 new believers and has come to average just over 100 worship attendees – about 40 of whom were First Baptist members before the replant.
 
Helmbacher described the church as being “reborn for the sake of the gospel,” according to a video on the association’s website.
 
Within the St. Louis metro area, Church at Affton is not alone in its testimony of revitalization. Among the 140 congregations that cooperate with the local Baptist association, more than 30 have participated in an association-led revitalization process over the past seven years, Breeden told Baptist Press (BP), with more than a dozen opting to replant as new churches.
 
The replants have experienced a collective 400 percent increase in worship attendance, Breeden said.
 
That success has led the St. Louis Metro Association to partner with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in publishing resources for church replants – including the Associational Replant Guide – that it hopes will spur sister associations to similar success. The resources are available at churchreplanters.com.
 

Revitalization process

In St. Louis, church revitalization begins when a congregation that is plateaued or declining requests help from the association. At times a church initiates contact, and at times the association does. Citing data from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Breeden estimates 90 percent of churches – both large and small – may be candidates for revitalization.
 
Each revitalization effort is led by the association’s church revitalization team (CRT), which comprises pastors who have revitalized or replanted congregations in St. Louis. The CRT evaluates the church under consideration. Then a series of meetings culminates in recommendations the church must accept or reject in a business meeting.
 
The recommendations always are customized, Breeden said.
 
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all or a cookie-cutter approach,” Breeden said. “Every church is unique, and every situation is unique. Every part of St. Louis, for that matter, is unique and needs a church that’s healthy and fits their culture.”
 
The association’s church revitalization manual notes six potential courses of action that may be recommended to a congregation:

  • Change “systems, structures and strategies that need to be changed to effectively fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in the church’s current context.” This course of action is the least drastic and “may or may not require new leadership,” the manual states.
  • Partner with a stronger church as a mission or satellite campus.
  • Replant the church.
  • Merge with one or more sister churches.
  • Transition the facility from housing one church to serving as “a center for many ministries to reach a community. This could include multiple churches meeting in one building and/or several types of ministries to be started or invited to join at a single location.”
  • Sell the building and start a church planting fund.

 
In every case, Breeden said, associational leaders “don’t do things to churches” but “with churches.” If a church does not affirm the CRT’s recommendations, the association exits the revitalization process and seeks to support the congregation in other ways.
 

Replicating the model

One key leader in helping other associations launch revitalization ministries like that of the St. Louis Metro Association is Bob Bickford. Called in 2012 as pastor of declining Sherwood Baptist Church in St. Louis, he led the congregation to replant as The Groves Church and began to dialog with other replanters in the process. Within months of launching the replant, he joined the CRT and currently chairs it.
 
As Bickford’s passion for church replanting increased, he launched churchreplanters.com in 2015, with testimonies, forums and other resources for replants. This year, Bickford joined NAMB’s replant team as associate director, and his website has been incorporated into NAMB’s church replanting strategy.
 
“Our prayer,” Bickford told BP in written comments, is that the St. Louis Metro Association’s approach “will serve to further the work of replanting by equipping [directors of missions], associations and churches to envision what God can do when a church determines to make courageous decisions and changes necessary to see their congregation move from decline and near death to life.”
 
Johnny Rumbough, associational missions emphasis coordinator for the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders, echoed that sentiment.
 
Breeden “is a seasoned and skilled leader on the topic of church health and revitalization,” Rumbough, executive director of missions for the Lexington (S.C.) Baptist Association, told BP in written comments. “He understands the necessity to have the right leaders equipped and available to customize the revitalization process for each church requesting assistance, which is the key to the association’s effectiveness.
 
“The St. Louis Metro Baptist Association has created a church health culture,” Rumbough said, “and a process for assisting that is a model for associations today.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. Baptist Association Emphasis is May 21-28 in the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

5/25/2017 10:32:59 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Tennessee passes viability test for abortions after 20 weeks

May 25 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill May 12 that requires abortionists to evaluate unborn babies for their ability to live outside the womb after 20 weeks’ gestation.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons


The new law bans abortions on unborn babies shown to be viable and requires medical opinions from two abortionists. Violators could be slapped with possible felony charges, sent to prison for up to three years, and have their medical licenses revoked. The law makes exceptions for cases in which carrying a baby to term endangers the mother’s life or vital organs.
 
Last month, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery called the bill “constitutionally infirm,” but more recently said he would defend it, Haslam said.
 
Tennessee’s new law follows the example of Ohio’s 2011 ban on abortions after 20 weeks unless a doctor proves the baby isn’t viable.
 
Since the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, states have been allowed to ban abortion after viability, which the court considered to be as early as 24 weeks’ gestation. But Tennessee Right to Life’s policy director Will Brewer said recent advances in medical technology have pushed viability back to 23 weeks or earlier.
 
“So because of this increase of technology and awareness of when babies can become viable, we wanted to clarify our law in Tennessee to meet those technological increases,” he said.
 
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) delivered a letter to Haslam on Friday, calling the bill unconstitutional and urging him to veto it. After he signed it into law, ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg expressed disappointment in a statement: “While we may not all agree about the right to abortion, it is important that we support a woman and allow her to make the best decision for her health and personal circumstances – without political interference.”
 
But pro-lifers rejoiced.
 
“We’re thrilled with [Haslam’s] support, we’re thrilled with the overwhelming vote by the legislature in Tennessee, and we really feel like the legislature this year was extremely successful in answering the desires and the needs of the people of Tennessee, and we hope that other states will follow suit,” Brewer said.
 
While it is not yet clear whether the law will face legal challenges, pro-life leaders are optimistic it will stand up to judicial scrutiny.
 
Deanna Wallace with Americans United for Life referenced the 1989 Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Missouri law that required viability testing after 20 weeks’ gestation.
 
“Requirements requiring viability testing at 20 weeks are not new, but it is certainly feasible that Tennessee’s passage of the requirement could bring renewed attention to the concept,” she said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
 

5/25/2017 10:25:40 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



‘Miracle man’ Stewart continues ministry after accident

May 25 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A two-hour “Holy Ghost revival” was in progress in Jimmy Stewart’s office not long after he returned to work at the Alaska Baptist Convention earlier this year.

Submitted photo
Nurses at Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle help Alaska Baptist Convention leader Jimmy Stewart during treatment in 2016 for third-degree burns over 77 percent of his body.


Longtime Southern Baptist leader Paul Kim and his wife Rebekah from Boston were visiting the director of evangelism and church development. A small group of ministers and friends were praising God for answering their prayers and healing Stewart from a July, 2016, gas leak explosion at his rural Alaskan cabin. Physically fit and athletic before the accident, the evangelist was scarred from third-degree burns over 77 percent of his body.
 
“You know Brother Jimmy, before the accident you were handsome and strong,” Rebekah Kim said. “But now God is shining through you and you are more beautiful.”
 
Such statements have encouraged 59-year-old Stewart, who returned to work Jan. 10 and has told his testimony at churches and meetings between follow-up surgeries. His wife Kathryn, a certified personal trainer he describes as an angel, companion and encourager, helps him deal with the physical pain that often accompanies his joy.
 
“God has used these statements to encourage me, and I don’t mind if it took a little fire to make me more beautiful,” Stewart said in a February testimony at First Baptist Church in Anchorage. “I’ll say this, more people have been drawn to me in a kind, compassionate way, than the opposite. And people walk up to me and ask me about the story, and I get to share Christ as a result.”
 
Stewart spoke with Baptist Press (BP) by telephone May 23, the 10-month anniversary of the accident, while he was at Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle, Wash. It was the day before he was scheduled for an outpatient procedure – the latest of nearly 20 surgeries. Today, doctors are repairing skin grafts that haven’t healed from a March operation that restored mobility in his left arm.

Submitted photo
Jimmy Stewart


“I was told this was going to be a marathon and as a result I feel I am on about mile 9 of the race to heal,” Stewart said. “I have had many months of wound care and therapy for the scars and wound healing. Except for the top of my head, all of the wounds have healed.”
 
While checking the source of a gas leak in the crawl space of his family’s rural cabin, Stewart took the brunt of a gas tank explosion that blew open the cabin as his family was inside. He describes the fire as a “flash bang” that miraculously extinguished within seconds.
 
“Visqueen (plastic sheeting) covered me, melted from the blast, and flesh was hanging from my body,” Stewart said. The fire burned his skin white, took his hair and all but the collar of his shirt, and shredded his pants, he later learned. Powered perhaps by adrenaline, Stewart ran to check on his family.
 
His son drove him to the nearest road to meet the ambulance that arrived within 10 minutes. He was flown to Harborview Medical Center where he spent the next four months – two months in Intensive Care, five weeks in acute care and two weeks in rehabilitation – before his discharge from the hospital in November 2016.
 
Hospital staff called him the “miracle man” for surviving the accident they considered deadly, Stewart said.
 
His family plastered his hospital room with scripture, family photos and some of the 900 inspirational cards he received worldwide from Southern Baptists and others who noted their prayers for him. As the Kims learned of his accident, they began a 24-hour prayer chain and “just went to town praying,” Stewart said.
 
His wife Kathryn relied on “prayer support of dear sisters and brothers in Christ,” and the “encouragement of gracious friends and loving family,” she said. “Thanking the Lord for every detail that we have to be so grateful for every hour” helped sustain the family, she said, noting most of all the comfort found in scripture.

Submitted photo
Alaska Baptist Convention leader Jimmy Stewart was well enough to officiate his daughter Katelyn’s wedding Dec. 10, 2016, less than five months after he suffered life threatening burns in a gas leak explosion. Pictured, from right, with Jimmy and his wife Kathryn are Katelyn, her husband Kendon Hughes, Stewart’s sons Justin and Steven, and Steven’s wife Anna.


“‘So do not fear, do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,’” she quoted Isaiah 41:10. “Psalm 56:3, ‘When I am afraid I will trust in you….
 
“I just always felt He had it in His hands,” Kathryn said of God. “We never had any doubt even in the difficult times.”
 
God still performs miracles, the Stewarts acknowledge.
 
“It truly was a miracle that I survived the initial explosion and fire,” Stewart told BP. “The first 48 hours in the hospital were critical. God protected me and sustained me … I believe God did many miracles.”
 
Since his release from the hospital, Stewart has told his testimony at Antioch Baptist Church in the Boston area where Kim, who serves as Asian-American relations consultant to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, is pastor emeritus. Stewart traveled to North American Mission Board (NAMB) offices in Alpharetta, Ga., to thank NAMB President Kevin Ezell and others for their prayers and financial gifts, and attended a luncheon given in his honor by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He has spoken at college and youth ministry events.
 
On Dec. 10 in Seattle, he escorted his daughter Katelyn down the aisle for her wedding, officiated the ceremony, and led her in the father-daughter dance. At Christmas, he attended the 70th wedding anniversary of his parents.
 
Stewart’s wife accompanies him on all of his trips, making sure he gets needed rest and leading him in his daily physical therapy.
 
Stewart still has nerve pain and skin problems including painful rashes, and sometimes is forced to simply stop and lie down. Kathryn considers everything that would increase his comfort, she said, especially on difficult days.
 
“Those are the days,” Kathryn said, “when I ask the Lord more, ‘How can I help him?’”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

5/25/2017 10:09:50 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Iorg challenges graduates to ‘be expert witnesses’

May 25 2017 by Katherine Chute, Gateway Seminary

Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg told students graduating from the seminary’s Los Angeles-area campus May 20 that their primary role in God’s kingdom is to be witnesses to the gospel.

Photo by Rebekah Wahlberg
President Jeff Iorg, right, presents Benjamin Friedman of California with the William O. Crews Presidential Leadership Award.


“Tell your story and watch how God transforms those around you,” he said. “Be expert witnesses. You have expert information about the Bible and practical ministry. Tell the truth no matter the consequences.”
 
Iorg reminded them that they needed to pray that God would give them insight.
 
“We spent the last years giving you the tools of effective ministry,” he said. “Use them wisely, but trust none of them to accomplish the supernatural work that God wants you to accomplish in the years to come. Trust instead in Him.”
 
He challenged them to never lose sight of the ends of the earth.
 
“While your primary job is your current ministry, never lose sight of the world,” he said. “Keep it in your vision. You are leaders in a spiritual kingdom. Tell your story, even if it’s painful, and then tell it locally and globally.”
 
The seminary’s Los Angeles-area campus in Ontario graduated 101 students from 17 states and three countries during commencement ceremonies held at Hillside Community Church in Rancho Cucamonga.
 
The service was the fourth of five ceremonies, with a total of 201 graduates, conducted on the seminary’s campuses. The Pacific Northwest campus, located in Vancouver, Wash., recognized the seminary’s 9,000th graduate during ceremonies there May 12.
 
LeShon Archer of California, who received the master of arts in educational leadership degree, said she came to Gateway because she wanted to be a Bible teacher. She began classes in the spring term of 2014, just before the announcement that the seminary was moving.
 
“Dr. Iorg told the students that some had expressed concerns about competition in Southern California from other seminaries,” she said, “but he told us that our mission was different. Our mission was to train leaders who expand God’s kingdom around the world. That’s when it dawned on me that we were partnering and joining with other believers to expand God’s kingdom.”
 
Archer said she felt the faculty was there because they wanted to teach and that they challenged and changed and equipped her to fulfill the teaching ministry God had given her.
 
“I enjoyed the training and the teaching the most,” she said. “I still want to be a successful Bible teacher, wherever God leads me to serve.”
 
Benjamin Friedman of California, who earned the master of divinity degree, said he accepted Christ as a college student, felt the call to preach, and came to Gateway three weeks after college graduation and seven days after his wedding.
 
“A call to ministry is also a call to prepare,” he said. “I wanted the rich denominational history of the Southern Baptist Convention, but I wanted to do ministry outside the Bible Belt. I saw in Gateway Seminary a combination of those two factors. The most significant learning experience for me has been the training combined with intellectual rigor and practical application.”
 
Friedman received the William O. Crews Presidential Award and the Zondervan Award in Theology.
 
Other award winners included Lindsay Nicole Vacek of California, who received the Fletcher and Claudia Royal Award in Educational Leadership; Jin Ah Yi of California, who was awarded the Roger and Martha Skelton Award in Educational Service; Hannah C. McCloy of Minnesota, who received the Jack O’Neal Award in Intercultural Ministry; Cameron Schweitzer of California, who received the Baker Bookhouse Award in Theology; Miles Paul Wallace of California, who received the Gateway Award in Theology; and Bryan David Gill of Alabama, recipient of the Will Edd Langford Award.
 
In addition, the Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Wayne Eurich, who graduated in 1950 with a bachelor of theology degree. At age 97, Eurich may be the oldest living alumnus of the seminary. He served in churches in Oregon, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Alaska, Germany and South Africa.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Katherine Chute is director of communications for Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
 

5/25/2017 9:54:31 AM by Katherine Chute, Gateway Seminary | with 0 comments



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