January 2014

An embryo’s moral significance

January 31 2014 by Scott Klusendorf, Life Training Institute/Baptist Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Philosophically, we can say that embryos are less developed than newborns (or, for that matter, toddlers) but this difference is not morally significant in the way abortion advocates need it to be.
Consider the claim that the immediate capacity for self-awareness bestows value on human beings. Notice that this is not an argument, but an arbitrary assertion.
Why is some development needed? And why is this particular degree of development (i.e., higher brain function) decisive rather than another? These are questions that abortion advocates do not adequately address.
There is no morally significant difference between the embryo that you once were and the adult that you are today, as Stephen Schwarz pointed out in the 1990 book The Moral Question of Abortion. Differences of size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency are not relevant such that we can say that you had no rights as an embryo but you do have rights today.
Think of Schwarz’s acronym SLED as a helpful reminder of these non-essential differences:


Embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development

Embryos and fetuses are less developed than the adults they’ll become someday. But again, why is this relevant? Four-year-old girls are less developed than 14-year-old ones. The same holds true for boys. Should older children have more inherent rights than their younger siblings? Those who say that immediate self-awareness is what makes one human could argue that newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week-old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing any number of human mental functions, but so do the reversibly comatose, those with Alzheimer’s disease and even the sleeping.


Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? How can a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If one asserts that the unborn are not already human, how does merely changing their location make them into persons of worth?

Degree of Dependency

If independency is what makes us human, what do we make of those who depend on insulin or kidney medication? Would anyone propose that they may be killed? And what about conjoined twins who share blood and bodily systems? Shouldn’t they have a right to life?
In short, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal in value because they share a common human nature.
True, some people will ignore the scientific and philosophic case you present for the pro-life view and argue for abortion based on self-interest. That is the lazy way out. Remind your critics that if we care about truth, we will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead, no matter what the cost to our own self-interests.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Klusendorf is president of Life Training Institute, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and on the Web at prolifetraining.com. He is the author of The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture” and has been featured on such Christian programs as “Focus on the Family” and “The Bible Answer Man.”)
1/31/2014 9:52:48 AM by Scott Klusendorf, Life Training Institute/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Fighting for our way or the Way?

January 30 2014 by Mike Goeke, Baptist Press

SAN FRANCISCO – As a Christian living in a very post-Christian San Francisco, I have found myself questioning the way the Christian community engages culture.
With the debate over gay marriage and other issues related to homosexuality, the cultural divide over abortion, the odd Christianization of war policy and gun control, and the fight for Christian symbols in school, government, media and marketing, it seems that many Christians tend to connect the collective moral fiber of our country to our laws, our politics or our media – that Christian principles somehow give us a “Christian” identity as a country.
We clearly like to be in the majority and like culture to validate our faith and our moral decisions. We like to be popular. Yet nothing in the Bible points to a Christian majority or cultural acceptance of our beliefs.
Rather than sweeping majorities, popular influence and laws that line up with Scripture, we are promised to be odd, persecuted outcasts who leave all, die to all, endure all and serve all for the cause of Christ. We are not called to lead people to shiny churches designed to meet all their needs. Our calling is not to clean up society or legislate morality or overthrow government, or to tie tax and survivor benefits to the biblical truth of marriage. We are called simply to reach the world with the amazing love of Jesus Christ, to help reconcile a lost and disconnected world back into relationship with God through Christ.
Christianity’s rise to power and cultural influence caused us to fit comfortably into culture, rather than standing out from culture. We faced little opposition to our bold assertions of our belief system. In many parts of our country Christianity and church were entrees into business and society. As culture began to shift from Judeo-Christian values, we reacted and began to look less and less like Jesus. We asserted our rights instead of understanding that Christianity stripped us of rights. We demanded acceptance instead of graciously enduring rejection. Some of us, meanwhile, began to redefine our Christianity to create something more palatable for society.
We forgot that God is not concerned whether a country looks or acts Christian any more than He is concerned about whether a person looks or acts Christian. He is concerned about the hearts and souls of people.
The rise of cultural Christianity created many Christian lives that were just like secular lives, but with added rules and a “get out of hell free” card. There is a very real possibility that many who claim to follow Christ will fall away as Christianity becomes less and less culturally acceptable.
But as the ranks of professing Christians become smaller, my prayer is that our smaller numbers would become more focused on shining the light of Christ in a very dark world. What if instead of fighting for the culture to validate us, we did what Jesus told us to do and turned the other cheek and loved those who hate and persecute us? What if we, with no strings attached, began to use our God-given gifts of leadership and creativity and finances and time to truly seek the welfare of our cities? What if the world saw Christians really living differently?
We have perhaps claimed a different moral standard, but have we really lived differently? Have we forgiven when the world says to seek revenge? Have we loved sacrificially and unconditionally when others have hated us? Have we respected our leaders even when they do not honor our beliefs? Have we shown mercy to those both deserving and undeserving of mercy? Have we fought for all people, even those whose lives are in great contrast to biblical principles, to be treated with dignity? 
The body of Christ stands before an open door of opportunity as the world moves further away from cultural Christianity. The door is open for amazing growth, hope and testimony. The door is open for a true, living orthodoxy. We don’t follow Christ because we get tax benefits or because the Ten Commandments hang on the courthouse walls. We follow Christ because Christ is worthy of our following and because we desire to be part of the work He is doing all over the world.
Perhaps, in the end, we will see lives radically changed. And all these issues that distract us will assume their proper place. And we, fully reconciled to the living God of the universe, will succeed as God’s agents to this world – walking others into the beauty that is the life reconciled to God through Christ.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Goeke, associate pastor of First Baptist Church San Francisco, has been in full-time ministry since leaving his law practice in 2001. He speaks and writes on issues related to life, Christianity, culture and sexuality. Goeke is a graduate of Baylor University and Texas Tech School of Law.)
1/30/2014 12:40:02 PM by Mike Goeke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Marijuana’s potency & what churches can do

January 29 2014 by Barrett Duke, ERLC/Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s recent comments about marijuana are very troubling. Having smoked marijuana myself for many years as a teenager and young adult, I can say that the president’s claim that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol is an inadequate comparison.
Both alcohol and marijuana are dangerous. To say one thing is less dangerous than another doesn’t mean very much if both things are extremely dangerous.
Claiming alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana is essentially a distinction without a difference. Marijuana is associated with a long list of physical and psychological problems.
Further, the Justice Department’s own statistics indicate marijuana is associated more often with other criminal behavior than any other illicit drug. In a 2002 Department of Justice survey of convicted inmates in jail, 14 percent reported using marijuana at the time of their offense – more than cocaine/crack at 11 percent. In addition, marijuana is acknowledged by millions of users and multiple studies as the gateway to even more destructive drugs.
Contrary to alcohol, marijuana almost cannot be taken in moderate doses. It is nearly immediately debilitating upon the first intake. Alcohol impairs the user at practically any level of use as well, but its strongest effects require higher levels of usage.
Marijuana is more powerful in smaller doses. This is even truer today than it was back when the president and I were smoking it. The higher potency levels of today’s marijuana compared to that of the ‘60s and ‘70s is well documented. But even when the president and I were smoking marijuana, it didn’t take much to thoroughly incapacitate a person.
The president is correct to maintain the current administrative policy toward marijuana as a Schedule I drug. It is a dangerous substance that will be made more destructive if the federal government relaxes its position. The president’s latest comments about the dangerous nature of marijuana are damaging enough. He would be better served to look more closely at the current facts about marijuana than to depend on his own experience.
Millions of lives are at stake in the debate over marijuana. I agree that we need to make sure we aren’t locking up young adults with hardened criminals for recreational marijuana use. Instead, we need more effective deterrent and rehabilitative programs. I agree that we need to address any racial disparity that exists in current drug enforcement policies. But making marijuana more available or reducing the penalty or stigma associated with its use is not going to help those using it now. Instead it is going to result in more use and more associated problems.

What churches can do

As our country continues to engage in the debate about marijuana, we must remember that the young people in our churches are listening and watching. We must make sure we help them understand the importance of personal purity and the dangers of marijuana and other drugs. Here are seven things a church can do to help keep their youth away from marijuana and other dangerous substances:
  1. Teach what the Bible says about proper treatment of our bodies. Our bodies are God’s creation, and for those in Christ, they are the temple of the Holy Spirit. As such, everyone, including young people, should do their best to keep themselves healthy and sober.
  2. Teach young people their worth in God’s eyes. They should be made aware that their lives matter. They should be taught that God has a plan for their lives and that they should seek His plan.
  3. Encourage adults in the church to practice abstinence toward alcoholic beverages. Young people have trouble distinguishing the difference between alcohol and marijuana use. To simply say one is legal and the other isn’t is not persuasive to youth curious about marijuana. This certainly won’t be much of a deterrent now that some states are legalizing it.
  4. Hold Christ-centered substance abuse awareness seminars. Parents should be made aware of the signs of substance abuse and be equipped to minister to a child who has fallen under its power. These seminars can also help young people and church members understand the dangers of substance abuse.
  5. Develop wholesome, enjoyable activities and ministries that offer young people in the church good alternatives to non-Christian venues. Make sure there is a strong emphasis on discipleship in these as well.
  6. Promote ministry opportunities for young people in the church that can help them focus on service to God and others rather than self. Teens are looking for ways to make their lives count. These activities can help them develop direction and purpose in their lives.
  7. Remind youth of the Lordship of Christ. Christian teens must be made aware of the reality that their lives are not their own. Having trusted Christ as Savior and Lord, they must put Him first, above all else.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
1/29/2014 12:36:27 PM by Barrett Duke, ERLC/Baptist Press | with 3 comments

Slippery slopes don’t deter from competing in fun run

January 29 2014 by Rick Houston, Guest Column

They could have called it the 5K Mud Run.
I arrive early Christmas Eve morning to participate in the Following the Star 5K and Fun Run at Idlewild Baptist Church in Matthews, N.C.; the start is still a couple of hours away. The temperature is hovering in the 30s – a cold way to run a race.
And then there’s the mud.
Steady rains the past couple of days have turned parts of the trail slippery and mucky, forcing portions to be rerouted. But these conditions aren’t slowing down Christy Godwin, a member of Idlewild and an “MK” (missionary kid) who grew up on the mission field in Nigeria.

IMB photo by Rick Houston
From left, George, Perry and Robin Diamaduros of Mt. Holly, N.C., ran in the Following the Star 5K and Fun Run and even finished together. Nearly 250 people registered to participate in the second annual competition at Idlewild Baptist Church in Matthews, N.C., this past Christmas Eve. The race was the vision of Idlewild member Christy Godwin, who organized the event to benefit the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. In all, the 2013 run raised approximately $5,000.

No way. She’s toting a box of T-shirts here and helping set up a tent over there. She needs a couple of tables out of a nearby shed, so I pitch in and help associate pastor Travis Byrd fetch them.
At the race’s start/finish line, there’s a video playing that features the Light of Hope Center, a day shelter in Bangladesh where impoverished girls receive an education, health care, moral training and life skills.
For potential race sponsors and participants alike, the video is a tangible reminder of why we’re here.
“I wanted to give everybody something they could understand, hold onto and say, ‘Yes, I want to help,’” notes Christy, who adds that proceeds from the race are headed directly to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
“When I came across the Light of Hope Center, it just struck me and my husband. We showed the video, did the QR code on all our promotional pieces and he showed it to every sponsor he talked to. It was a very real way of providing education to girls, and telling them about Jesus.”

A step of faith

All of this – every table, tent, display, bib number, runner and walker – is the result of Christy’s vision. Back in October 2012, as she was waiting on her husband, she began prayerfully walking the church parking lot. The 100th anniversary of Lottie Moon’s passing was approaching, and Christy wanted to find a way she could personally donate $10,000 to the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
A 5K. That’s it. There was only one small problem. Only a few short weeks remained before Christmas Eve, and putting on a race is no small feat. Still, she pressed on and the morning of the 2012 race some 200 participants showed up.
“I went forward, just taking it one step at a time,” Christy says. “I had like six weeks. I just thought, ‘This is impossible. I can’t put together a 5K in this short amount of time.’”
Christy’s continued prayers quieted those doubts.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll keep walking through the open doors as long as You hold them open for me,’” she told the Lord. “There we were, six weeks later, with 200 people running our first 5K. It was truly a miracle, something that God put together.”
The event grew this past Christmas Eve, with nearly 250 registering for the Following the Star 5K and Fun Run. In all, the 2013 run raised approximately $5,000.
 When it comes to missions in general and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in particular, the members of Idlewild Baptist are all in. On a morning like this, they have to be. Over at the registration tent, Diane Petro is getting ready. She and husband Bruce have two sons on the mission field, so for them the race is personal. One of those sons, David, is in Zambia with his wife, Heather, and their children. It’s a journey that started at Idlewild Baptist.
“It’s hard to let them go, but we have family who are not believers and so they’re like, ‘I just wouldn’t let them go,’” Diane says. But she believes her children need to be obedient to their calling. “They’re adults. If God tells them that’s where they need to be, that’s where they need to be.”

Missions a way of life

Finally, it’s time to start the race. For me, it’s a milestone of sorts – the Following the Star 5K is my 20th race in the past three years, but it’s my first on a trail – as opposed to running solely on pavement. A trail race is run on grass and through wooded areas, complete with tree roots, leaves, branches and mud. It’s impossible to forget about the mud this morning, and I’m nervous as I start out. Before I go a couple of yards, I stumble.
As soon as I decide to take it easy and be sure of my footing, I spot Keith Whitener as we head down a small but soupy incline. Christy had introduced me to Keith, Idlewild Baptist’s senior pastor, before the race and it’s been under his leadership the past 14 years that the congregation’s focus on missions has blossomed.
Mission trips are a way of life for Idlewild’s approximately 550 members, and the congregation’s most recent annual missions offering brought in more than $100,000.
“That’s phenomenal for a church our size,” says Keith, who estimates that church members have ventured to nearly 20 different countries as well as various parts of the United States. “It excites but it grieves me, because there are churches that actually, financially, could do a lot more than we do, but they don’t. I’m grateful to be part of a church that gives to missions, prays for missions, does missions.”
As I continue running the course, I meet a few members of Team Petro from Northside Baptist in nearby Rock Hill, S.C. They are running the 5K to support the congregation’s former minister of education, David Petro – Diane’s son – who is now serving overseas as a Southern Baptist missionary. We smile, wave and keep going.
Not long afterward, I strike up a conversation with Blair Austin, who is doing the race with her husband, Billy, and 11-year-old son Wyatt. Billy’s not supposed to be running due to his recovery from a back injury, but when I see him on a different portion of the trail, sure enough, he’s running.
The husband and wife used to routinely do this kind of thing before Wyatt came along, and they’re here now because of an invitation from a friend.
“You can find a 5K just about anywhere,” Blair says. “This one seemed like a really cool one to do because it’s focused more on Christ than some of the others.”
Blair finishes the race just ahead of me. It takes 34 minutes, 59.4 seconds to complete the course, which puts me 109th out of the 173 who actually participate. After stopping to snap a few pictures here and there, I’m happy with the result.
In the end, however, my time and the fact that my running shoes are filthy don’t really matter. This is for Christy. It’s for Idlewild Baptist and its heart for missions; for Keith, David, Heather and Diane; for Team Petro, Billy, Blair and Wyatt.
Most of all, it’s for Lottie and the Jesus she served.
Like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is missions-oriented. When people give to the offering, 100 percent of their gift will be transformed into North American missionary salaries and ministry supplies. Those missionaries and supplies will help others hear the message of Christ and respond in faith to His offer of salvation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rick Houston is a freelance writer living in Yadkinville, N.C., with his wife, Jeanie, a district court judge, and their twin sons, Adam and Jesse. Over the course of his running “career” Rick has lost more than 110 pounds. Plans for the third annual Following the Star 5K and Fun Run are already under way. If you’d like to participate or need other information, contact Christy Godwin at christy.godwin@icloud.com or the Idlewild church office at (704) 847-6565.)
1/29/2014 12:24:50 PM by Rick Houston, Guest Column | with 0 comments

I misjudged Richard Sherman

January 27 2014 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – If I have learned anything in my five-plus decades on the earth it is that perception and reality are not always the same. What transpires on the stage of life is only part of the drama – and oftentimes much more is taking place when the curtain drops.
The dichotomy between appearance and reality was on display at the conclusion of the National Football League conference championship game Jan. 19 between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks.
Immediately following a great defensive play that secured a victory for his team and a trip to the Super Bowl, Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman acted in a way that I declared at the time was classless.
The judgment seemed justified when moments later Sherman gave a postgame interview worthy of the World Wrestling Federation.
Sherman stared down the camera and declared himself to be the best corner in the NFL, which most of us would agree is probably true. He went on to describe Crabtree as a mediocre receiver and strongly suggested Crabtree should not have been talking about him.
Twitter echoed with judgments similar to mine. Sherman was dismissed with an explosion of criticism. Much of the criticism appeared to come from casual fans.
Casual fans of the NFL likely have had minimal exposure to Seattle or the 49ers. Being located on the West Coast means the majority of the games played by both teams take place late in the day in Central and Easter time zones and thus are not watched by many in America.
As a result, some were being introduced to Sherman for the first time and the impression he gave was that of a talented player flawed by blatant narcissism. Those judgments, it seems, might have been a bit hasty. The perception of the moment seems not to square perfectly with reality.
When I shared my unflattering estimation of Sherman with my sons, both of whom closely follow the NFL, I was told flat out I was wrong. They told me Sherman’s substance was much more than the style I had seen at the end of the game.
Rebuked by progeny that I love and respect, I decided to do some research on the star defensive back.
What I found was that while Sherman is no doubt confident, you have to be to survive in the NFL; there is much more to this man.
The Seahawks’ star defender graduated second from his Compton, Calif., high school. One report suggested he could have done better there if he hadn’t taken so many Advanced Placement courses.
Sherman’s parents are hardworking blue-collar folks. His dad works as a trash collector and his mother teaches disabled children in the inner city. Both stressed the value of hard work and education to their son. As a result he survived the crime-ridden, gang-infested streets of the inner city.
When it came time for college, Sherman chose the academically demanding Stanford University. He graduated from the Palo Alto school with a degree in communication before his NCAA eligibility was up. He had a 3.9 GPA. He spent his final year at Stanford working toward a master’s degree.
Sherman started a charity named Blanket Coverage. It focuses on providing school supplies for inner-city kids, ensuring they have good materials and updated textbooks.
While I was learning about Richard Sherman, more information came out that helped provide context for what took place on the field at the end of the NFC championship game.
It seems Michael Crabtree and Sherman had a run-in of sorts during the offseason. Neither player has disclosed what happened, but it is clear Sherman took great umbrage to the incident. It is also evident that Crabtree aimed quite a bit of trash talk at Sherman prior to the game.
After Sherman made the play of the game, he sprinted to Crabtree. Sherman was wearing a wireless microphone during the game and there is no mistaking what he said. He patted Crabtree and basically told the 49er receiver he had played a good game. A frustrated Crabtree shoved the Seattle defender in the face. Later, in an apology, Sherman said it was then that he “went off.”
I am in no way justifying Sherman’s antics, and neither is he. The day following the game Sherman offered an apology to all involved. He also tried to offer some context for all of us ignorant of the inner workings of professional football.
Jesus told us not to judge because He knows our perspectives are severely limited. We rarely, if ever, have enough information to render a proper judgment. I want to learn from my recent poor judgment.
The context of Sherman’s antics cannot be ignored. Professional football is intensely demanding both physically and emotionally. Few can grasp just how intense. Multiply everything by at least 10 in the context of a championship game.
Given the context, who am I to judge Sherman’s reaction? Crabtree had been “crackin’,” in my sons’ words, on Sherman via social media leading up the game. I am also sure the two exchanged pleasantries during the game as well.
While Sherman’s timing in approaching Crabtree was ill-advised, the evidence suggests he was overly excited when he spoke to the 49er receiver. When he was snubbed, he reacted – and that reaction spilled over to the postgame interview.
Sherman is known for trash talking. He is not alone. It is simply part of the psychological warfare some players employ in trying to get an edge over an opponent. Most players understand that and do not take it.
My initial judgment of Richard Sherman was wrong. Had I heeded the admonition of Jesus I would have withheld judgment until I had more facts. Not judging also goes hand in hand with another of the Lord’s teachings, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
1/27/2014 11:02:57 AM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Life wins in pro-choice Hollywood

January 24 2014 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Have you noticed there are few if any movies concerning an unexpected pregnancy where planned abortion prevails? Why is that? Hollywood is basically pro-choice (interesting euphemism), so why the reluctance from Tinseltown to address unwanted pregnancy with a pro-abortion slant? Well, structurally they can’t.
Story-wise, a writer dare not portray his protagonist as someone who commits abortion. The character, no matter the reasoning, will always come across as selfish if she finalizes this procedure. Indeed, it could be considered the ultimate act of selfishness as abortion ultimately has to do with the wellbeing of the mother, not the unborn.
Now, when I lump all of Hollywood into a pro-abortion camp, I’m being somewhat bigoted. I must amend my attitude. Therefore, I write before you, corrected. Not all in the entertainment community are pro-abortion. Their films prove it.
Gimme Shelter” (PG-13) opens in wide release Friday (Jan. 24). From studio press notes, it concerns a pregnant teenager, Apple, who flees her abusive mother in search of her father, only to be rejected by her dad and forced to survive on the streets until a compassionate stranger offers a hopeful alternative. While her parents are telling Apple to abort the baby, for some unknown reason, the young girl can’t bring herself to do it.
In the 2012 “Stories We Tell,” a filmmaker films a documentary about her eccentric family. At one point the writer/director is told that her mother had not only considered aborting her, but was en route to the clinic in order to proceed with the termination. Suddenly, she turned to her husband and said, “I can’t do this.” Years later, the husband says to his moviemaking daughter, “Amazing how close we were to you never existing. Almost enough to make you an anti-abortionist.”
The realization that she had been a car drive away from not having been a part of her family’s life haunts the production, perhaps negating any debate concerning a woman’s rights over those of the unborn.
The same emotion hits us in the gut when we see Gimme Shelter’s Apple holding her newborn, a little bundle full of hope and promise. Try to take her baby, and Apple would fight until she couldn’t fight anymore.
Last year three releases, “Gravity,” “Captain Phillips” and “All is Lost,” each significantly dealt with mankind’s struggle to survive despite dismal odds. When you view a character battling to stay alive when the odds are overwhelmingly against survival, one must concede to the preciousness of life. Not sure the filmmakers intended to make pro-life statements in these productions, but that’s what they did.
Among others from years past, here are four more pro-life films that come to mind.
  • Waitress”: Trapped in a loveless marriage, a pregnant Jenna (Keri Russell) fights off depression by making pies for the restaurant where she waits tables. Though she doesn’t want a baby by a man she has come to despise, she realizes that the unborn child has rights and she does everything possible to see that the fetus is getting what it needs to develop correctly. (PG-13)
  • Juno”: A smart teen (Ellen Page) becomes pregnant after her first sexual encounter and decides to have the baby, giving it up to an adoptive couple. Juno’s first inclination is to have an abortion ñ which tells you something about our culture’s dominance – but without the filmmakers attempting a flagrant pro-life statement, the sanctity of unborn life triumphs. (PG-13)
  • Bella”: After losing her job due to morning sickness, a young waitress/mother-to-be is befriended by the restaurant’s chef, who quickly becomes a confidante. Winner of several festival awards, this 2006 release is one of the most touching stories of recent memory. It is a film that celebrates the Latino culture, family and the value of a life. (PG-13)
  • March of the Penguins”: In the Antarctic, every March the quest begins for penguins to find the perfect mate and start a family. This courtship begins with a long journey – a trek that will take hundreds of the tuxedo-suited birds across 70 miles of frozen tundra to where the courtships will begin. It’s full of impressive, almost unworldly locations. More importantly, it sends a powerful message concerning the importance of life. Nature is reminding us of the sanctity of life. (G)
I am aware that too often we defenders of the unborn come across as unfeeling or unthinking regarding those who have chosen the procedure. It should be stated that if indeed abortion is a sin, it is one that can be forgiven. The woman who condemns herself for the deed need only ask for God’s forgiveness. If she does, she will find it. And one day she will be joyously reunited with her child. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just a stone thrower. And you know what Jesus said about throwing stones.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Should you decide to view any of the aforementioned movies, please read the entire reviews and learn the content that determined the respective ratings at http://www.previewonline.org. In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
1/24/2014 11:41:53 AM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tracking 2010’s church plants

January 23 2014 by Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – All church planters are special to us, but the church planting “Class of 2010” gets some additional attention and scrutiny because in that year we began reporting on Southern Baptist church plants in some new ways.
In 2010 Southern Baptist churches planted a total of 943 new churches.
Each of the new churches has an SBC ID number which allows for year-to-year tracking as they report through the Annual Church Profile. The ACP is a self-reporting tool and not every church responds, but it’s the best statistical tool Southern Baptists have right now.
So, according to ACP, how is the Class of 2010 doing? We think pretty well so far. Here are some key indicators from the 2012 ACP, the last full year of reporting available:
  • Survival rate: Of the 943 churches Southern Baptists planted in 2010, 856 – 91 percent – are still in operation.
  • Membership: 2010 church plants saw a membership gain of 20 percent in 2012 over 2011. This is while membership across all SBC churches declined 0.66 percent.
  • Attendance: Worship attendance also is growing among church plants – an 11 percent increase in 2012 compared to 2011. At the same time, across all SBC churches, worship attendance fell 3 percent.
  • Baptisms: Planting evangelistic churches is the best way to reach people for Christ. The Class of 2010 reported 3,394 baptisms. Among all SBC churches there is a ratio of one baptism for every 50 members. For the class of 2010 it’s 1:12.
  • Giving: We are also encouraged that the Class of 2010 continues to give more each year – including to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings. Total missions giving for those churches that reported was $2.9 million.
We will have a more complete picture after these churches reach the five-year point, but these initial numbers are encouraging and show us that new churches are a key part of reaching people for Christ and expanding God’s Kingdom. Please keep our church planters and their congregations in your prayers. There are still many challenges ahead for them as they push back lostness in difficult places.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is the president of the North American Mission Board.)
1/23/2014 12:31:28 PM by Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Little moments day by day

January 22 2014 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Nine out of 10 people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on them – typically after a week or so, according to various surveys.
They tend to be unrealistic, poorly thought out, too general to measure. They can even be counterproductive, cautions Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, who writes about the self-help industry. You fail to meet a self-imposed goal or deadline and feel like a failure. Or, you tie your hopes and dreams to an arbitrary date on a calendar.
“If you believe that you can only change on the New Year – the inherent message of New Year’s resolutions – you will have to wait a whole year before you get another shot,” Lamb-Shapiro explains.
New beginnings are fine, but real progress doesn’t always run on a calendar. Especially spiritual progress.
Sure, we experience mountaintop moments and make life-changing decisions in our spiritual lives – the day we decide to follow Christ as Lord, the first time we lead someone to faith in Him, the day we respond to a call from God to missions or a particular ministry. But daily growth in Christ usually happens quietly, behind the scenes, as we seek Him, love Him and obey Him.
“The transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than it is a series of a few dramatic events,” pastor and author Paul David Tripp writes. “Most of us only make three or four momentous decisions in our lives, and several decades after we die, the people we leave behind will struggle to remember our lives at all.
“You and I live in little moments,” Tripp continues, “and if God doesn’t rule our little moments and doesn’t work to recreate us in the middle of them, then there is no hope for us, because that is where you and I live. Ö This is where I think ‘Big Drama Christianity’ gets us into trouble. It can cause us to devalue the significance of the little moments of life and the ‘small-change’ grace that meets us there.”
Thousands of such moments come to us day by day. How we respond to them determines the course of our lives. Do we choose to seek the Lord in the quiet before dawn, or sleep another hour? Do we choose to meditate upon His Word, or ignore it? Do we choose to notice the lonely person in need of a kind word, or hurry on our way? Do we choose to speak up for Christ when the opportunity arises, or remain silent? Do we choose to pray for the lost, or curse them with indifference?
Most spiritual battles are won or lost in the unseen regions of the heart.
“In the 1800s, Scottish missionary Mary Slessor went to West Africa, then a notorious graveyard of missionaries. She braved many hazards and spread the Gospel for nearly four decades. But Slessor wrote a simple truth to her supporters back home: “Praying is harder work than doing.”
Many believe the historic Shantung Revival in China began with the prayers of one person: Norwegian missionary Marie Monsen. She was a missionary second, an intercessor first. No one except God “saw” Monsen’s prayers. Their impact, however, changed the world.
“You see, Jesus is Immanuel , not just because He came to earth, but because He makes you the place where He dwells,” Tripp observes. “This means He is present and active in all the mundane moments of your daily life.”
Silent moments of prayer may seem mundane in this world. Eternity will reveal otherwise.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent. Explore the possibility of changing the world through prayer at imb.org/pray.)
1/22/2014 12:23:47 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Silent amid the killing

January 21 2014 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – That 6 million Jews were put to death during the reign of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich is a historic fact. So, too, is the evolutionary philosophy that defined the Jews as subhuman and was used to justify the Holocaust.
A book by an American historian and a German sociologist makes the case that a significant number of German citizens were complicit in the systematic murders due to their silence.
What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, And Everyday Life in Nazi Germany – An Oral History” published by Eric Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband in 2005 contains the results of hundreds of interviews and surveys conducted with Germans who lived under Hitler’s Third Reich.
From their extensive research, Johnson and Rueband conclude that information about the Holocaust was widespread among Germany’s Jewish and non-Jewish populations during the war years.
Reuband believes that one-third of the Germany people were aware of the Holocaust while it was taking place. Johnson believes the number to be up to one-half of the population. “Regardless of the estimate one uses, this means that the mass murder of European Jews was no secret to millions of German citizens while it was still being carried out,” according to the authors.
Information about the mass murder of the Jews was available to the average German via a variety of sources.
Foreign-language radio broadcasts, particularly from the British Broadcasting Company, reported on the reality of the German death camps. Though the Nazis labeled it a crime to listen to such broadcasts, Johnson and Reuband found that many Germans regularly tuned in.
Soldiers on leave who were involved in the transport of Jews to the concentration camps were another source of information. One woman interviewed by Johnson and Reuband indicated the soldiers spoke freely about what they had observed.
And those who lived in close proximity of the camps were keenly aware. One young man recalled riding his motorcycle and stopping at a community near a camp. “I don’t know what town it was...,” the man told Johnson and Reuband. “But, anyway, we made a stop there and the place was stinking: ‘What is that smell?’ ‘Over there is a concentration camp, that’s where the corpses are being burned, where soap is being made from the Jews.”
Johnson and Reuband noted that great numbers of Germans also knew about the killing of the mentally ill and the handicapped.
“This unspeakable crime against humanity,” Johnson and Reuband conclude, “could not have been possible without the indifference and complicity of a large part of the German population.”
Here in the U.S., Jan. 22 will mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion. More than 55 million unborn babies have been murdered in their mothers’ wombs in the 41 years since Roe became law.
Though information about abortion abounds in America, abortion on demand for any reason, or for no reason, continues unabated. While some states have made it difficult to obtain an abortion, the killing continues.
Studies have found that more than 90 percent of all abortions in America are not medically necessary and occur as a matter of convenience, while 90 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.
Medical science has proved the baby in the womb is indeed a living being. Tests have established that the unborn child experiences pain.
With all the information on the horrible reality of abortion, how does the practice remain unfettered in America?
Too many Americans remain indifferent to the practice. It’s as if we have come to accept the killing of unborn children as normal.
Amazingly, Johnson and Reuband found that some Germans viewed the mistreatment and subsequent killing of the Jews as just part of life. In the introduction of their book they wrote, “As one we interviewed for this book told us in the comfort of his home in Michigan in May 2001, ‘To us it was the most exciting time of our lives.... You see, when the Nazis came to power, I was five years old. I grew up in this. So it was a normal part of life for me.”
History, it seems, is once again repeating itself.
Yet there’s a huge difference between the Holocaust and the tragedy of legal abortion in America. Germans risked imprisonment and worse if they sought to oppose the extermination of the Jews. But there is no such threat to Americans who take a stand against abortion.
Our silent indifference makes us complicit in this unspeakable crime against humanity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
1/21/2014 11:56:02 AM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Protect all children

January 20 2014 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – When I was a child growing up in a Southern Baptist church in south Mississippi, we used to sing a lot of songs in Sunday School assembly. One song had the line: “And if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack.”
As the years have gone by, I’ve realized there are a lot of things the devil doesn’t like, in fact a lot of things the Scripture says the devil rages against.
One of those things is the sound of children singing. “Out of the mouths of babes,” Jesus says, quoting the Psalms, “Your praise will come.”
Every time we turn a page in the Bible, children are under assault from satanic powers. They’re being killed; they’re being marginalized; they’re being left for dead.
Why? It’s because the devil recognizes in the faces of children a picture of what the Scripture says is his ultimate defeat – the offspring of the woman “will crush your head” (Genesis 3:15, NIV).
And as Jesus tells us, those who become as little children are those who will inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18:2-3).
Satan sees the picture of his own defeat in those children’s faces. That’s why in every era we have to stand vigilant against a culture of death and stand up for a culture of life.
January 19 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. One of the things we should commit ourselves to this Sunday is to work toward the day when not only, as one leader put it years ago, abortion will be illegal – although we should work for that – but also when abortion is unthinkable!
We should be standing up to protect the lives of children in law. We should be working in our voting, in our legislative process, to protect the lives of children.
We also need to be working within our congregations to teach and remind ourselves that there is no such thing as a wasted human life. There is no person who is less than a person. Everyone, including the unborn, is created in the image of God and therefore, bears all of the rights of life and of liberty.
Let’s stand up for the unborn. Let’s stand up for women who are being harmed and hurt by the abortion industry and by predatory men who pressure them into abortions.
Let’s speak to those of you who have had abortions in order to say that, although this is an awful and unspeakable sin against God, the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin every conscience that cries out to Him in repentance and faith.
Always speak with kindness and grace. Be careful to maintain a Christian testimony when engaging others, even when you disagree with one another.
Establish a local crisis center. Check Care Net and find a center nearby where you can volunteer. See if your church can help partner to raise money for the center. If there isn’t one in your area, prayerfully consider spearheading an effort to start one. You might begin by speaking with the leaders in your local church or with prolife organizations such as The Psalm 139 Project.
Establish an outreach to young, single moms at your church. Young moms need support and are often very open to parenting help. Consider launching a Teen Mothers of Preschoolers chapter.
Support education efforts. Consider supporting organizations that offer smart, compassionate efforts to educate the public on the issue of abortion, such as the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Support local legislative efforts. The real momentum in codifying protections for the unborn into law seems to be on the state level. Organizations like The National Right to Life Federation or local Right to Life groups are great resources to follow on pending legislation.
Pray. Pray for the women and girls who are considering abortion, that they will choose life. Pray for the millions who are living with the trauma of having chosen abortion in the past. Pray for the staff of pregnancy care centers as they minister to everyone who walks through their doors.
We preach the gospel. We stand for justice. And we fight the devil, recognizing that every time we preach the gospel, every time we seek to protect children, we’re saying what many of us once sang: “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. For Sanctity of Human Life resources and to download a 3-minute video suitable for use in your church’s worship service, go to http://erlc.com/life.)
1/20/2014 9:53:56 AM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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