May 2012

Falling in love with Nineveh

May 30 2012 by Eric Geiger, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When the Lord called me into ministry, I told Him I would go anywhere He asked. When Kaye and I married and discussed where the Lord would possibly put us, we committed we would go wherever He sent us. I graduated from seminary, and was asked to fill out a form indicating where we would like to serve. I put “wherever God puts us.”

I’ve never understood those who list three states as their “preferences” for ministry.

While I told God I would go anywhere, I also asked that it would never be Nineveh. And I don’t mean a town or city called Nineveh, but a people and place I would not love. I never wanted to be the Jonah of chapter one, never wanted to be disciplined into the ministry God had for me.

By God’s grace, I have never served in Nineveh. He has always been gracious to me and given me a love for the people I served, a passion for the city, and a desire to live in the community in which God has placed me.

You can minister in Nineveh, and God will use you as He used Jonah, but you may also be miserable. Surely it’s much better to allow God to breathe His passion for the community and the people deeply into you. Surely it’s much better to love the people and the place God has called you to serve.

Looking back, here are a few practical things my wife and I did to develop our love for the places we served. I will use my most recent local church experience in Miami illustratively.

1. Eat at local restaurants. You can go to a chain restaurant in any city. Instead, find places authentic to the community, places that capture the local culture. We loved Cuban at Havanna Harry’s, Peruvian at Jaguar’s, and seafood at Garcia’s. After each meal, I felt like Miami was a little more my home.

2. Date your spouse and the city. Explore different parts of the community/city/county. Find things to do in places you’ve not yet explored. Shop in a different part of town or try coffee in a new place.

3. Find fun local spots for your kids. Each community has unique things for kids. Find those. Whether it is a park, zoo, museum or library. Join those and visit them with your kids.

4. Pray each morning for your community. The more you pray for your community, the more you’ll love it. God supernaturally does this work in your heart. When I flew into Miami at night and saw the city lights, I would pray for the city, and God always increased my love for her. At times, He would bring me to tears, and I knew He was doing something special deep in my heart.

5. Join the sports bandwagon. Allow the local team to become your team. Really make it your team. I became a huge Miami Heat and Miami Hurricane fan. When people talked smack about them, I took it personally. And giving Florida State fans a hard time only endeared me more to the people of Miami.

6. Use local illustrations in your messages. The more you talk about your community, the more you end up loving it. And the people sense it.

7. Honor local community leaders. Everyone in authority has been placed in authority by God (Romans 13). Schoolteachers, policemen, and community/political leaders care for the community and are in highly influential roles. Pray for these leaders and look for opportunities to serve them. Some of my great memories in Miami include flying in a helicopter with policemen on a night raid, serving a local school with my small group, and recognizing school teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day.

8. Embrace the history. The community has an historical narrative. Learn it in order to better understand the place and the people who live there. In Miami, the Freedom Tower is known as the Ellis Island of the South because Cubans fleeing Castro’s regime were processed there. It’s a statement of a new beginning for many people and an illustration of the new life Christ offers when we leave our old lives behind.

9. Listen. As you live in the community, listen to the people you meet. Hear their stories and allow God to give you His burden for them.

What about you? Anything practical you would add to the list that you have found helpful in developing a deep love for the place you serve?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Eric Geiger serves as vice president of the church resources division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to joining LifeWay, Geiger served eight years as executive pastor of Christ Fellowship Miami in Florida.)
5/30/2012 1:10:06 PM by Eric Geiger, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Gay divorce threatens marriage

May 25 2012 by Penna Dexter, Guest Column

DALLAS (BP) – Same-sex “marriage” is getting some high profile support lately. But in actual elections, it still loses.
 
With the recent vote in North Carolina, 31 states now have amended their constitutions to protect marriage, defined as the union between one man and one woman.
 
Four more states could be added to the list in November. Minnesota citizens will vote on the issue, as will Maine, Maryland and Washington state, where legislatures have passed same-sex “marriage” bills.
 
In Maine, the legislature passed a bill allowing same-sex “marriage” in 2009, but the people overturned it. Maine voters again will decide whether to legalize same-sex “marriage” in their state. In Maryland and Washington state, citizens will vote on whether to repeal same-sex “marriage” laws.
 
Polling in Maryland shows citizens are fairly evenly divided on the law, though in most surveys support for same-sex “marriage” registers higher in polls than in elections.
 
Another threat to traditional marriage has surfaced in Maryland: gay divorce. Maryland’s highest court recently ruled unanimously in favor of two lesbians who were married in California and, in 2010, were denied a divorce in Maryland.
 
This means that regardless of the referendum outcome in November, Maryland at least will recognize same-sex “marriages” from other states. Advocates of same sex “marriage” see this as a way to get the legal camel’s nose under the tent.
 
Beyond that, the ruling begs the question: How much divorce is there in the same-sex “marriage” world? It turns out there’s a lot.
 
The United States’ history with same-sex “marriage” is short, but Scandinavian countries have been at this much longer. A Stockholm University professor of demography found that in Sweden and Norway male same-sex “marriages” are 50 percent more likely to end in divorce than heterosexual marriages.
 
In Sweden, the divorce rate for female couples is twice that of male couples. And in Norway, lesbian “married” couples are 167 percent more likely to divorce than heterosexual couples.
 
Despite the many efforts to usher in civil unions and same-sex “marriage” in the United States, when laws are changed, the number of couples registering their partnerships is surprisingly low.
 
Charles Cooke of National Review wrote that since 1997, when Hawaii was the first state to allow registration of same-sex partnerships, only about one in five self-identified same-sex couples have taken advantage of the various ways states register such couples so they can receive benefits. Same-sex “marriage” actually is declining in popularity in the Netherlands.
 
So if there’s no particular groundswell of same-sex “marriages” when it’s legalized, and if same-sex couples are more likely to divorce, what’s this really about? Advocates for same-sex “marriage” say it’s about civil rights and equality.
 
They won’t admit it, but it’s really about redefining marriage, making it a package of benefits. Eventually, this will result in the destruction of marriage.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Penna Dexter is a conservative activist and frequent panelist on the “Point of View” syndicated radio program. Her weekly commentaries air on the Bott and Moody radio networks.)
5/25/2012 1:17:43 PM by Penna Dexter, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Use boundaries to deter sin

May 24 2012 by Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – A pastor I know well had hidden marital infidelity for years, but it recently came to light. The truth about this is continuing to emerge, but enough of it’s already out there to make me grit my teeth when I think about it.
 
The reason for my strong response is I know what a pastor’s sexual misconduct does to a church. My last two pastorates were at churches that had lost pastors to marital unfaithfulness. At my last church, there were members even after 15 years who still had a hard time trusting me because of what another pastor had done.
 
Wounds heal, but scars often last a lifetime. God forgives, but a church never forgets when its shepherd strays. What it does to the body of Christ and to communities who watch from the outside is incalculable.
 
Heartbreaking incidents like this remind me of why boundaries are so critical. When pastors dabble in gray areas of how we treat the opposite gender, we’re already asking to lose the battle. Is it a sin for a married person to individually visit or lunch alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse? This is kind of like asking whether it’s safe to strike a match at a gas pump. Maybe it’s not a sin, but it’s certainly dumb.
 
Lynette and I have agreed never to do anything in relation to the opposite sex that could be called into question, even if motives are pure. And I have asked North American Mission Board’s missionaries and staff to follow the same commonsense guidelines.
 
If you haven’t adopted similar guidelines personally or church-wide, here are some you should consider:
 
–I will pray for the integrity of other leaders and staff members.
 
–I will maintain financial integrity.
 
–I will not show affection that could be questioned.
 
–When counseling members of the opposite sex, I will be sure another person is present.
 
–Other than my spouse or another family member, I will not be at a residence alone with the opposite sex.
 
–If married I will not have a meal alone with the opposite sex, other than a spouse or a family member.
 
–If married I will not be alone in an automobile with the opposite sex, other than my spouse or a family member.
 
–I will not view pornography.
 
–I will be careful in answering cards, letters or emails from the opposite sex.
 
Today, the way we correspond with people provides new pitfalls. Texting and Facebook are great tools, but can be dangerous weapons against believers. Technology has given us unprecedented access to anonymity, secrecy and inappropriate content, and its abuse is bringing down church leaders every week.
 
While the pain of these recent events is still fresh in my mind, I want to encourage fellow pastors to establish similar guidelines that will protect you and your church from the ravages of inappropriate conduct.
 
If we’re going to lead healthy Southern Baptist churches, plant healthy new ones and raise up the next generation of church leaders, we’ve got to give them a church they can be proud to help build.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Ezell is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. This article first appeared on NAMB’s “Whatever It Takes” blog.)
5/24/2012 1:22:16 PM by Kevin Ezell, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pastors, give students ultimate gift: your attention

May 23 2012 by Adam C. English, Guest Column

I preached my first sermon on a bright Sunday morning in front of the youth group at the age of 17. I accepted the call to ministry when I was 16, and my youth pastor supported me every step of the way, even to the point of inviting me to preach. I will always be grateful for the opportunity. In my talk, I compared the Christian life to the life of a tree. I observed how the tree draws nourishment from the soil through its roots, harnesses the rays of the sun through its leaves, protects itself by a tough outer bark, and flowers in due season. I made a connection between the parts of the tree and those of the Christian life, from how we must be rooted in the Word to how we must display the “fruits of the Spirit.” For all that, my talk still did not amount to what one might call a full-length sermon. It lasted 7 minutes 23 seconds – from the opening scripture passage to closing prayer. As it turns out, I had much to learn in the way of preaching.
 
What amazes me now as I think back is the trust and confidence my youth minister placed in me when he gave me that precious gift of the pulpit. My sermon was the rough-edged scribble-scrabble of a beginner, which my youth minister must have known in advance, but knowing this did not stop him from asking me to do it anyway.
 
The sermon, whether before a group of 40 youth or a church of thousands, is a sacred thing. The proclamation of the Word of God carries a weight of authority and a burden of holy responsibility that should not be assumed lightly or handled carelessly. For this reason, most pastors are reluctant – and wisely so – to let anyone in the pulpit other than themselves or a staff member.
 
Even so, I want to appeal to North Carolina churches on behalf of young persons called to Christian ministry that they create opportunities for preaching. Pastors: sit down and help a youth shape a sermon manuscript. Deacons, elders and church leaders: work with your pastor to find appropriate venues for “preaching practice.”
 
If it is not practical or possible for an individual other than the pastor to deliver a full sermon on a Sunday morning, set up a special time on Sunday evening or at a Wednesday mid-week service.
 
You might even create an event out of it – promoting it as a chance to see the fresh faces of preaching and the next generation of Christian pastors.
 
I have had the privilege as a professor of theology at Campbell University to talk with ministry students from different churches all over the state and beyond.
 
To my surprise and great disappointment, very few of those students have had the opportunity to declare the Word in their home churches – or anywhere for that matter – even though some of them answered a call to ministry when they were in middle school.
 
If you want to impact the next generation, if you want to encourage young people to give their lives to vocational ministry, if you want to foster the call to full-time ministry, give the ultimate gift: your attention.
 
By carving out a space and a time for student preaching, and then giving your attention to listen, you will do more for that young individual than you can know. Sometimes all a body needs is to be given a chance.
 
It is a shame when a student answers a call to serve while in high school, then attends college, and finally enters divinity school having never preached a sermon. By that point in his or her personal development, preaching will seem insurmountably intimidating, hopelessly antiquated, socially irrelevant, or just not interesting. Early on the individual begins to form ideas about ministry and vocation, about gifts and talents, about goals and aspirations. If preaching is not part of those early experiences, it’s not likely to figure into one’s goals or aspirations. The individual will say, “I just can’t imagine myself preaching.” It can’t be imagined because it’s never been experienced. It’s never been experienced because it’s never been offered.
 
Now more than ever churches need to give youth opportunities to interpret and preach the Word, especially since “preaching” and “sermonizing” have taken on pejorative connotations in popular usage. Why would anyone want to become a preacher of sermons when, to many, “preaching” is synonymous with “harping,” “nagging,” and “criticizing,” and “sermon” has become another word for a dry and monotonous lecture? More than ever we need to find ways to counteract this stereotyped misperception.
 
We need to celebrate preaching and encourage candidates for ministry to see its beauty, relevancy and power. We have a chance to inspire the next generation of ministers, but only if we invite them into the pulpit.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam C. English is associate professor of theology and philosophy in the Department of Religion and Philosophy, Campbell University Divinity School.)
5/23/2012 1:21:46 PM by Adam C. English, Guest Column | with 1 comments



50 years of leadership at Camp Caraway

May 22 2012 by Jeremy Jackson, Guest Column

Half a century ago North Carolina Baptist representatives laced up their boots and climbed the surprisingly mountainous terrain of central North Carolina as they scouted a location for a Royal Ambassador summer camp. A site of interest was found at the northern tip of the Uwharries, a mountain range appearing as an island in the middle of N.C.’s Piedmont. The property in Randolph County was purchased and the ministry of Camp Caraway was born. Today this beautiful location attracts more than 20,000 guests a year and goes by the name Caraway Conference Center and Camp. However, the summer camp program facilitated by N.C. Baptist Men will always be known as Camp Caraway.      
 
In 1963 the first Royal Ambassador summer camp program took place on the property, and since that first N.C. Baptist boot imprinted in the red dirt, the staff of Camp Caraway have been leading campers on a path toward a deeper relationship with God. Many current N.C. Baptist pastors, missionaries and laymen embraced their faith walk in the middle of this 1,100-acre oak-covered property.  While it is important to recognize Caraway’s history of faith development, it is also important to remember those who made Camp Caraway’s story possible. 
 
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Over the last 50 years Camp Caraway has operated under the leadership of 13 summer camp program directors. These directors are responsible for the successful facilitation of a program that has led to countless boys understanding that their lives have purpose in Christ. Campers at Camp Caraway are also taught about the importance of missions. They’re encouraged to consider how their talents might be used to share their faith with others. With such an awesome responsibility, former directors express their heart for its continued ministry.   
 
Tom Beam, student mobilization consultant with N.C. Baptist Men, held the reins of Camp Caraway from 1999 to 2007. He states “the greatest nine summers of my life occurred while being the director of Camp Caraway. Every part of camp interested me – from planning and promoting, to seeing God use the camp staff well beyond camp.” He goes on to add, “I enjoy hearing from former campers who are living a life committed to Christ, while knowing that ... Caraway was a huge part of that commitment.” 
 
Kendell Cameron, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mt. Holly, remembers his days at the helm of Camp Caraway from 1990 to 1993 with fondness. “My favorite moment each week was the commitment service at the chapel on the lake. I loved watching 200 campers converge on that beautiful, holy spot. Ultimately, what made that spot holy for me was not the beautiful vista, but the view of watching boys make commitments for Christ,” he said. “In my years as director, I worked with some of the finest Christian young men. Today, these men serve all over as pastors, missionaries, youth ministers, deacons, and they’re involved as laymen in the work of their church. God blessed me with the opportunity to minister to the boys of N.C. and to serve with some outstanding men who continue to contribute as N.C. Baptists.”
 
Ben Sutton is president of IMG College, the largest collegiate sports marketing company in the nation. In 1982, 10 years before Ben ventured into the collegiate sports business, he served as the fifth summer camp program director of Camp Caraway. Like Tom and Kendell, Ben recalls great memories of how Camp Caraway has touched his life, and the life of his family. 
 
“Caraway has been a tremendously important part of the fabric of our family’s life,” Sutton said. “My grandfather, Douglas Branch (former president and executive director of the N.C. Baptist State Convention) and Bill Jackson (Caraway’s first director) walked the property 50 years ago, eventually acquiring it through the N.C. Baptist State Convention. Coming here to work for the first time in 1978 seemed completely natural to me. The four summers I spent here were like a little slice of heaven. I worked with some of the most dedicated folks I have ever had the privilege to serve alongside.”

Concerning the vital work of Camp Caraway’s ministry, Ben continues “literally seeing lives changed as a result of the investment in our campers made it one of the most satisfying experiences I’ll ever have.” 

In less than a month, summer staff will begin to unload their belongings into the cabins that will be home for the summer. Their initial nervousness will soon turn to an excited realization that this will be no ordinary summer. Mark Moore, Camp Caraway’s 13th summer camp program director, will guide the staff through two weeks of staff training. As the staff members train, prepare and practice for their responsibilities, the most important tasks they have ever been assigned will begin to resonate in them.
 
They will also realize that they are part of a long, legendary tradition. Parents from all over the state will soon be sending their boys to camp for a week, and it will be the awesome responsibility of the staff to care for these campers. More importantly, it will be the responsibility of the staff to lead the campers toward a deeper relationship with God, just as they have for the last 50 years. 
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeremy Jackson is the associate director of Caraway Conference Center and Camp. Camp Caraway will celebrate 50 years July 21.)
5/22/2012 1:16:14 PM by Jeremy Jackson, Guest Column | with 0 comments



North Carolina’s useless lucky charm

May 21 2012 by Mark Creech, Guest Column

North Carolina, a state that has characteristically resisted gambling, is now headed down gaming’s dead end street.
 
Under a 1994 compact negotiated by then-Gov.Jim Hunt, Harrah’s Cherokee casino opened in 1997. The games the casino provided under N.C. state law were video-based. But for several years, the Cherokee have been pushing for Las Vegas style, Class III gaming, which draws a riskier clientele and is much more addictive in nature. The Cherokee have argued the new games will create hundreds of jobs, bring more tourists to the area, consequentially creating a boon for western North Carolina’s economy.
 
Those arguments resonated with Gov. Beverly Perdue last year when she struck a deal with the Eastern Band under a new compact.
 
The new compact, which the North Carolina Senate approved last week, is a significant expansion of gaming rights for the Cherokee. Not only does it allow for the more predatory Class III forms of gambling, but it also allows for up to four additional casino sites on tribal property. Of course, to make it all more palatable, up to 8 percent of the profits from these new games will go to fund education in the state.
 
The measure, which now goes to the N.C. House for consideration, should be rejected. And it might die in the House, if certain lawmakers remain true to their convictions against gambling. A bi-partisan coalition of both conservative and progressive lawmakers in that chamber makes the passage of the legislation uncertain. Nevertheless, there is no question that it will be a great challenge for these legislators to defy political pressures and not surrender to the seductions of the industry.
 
There are many reasons why approving the new Cherokee compact would be wrong for the state, but none more fundamental than the fact that the business model of the gambling industry itself is dependent on addicted or heavily indebted citizens. It only works by taking away the freedom of these people. Harrah’s casinos across the country make 90 percent of their gambling profits from 10 percent of the players who participate in their gaming. By definition, people addicted to gaming and deeply in debt are not free, but enslaved. In a nation where freedom is paramount and meant to be vigorously protected, the state does a terrible injustice to its citizens and guests by actively endorsing, facilitating, or profiting from an industry that renders certain people as expendable.
 
Fundamentally speaking, casinos are the most predatory business in the country. And, regardless of all the accolades it receives by those whose pocket books are benefited thereby, regardless of how well-ordered the machine runs, it is inherently wrong. Moreover, it is worse for state government to partner with it in the name of “education.”
 
During the 1980s, Lee Iacocca was one of the most admired corporate executives in the country. He had taken charge of the Chrysler Corporation when the automotive giant was deeply in debt. He pulled it away from bankruptcy and created thousands of jobs for Detroit and other cities. His philosophy for success? “[T]here are no free lunches.”
 
It’s all about hard work, he argued. “That’s what made this country great – and that’s what’s going to make us great again.”
 
But only 10 years after his success with Chrysler, Iacocca changed direction. He went to Los Angeles, set up his own investment company with a new focus on gambling, including efforts to set up casinos in Michigan and provide in-flight gaming for airline passengers.
 
Iacocca’s professional change of direction is a dramatic reflection of a shifting paradigm from strong and admirable economic development in the Tar Heel state to dependence on profits from an enterprise that capitalizes on the weaknesses of others and offers false hopes – a disturbing picture of this state’s change of direction, and why it’s time to put on the brakes.
 
In his book, The Luck Business, Robert Goodman best summarized the matter in this fashion:
 
“Citizens should be able to look to government to protect their basic rights, not to promote destructive behavior and false promises. There is a lot that government can do to support job growth and to ease the dislocation and unpredictability that has become part of our economic system. To move away from the culture of chance and toward policies that promote genuine economic development will mean going beyond the hype of magic bullet cures and focusing instead on incremental, long term policies. … This process will require patience, careful analysis, and honest discussion among leaders and their constituents. The reward will not only be protection of the economy, but a shift from the pathologies of hope to the creation of real hope.”
 
Indeed, in the long term gambling produces more harm than good. North Carolina would do well to lose any confidence it has in this useless old lucky charm.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark Creech is executive director of the Christian Action League. To read the column in its entirety click here.)
5/21/2012 1:00:53 PM by Mark Creech, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Obama, gay marriage & the black church vote

May 21 2012 by Eric Redmond, Guest Column

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Much has been published about President Barak Obama’s announcement endorsing same sex marriage. I was preparing an editorial on the subject when I read the following letter to the president by a fellow Southern Baptist pastor. I yield my page to pastor Eric C. Redmond. Redmond is senior pastor of Reformation Alive Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Md., and is a former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. – K. Allan Blume)
 
The question of the black church’s response to President’s Obama’s revelation of his views on same-sex unions should have a simple and direct answer. Congregations of the faithful might consider sending a letter to the president of this sentiment:

Dear Mr. President,
Your recent expression of your understanding of ‘marriage’ is troubling to us. There are no tenets that can be identified as Christian that allow for anyone to view homosexuality as acceptable. The Christian faith holds to the Bible as the truth, for it has given ample evidence of being the very words of God to man.
 
It is the Bible that reveals marriage to be a union between a man and a woman; it is the Bible that reveals all homosexual activity to be sinful. Therefore we would reject your so-called Christian understanding of same-sex marriage as uninformed and false.
 
Wide is the gap between what you and we are teaching our children – the next generation of American workers and leaders. Christian parents have a responsibility to raise their children to fear the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
 
Because the Bible reveals God’s standards for right and wrong, there will be many times when the Lord’s words come into conflict with human sensibilities.
 
Therefore, while your daughters could not imagine their friends’ same-sex union parents being treated differently, you, as their father, would have the responsibility to tell them that their friends’ parents participate in immoral acts, although they might be otherwise nice people.
 
This should not be difficult for you to share with your girls, for we suspect you teach them something similar about their friends’ parents who commit adultery, and about the subtle racism of some tax-paying Americans.
 
The use of your daughters’ thoughts on this issue is interesting. It seems to be a political move intended to draw emotional sympathy with your position on same-sex unions uniquely.
 
Certainly, as those who uphold the value of the family – where family is truthfully defined and practiced – we would expect that you would share with your daughters as much of your life, as the leader of the free world, as you can without compromising our national security. However, we do not believe for one moment that you gain wisdom on matters of this magnitude from your daughters’ guileless, youthful comprehension of their experiences.
 
Americans can be fairly certain that you would not say to us that you would stop drone attacks on our enemies because your daughters have taken a revisionist stance on the capturing and killing of Bin Laden.
Instead, tenderly, we believe that you would say to your daughters that you must think about greater matters that keep you up at night.
 
Do not be deceived: Our votes will not come cheaply.
 
Our mutual identity as African Americans is something we celebrate every time you laugh off the ignorance of those who question your American citizenship and when you make those long strides that have come to characterize your trek from Marine One to your home. Yet our confidence in your ability to govern the nation justly and equitably is not based solely on the contrasting ethnicities of your opponent and you.
 
Yes, our ancestors made many sacrifices for us to have the right to vote. However, they also died while trying to stand for righteousness. So we can use the nil option in November, opting not to vote for you or the presumptive Republican nominee.
 
Therefore, we will not be giving you our vote this fall unless you reverse your professed position on same-sex unions. This would demonstrate to us that you are a man of wisdom who has the good interests of the American people in mind, and who has the heart of the people of faith in mind.
 
For we are not limited to an either/or option when it comes to suffrage, but you are.
 
Either you change your position on same-sex unions or you will not have our votes. We would rather throw our vote away than have to explain to the parents of our grandchildren how we voted for a president who sees marriage so differently.
5/21/2012 12:57:30 PM by Eric Redmond, Guest Column | with 1 comments



A debt-free degree

May 18 2012 by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press

GAINESVILLE, Ga. –Just a few years ago, I sat in the University of Georgia football stadium as my son Todd walked across the stage to receive his college degree. As the ceremony ended with the traditional toss of the graduation caps, my wife Anne and I also were celebrating that Todd was beginning his new life with no student loan debt.
 
As the head of an organization that helps people get out of debt and develop financial skills for lifelong success, I could not help wondering the number of those students launching their careers anchored to debt. Turns out, quite a few.
 
An estimated two-thirds of the class of 2010 has student debt, according to The Student Debt Project, and the debt level is increasing each year.
 
During the 2007-08 school year, 39 percent of college students borrowed money for school, up from 34 percent four years earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. The numbers include private, federal and Parent PLUS loans. At the same time more students, 35 percent compared to 32 percent, borrowed Federal Stafford loans, the center reported. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York indicates student debt has surpassed not only total credit card balances, but also total car loan balances.
 
It gets worse.
 
Graduates left college in 2010 burdened by an average of more than $25,000 in debt, The Student Debt Project reported. Total college loan debt in this very tight market is nearly $1 trillion.
 
Ironically, the willingness to borrow becomes an incentive for schools to disregard cost-cutting measures. While the economy has sputtered along with 1 percent to 3 percent growth, the cost of a four-year public college education has gone up 25 percent over the last three years. An emotional blackmail of sorts is taking place, in which colleges raise their prices disproportionate to market events, holding the hope of the American dream over the heads of increasingly desperate teenagers and their parents.
 
I recently received an email solicitation from an ambitious high school senior asking for donations to sponsor her to the elite private school of her dreams. She was accepted based on her academic and leadership abilities but faced a four-year college cost of $165,000. These numbers look more like a mortgage bill to me.

Most disturbing is the government recently proposed a number of policy changes that will continue to fuel the bubble. The Obama administration has advocated moving more and more of the underwriting for these debts to the public sector, i.e. the taxpayer, while modifying the terms for repayment, shortening the time required for loan forgiveness and seeking to adjust interest rates irrespective of market forces. All of these measures would help current borrowers but also encourage borrowing as an expected practice.
 
It’s time to discuss the better solution: earning a college degree without debt. Not only is it possible, it is a prudent decision that parents, students and educators should champion.
 
Begin by evaluating students’ gifts and skills to direct them to a profitable field of study. Gone should be the days of changing majors midstream or graduating with an unmarketable degree.
 
Rather than only preparing for the SAT or ACT, students should pursue personal evaluations to determine what kinds of work could inspire them for a lifetime. A suggested tool is Crown’s Career Direct, an extensive personal assessment that discloses God-given skills and interests. For some, postponing college, getting a job and carefully choosing a major would be time well spent.
 
But for those ready to begin a college career, here are some steps to consider:
 
– Attend a community college for the first two years while living at home. It dramatically lowers the cost of a college education while allowing students to graduate from their chosen schools.
 
– Treat high school as the place to earn the grades that will garner scholarships and grants. High school is the highest paying job for anyone age 14-18; financial rewards can surpass $100,000.
 
– Take as many advanced placement classes as possible in high school. Earning college credits there saves money.
 
– Attend community college while in high school to earn credits and avoid freshman basic courses.
 
– Attend an affordable undergraduate institution, saving money for a master’s degree.
 
– Participate in a 529 plan, if available, for in-state institution.
 
– Open a Coverdell Educational Savings Account to save for college. Have relatives contribute to it as birthday and Christmas gifts.

– Participate in U-Promise, a program which uses consumer spending to generate money for college.
 
– Put a teenager’s Web browsing skills to good use looking for scholarships off the beaten path. Many big box stores like Walmart and Target offer a large number of small, general scholarships, $500 to $1,000 each, for local children. Every little bit helps.
 
– Get a part-time job. A student should be able to work at least five to 10 hours a week. Studies prove that students with jobs perform better in class.
 
– Consider the military. Reserve and active military students can earn money for education.
 
– Play for cash. Sports scholarships have long been a path to college for talented athletes.
 
Choosing debt should be done with a calculator and a good understanding of marketing your skills. In general, only 5 percent of after-tax income should go to debt repayment. When student debt devours more than 8 percent of available income, parents can expect a knock on the door, as their offspring return to the nest.
 
No student should come home from college ignorant of the high cost of debt as a drain on their lives for years to come. For parents and students considering their options, understanding debt – and avoiding it – should be part of College Prep 101.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTES – Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. The S.A.L.T. Plan, How to Prepare for an Economic Crisis of Biblical Proportions, is his latest book. Get Chuck’s free weekly e-newsletter, “Handwriting on the Wall,” at Crown.org/handwriting or by calling 1-800-722-1976.)
5/18/2012 5:11:42 PM by Chuck Bentley, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



A former social worker’s perspective

May 17 2012 by Janice LaRoy, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Having been a Child Protective Services (CPS) worker and later an adult probation officer with a specialized sex offender caseload, I can assure you that child abuse in the form of sexual molestation is very real. I conducted hundreds of investigations and interviews with victims, child molesters and numerous mental health counselors over the course of 10 years. And yes, such child abuse actually exists in our churches – which should not come as a surprise because our churches are made up of fallen human beings who live in a fallen world.

As I reflect on my experiences in Texas with CPS and as a probation officer, several thoughts occur to me that should help Southern Baptists address this critical issue.

The reality
First, we must recognize that the problem is real – not just “out there,” but even in our churches.

I faced this reality one day at the probation office when, much to my surprise, a man who had just received felony probation for sexual abuse of a minor walked in – and he was from my own church! He had been a schoolteacher and very active in the life of the church. Even with all my years of experience, my initial reaction was to not believe this was really true, but it was. Not only did the terms of his probation state he could no longer teach, but it was made clear to him that he could never again have any role at church or in the community involving work with children.

I wish this were the only case I had encountered involving members of evangelical churches, but it wasn’t.

The trust factor
Children are taught to trust their parents, other family members, their teachers, ministers, those in authority over them. Children are abused most often by people they know, people they trust, not usually by some stranger in a dark trench coat.

There are various terms used to describe individuals who sexually abuse children, such as child molester, predator and perpetrator. Each term represents the image of an individual who attempts to exploit someone else for personal gain using deception to carry out his or her purposes. And these predators use the victims’ trust to gain access to their bodies.

The Bible says children are a gift from God. We are responsible to protect them from being treated as mere possessions to be controlled by the whims of the persons they have been taught to trust.

No discrimination
Studies clearly show that child molesters are from all walks of life – there are no ethnic, economic, religious, educational or gender barriers. Both men and women are abusers, and both girls and boys are victims. Child molestation is an equal opportunity destroyer. Given the opportunity, it will destroy children and families from all walks of life.

Recidivism
From my own interviews with perpetrators, victims and mental health counselors, it is undeniable that many perpetrators have multiple victims and abuse them multiple times. It is clear that when given the opportunity, a significant percentage of those – Christians as well as non-Christians – with a past record of sexual abuse will repeat that offense. A person who has used his or her position of trust to sexually abuse a child simply should not be allowed to remain in that position of trust.

Accordingly, we must hold the actual “perpetrator” responsible for the behavior he or she has chosen. This is not denying the sincerity of a person’s genuine repentance or withholding forgiveness – perpetrators can and should be forgiven. But they should never be allowed to work with children again in any capacity. That is part of the consequences for their actions. Their lives can still be useful and productive but their activities must be steered to other areas of their giftedness, particularly as it applies to work in the church.

Cooperate within the system
Sometimes the various government agencies are scorned and demonized, but I worked alongside many fine and dedicated social workers and probation officers. I personally prayed over my jobs and specific cases throughout those years asking for discernment to make good casework decisions for families, but in particular for the innocent children. I knew plenty of other workers who shared my faith and my commitment to families and children.

Consistently, the Department of Human Services’ goal was to either keep families together or restore families whenever possible. Even with the best expertise, sometimes professionals are not able to protect children. The authorities do not expect church staff or other laypeople to have perfect discernment. However, you should follow your state’s laws in reporting child abuse, and greater still, you should go beyond man’s law and follow God’s law in how we are to treat one another.

The Scripture tells us to be wise as serpents. We dare not fool ourselves into thinking that child molestation would never happen in my home, in my child’s school, in my church or in my community.

Child abuse is a tragic reality – but we can take steps to dramatically reduce the number of incidents and the shattered lives that result, and we have the responsibility to do the best we can to that end.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Janice LaRoy is an office and editorial assistant in the SBC Executive Committee’s office of convention relations. This article first appeared in SBC LIFE, journal of the Executive Committee.)

Related story
Protect your church’s children against sexual abuse nightmare
Background checks are on the rise, LifeWay reports
5/17/2012 2:07:11 PM by Janice LaRoy, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Kids need a mom & dad’ shouldn’t be controversial

May 15 2012 by Joseph Backholm, Baptist Press

LYNWOOD, Wash. – According to the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers held certain truths to be self-evident. By my understanding, that means that there were some things we could agree were true even if millions of dollars had not been spent studying the subject.

For many of us, that list would include the idea that drugs are bad, nice people have more friends, and that it’s a good thing for kids to have a mom and dad.

Curiously, what used to be self-evident is apparently quite controversial. In March I was part of a forum during which I was accused of bearing false witness for saying it is preferable for kids to have a mom and a dad.

On one hand it concerns me that otherwise intelligent adults would argue that it isn’t at least desirable for kids to be connected to their mother and father. But as someone interested in winning a public debate on the marriage issue, it encourages me when the other side forced to defend the absurd.

The other side counters the idea that kids should have both a mom and dad by pointing out that some moms and dads are bad parents. While unfortunately true, this response misses the point. The point is not that every man and woman are great parents, but that it is ideal if the great parents we hope for are that child’s biological mom and dad. If that is impossible, an adoptive mom and dad are the preferred alternative. Historically, this has not been an outrageous thing to say.

Many people don’t feel passionately about the same-sex “marriage” issue. They may be sympathetic to the so-called gay rights movement because they think everyone deserves to be treated fairly. But fairness cannot be defined as the right to marry whomever you want, because not even those pushing to redefine marriage believe there should be no restrictions on who can get married.

In their pursuit of fairness, I don’t think the average voter is willing to abandon the idea that it is preferable for kids to have a mom and a dad.

Unfortunately for them, supporters of same-sex “marriage” must make that argument. In order to argue that marriage should be redefined, they argue that homosexual relationships are in every way the equivalent of heterosexual relationships. In order to believe that, you must conclude that it is unimportant for children to have a mother and father – otherwise, the presence or absence of both a mom and a dad would represent a relevant difference between the relationships.

But because their position requires them to deny any meaningful difference, they are forced into arguing that moms and dads, and men and women, are interchangeable and independently insignificant.

Logic suggests that when one conclusion requires you to believe something that is obviously untrue, you should reconsider your conclusion. But for those who disagree with us on the marriage issue, they don’t have that option. Yet for the casual observer of the debate, I still believe logic can prevail.

So stick with what works. Moms and dads are preferable. Most people recognize that. And once people come to terms with the fact that the redefinition of marriage requires people also to conclude that moms and dads are simply one of many acceptable options, I think we win. After all, most people still understand that some truths really are self-evident.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joseph Backholm is executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, online at fpiw.org, where this column first appeared. Citizens in Washington likely will vote on the definition of marriage in November.)
5/15/2012 12:42:16 PM by Joseph Backholm, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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