October 2017

Puerto Rico DR response requiring rigorous logistics

October 16 2017 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Sam Porter estimates that one-third of the island has yet to receive much care or help.

Photo by Puerto Rico National Guard
Baptist relief effort to face blocked roads and other logistical challenges in delivering aid to Puerto Rico.

Porter, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) national director for disaster relief, has been in Puerto Rico since Oct. 8.
He is working there with Jack Noble, a retired disaster relief director from the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia, and David Melber, NAMB’s president of Send Relief, to coordinate a plan to deliver help and hope to the people of Puerto Rico.
The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) response to the tragedy will be unlike anything Southern Baptists have faced.
The situation in Puerto Rico has been so dire, the devastation so widespread, that SBDR will be doing much of its recovery work without the assistance of some traditional governmental and charity-based relief partners.
“The circumstance is so unusual that we have to take the full responsibility of this response on our own,” Melber said. “That means buying and shipping the food, renting warehouse space, sending the kitchen equipment and then providing the volunteers to do the cooking. We are forging our entire response by ourselves.”
Send Relief is working to establish relief ministry hubs in as many as 15 churches in Puerto Rico where SBDR volunteers will be able to provide hot meals and other needed services. NAMB and Send Relief have put together pastor kits, including generators, tools, food and other resources, that will go to local churches.
These kits will help those churches become centers for other forms of relief ministry throughout the community as SBDR and Send Relief volunteers step into the rough living situations in Puerto Rico.
In the first few weeks of October, the opportunities for serving have been limited to trained SBDR volunteers. Later in October, Send Relief expects to start sending untrained volunteers who have registered through sendrelief.net.

Photo by Sam Porter
The roof of Green Island Baptist Church was completely blown off during Hurricane Maria’s sweeping destruction in Puerto Rico. Pastor George McKnight and his wife Debbie pause for a photo, with the San Juan skyline in the background, at the church which also was flooded. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief have been working to coordinate a response to the devastation in the island nation.

Oct. 9-13, dozens of SBDR volunteers are on the ground, experiencing just how difficult life is in Puerto Rico while working to clear debris, chain-saw downed trees and clean mud out of flooded homes.
“Our volunteers are roughing it,” Porter said. “This is not your normal mission trip. Anyone who comes to Puerto Rico needs to be ready for extreme conditions. They will be sleeping on floors. They likely won’t be able to shower. They may not even have a flushable toilet.”
In a traditional disaster relief setting, volunteers typically have the ability to drive 20 or 30 minutes and find themselves out of the disaster zone. It’s not so in Puerto Rico currently.
“It’s as bad of conditions as I’ve seen in my nearly 20 years of disaster relief,” Porter said, “and I have worked in international disaster zones before. This is 120 miles long and 35 miles wide of destruction. I’ve never seen that before.”
Melber, after spending time in Puerto Rico, also recounted his experience.
“When you’re traveling at night and you don’t see lights hardly anywhere, it just puts the damage into perspective,” he said. “Imagine a society being without power for six months to a year, and you will realize that people cannot store or cook food, let alone open up their businesses.”
The damage to the island’s infrastructure has made it difficult for NAMB and Send Relief to deliver resources to those who need them most, but God has been opening doors. Whatever resources can possibly be purchased on the island will be bought in Puerto Rico in order to stimulate the local economy. Whatever cannot be purchased there will be shipped in by sea or by air.
Since the damage has been so severe, thousands of people are leaving the island, but many will be unable to do so. Resources, such as the pastor kits, should be arriving soon. Southern Baptists will then be able to establish the necessary infrastructure in order to conduct even more relief ministry for those who remain on the island.

One step of faith

As Porter traveled around the island, he encountered one NAMB church planting missionary who took a step of faith by feeding people from his church building.
“He started cooking with the food he had,” Porter recounted. “When the people in the neighborhood heard that, they started bringing what rice and beans they had. He was a pastor stepping out in faith, and God provided.”
Now, Porter and Send Relief are asking Southern Baptist churches and church members to take similar steps of faith.
“Send Relief provides the opportunity for every church member to get involved, whether in giving or in volunteering,” Porter said. “God has enough resources in the pockets of Southern Baptists across the country to provide relief to the people of Puerto Rico who are in extreme need.”
The expectations for these resources, however, extend beyond simply providing for physical needs.
“I’m sure that some of the people who were fed in that pastor’s church will be baptized in the coming weeks,” said Porter. “As Southern Baptists continue to put their resources into this relief effort, we will see people come to faith in Christ.”
Donations given through sendrelief.net will go directly to aid hurricane survivors. Trained and untrained volunteers can sign up through the Send Relief site as well. NAMB, through Send Relief, will also be coordinating state SBDR volunteer teams.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

10/16/2017 3:59:13 PM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

Committee explains ‘Resolution Denouncing Racism’

October 16 2017 by BSC Communications

It is an honor and a privilege to serve the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (Convention). The members of the 2017 Resolutions and Memorials Committee (Committee) are very cognizant of this great honor and privilege. We are humbled that the Convention would choose us to review any resolutions submitted and trust us to decide which resolutions should be presented to the messengers for consideration.
This year the Committee strongly feels that that the Convention needs to address a critical and perennial issue in our culture and particularly in our own state. With the recent racially driven events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and even more locally in Durham, the committee feels that the Convention needs to formally express a biblically grounded opinion on the cultural issue of racism in America.
The Committee is providing this article along with the release of the proposed resolution with the hopes of providing additional explanation. It is easy for individuals to draw incomplete conclusions when background information is lacking. The members of the Committee want N.C. Baptists to know that we have had long, passionate discussions about the wording of this resolution. The Committee carefully weighed every single word in a labored effort to be certain that we are not conveying the wrong message to the world, but that ultimately the message of hope and love found within the gospel is clearly communicated to the world.
The Committee consists of men that love North Carolina and men that love these United States of America, that respect history and value clear teaching about the history of nature – both our nation’s successes and our failures. However, as citizens of heaven, every single member of the Committee understands the mission of God to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The expectation of our Lord, expressed in Acts 1:8, includes not only being witnesses in every geographical area, but among every people group, as well.
As believers, our ultimate allegiance and obedience is to the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom. Just as Paul addressed the churches of Galatia concerning the cultural and historical practice of circumcision, we too believe that we should not allow anything in our culture to hinder our witness of the love and grace of Jesus.
In addition, as Paul instructed the believers in Rome, we should be willing to set aside anything that creates stumbling blocks for the gospel and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
We implore you, brothers and sisters, for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the glory of God, please hear our hearts and consider the priority of the gospel and affirm this resolution in November.

Resolution Denouncing Racism

WHEREAS, The Bible clearly teaches that God has created all men and women in His image, from all tribes and nations of the world (Genesis 1:27; Acts 17:26); and
WHEREAS, Christ died for the sins of people from every nation, tongue, and tribe (Revelation 5:9); and
WHEREAS, Christians are commanded to make disciples from every nation (Matthew 28:19); and
WHEREAS, The Bible declares, “God does not show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34-35); and
WHEREAS, Significant racism still exists in our communities, as evidenced by recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Durham, North Carolina, and other cities across our nation, and the devil uses these opportunities to perpetuate division and strife in our society; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Annual Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, November 6-7, 2017, denounce racism in all its expressions as sin against a holy and just God, because it disregards the image of God in all people and denies the truth of the Gospel that Christ died for the sins of all mankind; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we affirm the content and sentiments of the resolution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13-14, 2017 titled “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy”; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on North Carolina Baptists to humble themselves before God, acknowledging that while the preservation of history is critically important for a nation, the demonstration of Christ’s love and the proclamation of the Gospel to all peoples must take precedence over the important personal preferences of individual Christians, including the preservation of history. Therefore, we call on North Carolina Baptists to joyfully set aside anything that might create a barrier for the sharing and hearing of the full truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That North Carolina Baptists commit to pray fervently for those who advocate racism, so that they may become aware of their sin through the light of the Gospel, repent of the sin of racism, and recognize that the love of Jesus Christ has been extended to all men and women of every race and nation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Following is the full text of the “Resolution On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy” adopted by messengers at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona, which the “Resolution Denouncing Racism” affirms.)

Resolution On The Anti-Gospel Of Alt-Right White Supremacy

Adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention
Phoenix, Ariz.; June 13-14, 2017
WHEREAS, Scripture teaches, “From one man [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26); and
WHEREAS, The Psalmist proclaimed, “The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord” (Psalm 24:1); and
WHEREAS, The Apostle Peter said, “God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:34-35); and
WHEREAS, Our justification before God is based on faith in Christ Jesus alone and not in our ethnicity (Galatians 3:27-28); and
WHEREAS, Scripture proclaims that Jesus is purchasing by His blood believers “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9); and
WHEREAS, Throughout eternity we will gather with a “multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” in worship of our risen Savior (Revelation 7:9); and
WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message conveys that all Christians are obligated to make the will of Christ supreme in their own lives and in human society, opposing all forms of racism, selfishness, and vice, and bringing government and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love; and
WHEREAS, We know from our Southern Baptist history the effects of the horrific sins of racism and hatred; and
WHEREAS, In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention repudiated “historic acts of evil, such as slavery,” committed “to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry,” and “genuinely repent[ed] of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously”; and 
WHEREAS, In recent years the Convention has nominated and elected individuals from a variety of ethnicities, including electing our first African-American president in 2012; and
WHEREAS, In recent resolutions the Southern Baptist Convention called on “all Christian men and women to pray and labor for the day when our Lord will set all things right and racial prejudice and injustice will be no more” (2014); expressed continued grief “over the presence of racism and the recent escalation of racial tension in our nation” (2015); and urged fellow Christians to discontinue using the Confederate battle flag, acknowledging that it is “used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people” (2016); and
WHEREAS, More than 20 percent (nearly eleven thousand) of our cooperating Southern Baptist congregations identify as predominately non-Anglo and for the last three years more than 50 percent of Southern Baptist new church plants have been predominately non-Anglo; and
WHEREAS, B&H Academic recently published Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention, highlighting our continuing need to root out vestiges of racism from our own hearts as Southern Baptists; and
WHEREAS, Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as “white nationalism” or “alt-right”; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we acknowledge that we still must make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the Gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through redeemed fellowship in the Kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
10/16/2017 3:46:46 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Resolution on a Biblical Stance on Human Sexuality and Marriage

October 16 2017 by BSC Communications

WHEREAS, God created two complementary and distinct sexes, male and female, and embedded their differences in the very biology of the human race (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:6); and

WHEREAS, The separation of one’s gender identity from the physical reality of biological birth sex rejects God’s perfect intent in creation, and undermines the ultimate purpose of humanity, which is to bring honor and glory to God (Isaiah 43:7); and

WHEREAS, God in His divine wisdom established marriage as the union of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:18-24; Matthew 19:4-6; Hebrews 13:4); and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) recognizes the biblical definition of marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime,” stating further, “It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race”; and

WHEREAS, The cultural pressures of modern society have begun to sway persons even within the Body of Christ from holding fast to these biblical teachings regarding human sexuality and marriage; and

WHEREAS, The church is called to proclaim with conviction the biblical truths regarding human sexuality and marriage; and

WHEREAS, The Bible commands Christians to love all of their neighbors, which includes those with whom we may disagree; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina meeting in in Greensboro, North Carolina, November 6-7, 2017, affirm God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception; and be it further

RESOLVED, That North Carolina Baptists affirm the biblical definition of marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman, and the biblical truths regarding God’s purpose for marriage, being ultimately for benefit of mankind, especially as it relates to procreation and the establishment of strong families under the Lordship of Christ; and finally be it

RESOLVED, That North Carolina Baptists commit to pray for our neighbors who identify themselves as homosexual and transgender, to minister to them with Christ’s love, and, as they repent, to help them grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

10/16/2017 3:07:20 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

BSA to open Cub Scouting to girls in 2018

October 13 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Boys Scouts of America (BSA) will open Cub Scouting to girls in 2018, the latest move in the BSA’s evolution from a gender-specific character development organization limited to biological boys.
BSA’s board of directors unanimously approved the change Oct. 11 at its Texas headquarters and announced plans to roll out a similar program for older girls in 2019 to allow girls to obtain the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. The changes cater to requests from families too busy to enroll sons and daughters in separate programs, BSA leaders said, and is not a tactic to increase membership numbers that have declined.
Many Southern Baptists have long resisted the BSA’s transition, opposing the 2013 change to accept open homosexuals as Scouts, the 2015 rule opening unit leadership and employment to gays and bisexuals, and the January decision to accept transgender youth as Scouts. The changes mark a sharp reversal from the BSA’s hard-fought 2000 U.S. Supreme Court victory to exclude homosexuals from Scouting.
“Boy Scouts of America has continued to change the original purpose of its organization,” Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told Baptist Press (BP) Oct. 12. “It is with sadness that I hear about this latest strategy. I warned the top executives several years ago that their changes would lead to them ministering to fewer boys, not more. Unfortunately, that prophecy has proven to be true.”
Organizations that charter Cub Scout packs and dens, designed for ages 6-10, will retain the right to restrict individual membership to boys, BSA said in rolling out the new plan.
“In 2018, an existing pack may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens, or remain an all-boy pack,” the BSA explains at scoutingnewsroom.org. “Cub Scout dens will be single-gender – all boys or all girls. Cub Scout packs, meanwhile, can include any combination of all-boy or all-girl dens. The choice is left to individual pack leaders in consultation with their chartered organization.”
BSA will announce in 2018 a new opportunity for older girls, BSA said, making the Boy Scout curriculum available to girls ages 11-17 and enabling girls to become Eagle Scouts.
“This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families,” BSA said. BSA’s Venturing program has been co-ed since 1971; its Exploring program, since 1998.
R. Chip Turner, a Southern Baptist who is a member and immediate past chairman of the BSA National Religious Relationships Task Force, said the changes address the concerns of girls while retaining flexibility for religious organizations who participate in Scouting.
“I would prefer to broaden the opportunity to reach children, youth and families, using Scouting as a ministry,” Turner told BP today. “It’s simply another opportunity to reach people. Churches have the option to not go that way, stay with what they’re doing or to include the girls.”
The program being designed for older girls and anticipated for 2019, he said, is currently not intended to integrate girls into Boy Scout troops but to expand Boy Scout programming to girls.
“[The older girls will] have their own organization, so they will not be co-ed from that standpoint,” Turner told BP. “You always have to maintain vigilance anytime you have boys and girls together of course. That’s one of the reasons, among many, that there will be a separate program for [older] girls.”
Two-thirds of Boy Scout programs are currently chartered by churches, Turner told BP. Southern Baptists, meanwhile, also have long participated in Royal Ambassadors, a Christian character development program for boys offered by the Woman’s Missionary Union.
Trail Life USA (TLUSA), a Christian alternative to Scouting birthed after the BSA opened its membership to gays, pledged yesterday to remain all-male.
“As gender blurring only increases, it is more important than ever that someone provides a safe environment where boys can be boys, and where their natural talents and tendencies can be affirmed, encouraged and developed by men who can offer a positive role model,” TLUSA CEO Mark Hancock said in a press release. “I can assure that we have no intention of following the lead of the Boys Scouts of America. We will continue to offer a place where the wildness and the natural tendencies of boys can be encouraged and shaped, for their good and for the good of society.”
TLUSA has 30,000 members in 750 troops spread across 48 states.
Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA), which allows individual troops flexibility in accepting transgender girls, rebuked BSA for the latest change.
“The Boy Scouts house is on fire,” GSUSA told ABC News. “Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA’s senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls.”
BSA membership totaled 2,341,000 in 2016, according to its 2016 annual report, in contrast to the 2,739,692 indicated in its 2011 annual report.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

Related articles:
Boy Scouts’ transgender policy ‘sad,’ ‘predicted’
Mormons pull older teens from BSA, open own program

10/13/2017 11:29:09 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Congress’ prayer tradition upheld by federal judge

October 13 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The constitutionality of legislative prayer gained reaffirmation Oct. 11 when a federal court dismissed an atheist’s challenge of the U.S. House of Representatives’ right to bar him from delivering an invocation.

C-SPAN screen capture
Ronnie Floyd, then-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, leads in prayer before a session of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014.

Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District of Columbia said U.S. Supreme Court precedent undergirds the long tradition of prayer to open congressional sessions and the House’s rules in carrying out the practice. Collyer’s support for legislative prayer in Congress came three months after a federal appeals court invalidated the practice in a North Carolina county.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan – as well as a Southern Baptist/evangelical prayer leader – expressed gratitude for the decision.
Ryan said he is grateful the House “can continue to begin its work each day as we have for centuries: taking a moment to pray to God.”
“Recently, especially following the return of Majority Whip Steve Scalise [who was critically injured by a gunman in June], this institution has been reminded about the power of prayer,” Ryan said in a written statement.
Ronnie Floyd – president of the National Day of Prayer and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – told Baptist Press (BP) he is thankful the judge upheld the prayer tradition in Congress.
“The freedom of religion should exist in every corner of American life, including when Congress meets in session,” Floyd said.
Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, has opened both the House and Senate in prayer. Most recently, he prayed in the House two days after he was elected SBC president at the June 2014 meeting in Baltimore.
“We are a nation built upon the strong commitment, ‘In God We Trust,’” Floyd said in explaining the value of prayer in Congress. “There is no greater need in this nation than for all of us to pray. I am convinced we must do all we can to mobilize unified public prayer for America.
“The members of Congress need prayer, and they need to be led in prayer as they begin each session,” Floyd told BP in an email interview. “Just this week, I was in Washington meeting with some members of Congress. I was in a gathering with several of these leaders who pray with each other weekly, earnestly and passionately.”
Collyer’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), against House Chaplain Patrick Conroy, a Roman Catholic priest, as well as Ryan, the House and other employees of the chaplain’s office. Barker contended the refusal to allow him to deliver a secular invocation instead of a prayer to open the House’s day violated the First Amendment’s prohibition on government establishment of religion as well as other clauses in the Constitution and federal law.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., sponsored his constituent in a request to the House chaplain, but Conroy declined Barker’s request in December 2015 because he is “ordained in a denomination in which he no longer practices” and “is not a religious clergyman [because he had] parted with his religious beliefs,” according to Collyer’s decision.
In her opinion, Collyer said, “The legislative prayer practice of the House of Representatives is consistent with the decisions of the Supreme Court and this [D.C.] Circuit, as well as” the House’s rules.
While she found Barker lacked the legal right – known as “standing” – to bring the suit against Conroy, Collyer also cited the high court’s previous rulings in support of legislative prayer:

  • Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 Supreme Court ruling, “did not violate the Establishment Clause even though a single clergyman had offered the prayers [in the Nebraska legislature] for many years and they were all in the Judeo-Christian tradition,” Collyer wrote.
  • Town of Greece v. Galloway, a 2014 case regarding prayer at New York town council meetings, “supported the conclusion that legislative invocations are compatible with the Establishment Clause,” she said. “Town of Greece did not alter the permissibility of legislative prayers or hold that Congress must permit nonsectarian or nontheist statements by chaplains.”

The Continental Congress initiated the tradition of federal legislative prayer in 1774, Collyer wrote. House rules require a prayer, which is consistent with the Establishment Clause, she said. Either the House chaplain or a guest chaplain opens the chamber’s session each day in prayer.
In a written statement, Barker charged Conroy’s “personal biases against the nonreligious have prevented me from participating in my government. The judge’s acquiescence in this inequity sends a crystal clear message that our government, founded upon our entirely secular Constitution, may discriminate with impunity against atheists and freethinkers.”
In a 10-5 decision in July, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., struck down the practice of the Rowan County (N.C.) Board of Commissioners in opening their meetings in prayer. Board members would offer the prayers and invite audience members to stand and participate, according to Reuters News Service.
Rowan County petitioned the Supreme Court Oct. 12, asking it to review the Fourth Circuit’s opinion and uphold its commissioners’ prayer policy.
In his role as president of the National Day of Prayer, Floyd supervises the national effort to mobilize individuals, churches and religious organizations to pray publicly for America throughout the year and culminates in the national observance on the first Thursday of May each year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Related articles:
Appeals court: Rowan commissioners’ prayers unconstitutional
Conflicting rulings on prayer may open door to SCOTUS

10/13/2017 11:23:33 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

NOBTS year-long centennial to have evangelistic focus

October 13 2017 by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) kicked off its 100th anniversary celebration with special events Oct. 3 and the announcement of upcoming centennial initiatives focused on evangelism and missions.

Photo by Boyd Guy
New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley, to mark NOBTS’ centennial year, challenged the seminary community – and Southern Baptists – to become more intentional witnesses, offering a Gospel Conversations smartphone app to help track NOBTS’ goal of sharing Christ at least 100,000 times before October 2018.

Activities began with the annual Founders Day chapel service, as NOBTS President Chuck Kelley pointed past the seminary’s 1917 founding to the true “seed” from which the seminary sprang – the Acts 1:8 commission by Jesus to take the gospel to all nations.
Kelley asked Southern Baptists to join with NOBTS in reaching 100,000 gospel conversations during the centennial year in honor of that commission.
“We were created to be a lighthouse as well as a schoolhouse,” Kelley said. “We’re asking all Southern Baptists, not just our seminary family, to help us tell 100,000 people about Jesus.”
NOBTS has created a smartphone app to help track the 100,000 gospel conversations. It offers evangelism helps, a reporting tool and follow-up assistance to help connect individuals with a local church. The app can be downloaded here.
Kelley’s sermon marked the first in a series of chapel sermons preaching through the book of Acts that will continue throughout the centennial and close Oct. 4, 2018. Featured speakers will include The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.; Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg; and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore.
The seminary’s centennial goals include $50 million for scholarship endowments, campus renovation and expenditures and 100 mission trips during the year involving the NOBTS family, alumni and friends.
Founded as the Baptist Bible Institute by vote of messengers at the 1917 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – the only seminary to be created by direct action of the SBC – the seminary was intended as a training school for missionaries. Classes began in October 1918.
A century ago, New Orleans had few Baptists and less than 10 Baptist churches. Kelley called it a “radical” decision since denominational entities typically are placed in cities with a strong base of support.
God has been faithful and the seminary has been a “lighthouse” to the city, Kelley said. He noted that Baptists today make up the second largest religious group in the city, with the New Orleans Baptist Association encompassing more than 125 churches.
“We were put here to bear witness to Jesus,” Kelley said. “That’s what the centennial is about. It’s about remembering that being a witness for Christ is not convenient … and of our own accord we are not likely to do, but with the Holy Spirit enabling us, we are able.”
An evening service Oct. 4 with a revival-like atmosphere featured Junior Hill, a 1962 NOBTS alumnus and noted evangelist.

Photo by Boyd Guy
The Louisiana Singing Ministers and Singing Women sing during New Orleans Seminary’s Founders’ Day chapel service Oct. 3, helping launch a year-long celebration of NOBTS’ centennial year.

David Hankins, Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director, thanked the seminary for its partnership with and contributions to Louisiana Baptists. Hankins noted the faculty and students who serve as pastors and church staff members; the NOBTS ministry in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola; and the seminary’s support of a church planting initiative that has netted 50 new Louisiana congregations since 2010.
“We’re thankful for the partnership we have,” Hankins said. “Only heaven knows the eternal good that has come from what has gone from this institution.”
Jim Futral, Mississippi Baptist Convention executive director, expressed gratitude for the seminary’s influence on his life, adding, “I am the least of all the saints, but I am the most grateful.”
Kelly reminded the evening audience that the gospel began “on the streets of Jerusalem and by the shores of Galilee” to reach them where they were, representing an unbroken chain of gospel conversations.
“Don’t break the chain,” Kelley urged. “There are people who will not hear about Jesus if we are not faithful in talking about Jesus.”
Junior Hill, 81, speaking on the parable of the seed, the soil and the sower in Luke 8:5-15, noted a fourth consideration stemming from the passage – Satan’s strategy.
“The battleground we’re facing today is that the devil is assaulting those of us who have the seed in our hand to take it away so that the world won’t be able to hear it,” Hill said. “It is happening on every corner, and we better be aware of the subtleties of Satan lest he take the seed out of our hand.”
Hill said Satan thwarts believers’ efforts through intimidation by causing believers to ignore God’s prompting to share; spending time on evaluation of an opportunity to share rather than proclamation; and becoming weary in well-doing.
Urging the NOBTS community not to give up or give in to weariness, Hill reminded that one day they will hear God say, “Well-done, thou good and faithful servant.”
“Oh, my dear brothers and sisters, we have a gospel to share,” Hill concluded. “May God give us grace that we be faithful to share.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is assistant public relations director at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

10/13/2017 11:12:35 AM by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS | with 0 comments

Homecoming mum tradition turns to hurricane relief

October 13 2017 by Marc Ira Hooks, Baptist Press

Flood-soaked cardboard boxes of homecoming mums are among the debris lining the sidewalks and street curbs of many houses in the suburban Kingwood neighborhood north of downtown Houston.

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
A flood-soaked cardboard box with an extravagant homecoming mum reflects new meaning for a longtime Texas tradition.

For longer than people can remember how it started, high school students present their homecoming dates with a chrysanthemum (or mum, for short) bedecked with ribbons, glitter and other mementos. Texas students spend millions each year on these high school keepsakes varying in size from four inches to a foot in diameter, with price tags of $50 to $300.
Usually, these mums are a sure sign that high school football season is in full swing. But this year, the once-bustling hallways of Kingwood High School are silent. The school is just one of the many damaged by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. It is doubtful it will reopen its doors this academic year; nine months or more of repair and rebuilding are in its future.
Three hundred miles to the north, students who normally would be placing orders for their own homecoming mums are instead going online to donate to hurricane relief. They plan to wear buttons and custom T-shirts as a replacement for the traditional mum tradition.
The Mums For Harvey hurricane relief fundraising idea came from Crossroads Community Church in rural Anna/Van Alstyne northeast of Dallas.
Pastor Shawn Kemp said he certainly isn’t opposed to the homecoming mum tradition but believes at least a portion of the money families spend on mums can be used to help those who were affected by the hurricane and its massive flooding in Houston and south Texas.
“This is an opportunity to take a beautiful Texas tradition and honor it by giving it new meaning,” Kemp said, noting the importance of students seeing opportunities to sacrifice “in order to meet other Texans’ needs.”
Kemp said he and other Mums for Harvey organizers do not expect students to give up the tradition completely, but perhaps to “scale down” what they would usually do so a portion of that money can be used to help survivors of the hurricane and flooding.
“Some students won’t have a home at all this year,” he said.

Partnering together with the Collin Baptist Association (CBA) Church Network, Crossroads Community Church launched a website which facilitates students to give to hurricane relief through the network’s disaster relief partnerships. In addition to several statewide efforts, CBA Church Network helps support the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board’s SEND Relief initiative financially and by facilitating the sending of volunteer teams to the hurricane-affected area.
Linda Smith of Wylie, Texas, made her donation to Mums for Harvey when her granddaughter Jenna, a junior at Wylie High School, told her it was something they should do. So, she made two donations, one for Jenna and another for her to give to a friend.
“It really hit with the conversations that Jenna and I have been having,” Smith said. “She has been concerned about the other kids in the high schools in Houston and what is going on in their lives. She wanted her mum money to go to help.”
“This is the most ‘Texas’ a fundraiser has ever been,” said Karin Rankin, who read about Mums for Harvey though a Facebook post. A Brownwood, Texas, native who now lives in Las Cruces, N.M., Rankin said, “The first time I realized it was just a Texas thing was when we moved out of state in my junior year of high school.”
Kemp hopes students from across the state will participate in the opportunity to take an old tradition and give it a new twist. “This is a chance for Texans to show the rest of the country how we respond when other people in our state are hurting,” the pastor said. “We take care of our own. And that sense of caring extends to our teenagers as well.”
Added Smith, “It is a fun tradition, but there are a lot of better ways to spend that money. I give my granddaughter credit for recognizing that.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marc Ira Hooks is associate director of missions for the Dallas-area Collin Baptist Association/Church Network as well as a photographer and former missionary to Eastern Europe.)

10/13/2017 11:00:45 AM by Marc Ira Hooks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

3rd Pakistani Christian teenager killed since August

October 13 2017 by Morning Star News, Pakistan Correspondent

Police in Pakistan beat a 14-year-old Christian boy to death on Oct. 9, because he had gotten into a fight with a Muslim classmate who tried to bully him into renouncing his faith, Morning Star News reported Oct. 11.
Arsalan Masih is the third Christian teenager to be killed in Pakistan since August.
Mushtaq Masih told Morning Star News that his son, Arsalan Masih, was a student at a private center in the Punjab province village of Jhabran Mandi, located in the province’s Sheikhupura district. Arsalan was at the center when seven policemen from the local Bahu Chowk police post arrived at about 5 p.m. in an official vehicle and stormed the premises, Masih said.
“Arsalan was attending his tuition classes at the Ideal Science Academy when head constable Imtiaz, driver Rashid, constable Arshad and other unidentified policemen kicked open the door and dragged him out of the classroom,” Masih said. “Sardar, alias Billu, a police constable, helped them to identify the boy. With this, they all started beating Arsalan with fists, kicks and rifle butts.”
Teacher Farhan Ali tried to stop the assault but the officers shoved and slapped him and continued beating the boy, Masih said.
“Rashid struck Arsalan’s head with a pistol and he started bleeding,” the father said. “When they bundled him into the police van, Arsalan collapsed and died. Later the police team threw Arsalan’s body on the roadside and fled.”
Masih said numerous bystanders witnessed the assault, but the policemen threatened them if they intervened.
Masih, a Presbyterian church member, said Arsalan had fought with a Muslim boy four months ago after the classmate tried to bully him into renouncing his Christian faith.
“I did not know about the fight until recently,” Masih said. “Arsalan had reportedly beaten up a boy whose uncle, Sardar alias Billu, is a constable .... Billu nurtured a grudge against Arsalan, and that’s why he brought his police friends with him to teach the poor boy a lesson.”
Masih said that he registered a case (No. 653/17) with the district police station against the seven officers but they had not been arrested.
Sarfraz Virk, Sheikhupura superintendent of police, told Morning Star News he had ordered the registration of a case against the accused policemen and suspended the in-charge officer at the Bahu Chowk police post for negligence in official duties.
“We are trying our best to arrest the nominated accused, who have fled the area since the day of the incident,” Virk said. “The boy was not wanted in any case, and it’s quite clear that the policemen had gone there on their own and misused their official authority.”
Sub-inspector Safdar Javed of the Bahu Chowk police post told Morning Star News he had just taken charge and was investigating the case.
“So far, no accused has been arrested,” Javed said. “My investigation till now has revealed that no case or complaint was registered against Arsalan with the Bahu police. The policemen transgressed their authority and will be brought to justice at all costs.”
Javed said investigators were taking into consideration the family’s claim that the killing was religiously motivated.
In August, two Pakistani Christian teens were killed, according to Morning Star News reports: Asif Masih, 16, who was severely beaten by a mob after being accused of blasphemy by another Christian student, and 17-year-old Sharoon Masih, who was killed by a Muslim classmate during school hours in Punjab’s Vehari district because he had taken a drink of water from a glass used by all students – an act many Muslims hold in disdain as they regard Christians as “unclean.”
The maternal grandfather of Arsalan Masih, identified only as Pastor Shafqat, said 300 to 400 Christian families live in the Jhabran Mandi area where the teenager was killed on Oct. 9.
“Fights do take place among boys from both communities over petty issues but this is the first time a boy has lost his life,” Shafgat said. “The murderers didn’t even [have a pained conscience] for a second that they were ruthlessly beating a 14-year-old boy. What had he done to deserve such a brutal death?”
The case has been taken up by the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice (PCLJ). Attorney Kashif Naimat of the PCLJ told Morning Star News that police were initially reluctant to register an initial report against their colleagues.
“However, the police were forced to register the [report] after Arsalan’s family and other Christians blocked the main highway for several hours on Monday night in protest,” Naimat said. “PCLJ has taken up the case voluntarily and we will do our best to bring perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice regardless of their influence.”
Christian rights activists said the killing showed that religious intolerance is seeping into all sections of society including government departments. Rufus Solomon, a leading Christian rights advocate, said it is tragic that another Christian boy had fallen victim to “extremist Islam.”
“The situation won’t improve for Pakistani Christians until the government repeals the blasphemy laws,” Solomon said. “These laws promote extremism and encourage Muslims to force their views on members of the minority communities, particularly Christians. No government in Pakistan has the spine to take on religious extremism, therefore our people will continue to suffer losses, both human and material.”
It is highly likely that police will favor their own colleagues even though the murder of the Christian boy took place in front of numerous witnesses, Solomon said.
“Arresting the accused is one thing, taking the matter to its logical end is another,” Solomon said, adding that, like other government offices, Pakistani police have double standards when it comes to issues involving members of the minority communities.
Napolean Qayyum, another Christian rights activist, echoed Solomon’s views, saying he saw little hope for justice for the family of the slain boy.
“How many people actually believe that the police will build a strong prosecution against their own fellows? Not many, I’m sure!” Qayyum said, adding that no Christian political leader had shown interest in assisting the family in the case.
Pakistan ranked fourth on Christian support group Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
According to the Open Doors 2017 report: “There are multiple groups of Christians experiencing persecution in Pakistan. Historical Christian communities exist openly, but have to put up with stringent rules and constant monitoring, while Christian converts from Islam suffer the brunt of persecution from both radical Islamic groups and families and neighbors. Protestant Christian communities are under close scrutiny and suffer frequent attacks, especially when they are active in outreach amongst Muslims. Violent persecution is common. Christians are targets for murder, bombings, abduction of women, rape, forced marriages and eviction from home and country. Unjust and arbitrary blasphemy laws are used to punish Christians and prevent evangelism.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morning Star News is a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston and BP operations coordinator Laura Erlanson contributed to this report.)

10/13/2017 10:51:33 AM by Morning Star News, Pakistan Correspondent | with 0 comments

Pastor’s near-death experience intensifies gospel focus

October 12 2017 by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today

After surviving a fiery explosion that nearly killed him, Kentucky megachurch pastor Steve Ayers said he’s a changed man, having come out of the ordeal laser-focused on Jesus and telling others about the gospel before it’s too late.

Photo by Robin Cornetet/Kentucky Today
Steve Ayers, pastor of Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, Ky., raises a new Christian from the river during a mass baptism of 42 people on Sept. 10, at Barren River Lake State Park. Ayers says his passion for telling people about Jesus has quadrupled since an explosion on his boat burned 60 percent of his body.

“I was committed to evangelism before the accident,” said Ayers, senior pastor of the 16,000-member Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, which routinely baptizes more than 500 new believers a year. “I’m completely committed to evangelism now because truly, at your last breath, nothing else matters.”
It was a pleasant June evening when Ayers and his wife Elizabeth decided to go for an outing at Barren River Lake. He climbed aboard their boat and, discovering the battery was dead, flipped the charger. Nothing.
He bent over and jiggled the connection, inadvertently causing a tiny spark. What happened next is believed to have been the result of a leak in the fuel line.
“It flashed and blew up and burned over 60 percent of my body,” Ayers said.
Lying in the trauma unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Ayers said he wasn’t scared of dying from the burns that covered his body from head to feet. He was ready to take up permanent residence in heaven with Jesus.
“I feared living,” he said. The pain. The limited mobility. Would God still be able to use him?
Treatment included daily debridement – a harrowing and painful process of removing layers of damaged skin. Then, there were the surgeries, three in the first seven days alone. Doctors used what little healthy skin Ayers had to cover some of his wounds. The rest was protected by synthetic and pig skin grafts.
“It took a lot of prayer to get through that,” his wife said. She couldn’t talk with their adult children, or anyone else, about the severity of Ayers’ condition immediately after the accident “because I knew he may not make it.”
As a registered nurse, Elizabeth Ayers said so many times burn victims come into the hospital alert and talking only to die in the first 72 hours.
“It is a miracle with this much burn mass that he lived,” she said.

Photo by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today
Hillvue Heights Church capped off its summer by baptizing 42 new Christians on Sept. 10, at Barren River Lake State Park. Pastor Steve Ayers says his church, the largest Southern Baptist church in the state, has averaged about 500 baptisms per year for the past two decades.

Thousands of members at Kentucky’s largest church had devoted themselves to prayer for Ayers. Still, they were surprised when he returned to the pulpit three months after the explosion. Compression garments concealed under his slacks and dress shirt provided the support his tender skin required for him to be able to stand and preach.
“That was the longest time I haven’t preached since I was 18,” Ayers said. “I was still kind of in a fog wondering what God was going to do with all of this. It was a struggle to walk.”
For the first time in 22 years, he had to watch from the shore as his staff ended the summer with an annual mass baptism at Barren River Lake. The risk of infection was too great for him to personally wade into the water. The annual event caps off Hillvue Heights’ baptism totals, which have averaged about 500 per year for the past two decades.
“Steve is an evangelistic leader,” said Todd Gray, head of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s evangelism team. “He has set the pace for Kentucky Baptists for nearly 30 years, seeing Hillvue Heights grow from 30 people into a megachurch. He continually beats the drum for evangelism and is a cheerleader for the small church pastor who is working hard to reach people.”
More than 5,000 people regularly attend Sunday morning services at Hillvue Heights.
“Since his accident his passion for reaching people who are far from God has only increased,” Gray said. “He demonstrates little patience for ‘business as usual’ church life and wants to see a greater effort on winning people to the Lord. While the accident was no doubt extremely painful, God has used it to resharpen his focus and redouble the efforts of Hillvue Heights and the pastors he influences to keep sharing Jesus until He returns.”
The recovery for Ayers has been a deep struggle both physically and emotionally. He said he has come to the point – after 15 months and 10 surgeries with more on the way – where he can praise God for the fire. That through pain, God blesses.
“I was taught since I was little boy that if I was good, God would do good things for me,” Ayers said. “Guess what? I’ve tried to do good things and God roasted my rear end. The accident turned my head upside down, but the good news is that even in the midst of a very painful struggle, God’s presence in His truth began to speak.”
Ayers said his passion for Jesus has quadrupled. Every encounter, every sermon is another opportunity to tell people about the gospel. He returned to the Barren River shore in September and ushered 42 new believers in baptism. Ayers said the difference this year was his mindset. He didn’t have to celebrate another mass baptism. He was allowed to celebrate in the work God is doing in people’s lives. Every day, regardless of the circumstances, is a blessing.
“The fire could not defeat God,” Ayers said. “I wasn’t supposed to return. I wasn’t supposed to ever regain all my physicality and strength but the Lord really showed me this, He said, ‘I’ll make the impossible possible.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robin Cornetet is associate editor of Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, an online news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

10/12/2017 8:28:18 AM by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

In Las Vegas, churches aid post-shooting recovery

October 12 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists remain an active part of Las Vegas’ recovery as many are still hospitalized, blood-bank donation lines are long and first responders are overstretched 10 days after a gunman killed 58 and injured about 500 at an outdoor Las Vegas concert.

Facebook photo
The downtown Las Vegas campus of Shadow Hills Church held an outside prayer vigil Oct. 2, a day after a gunman killed 58 and injured nearly 500 at a Las Vegas country music festival.

Jim Collins, founding pastor of Discovery Church in Las Vegas and a Nevada Baptist Convention mission strategist, has spoken with several pastors committed to helping the city recover, he told Baptist Press (BP) Oct. 11.
Responding to spiritual questions, praying, giving financially to victims’ families and delivering meals to first responders and families and friends of survivors still hospitalized are some of the ways congregations are helping, Collins said.
His congregation, which draws about 80-100 people to Sunday services at a local elementary school, is praying, giving financially and materially, and making a point of patronizing Las Vegas area businesses that might be suffering from diminished tourism revenue.
The Clark County Commission has established a victim support fund under the umbrella of the National Compassion Fund that allows 100 percent of donations to go directly to victims and their families, according to the website nationalcompassionfund.org.
“I know that some pastors are looking to donate through their church to that fund, because we know that all of that is going to go towards recovery for the victims’ families,” said Collins, whose own membership will give to the fund. “The most common things that I have heard from other churches are [they are holding] special prayer services.”
As recently as Oct. 6, 78 victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting remained hospitalized, including 34 in critical condition, the Washington Post reported. An exact number of those hospitalized today was not available to BP, but most of the injured had been treated at area hospitals and released.
Churches are finding key points of ministry, Collins said.
“A lot of [first responders] are working so many hours around the clock that they don’t have an opportunity to stop for lunch, so we’re just going to collect food and bring food baskets to a couple of local police stations so that if anybody just needs to take a break, needs to have some food, then we’ve got that there for them,” Collins said. “[For] another pastor, an opportunity his church was looking at had to do with a local hospital that was in need of volunteers for serving meals to family while they were there waiting on a family member to recover.”

Jim Collins

Many churches have hosted prayer services and have used such gatherings to encourage neighbors and the community at large, he said.
Long lines at blood banks are evidence of the willingness of Las Vegas residents to help victims, Collins said.
“That honestly has been one of the most ... encouraging things that has come from this, is the way that Las Vegas itself, really, the citizens of the community have stepped forward and said, ‘We need to make sure that whatever our city needs, we’re going to do it,’” Collins said. “And our churches have really been thrilled and just honored to step in on that any way that we can.”
The Clark County Commission has established a Family Assistance Center in cooperation with federal, state and local community agencies to provide such services as victim advocacy, lodging, air travel, consulate services, ground transportation, counseling, spiritual care and legal assistance, according to the center’s website.
Collins is encouraging his congregation to support downtown businesses that might be suffering from decreased tourism. Typically, Las Vegas draws a million tourists a week, one pastor told BP.
“We’re encouraging our people take in a meal, go see a show,” Collins said. Let’s not let this be something that causes us to be afraid, but show how much we love our city, we believe in our city and we want to see us recover strong.
“Because if the city goes too long without people patronizing our businesses, then that could put us in a place where it hurts businesses and they’ve got to make decisions where maybe they have to lay people off.”
While Las Vegas is known as “sin city,” Collins said the city offers plenty of wholesome pastimes.
“There’s really no such thing as an immoral meal. You can eat food and we believe we can do that to the glory of God,” he told BP. “Vegas has its reputation for a reason, and so there are a lot of shows that we would discourage our people from going to. But at the same time there are many shows that are family friendly, safe for your marriage and safe for your kids to go.”
Collins lives in Las Vegas with his wife Beth, 12-year-old daughter Megan and 10-year-old son Jacob.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
Related articles:
Las Vegas pastors counter ‘brokenness’ with ‘hope’
Vegas shooting leaves West Tennessee church heartbroken
Pitman to Las Vegas: ‘Run to God’ in midst of tragedy

10/12/2017 8:25:09 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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