December 2011

Money talks ... when it comes to gambling expansion

December 20 2011 by Mark Creech, Guest column

“Money talks,” says an old proverb. But when it comes to the expansion of gambling, it’s more like something Bob Dylan once said, “Money doesn’t just talk, it swears.”
Opened in 1997 under a 1994 compact negotiated by then-Gov. Jim Hunt, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is currently in the midst of a $650-million-expansion project, and for quite some time the tribe has been pushing the state to allow for Class III, Las Vegas style gambling as opposed to the video-based games that they currently offer.
The Cherokee have been arguing the new games would create hundreds of new jobs at the casino, bring more tourists to western North Carolina and increase collateral spending on area hotels and businesses in the region.
Those arguments resonated with Gov. Bev Perdue last month when she struck a deal with the Eastern Band under a new compact granting them “exclusive live table gaming rights west of Interstate 26.” In exchange for these exclusive rights, they would pay the state between 4 and 8 percent of gross gambling revenues for the next 30 years. The revenues would go directly to school districts and be used for classroom instruction. The Cherokee would also be given the right to open additional casinos on tribal lands (a five county area) after notifying the governor and agreeing on revenue sharing that could be as high as 8 percent of gross revenues.
Money talks. None of this, however, can become a reality without the North Carolina General Assembly’s approval. Something the leadership has signaled it supports, which is most difficult to understand. It was the Republican leadership that was the stalwart opposition to a state operated lottery in 2005 and has supported efforts in the past to ban video poker and sweepstakes gambling across the state.
Could this change of position reflect money talking, too?
Democracy North Carolina, a campaign finance watchdog group, reports the Cherokee have given quite generously to both the Democratic and Republican parties. Nearly $700,000 has been contributed to state legislative candidates and committees within the last two years.
Again, money talks and the pressures on lawmakers to approve the new compact are great.
Nevertheless, if the compact is approved the stakes are high. The expansion will, without question, draw a riskier clientele than the current video-based games and increase the number of problem gamblers in North Carolina, as well as attract more of the same from other states.
Families affected by problem gambling are at greater risk for divorce, bankruptcy, child abuse, domestic violence, crime and suicide.
According to Winner Takes All by Wall Street Journal reporter Christina Binkley, casinos are the most predatory business in the country, making 90 percent of their profits off 10 percent of their customers who are addicted to the forms of gambling they promote.
Granted, Harrah’s Casino in Cherokee has employed a lot of people and proven to be a boon for the area’s economy. But it should be noted the casino can only milk existing wealth. It does nothing to create new capital, and all the prosperity the Cherokee are now enjoying is basically a redistribution of monies syphoned off of other economies.
And, yes, the casino has provided jobs to the area, but they are jobs without justice. The failed energy giant Enron, subprime lender Countrywide Financial and jailed investment manager Bernie Madoff are all examples of industries that provided people with employment and made a lot of money. Yet who believes these kinds of predatory business practices are the right direction for North Carolina? Neither would an expansion of the vulturine ways of casino gambling be right, even when “virtue-ized” by hitching it to public education.
Moreover, gambling revenues never turn out to provide real help for education. In an editorial opposed to the Cherokee expansion, the Raleigh News and Observer rightly warned:
“[L]et’s talk about the benefits, specifically money for education. Sure, it will come in, just as lottery money does. But as financial crises arise, as they do from time to time, that money will become vulnerable to a raid by lawmakers who will argue that it is needed for more pressing things. Or, those who hold the purse strings in the General Assembly will use the gambling proceeds to substitute for regular appropriations, not as supplemental money to make schools better.”
Still, money talks. This is why the lure of such ill-gotten gain must be zealously countered by the compassionate admonishments of God’s people, who not only argue gambling is a failed government policy, but also contend gaming in any form is a misuse of God’s resources.
Gambling maximizes covetousness and minimizes stewardship. It turns men from the worship of a benevolent Sovereign God, promoting pagan superstition and the gods of luck and chance. It is a method of theft by mutual consent – something that isn’t moral just because two people agree to it.
It diminishes brotherly love, justice and mercy because it preys upon the weakness of one’s fellow man – generally taking from those who can least afford financial or emotional losses. And last, but certainly not least, it undermines a strong work ethic, which is the very hope of true prosperity for any culture.
Thus far, North Carolina Baptists have refused to be silent on this matter, adopting a resolution at their last convention in opposition to any proposed expansion of Cherokee gambling. But if Baptists don’t want their voices drowned out by money’s swearing – avowing western North Carolina and state education would be huge beneficiaries of the governor’s new compact with the Cherokee – they’ll have to speak even louder by talking directly with their lawmakers in both the N.C. House and Senate.
Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene for a special session Feb. 16, 2012. But they could be called back as early as sometime in January.
(EDITOR’S NOTE –Mark Creech is executive director Christian Action League.)
12/20/2011 1:41:31 PM by Mark Creech, Guest column | with 0 comments

FIRST-PERSON: Two priceless gift ideas for Christmas

December 14 2011 by Vicki Heath

CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP) – This time of year I am always fascinated by the gift recommendations to help us find the perfect present for those on our shopping list. Every year hundreds of people wait with great anticipation to see what Oprah has on her favorite things Christmas list. If her list is not enough to help you figure out what to give the loved ones on your list, you can go to YouTube and watch videos showing the top ten best presents to give this season. You can actually Google “what to give the person who has everything” and 286,000 results come up. 
By far the most telling gift recommendations of all time are two that I saw in the Air Mall magazine while flying up to Maryland not long ago. The first one is called Bob’s Affirmation Box. Every time the lid is opened, a happy voice pipes up “looking good Bob” or “way to go Bob.” You can keep your keepsakes it in and receive a daily dose of encouragement for only $24.95!
The second gift that grabbed my attention is a customized door mat. You can have your picture, your family’s picture or even your cat’s picture imprinted on the door mat with the message “It’s about TIME you got home.” Are you getting it? Do you see what I see? We live in a world of lonely, depleted, busy people. It is a sad day when in order to hear a positive word I have to buy the words in a box. It’s a sad day when a family is neglected in such a way that their hope is placed in a door mat to do the trick of encouraging more time at home. 
Therefore, I am recommending two very special gifts for you to give this season. Each gift is very expensive because it will cost you some time and effort but it will be appreciated more than another new fangled gadget out there. The first gift is to give authentic words of encouragement daily to those around you. People are desperate for love and acceptance. I would love to meet the person who thought up the idea for Bob’s Affirmation Box. It was either someone who knows the power of the spoken word or someone who is a dry and thirsty soul. Take time this Christmas and write special thank-you Christmas cards to those in your life. It might be the only encouraging words they receive this season.
My second gift recommendation is the gift of your presence. I am intentionally making myself available, especially to those in my family and my church this Christmas season. I know that for some, Christmas is not a happy time and can be full of stress and sadness. I know the days will be busy and full but at least I can take time to look up from my phone, stop the texting and make real a connection. I also plan to take time away from my work routine and actually spend that time with my family. For me that means I will not open my computer when they are in the room. I am asking God to provide time for me to accomplish my work responsibilities and not compromise my family time. He is a family man and I know He will do that for you, too.
A wonderful thing about these two gifts is they have the supernatural capacity to reproduce! As a result of those you bless with your words and with your time, these gifts will be passed on to others. They really are the gifts that keep on giving. 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Vicki Heath is associate national director of First Place 4 Health ( and an American Council on Exercise certified fitness professional. She is the author of “Don’t Quit, Get Fit.”)
12/14/2011 1:24:40 PM by Vicki Heath | with 0 comments

This Christmas, give a Bible

December 13 2011 by Diana Davis

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – For our anniversary gift, I found a beautiful leather briefcase for my husband. The brand’s tagline was “Your kids will fight over it when you’re dead.” It was a great gift, but here’s a Christmas gift idea that’s much more valuable than that.

We all know someone who is not a Christian. Would you give that person the ultimate Christmas gift? God’s Word – the Bible – is a gift that can actually impact someone’s eternity! Here’s how:
  • Prayerfully determine the recipient. A friend, acquaintance or relative who needs Jesus? A teen or co-workers or elderly neighbor?
  • Choose the Bible. Select a translation and cover they’ll like. If you splurge for a leather edition, imprint their name on the cover. A teen might enjoy a contemporary cover. Bookstores carry inexpensive Bibles, perfect to give to your whole bowling team or neighborhood.
  • Prepare a printed page to clearly explain how to become a Christian. Include a place to sign and date it, and instructions for a new Christian’s next steps. Laminate and place it inside the Bible.
  • Write a personal note inside the cover, such as “Katie, because you are a special friend, I want to share this important book with you. It’s changed my life!” Highlight verses, or add a Bible promises book with the gift.
  • Wrap it beautifully and present it to your friend.
  • Ask God to give you opportunities to chat with that friend about Him. Invite her to church. Ask if she’s begun to read the Bible. Did she read the laminated page? Does it make sense to her? If she’s undecided, continue to pray. God is at work. When she accepts Christ as Savior, celebrate!
Your Bible class could do this for an eternity-impacting group Christmas project. Each person could bring a Bible for their friend, and you could provide the laminated page and gift-wrap supplies.

For an effective church-wide project, order Bibles in bulk. Distribute one for each worship attender, along with the laminated explanation about becoming a Christian. They would prayerfully write a personal note and give it as a Christmas gift to an unsaved friend. Share ideas for follow-up and pray for the recipients.

Interestingly, that briefcase I mentioned came with a 100-year warranty. That’s nothing. God’s gift of salvation lasts for all eternity. I’m praying that every person who reads this article will give a personalized Bible to at least one lost friend this Christmas. Will you give the gift that keeps on living?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis ( is an author, speaker and wife of the North American Mission Board’s vice president for the Midwest region, Steve Davis.)
12/13/2011 2:31:21 PM by Diana Davis | with 0 comments

Is 2.56% all we love Jesus?

December 13 2011 by Ronnie Floyd

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (BP) – Imagine what your life would look like if you only committed 2.56% of yourself to the things you do.

How healthy would your marriage be if you told your spouse, “I love you with 2.56% of my heart”? Where would your career be if you performed at only 2.56% of your capability?

We wouldn’t dream of doing such things. Yet, this is exactly the attitude the average Christian has when it comes to financing the work of the church.

The average church member only gives an estimated 2.56% of his or her income to any church or charity. We can’t accomplish the massive goals of telling every person in the world about Jesus and making disciples of all nations with such miniscule giving.

While it is true that much of the problem is the sin of greediness in the lives of average church members, it also could be the case that our lack of sacrificial giving is the result of disorganization. That’s why there is a great need for Christians to begin to evaluate everything financially.

Here are four steps each of us can take to begin meeting the financial aspect of fulfilling the Great Commission.

1. Give at least the first tenth of your income to your local church.

It has been suggested that if every church member increased his or her giving to ten percent, the church would have an additional $86 billion dollars to fund gospel work around the world.

With that amount of money the church could address in an unprecedented manner poverty, hunger and sickness. It also would open massive avenues to take the gospel to every corner of the world – all as a result of each of us obeying the first-tenth principle prescribed in God’s Word. We need to be obedient in giving at least ten percent of our income, because when we don’t we are quenching the work of God through our small-minded, close-fisted habits of financing His work.

2. Give over and above the first tenth of your income.

Let me illustrate how this works. If you have a smart phone, chances are you have a game or two that you play on your phone. Many of these games progress through increasingly difficult levels. Staying on one level loses its appeal because at some point it ceases to be a challenge. Just as the games we play have progressive levels with increasing difficulty (Angry Birds, anyone?), our giving needs a progressive pattern as well.

When we realize that God has given to us over and above all that we could possibly deserve, it stirs something in our hearts that says 10 percent is not enough. No longer is it a sufficient challenge. Our giving should be sacrificial, and as we mature in the faith we enter into a deeper worship of God through larger gifts that are more costly to us. Just as we grow in other areas of our faith, we must grow in our giving continually and ceaselessly.

3. Leave a legacy of at least one-tenth of your estate to your local church.

Local churches need financial freedom to be able to do all they should in God’s name, and you can help them achieve that freedom in your lifetime by following steps one and two. You can also do this in your death. It truly is an awesome feeling to know that a decision to follow this step is an investment that will last beyond your life.

More importantly, you set a godly example for your children and grandchildren that demonstrates to them that God’s work is the most important thing in your life, as well as in your death. Evaluate everything financially, including the event of your passing. Billions of dollars should be left through estates over the next decade because Christ-followers want to leave a legacy of reaching the world for Jesus Christ. If you have great financial resources, give this part of your estate now for the need is urgent. Regardless of the size of your estate, small or great, through giving in life and in death you will experience joy beyond your imagination.

4. Leave a legacy of at least five percent of your estate to the Great Commission.

Just as we give above and beyond the first tenth in our lives, we should leave as much as possible in our deaths for the furtherance of the gospel. Designate at least an additional five percent of your estate to be given to missions through your local church or denominational mission boards (i.e. International Mission Board or North American Mission Board). Seminaries are another opportunity for you to help advance the fulfillment of the Great Commission as they train pastors and missionaries who will take the gospel throughout the world.

Christ-followers are typically not the wealthiest people in the world, so we do not necessarily have the most to give. However, we ought to be the most amazing, inspirational givers in the world because we have the most to give to. Seeing people all over the world come to saving faith in Christ is the most noble of reasons to give, yet we presently offer less than three percent of what we believe to be ours.

But we know better. It all belongs to God. A deep realization of that fact will make us better givers. Our goal should be that nonbelievers look at us and immediately think of words such as generosity, compassion and love. Only when we become serious about giving back to the Lord will we be able to fulfill the Great Commission.

2.56%: Is this all we love Jesus, His church and changing lives globally? Surely not! It is past time for all of this to change. The change will start with you!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is senior pastor of Cross Church ( in northwest Arkansas, with campuses in Springdale, Pinnacle Hills and Fayetteville, and the author of a newly released book, “Our Last Great Hope.”)
12/13/2011 2:27:56 PM by Ronnie Floyd | with 0 comments

Suggestions for pastor search committees

December 13 2011 by Thom S. Rainer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) – Congregations across America call pastors to their churches in a variety of ways. As church polity varies, so do the approaches of calling a pastor. A bishop or other authority appoints some pastors. Sometimes an elder board decides who will be considered as the next pastor. Many times, however, the responsibility for recommending a pastor to a congregation falls upon a pastor search committee.

The search committee is typically comprised of lay leaders voted on by the congregation or nominated by some group in the church. Occasionally, the membership may include a current pastoral staff member.

It is this latter approach, the utilization of a pastor search committee, which I would like to address in this article.

I have heard from a number of pastors who have been contacted by pastor search committees. What I have heard from these pastors recently is consistent with that which I have heard for the past few years. The concerns and desires are very consistent from pastor to pastor.

So I am admittedly presenting a one-sided view, that of the pastor who has been contacted by a search committee. I am certain that members of pastor search committees could offer their unique perspectives as well.

The Pleas and Requests

When a pastor is contacted by a search committee, his life is often disrupted. Even if he has no sense of call to change churches, the very fact that a search committee contacted him at least causes him to pause. In some cases the contact is very disruptive to his life and ministry.

For that reason, pastors have shared with me a number of requests (and sometimes pleas) that they would respectfully ask search committees to consider:
  • Understand the potential disruption caused by your contact of a pastor. Most pastors at least pause and pray when they hear from another church. They often include their spouses in the early discussion. They may wonder if the contact is indicative that God may be leading them to another place of ministry. If a search committee contacts a pastor, at least be aware of the disruption that could take place. Perhaps it’s not best to send 200 inquiry letters to 200 different pastors to see if anything sticks.
  • Have a clear plan for the process of calling a pastor. Let the contacted pastor know that plan on the front end so he won’t be left wondering what the next steps are.
  • Prepare any questions before you contact the pastor. I have heard from many pastors who meet in person with the search committee, as well as those who first communicate via phone or Skype. They are often frustrated at the randomness of questions asked, and how different members of the search committee don’t know what the other members will ask.
  • Do your homework thoroughly before showing up in the pastor’s present church. Many congregations recognize a search committee immediately when they attend a worship service. These church members soon become worried, frustrated or angry at either the pastor or the inquiring church. The presence of a search committee can be highly disruptive. Many pastors do not even know that a committee is visiting his church. He, too, is caught off guard.
  • Communicate regularly and clearly with the prospective pastor. As long as the process is open, stay in touch with the pastor. Many times the greatest frustration is the lack of communication. One pastor recently told me that he resolved not to talk further with a church because he had not heard from them in such a long time. He assumed that they had moved in another direction. The search committee was shocked when they heard that information from the pastor several months later.
  • If the search committee decides to move in another direction, let the pastor know immediately. A courtesy call, even an email, will always be appreciated even if the committee concludes that the pastor is not a fit for the church. Many pastors have told me that they thought they were still under consideration, only to discover sometimes later that the church had called another pastor.
An Imperfect Process

There is no perfect way to call a pastor to a church. Regardless of church polity, mistakes and miscommunication will take place. But these suggestions by pastors who have been contacted by search committees could prove very helpful.

At the very least, they could help minimize frustration and disruption in the lives of pastors and the churches they serve.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at
12/13/2011 2:24:44 PM by Thom S. Rainer | with 0 comments

Clinic’s care includes ‘The Best Medicine’

December 8 2011 by

(EDITOR’S NOTE – IMB President Tom Elliff and his wife Jeannie visited the Horn of Africa over Thanksgiving. This report is his response to the plight of people in the midst of famine. This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 4-11 with the theme of “His heart, His hands, His voice I am Southern Baptist missions” from Acts 1:8. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to
HORN OF AFRICA (BP) – The African air is hot and still, stirred only by people brushing silently by as they are invited into the clinic courtyard from the weary line gathered outside. My wife Jeannie and I are taken by the silence. People who are tired, hungry and ill are often very quiet, even the children and babies. They have long ago given up on mere pleading as an effective means for getting help.

BP Photo

IMB President Tom Elliff, in seeing firsthand the Horn of Africa’s humanitarian crisis, has challenged Southern Baptists to give sacrificially to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as never before.

The medical clinic “waiting room” is a wooden bench on a shaded porch. Patients are asked to sit, five at a time, while waiting for someone to inquire about their problems. Just being there, where someone cares, is medicine in itself – and you get the feeling they’d love to linger. But the time is short, and the sun will soon make it too hot to continue.

Standing in the doorway, wiping perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand, is a Southern Baptist health care worker, one of six at the clinic today. She, along with a few nationals and volunteers from the States, will treat approximately 120 patients before the day is half done. This is the first of three similar clinics they conduct each week in a joint effort with Baptist Global Response in the Horn of Africa.

Toward noon I hear a sudden, excited “buzz” among the Christian workers who motion toward the bench and whisper “God has answered our prayers!”

Pausing for a moment, one of the workers draws me aside to tell me that only four days earlier the team began praying for an open door to the Muslim community in a village far from the clinic. “Look!” she exclaimed, “those are eight people from the very village we’ve been praying about. These people have walked all the way here and are our very first contacts.”

I look again at the sad group sitting on the bench and clustered beside it. Little do they know that very soon the light of the gospel will break across the landscape in that distant community … the result of YOUR praying, YOUR giving and YOUR praying some more!

BP Photo

Patients wait in long lines to receive medical care at a clinic in the Horn of Africa. The region’s drought, said to be the worst in 60 years, has resulted in a looming humanitarian crisis for more than 13 million people. Meeting even the most basic needs is a challenge. Christian workers in the area are forced to make difficult life-and-death decisions every day about who receives food and medical care.

Soon they will receive what one Christian worker called “The Best Medicine.” Very soon, many of them could join the multiplied thousands turning to Christ with hearts softened by the love of these Southern Baptists who minister in a very hard place.

This week is critical to our Southern Baptist ministries around the world. It’s the week our churches focus on prayer for our personnel and give to international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which keeps personnel on the field. But the world deserves more than a mere week of prayer and giving! And the commission of our Lord, “Go! Teach all nations!” demands more of us than ever before.

This past October the world’s population exceeded 7 billion people, each of whom will be alive millions of years from now in heaven or hell. The Best Medicine is Jesus! Yet it is estimated that 1.7 billion people will die without ever hearing His name.

That is both unthinkable and unacceptable for Southern Baptists who eagerly and sacrificially seek to carry the Good News to the very ends of the earth.

As Jeannie and I sat on our bed that evening, we reflected on the importance of praying and giving and praying some more. We must both pray and give with sacrificial determination. But if we can continue wearing what we wear, living where we live, enjoying all that we have enjoyed and going anywhere we want to go … then where is the sacrifice?

Sacrifice results in change, a present change in our lives with the anticipation of a future change in the lives of others. It will take sacrificial giving, praying and going if Southern Baptists are to effectively impact the world for Christ’s sake.

This year, let’s pray and give and pray some more … like people who take the Great Commission seriously. Let’s do everything necessary to be His heart, His hands and His voice.
12/8/2011 1:26:19 PM by | with 0 comments

Why we serve the poor (one church’s uplifting story)

December 7 2011 by Steve Lemke

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Faced with a hungry crowd of more than 5,000 people in a rural area without a ready supply of food, the disciples were scouring around to try to find food to feed the multitude. Finding little, an obviously discouraged Andrew said, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” (John 6:9).

You know the rest of the story. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, blessed and multiplied them miraculously, and not only fed the entire crowd until they were full, but 12 baskets were left over.

What can one church do to meet the needs of the poor and the outcast in a community? At times, we may be discouraged about how one congregation can meet so many needs. Yet Jesus can bless our meager efforts and accomplish much more than would be possible in our own strength.

So it is with the ministry of First Baptist Church of New Orleans. In 2004, the church’s pastor launched an immense effort called “Baptist Crossroads” in concert with Habitat for Humanity. The goal? Build affordable housing for 40 families in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Impossible? It was the largest such project ever attempted by a church in partnership with Habitat. Then, just as the project/construction began, Hurricane Katrina struck and made the need for housing even greater. Today, with the help of thousands of volunteers, 40 families are now proud owners of their own homes.

The church offers other opportunities to impact the community, most of which are under the umbrella of the “Care Effects” ministry. Some members provide academic tutoring and sports coaching for children in the Upper Ninth Ward. Others volunteer in a nearby public elementary school, tutoring children, helping in the library, cleaning up the school grounds, and providing food over the weekends for children who otherwise may not be fed.

Church members minister to abused children and youth through the Baptist Friendship House, prisoners in the local jail, and at the juvenile detention center. Some serve at Global Maritime Ministries, which ministers to sailors and seamen coming through the Port of New Orleans. Others serve the homeless at the New Orleans Mission or the Ozanam Inn homeless shelter. Some of the women minister to prostitutes in the French Quarter.

As a member of FBC New Orleans, I’m involved in a ministry that feeds the hungry on Wednesday nights. I serve at one of our two locations, the Evangelistic Baptist Church, a primarily black Southern Baptist church in a lower income section of New Orleans. The church is located near a home improvement warehouse and close to two interstate highways. Dozens of day laborers hang around the store to get manual labor jobs. Many of them are homeless and sleep under the interstate highway overpasses. The church also feeds people from the neighborhood, including some of those who come to the church for Wednesday night Bible study.

This ministry has helped me have a greater sensitivity to the needs of the poor that I seldom encounter in middle class America. For example, I met a couple of brothers in their 60s who come regularly to the ministry. They are both delightful men with a charming sense of humor. They suffer from several significant physical issues, and they both walk with crutches. The house they live in had belonged to their mother. The house’s ownership was split among a number of family members after her death, but the brothers were allowed to live there (though they did not have a clear title to the house). After Katrina, the house was left virtually uninhabitable. The electricity was shut off because of a leaky roof. Two elderly men on crutches were left in a leaky house with no heating, cooling or lights.

They could not connect the electricity from the line to the house until the house was certified by an electrician. The electrician could not certify the house until the roof was fixed. The roof could not be fixed until a building permit was issued by the city. The building permit could not be issued until the brothers had a clear title for the house. Checkmate. So the brothers remained in horrible circumstances.

Many of us can overcome such obstacles. But the brothers had no vehicle. Even to go to the doctor was a daylong event. Long before a doctor’s appointment, they had to walk with their crutches to the bus stop and wait in the humid New Orleans weather – sometimes in the sun, sometimes in the rain. They had to change buses several times to get to the stop nearest the doctor’s office, then walk the rest of the way.

Could they have gone to all the city offices to work through the red tape to get their house fixed, even if they had the money? No. This is the frustration and futility of poverty. It is easy to judge the poor for not helping themselves. It is a different matter to understand the reality of their lives.

Our church helped address their multitude of needs as best we could. In addition to providing food at times, church members took the brothers to the doctor when possible. We tried to connect them with lawyers who could provide legal advice. We helped find a better place to live (with electricity), helped them move there, and provided furnishings. One of the brothers has moved to the new housing; the other is still refusing to do so. Perhaps most importantly, we visited them and treated them as real people, helping overcome the faceless bureaucracy they often encounter, trying to show God’s love through Christ to them in word and deed.

Feeding the poor is a good thing, of course, but it is not enough. We are called to give a cup of cool water in His name (Mark 9:41). Christian ministry must meet needs in the process of bearing witness to Christ. At our feeding station, we share Bibles and tracts in both English and Spanish. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary students who speak Spanish help witness to our Spanish-speaking guests. We pray over their needs and talk with them about the Lord.

One night Michael Edens, the associate dean of graduate studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was praying with a man about an obvious medical problem he had, manifested as a bulge in his stomach. He was drinking alcohol to dull the pain. Dr. Edens shared with him about salvation through Jesus Christ, and he prayed to receive Christ. Later, I put my hand on his shoulder to tell him how happy I was that he had received Christ into his life. He reacted oddly, recoiling and sneering something about not touching him. His speech was disjointed and hard to understand. I wondered if through the pain and alcohol he was clear-minded enough to make a meaningful commitment to Christ.

I saw him again a few weeks later. His transformation was so amazing that it reminded me of the account of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark 5. He was “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). He had a smile on his face. He was clean, courteous and did not smell of alcohol. He was receiving the needed surgical procedure. He was being discipled by a nearby ministry focused on recovering drug and alcohol addicts. God had miraculously transformed his life.

This is the goal of ministry to the poor and disadvantaged – to introduce them to the One who can transform their lives.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steve Lemke is provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as professor of philosophy and ethics.)
12/7/2011 2:07:03 PM by Steve Lemke | with 0 comments

Will a Band-Aid suffice when heart surgery is needed?

December 5 2011 by Gerald Harris, editor, The Christian Index

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright, who serves as pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., announced to the SBC Executive Committee on Sept. 19 that he was appointing a task force to study the prospect of changing the Convention’s name.
Wright made his announcement after speaking of the energy and unity within the denomination after the SBC annual meeting this past June in Phoenix. He reasoned that the Convention’s name is geographically regional, which he said could be a barrier to starting new churches outside the South.
The announcement provoked a lively debate among Executive Committee members. Darrell P. Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., stated, “Every man here wants to do something significant in his life for Christ and His Kingdom. A name change could be a future necessity for our convention, but it should start from the bottom up, not the top down.”
Others contended that the Convention is already divided and that a debate over changing the name could exacerbate the division. Terry Robertson, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New York, told Fox News that the potential name change is somewhat “polarizing.”
Robertson added, “While a name change of the convention may be a worthy consideration, my prayer is that God will send a Great Awakening which will result in a change of hearts across the nation.”
Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary and a member of Wright’s task force, indicated that he is “personally traumatized by the very idea of changing the denomination’s name,” but added, “This is a highly-charged issue that holds great potential to divide the Convention if not handled well and responsibly. The task force must act in a way that unifies Southern Baptists and helps us all to gain a much-needed understanding of what is and is not at stake.” 
On at least a half dozen occasions the idea of changing the name of the Convention has surfaced. The last time it received widespread attention was when President Jack Graham addressed the Executive Committee in February of 2004 and called for a new name and indicated that he would appoint a committee to study the idea.
Since Graham pressed for the name change seven years ago it is not surprising that he quickly voiced his approval of Wright’s proposal, stating, “The value of changing a name/brand is intangible. But change can create a new momentum and unity for a new generation of Baptists.”
However, before we plunge headlong into a name change for the Southern Baptist Convention there are some things that need to be considered.
• First, do we really need a name change?
What is gained if we change the name and what is lost if we don’t?
Is the Southern Baptist Convention not known for its fidelity to the Bible, its fervency in evangelism and its passion for missions? Do those identifying marks not more accurately characterize us than the word “Southern”? 
Kentucky Fried Chicken has a fairly regional name, but even with restaurants in Michigan, Maine and Minnesota, the chain has given no thought to changing its name to my knowledge.
New York Life Insurance, with offices across the nation, started their operations about the same time Southern Baptists formed their convention and have given no apparent thought to a name change. Why, we even have Texas Roadhouse restaurants in Georgia.
But then, I have never pastored a church in Washington state or New Hampshire, so it is hard to know if the name “Southern” is a liability to them or not. The word “Baptist” would be non-negotiable for me. The word “Baptist” is woven into the very core and fiber of our being.
• Second, the bylaws of the Southern Baptist Convention indicate that the SBC president can appoint only three committees: the Committee on Committees, the Tellers Committee and the Resolutions Committee. 
Therefore, it would appear that President Wright has named the aforementioned task force more as a fellow Southern Baptist and that any Southern Baptist could appoint a task force and, hopefully, receive equal consideration at any given annual session.
For example, it would appear that a Baptist state college president could appoint a task force to consider the impact seminary baccalaureate programs have on Baptist state colleges and get an equal hearing as Wright’s task force. Or a denominational worker could appoint a task force to study the relationship between tithing and spiritual awakening.
Do the SBC Constitution and Bylaws give special privileges to the president that would validate his task force more than any other Southern Baptist? Is it possible that numerous Southern Baptists could come to the annual session next June in New Orleans with task forces prepared to report their findings to the messengers?
• Third, while I feel confident that Bryant Wright’s motives are pure, is the timing right on this proposed name change?
Many seem to think not. Are we still not attempting to sort out the implications of the Great Commission Task Force recommendations?
Have psychologists not repeatedly stated that too many rapid changes increase one’s stress level? Does the devil not often use timing and intensity to accomplish his diabolical agenda? 
• Fourth, what will a name change cost?
The legal fees in changing the name of the corporation, the cost of discarding business cards, letterheads, literature, signage for agencies and individual churches would be considerable. With the uncertainty of the economy and the need to make evangelism, church planting and missions a priority, is cost of a name change worthy of consideration at the present time?
• Fifth, does a new name not mean that you have a new brand?
Maurillo Amorim, CEO of The A Group, a media, technology and branding firm in Brentwood, Tenn., says, “New packaging without changing the product or experience only goes so far. Churches that changed their names in the mid 90’s to appear more community friendly but failed to change the experience learned that such strategy often backfired.
Amorim continued, “People came expecting something different than what they got. It’s the classic ‘bait and switch’ approach. A brand is made when the name, packaging and product deliver on the brand promise. And does so consistently over time.”
So, if we change our name do we create a new brand promise or has the Convention so changed that the present name no longer fits who we are?
• Sixth, does a name change really change anything?
Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, recently tweeted, “Any organization that is in decline and tries to fix it with Bandaids when it needs heart surgery is missing God.”
For those who feel that “Southern” is too regional a name and too closely attached to the issue of slavery and racism there may be some interest in going back to the actual name of the convention prior to 1845.
Although historians point back to the Triennial Convention as the SBC’s predecessor, the actual name of the convention according to the Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists was “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions and other Important Objects relating to the Redeemer’s Kingdom.”
I know that is a rather cumbersome name, but you could always reduce the name to the acronym and call it “The GMCBDUSAFMIORK.”
The Southern Baptist Convention continues to be a stalwart and formidable force in the United States and globally. The impact God is making upon the lives of people around the world through Southern Baptists continues to provide thrilling stories, which those of us in Baptist journalism are privileged to tell. 
I believe that Southern Baptists are for multitudes the salt and light so desperately needed today, but we certainly do stand in need of a spiritual awakening.
So, if we were to change our name to the Praying (Southern) Baptist Convention and reprogram our lives to fit the name, we just might have something I could wholeheartedly support.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gerald Harris is editor/publisher of The Christian Index, Georgia’s Baptist news journal, where this editorial first appeared.)
12/5/2011 2:02:46 PM by Gerald Harris, editor, The Christian Index | with 0 comments

Southern Baptist Convention, change that name

December 5 2011 by Jonathan Merritt, USA Today, Religion News Service

What’s in a name? As Shakespeare has it, a rose by any other name smells the same. But in the case of America’s largest Protestant denomination, changing the name could change everything.
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright recently told his organization’s Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn., that he had appointed a task force to study a possible name change. Abandoning the 166-year-old identifier, he argued, would help the group thrive both in America and internationally.
“First, the convention’s name is so regional,” Wright said. “With our focus on church planting, it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name. Second, a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”
Wright is, well, right. The label is no longer accurate. Until the mid-20th century, the denomination was concentrated almost exclusively in the American South and Southwest. That is no longer the case.
While most congregations still exist below the Mason-Dixon line, SBC churches – all 40,000 of them, as well as 16 million members – have spread to all 50 states, and the SBC’s missionary effort has planted thousands more globally. The denomination also comprises more than a quarter of all American evangelicals.
It’s safe to assume that if the denomination were forming today, the name “Southern Baptist Convention” wouldn’t even be considered.
“The SBC is not driven by a Southern agenda nor a Southern vision,” said Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “In the context of the United States, ‘Southern’ refers to a region. That region gave birth to the Southern Baptist Convention, but it no longer contains it.” Mohler went on to say that the name sounds “strange, if not foreign” to those in the Pacific Northwest and New England, for instance.
Then, there’s the stigma attached to the name. A 2006 Center for Missional Research/Zogby poll found that many Americans have a negative impression of the denomination. More than 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said knowing a church was Southern Baptist would negatively affect their decision to visit or join.
In the past, the SBC has been a magnet of controversy. From boycotting Walt Disney for its “pro-gay stances” to a perceived near alignment with the Republican Party, it always seemed to play the role of cultural crusader. This waning reputation led some congregations to drop the word “Baptist” from their name.
In recent years, however, the denominational ship seems to be turning. A new generation of Southern Baptists seems less concerned with fighting such battles and more united around missions and church planting. A new name could give the body a fresh start.
But the greatest reason for a change could be the need to break with its past and embrace an increasingly multi-ethnic reality in America. I was reminded of this recently when an African-American friend asked me about the denominational alignment of our church. I saw pain in her eyes when I told her “Southern Baptist.”
Much of Southern Baptist history is laudable, but we cannot forget that the denomination was founded in 1845 over slavery. The first SBC churches were birthed out of a desire to appoint slaveholders as missionaries. Many Southern Baptist preachers vocally opposed the civil rights movement and supported Jim Crow laws.
Southern Baptists are, in many ways, facing a struggle that has played out in the broader American culture. Changing their name would be akin to Southern schools dropping “rebel” mascots and Southern states scrubbing Confederate imagery from their flags. While the SBC has made strides in repudiating its shameful past, including a 1995 resolution apologizing to African-Americans, this bold move would be another important step.
As Jon Akin, a Southern Baptist pastor in Tennessee says, “We’ve obviously made statements and resolutions saying that we do not affirm what happened in our past ... but it’s something we’ve got to continue to answer in terms of our heritage – that we aren’t going to be a mostly Southern, mostly middle-class, mostly white denomination, that we want to reach all nations.”
No doubt, there will be much resistance. Motions to change the name have been presented to the convention – and failed – eight times since 1965, most recently in 2004.
The denomination must now decide whether it cares more about its past heritage or its future vitality.
Shedding “Southern Baptist Convention” could inject the body with a new energy already stirring among the group’s younger leaders. Doing so would also put our denomination on a path to thrive in this century and beyond.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jonathan Merritt is author of the forthcoming “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.” He serves at Cross Pointe Church in Georgia where his father, James Merritt, is senior pastor.)
12/5/2011 1:59:37 PM by Jonathan Merritt, USA Today, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

In Nellie’s memory ...

December 2 2011 by Jeff Palmer

SWEETWATERS, South Africa (BP) – Her name was Kw’nelle (Kwa-nellie). She never knew her biological parents. She was born HIV-positive and was taken in by a local ministry. Medicines that kept the HIV at bay – combined with the love and provisions of her caregivers – were all that kept Nellie alive.

All Nellie’s friends were deeply saddened when she passed away. She was 8 years old. An infection in her ear had worked its way into her brain. The doctors tried, prayer was mobilized all around the world, but Nellie’s little body finally had reached its limit.

At her memorial service, I was overwhelmed by the love of those who knew Nellie: her 30 “brothers and sisters” at the orphanage; the godly caregivers who raised her; people who had known and come to love Nellie. The memorial was for Nellie, but I received the blessing.

There is nothing left we can do for Nellie, except celebrate that she is now at home with Jesus and no longer in pain.

We can, however, resolve to do something about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which – just in Nellie’s little South African community – kills about 30 people every day from AIDS-related diseases. Among the ways Southern Baptists are making a life-changing difference for people living with HIV/AIDS:

– School exercise books. In rural Zimbabwe, two-thirds of school children have lost one or both parents to the AIDS pandemic. Even families with two parents often are too poor to provide their children with the composition books required by the school system. Some children sit on the floor and write their lessons in the dust. Children do not perform well in exams when they lack study materials and cannot take adequate notes. One of the schools assisted by this project ended up moving from being 40th in the district on exam performance to eighth place. Our exercise books, which carry Christian anti-HIV/AIDS messages, are provided free of charge to the most disadvantaged students. In areas where these books are shared with the good news of God’s love, new churches are starting to bring hope to people in desperate need.

– Shalom Delhi clinic. Impoverished and marginalized people suffering with HIV come to the Critical Care Center of Shalom Delhi, a unit of Emmanuel Hospital Association in New Delhi, India. A full 90 percent of these patients cannot afford food, much less drugs and lab costs, during their hospital stays. Many families are pushed into ruinous debt because of treatment costs. Patients helped by this project receive holistic care that focuses on their spiritual needs as well as physical problems. Volunteers from local churches follow up with patients through a home-based care program.

– Zimbabwe nutritional support. People living with HIV/AIDS must receive adequate nutrition for their medicines to work properly. This partnership with the Baptist Union of Zimbabwe reaches out to demonstrate Christian love and witness for people living with HIV/AIDS in an area that provides no nutritional support for those on anti-retroviral treatment. A local church and clinic have identified 125 adults and children to receive monthly packets of staple foods. The goal is to nurture a healthy community where normal activities are not disturbed by sickness or death.

– Lerato’s Hope food parcels. This initiative provides short-term food assistance to help families survive and become self-sufficient. This strategic partnership with Pinelands Baptist Church in Cape Town, South Africa, identifies vulnerable families in high-density impoverished neighborhoods where unemployment runs as high as 40 percent. Monthly parcels of food staples supplement food drives conducted by local volunteers. The short-term food assistance sustains families while other interventions are being made that will help them learn to deal with HIV/AIDS, find employment and become self-sustaining.

– In-Home Care Kits. As AIDS kills adults, orphaned children often are forced onto the streets to fend for themselves. Southern Baptists are part of an initiative to work with local churches to provide In-Home Care Kits, five-gallon buckets filled with a range of medical and hygiene supplies, to impoverished families in impoverished communities. Families are stabilized by improving the health of parents, so they can live longer and raise their families. Christian workers deliver the kits to homes, along with physical and spiritual counsel that helps people in need discover how to have the meaningful, abundant lives God created them to enjoy.

We may not understand why we were born with so many advantages children like Nellie never had, but we can determine to be good stewards of God’s blessings so more “Nellies” and communities like hers can experience abundant life.

You can make a difference in the battle against HIV/AIDS which robs so many people of the abundant, eternal life God had planned for them. Today, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day. Will you pray? Will you get involved?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Palmer is executive director of Baptist Global Response, on the Web at A downloadable video and bulletin insert, as well as other resources related to World AIDS Day, are available at the site.)

Related story
World Aids Day: In Swaziland, 26 percent are infected
12/2/2011 12:51:51 PM by Jeff Palmer | with 0 comments

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