May 2013

Boy Scouts at the brink – the moment of decision arrives

May 23 2013 by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Meeting [May 23] in Grapevine, Texas, the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America will decide whether it will retain or revise its historic membership policy on the issue of homosexuality. The 1,400 voting members of the B.S.A. National Council hold the future of one of America’s most iconic organizations in their hands. In reality, they are not only deciding a matter of membership policy. They are actually deciding the future of the entire organization.

The culture wars came to the Boy Scouts many years ago. For the last few decades, the Boy Scouts have had to fight battles with both secularists and homosexual activists. The secular challenge came first, with demands that the Scouts drop their historic requirement that boys affirm belief in God as a criterion for membership. Soon thereafter, the demand for the full inclusion of homosexual members and leaders followed. The Scouts have had to fight legal battles both locally and nationally, costing the venerable organization millions of dollars in legal fees. In 2000, the B.S.A. prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court when the nation’s highest court ruled that the Boy Scouts had a constitutional right to exclude openly gay boys and leaders from the organization, so long as that exclusion is based in one of the organization’s core convictions – an “expressive message.” The B.S.A. won the case because that is exactly what they claimed. They argued that excluding openly homosexual boys and leaders from Scouting was necessary and required by the Scout Oath.

Last year, the B.S.A.’s board affirmed the policy in no uncertain terms. Bob Mazzuca, then the organization’s chief executive, said: “The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address the issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisors and at the appropriate time and in the right setting.” In other words, the B.S.A.’s chief executive said that the board recognized that “the vast majority of parents” did not want the policy changed. Deron Smith, the B.S.A.’s national spokesman, said that a special committee asked to advise the national board “came to the conclusion that this policy is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts.”

That was less than a year ago. Then, just a few months later, everything changed. Earlier this year, the B.S.A. announced a proposed change that would remove the restriction as a matter of national policy, leaving the decision about the inclusion of openly homosexual scouts and leaders to local units. This proposal, rushed after a leak within the organization let the word out to the public, was greeted with a firestorm of protest. As many predicted, that policy proposal went nowhere. A local option on an issue of this importance would satisfy no one and would lead to geographical problems that would be insurmountable. Furthermore, parents would be in the position of having to interview local Scout units in order to determine which did and did not accept openly homosexual scouts.

Shortly after that proposal was released, it was withdrawn. Then the B.S.A. announced that it would ask people from all levels of scouting, including parents, to participate in a survey on the issue. That survey, filled with strangely awkward and candid questions, was received by the B.S.A. a few weeks ago. Then, last month, the B.S.A. announced its new proposal, and the National Council will decide its fate on Thursday.

The new proposal calls for the inclusion of openly homosexual boys within the Boy Scouts, but retains the exclusion of openly gay adults. For a second time, the B.S.A. attempted to find a compromise solution that would, at least, buy the organization some time. But, for a second time, the organization actually created an impossible and unworkable proposal that, once again, will please no one.

The problems with the new policy are legion. In the first place, it fundamentally surrenders the very “expressive message” that had been recognized by the Supreme Court back in 2000. Surrendering that core conviction is, in itself, both a moral and a legal disaster. There is no reason to believe that the federal courts will now allow the B.S.A. to exclude gay adult leaders if the organization abandons its “expressive message” that homosexuality is incompatible with the values of Scouting. Some external observers have suggested that the B.S.A., fully aware of their legal surrender, just expects a court to require them to allow openly homosexual adults as leaders, freeing the B.S.A. board from responsibility for making that decision. That will not wash. In reality, they are making that decision now.

The other problems are complex and awkward. How, exactly, are openly gay boys to be included in the activities of Scouting? We are talking about boys who will now be expected to participate in everything from camping trips to travel with boys who are openly gay. Boys of these ages just might be the least equipped of all God’s creatures to deal with the complexities of the situation. Most parents are likely to decide that, all things considered, this is just not something they want imposed on their sons.

The B.S.A., to its credit, has made clear that all forms of sexual activity are incompatible with the values of Scouting. But, while this is clearly meant to preclude any form of sexual contact, sexual activity is a far broader category, including how an individual presents himself to others. Given the inclusion of openly gay Scouts, any advocacy of belief that homosexuality is sinful will not be tolerated.

What about transgender and “gender questioning” scouts? Public high schools across the country are now dealing with the fact that a student born one gender can demand to play on a sports team of the opposite gender, if a transgender identity is claimed. How will the B.S.A. deal with that issue? It is hard to imagine that their inclusion of openly gay Scouts can avoid the necessary inclusion of transgender and gender questioning youth. Legal authorities increasingly tell organizations and schools that if a young person claims to be a boy (or a girl) the youth must be recognized as whatever gender the youth claims. How is that going to work at your local Boy Scout troop?

Add to this the lack of credibility in a policy that will allow a boy to join the Scouts and progress through ranks, but then require his exit the day he turns 18. Neither side in this controversy can respect that inherent aspect of the proposed policy.

The religious liberty issues are already urgent. About 70 percent of all B.S.A. units are chartered by churches and religious organizations, the majority of which believe that homosexuality is a sin. Some units chartered by Christian churches require boys to affirm a specific faith commitment and a set of moral guidelines. Will those now be forbidden by national B.S.A. policy?

This policy proposal is a disaster. The B.S.A.’s national leadership has brought their organization to the brink of catastrophe. At the same time, we can recognize that the B.S.A. has been the target of unrelenting pressure for decades now. Press reports indicate that some of the members of the national board have been threatened with shareholder action if they, as corporate leaders, do not deliver on the demand for change.

Furthermore, we must sympathize with the organization’s rightful hope to include as many boys as possible within its honored and respected program. At this point, we should remember that homosexual scouts and scouts with any number of sexual confusions have always been involved in Scouting. But this new policy relates to openly homosexual youth. Bringing that advocacy within an organization for boys is both unwise and calamitous.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll indicated that 63 percent of Americans believe that the B.S.A. should welcome gay scouts and 56 percent would lift the ban on gay adult leaders. But the survey undertaken by the B.S.A. revealed that of the 200,000 parents, Scouting leaders and Scouts surveyed, 61 percent supported maintaining the current policy of excluding gays. Will the members of the B.S.A. National Council listen to their own constituency? If so, the policy will not change.

I am a former Boy Scout who gained much from my experience as a boy in Scouting. I greatly respect the work of countless volunteers and the involvement of legions of boys in the program. I understand the pressures the Boy Scouts of America now faces, and I can sympathize with the board’s attempt to find an escape from such a public controversy. But this proposed policy spells disaster for the Scouts, and, if adopted, that disaster will not be long in coming. The policy proposal the B.S.A. National Council will face on Thursday would surrender principle and forfeit the future of one of the nation’s most honored organizations. The B.S.A. now stands on the brink of disaster. The future of the movement now rests in the hands of the only people who can turn the Boy Scouts back from the brink.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, AlbertMohler.com.)
5/23/2013 2:52:13 PM by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Post-Gosnell, we need more accountability on abortion clinics

May 23 2013 by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The entire nation is aware of the horrific acts of Kermit Gosnell, the late-term abortionist. The stories that have come out during his trial for multiple counts of murder of young babies are heartbreaking and bewildering. We can breathe a little easier now that he has been found guilty of first-degree murder.

I can understand the disgust that most Americans feel toward this man. I share it. Yet people like this were bound to emerge from the carnage of our abortion culture. We shouldn’t be surprised that some of those who can do the unspeakable to a human being inside the womb would have no moral qualms over doing the same thing outside the womb. The abortion culture has subjugated the unborn to the interests of their mothers. If the mother doesn’t want her baby, an abortionist like Kermit Gosnell feels no different about that baby before or after birth.

Given that mindset, we must ask if there are more Kermit Gosnells out there. Is he the worst of what the abortion culture has produced, or is he just the one who got caught? As responsible citizens, we all need to know. The lives of babies and the wellbeing of mothers are at stake.

That’s why I appreciate the recent effort by the leadership of two committees of the United States House of Representatives. The House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to every state attorney general and health officer asking them the kinds of questions that can help all of us get some answers.

Their letters ask such questions as “Does your state license abortion clinics?” Can you imagine not needing a license to perform abortions? It is unthinkable to me that some states have become so abortion-friendly that they wouldn’t even require some kind of licensing process for these places. The congressmen also ask if abortionists have been prosecuted for performing unlawful late-term abortions in their states. Considering what Kermit Gosnell was doing that question certainly makes sense. The state of Pennsylvania received multiple complaints about what he was doing, yet did nothing.

The House committees asked the states to answer their questions within two weeks. With every week that passes, more than 23,000 more abortions are performed. Do our states even know under what conditions these lives were taken? What about the mothers? What were they subjected to during their ordeal? Does anyone even know how they are now?

Abortion is a violent act with multiple victims. Many in Congress are trying to get a clearer picture of just what is happening across the country. I applaud them for this first step in bringing some accountability to bear on those who kill our nation’s purest treasure and scar our mothers for life.

I am grateful that our nation is becoming more pro-life. But that pro-life conviction must be channeled into action. It isn’t enough to simply say one is pro-life and not do anything to protect the unborn. A good starting place for action is to know what the states are and are not doing right now. I trust that every state will respond quickly. God is watching what we do, and He is holding us accountable. May we hold ourselves accountable before He passes His own judgment.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
5/23/2013 2:49:17 PM by Barrett Duke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Should we interpret the Bible literally?

May 22 2013 by David Roach, Baptist Press

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. – Should we interpret a Bible verse literally or figuratively?

It depends on context. A person’s soul is in peril if he thinks Jesus was using poetic exaggeration when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). On the other hand, a Bible reader might maim himself unnecessarily if he fails to recognize the hyperbole in Jesus’ statement that we should cut off our hands and gouge out our eyes to avoid sin (Matthew 5:29-30). Like all people who have ever spoken or written, biblical authors use different styles of communication at different times.

Of course, everything the Bible affirms is true, regardless of its literary genre. Still, every time we open our Bibles, we must determine what style of communication is being used and read accordingly. As a primer, here are a few of the literary styles used in Scripture and some rules for interpreting them taken from Robert Stein’s helpful book, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible.
  • Historical narrative recounts events and is meant to be understood literally – not as fable. In this vein, Article XIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics insists that literary techniques not be used to evade historical accounts.[1] For instance, some scholars have tried to fictionalize the story of Jonah and the fish, but Christ treats Jonah as a real person in Matthew 12:40-42, and so should we. More than 40 percent of the Old Testament and nearly 60 percent of the New is historical narrative, including much of the material in the Gospels and Acts. 
  • Songs and poetry are geared toward evoking emotion rather than speaking with scientific accuracy. With biblical poetry, the reader must determine the author’s message without misconstruing symbolism as narrative description. For example, the song in Exodus 15 poetically describes Pharaoh’s army as being “thrown into the [Red] sea” (15:1) even though it actually followed the Israelites through the parted waters before God sent them crashing back down.
  • Proverbs are pithy sayings that express general truths or rules of thumb; they don’t convey ironclad guarantees. A classic example is Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” While parental training generally sets the course for a child’s life, there are exceptions. 
  • Parables are fictional stories that illustrate spiritual points. Generally, a parable teaches one basic point and is not intended as an extended comparison in which every detail has spiritual significance. About a third of Jesus’ teachings are in parables, including the story of the sower and soils in Luke 8 and the lost sheep in Luke 15 as well as the more well-known parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. 
  • Idioms are expressions with meanings not derived from the normal meanings of the words in them. In modern English, our idioms include “raining cats and dogs” and “kick the bucket.” In the Bible you will find idioms like “their hearts melted” to describe a loss of courage and “the apple of His eye” to describe being precious in God’s sight.
The list could go on, but you get the idea. Unless we know what style of communication a biblical author is using and how to interpret it, we may wonder if archaeologists have ever found the tombs of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. This column first appeared at the blog of Bible Mesh, a website that teaches the Bible as a unified story pointing to Christ.)

[1] Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, with commentary by Norm Geisler
http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago2.html
5/22/2013 2:55:39 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



When murder, supposedly, is not murder

May 22 2013 by Evan Lenow, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – CNN reported on a tragic story about a woman whose boyfriend tricked her into taking an abortion-inducing drug after she told him she was pregnant.

The boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, is now facing first-degree murder charges for killing the unborn child. Welden told his girlfriend that his father, a doctor, had prescribed her an antibiotic for an infection. In reality, Welden gave her an abortion-inducing drug, and the pregnancy was terminated.

This story is undoubtedly tragic, and Welden deserves to face punishment for first-degree murder. However, the undercurrent of this story works against the tide of abortion-rights advocates. Note with me the moral inconsistency of the logic of our laws and of abortion advocates.

The pregnancy of Remee Lee was terminated by her boyfriend, the supposed father of the child. Since it was against the will of the mother, Welden is being charged with first-degree murder. However, if Lee had terminated the pregnancy herself, it would have been perfectly legal and perhaps even applauded by abortion advocates, even if the abortion had been against the will of the father.

Why is this a problem? The charge of first-degree murder implies the pre-meditated killing of innocent human life. It implies value in the life that is lost. In this case, it is the life of an unborn child.

What makes an abortion elected by the mother any different? The charge of first-degree murder cannot be levied against Welden for any physical harm incurred by Ms. Lee. Instead, it is directly centered upon the loss of life for the baby. The attorneys may even argue that the life was taken against the will and rights of the unborn child. In the same way, abortions performed according to the will of the mother take the life of an unborn child against his/her will and rights. Why is it murder for the boyfriend to induce an abortion and not when a woman chooses it on her own?

The moral inconsistency is glaring but unspoken in our culture.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Lenow is assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at www.EvanLenow.com.)
5/22/2013 2:52:43 PM by Evan Lenow, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What is a disciple-making culture?

May 21 2013 by Brian Upshaw

For three years I lived in New Orleans. Now that’s a place with a distinct culture. Historically, Monday in the “Big Easy” was “wash day” and with it came the tradition of eating red beans and rice. In New Orleans, you don’t shop for groceries; you “make groceries.” New Orleans is a city known for its food, music, history and, like it or not, Mardi Gras. That’s culture!
 
While your community may not be as flamboyant as New Orleans, it has a culture, too. So does your home. So does your church. Culture is like air. When it’s taken away or changed, you notice. Culture is what is natural and normal in your environment. It is the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, architecture, habits, behaviors and values that color the world around you. Culture dictates the way things are.
 
The new five-year strategy of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is titled, “Impacting Lostness through Disciple-Making.” Included in the strategy statement is the commitment of N.C. Baptists to strengthen existing churches and plant new churches by “creating a disciple-making culture.” When we talk about a disciple-making culture, we think of it as an environment or a climate in which followers of Christ order their everyday lives around their call to love God expressed by loving others, which results in producing more followers of Christ; it is disciples making disciples. You may recognize at least two biblical foundations in this definition – The Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The phrase “disciple making” is from the Great Commission in Matthew Chapter 28, when Jesus commands His disciples to go make disciples. That’s the idea. Jesus is very clear in His desire that those who are His followers (disciples) should be persuading and helping others to become His followers (disciples). The last half of that definition is a reflection of the Great Commandment in the idea of ordering our everyday lives around our call to love God resulting in loving others. In his recent commentary in World Magazine, Anthony Bradley challenges that the focus on being  “radical” or “missional” discourages ordinary people from ordinary things for the glory of God.[1] I believe that culture is observed in the ordinary.
 
Bradley’s challenge begs us to ask the question, “For the disciple of Christ, what is ordinary?” The way believers answer this question is foundational to creating a disciple-making culture. As we examine the call of Christ, we cannot settle for anything less than the complete surrender of our lives to follow Jesus, thus becoming fishers of men (Luke 9:23, Matthew 4:19). In short, an “ordinary” Christian is a disciple who makes disciples.
 
Unfortunately, there is more talk in the church about making disciples than actual disciple making. Simply put, disciple making is not really our culture. For many, church culture is merely religious activity. You may initially disagree with this statement, but let me challenge you to look at your church’s calendar for the last six months. Were you busy in activity that helped multiply disciples or were you just busy? Look at your personal calendar. Were you busy investing in others for the sake of the gospel or were you just busy?
 
So, for discussion: In your opinion, what does a disciple-making culture look like? What would change if you began trying to create that culture in your home? Your church? Your neighborhood?
 
As N.C. Baptists we must awaken to our Lord’s command to impact lostness through the making of disciples.
 
[1] Anthony Bradley, “The New Legalism.” World Magazine: Internet. Date Accessed May 9, 2013. http://www.worldmag.com/2013/05/the_new_legalism)
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Upshaw is a team leader with Church Ministry at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). This is the latest in the series of statements from the BSC clarifying its five-year strategy proposal. On April 11, the BSC Executive Committee approved the strategy that will restructure the organization to better equip and assist churches in making disciples, in evangelism and church planting among people groups throughout the state and beyond.)   
5/21/2013 5:29:52 PM by Brian Upshaw | with 0 comments



The significance & duty of family worship

May 21 2013 by Allen Raynor, Baptist Press

THORNTON, Colo. – Parents are generally clear when it comes to their responsibilities toward their children. They teach the differences between right and wrong. They provide for physical needs such as food, clothing and shelter. They strive to meet emotional needs by demonstrating love and offering encouragement. Most parents personally sacrifice in order to provide more for their kids. Parents tend to be their children’s greatest advocates, fans and supporters.

Godly parents do each of these things, plus they also have the added dimension of being deeply concerned about their children’s spiritual well-being. They are convinced that their children need to develop, not only a “working” knowledge of God, but also a personal relationship as well.

Nurturing this relationship takes several forms. It can include taking the kids to church and church-related programs, teaching them to pray, reading the Bible to them, and having talks about spiritual matters. These things are worthy means by which to aid in our children’s spiritual development. However, there is something else I believe is of vital importance: a family time of worship in the home.

In decades and centuries past, family worship was not so often neglected but instead was one of the most important aspects of home life. I am particularly struck by the emphasis the Puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries gave to this subject. In his 1679 work The Duties of Parents, Jacobus Koelman writes, “Bring your children to God and teach them how they must serve him throughout their whole life ... nurture them in the knowledge of divine things and for faith and godliness.”

In The Case for Family Worship (1694), George Hamond gives a presentation of the Bible’s case for family worship. He argues persuasively that if families are not spending time in worship at home, children will be more likely to find corporate worship irrelevant. He maintains that if we take the time to “catechize” our families and worship with them beyond Sundays, they will understand how worship is to be found in all of life.

Oliver Heywood wrote in his extensive work The Family Altar of what he considers the ways God dealt with families throughout scripture and history. Fellow Puritan John Howe wrote of Heywood’s work, “The design is to persuade and engage those that are heads and governors of families, to take up Joshua’s resolution; that whatever others do, yet ‘they and all their house will serve the Lord; in daily, faithful, fervent prayer, with thanksgiving.’” Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites is found in Joshua 24:15 where he commends them to determine whose side they and their whole household are on. Each head of household must determine who or what will receive the greatest honor in the home.

In an increasingly secular society, it has never been more important than it is today to dedicate time to family worship. Elements may include singing, prayer, testimony, and the reading and explanation of scripture. The world is attacking men, women, boys and girls vehemently with Satan’s agenda and his aggressive strategy to reduce the world to hedonism. It is incumbent upon parents to work far harder than even the generations of the past in order to teach children fervency for the truths of God. There is an intense battle under way. Any student of scripture notices the unmistakable language of warfare used in both Testaments. The world is indeed a hostile environment. The home, then, must be the site of basic training for our kids.

A little dabbling in church, a quick prayer before a meal, and having a family Bible neatly placed on the coffee table are insufficient. The language of scripture is the language of urgency. Romans 13:11-12 commends: “And do this knowing the time, that now is high time to awake out of sleep ... the night is far spent, the day is at hand ....” The old hymn reminds us of our status as “Christian soldiers marching as to war.”

Today, with the Bible existing in multiple translations, languages and types and with devotional books in abundance, there has never been a time when so much material existed for the purpose of instructing ourselves and our children in the things of God. In many households, schedules will have to be rearranged in order to hold family worship time. But one must consider, comparatively speaking, how important some of the other things are that we are doing in our home.

Ken Ham tells how in America people love pickles, yet in his native Australia they think Americans are crazy for eating sour pickles. In Australia people love what is called vegemite which most Americans, after trying, think is terrible! The reasons Americans love pickles and Australians love vegemite is because each are taught from an early age that these are indeed good and desirable things to eat. Rarely would any person develop a taste for either sour pickles or vegemite later in life. But if introduced to either one in childhood, they have the appetite for it the rest of their lives and view it as perfectly normal to eat. So it is also true with the Word of God. It is essential we facilitate our children developing an appetite for God from an early age, particularly in the home.

The state of the church today is very much a snapshot of the state of our own individual lives and homes – too busy for God. Yet, parents have no greater responsibility than to teach their children. This was a charge given by God even pre-dating the church. It is an inherent parental duty.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Allen Raynor is interim pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Bailey, Colo. He previously served at churches in Oklahoma, Missouri and Colorado.)
5/21/2013 5:27:56 PM by Allen Raynor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Fireproof’ actress talks movies, acting and her new role

May 17 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Usually my last question for those I interview goes something like this: Got a question you wish I would have asked? That’s when the interview becomes the most interesting, or the most revealing. And by Erin Bethea’s sincerity, I was convinced that the actress’s true desire is to serve Christ and to honor others who further the Kingdom of God.

“Fireproof.” “Facing the Giants.” “Letters To God.” “This Is Our Time.” Seen them? Then you probably know Erin Bethea. Maybe not the name so much as the face. In Facing the Giants, she played a sportscaster. In Letters to God, she appeared in a supporting role as a sympathetic nurse. In Fireproof, she appeared opposite Kirk Cameron as a frustrated wife considering divorce. And in her latest film feature, This Is Our Time, Erin takes on the role of a newly graduated college student heading to India as a missionary.

Her characterizations have had dimension and she has displayed confidence and appeal on screen. But more than that, the films she’s appeared in have contained a spiritual relevance. This Is Our Time, for example, concerns five close friends who have just graduated from dorm life and are now entering the real world, strong in their Christian convictions, believing they will make a difference in the world. The opening sequence with the friends in their graduating garb reminded me of St. Elmo’s Fire in that we were about to see comfortable kids going out into an uncomfortable world. But there is a difference; these protagonists have a devout faith – one that will be tested. With good production values despite an apparent limited budget, This Is Our Time is a satisfying, spiritually uplifting drama that has something in common with It’s A Wonderful Life. It reinforces the theory that we can affect the lives of those around us, despite the fact that we can feel overshadowed by others.

Married to Bill Shafer in 2009, Bethea is also the daughter of Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. And if that church name sounds familiar, it’s because that’s where the concepts for Facing the Giants and Fireproof developed. So where did Erin’s last name come from? Wait, wait, we’ll get there.

Q: What’s it like being a Christian in the entertainment community, especially in today’s social/political climate?

A: I think it’s an exciting time for Christians. Our society is so twisted right now, but God has a funny sense of humor in that He has chosen this time for Christian media to take huge steps forward. There are more and more Christian films being made and there’s a hunger these days for positive, spiritually enlightening forms of entertainment.

Q: What led you into acting?

A: When I was 15, I did Bye, Bye Birdie in my high school, playing the lead. That night when we did our first performance, and took our bows, I heard that applause and I thought, man, if I could do this the rest of my life, I would!

Q: I was reminded of St. Elmo’s Fire at the opening of This Is Our Time. Ever see it?

A:
I’m so glad you asked that, because we talked about that when we were making the movie. It’s sooo St. Elmo’s Fire.

Q: Any comparisons?

A:
There is that friendship. It’s like the TV show “Friends.” You just knew that these characters, and the actors playing them, liked each other. I think that’s something we all cherish – having friendships, knowing these people will be there for you.

Though we didn’t know each other before making the film, when we first got on the set, we just clicked, like we had known each other for years. I think you can sense that when watching the film. There’s nothing like having a friendship with like-minded believers.

Q: What are you hoping people will take from viewing This Is Our Time?

A:
Knowing that our time is not our own and that we are living on God’s time and in His plan and His perspective. When you find yourself in a situation you never thought would happen to you, and you will, you must remember that God knew you would be in exactly this position and you have to trust that He has the next step planned out for you.

Q: I see actors who proclaim to be Christians, yet take on appalling roles. I understand they’re just playing a part, but it still frustrates me when I hear them profane God’s name. Have you set a standard, a line you will not cross?

A:
Actually, I do have a list; I will say this word, I won’t say that word. When I’m with a new agent, I let them know. I heard Jim Caviezel (star of “The Passion of the Christ”) say this once, and I so admire him, and I’ve sort of stolen it from him. He’s comfortable with pretty much any role as long as good is upheld and that evil is revealed for what it is. I don’t mind playing a rotten, nasty person, just so long as the rotten nastiness isn’t glorified.

Q: How do you advise those who ask you for directions into show business?

A:
When they say they want to be an actor, I ask what else would you like to do. If they answer with, well, if I wasn’t acting, I could see myself doing this or that, then I tell them, then do this or that. If you have anything else you can imagine yourself doing, go do it. There are some, and I’m one of them, that simply can’t imagine not doing what we do. That’s what keeps you moving forward despite all the hardships and the rejection. This industry looks glamorous from the outside, but it can tear out your self-esteem, your principles and your soul.

Q: What’s up next for you?

A:
I’m doing a western called “The Redemption of Henry Myers.” It will be coming out theatrically in the spring of 2014. And hopefully this summer we’ll be going into production on a film that I’m starring in and that I co-wrote and am producing. It’s called Nouvelle Zzi which is French for New Life. The Redemption of Henry Myers has a very strong faith element to the story and Nouvelle Zzi, though a more mainstream film, has a very positive, uplifting message about true love. So, I’m excited about both.

Q: I have to ask, since that’s not your married or maiden name, where did you get Bethea?

A:
Bethea (Beth-ay) is actually my middle name. It was my grandmother’s name and I took it for professional reasons. I thought it sounded pretty.

Q: So, Erin, got a question you wish I would have asked?

A:
My character and her husband, played by T.J. Dalrymple, a fantastic actor, are missionaries who work for Embrace a Village. That’s an actual organization. It works with lepers and it completely changed my life and my perspective on that disease and how I view the people who are suffering with it. I hope the film points to that ministry and that people will be supportive of it. Your readers can go to their site for more information. It’s embraceavillage.org.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This is Our Time contains no objectionable material and is suitable for ages 12 on up. The DVD contains a documentary on Embrace a Village. In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
5/17/2013 1:49:35 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



What the church can learn from the Abercrombie controversy

May 17 2013 by Brett Maragni, Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In their marketing strategies, popular clothes retailer Abercrombie & Fitch strategically excludes the “not-so-cool,” especially overweight kids.

According to a recent Business Insider interview with Robin Lewis, author of The New Rules of Retail, Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries “doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people.”

While the clothier does supply larger sized clothes for male “athletes,” plus-size ladies will find the store empty of any clothes to fit them. Excluding plus-sized women is part of a larger plan to market the company as the choice for those at the top of the social pyramid.

Jeffries himself told Salon magazine, in a 2006 story, that the young and attractive are their target audience, “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Jeffries also told Salon they “hire good-looking people” for their stores: “Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”

Several years ago Focus on the Family received some complaints that their publications only featured exceptionally good-looking models in the stock photographs that accompanied their stories. Focus agreed that this was not in spirit with the Christian message and began strategically using photographs of so-called normal people of all shapes and sizes and colors.

Who is your church going after? If you have images of people on your church website, what does that communicate? Are the stock photographs of air-brushed, exceptionally good-looking people? Or are they a strategic variety of your own people of all shapes and sizes and colors and ages?

Jesus modeled a heart for all types of people, especially the broken and hurting. He told a story in which the manager told his servant to invite “the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame” (Luke 24:21). The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church that not many of them were “wise ... powerful ... or of noble birth” (1 Corinthians 1:26). Instead God has chosen “the foolish ... the weak ... insignificant and despised” (1 Corinthians 1:27) – basically, the opposite of Abercrombie & Fitch’s target audience.

Of course, as American culture continues its rapid march into deeper levels of degradation, we Christians are increasingly “uncool” in the public arena. No matter how “cool” our churches and pastors try to be, any of them that stand on the truth of God’s Word will be considered bigots and hate mongers. If any of the cool, good-looking people want to identify with Christ and us, it will likely be at the cost of handing back their “cool” card to the world. But as they do so, they will discover the true freedom that only Christ brings.

And as the world increasingly views us as “garbage, like the dirt everyone scrapes off their sandals,” (1 Corinthians 4:13), we, the church, will be forced to echo the famous words of Emma Lazarus, immortalized at the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This is the church of Jesus, a refuge for the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) and the “weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brett Maragni is senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel of Jacksonville, Fla., and a frequent columnist for BP Sports.)
5/17/2013 1:45:41 PM by Brett Maragni, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



5 tips for graduates

May 16 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s graduation season, when bright young students must endure one final, mind-numbing lecture before collecting their degrees: the commencement address. 

This speech seldom contains advice you can actually use. The speaker often receives a generous check for his or her remarks, but dares not utter anything that might offend someone for fear of being protested, “disinvited” or blacklisted from future graduation ceremonies. 

Not being a celebrity, a politician or a rich donor, I have little chance of ever being invited to deliver a commencement address, much less disinvited. But I’ll share a few practical tips for you grads anyway, at no charge:
  1. If you need to move back home for a while – or delay moving out – it’s OK. Millions of others share your plight. But make your bed and help with the dishes. And offer to pay rent, whether it’s asked for or not.
  2. Don’t check your text messages during job interviews. Trust me on this one. 
  3. If you’re graduating with significant student loan debt (2011 grads walked the aisle owing an average of nearly $27,000), pay it off before you incur more debt. Don’t start your adult life in bondage to creditors. It will set a pattern you might never escape. Stay available to God. As long you are servicing debt, you won’t be fully available to serve Him. 
  4. The job market still stinks. You’ve probably heard about that. The unemployment rate for older teens and post-college 20-somethings hovers around 16 percent and tops 25 percent if you include young adults who have given up looking for work or are underemployed part-timers. Don’t lose hope while waiting for your dream job. Any honest work is honorable work in God’s economy. He will open the right doors in His time if you follow Him. In the meantime, learn everything He wants to teach you where you are. 
  5. The research about Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, says you want to experience the wider world up close – to see it, touch it, interact with it. OK, now is your opportunity to do that, unfettered by the family and school commitments of the past or the major adult responsibilities you will face in the future. Go out there and find a place to serve God and others for a year or two, or more, regardless of whether it specifically contributes to your career path. 
“One of the characteristics of Millennial life has become the image of the traveler,” observes David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, which has exhaustively studied Millennials and their relationship to spiritual life. “They want to wander the world, both in real life and in digital ways. They want to feel untethered. There is a trend among young adults of delaying the pressures of adult life as long as possible; they want to embrace a lifestyle of risk, exploration and unscripted moments....

“This transience stands in contrast to the staid, predictable, and often overprotective experience that most churches seem to offer. The gap is simple: Millennials are a generation that craves spontaneity, participation, adventure and clan-like relationships, but what they often find in churches are featureless programs and moralistic content. Leaders who hope to alter the spiritual journeys of today’s Millennials need to embrace something of a ‘reverse mentoring’ mindset, allowing the next generation to help lead alongside established leaders.... Millennials are more willing to be challenged than most church leaders are willing to challenge them.”

If you recognize something of yourself in that generational profile, embrace it – even if Mom, Dad and your own internal clock are desperately urging you to get a job and settle down. But don’t wander for the sake of wandering. Wander with a purpose: God’s purpose. 

He might lead you to the ends of the earth to proclaim His love to people who have never heard the name of Jesus. He might lead you to serve within walking distance of the street or the church where you grew up. He might lead you to do both. 

Follow Him. Those two words are the best graduation advice you will ever hear.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. To investigate the global possibilities of “wandering with a purpose,” visit going.imb.org. Visit WorldView Conversation, the blog related to this column.)
5/16/2013 3:15:46 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



7 mistakes in public speaking

May 16 2013 by Chuck Lawless, Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST, N.C. – As a teacher, consultant and preacher, I talk to groups for a living. In fact, I’ve been a student of public speaking for more than 30 years. I’ve learned by studying in the classroom and by simply listening to others. Too often, I’ve learned the hard way by making my own mistakes.

On a positive note, I have seen that it’s possible to exercise leadership from the public platform. A well-timed, well-delivered address can rally the troops, strengthen the team, and compel them toward excellence. On the other hand, I’ve seen (and exhibited at times, I’m sure) some mistakes in public speaking. Here are a few of those.

1. Not knowing the audience. Speaking to teens is not the same as speaking to senior adults. Communicating with a gathering of relationship-oriented non-Westerners is different than speaking to a group of Western businessmen. Most speakers have some sense of the importance of audience analysis, but understanding analysis and acting on it are two different matters. I’m amazed by the number of speakers I invite to different venues who never ask about the intended audience.

2. Inviting indifference. Maybe you’ve heard speakers do it:
  • “I’m sure this is not exciting, but it’s important.”
  • “I really haven’t had much time to prepare, so please bear with me.”
  • “This really isn’t my area of expertise. I’m sure there are others who are more qualified.”
I understand that humility may be the driving force behind these kinds of statements. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if the audience is uninterested after you’ve told them you’re unexciting, unprepared and/or unqualified. Let your hearers make that assessment without your help. They might find you engaging and enlightening.

3. Boring the audience. Here’s the difficult part with this mistake: only once have I ever met a boring speaker who knew he was boring (and he was forced to admit that after he fell asleep during one of his own lectures!). It would not hurt us to have friends who evaluate our speaking and critique us honestly. Good training and increased passion can help overcome a boring style, but not if we fail to recognize the problem in the first place.

4. Using irrelevant stories and illustrations. Much of the world learns best by stories and illustrations, so using stories is a significant communication strategy. Watch an audience when you begin to tell a story or use an illustration; often, they will lean forward, almost as if they are closing the space to hear better. The speaking strategy thus opens the door to effective communication. If, though, the story itself lacks relevance – like using automobile illustrations when speaking to urban poor who never owned a car – the technique loses its force. Again, knowing the audience matters.

5. Assuming audience application. Public speeches have different purposes. Some inform, and others convince. Some simply address a special occasion. Many public speeches, though, are intended to lead the hearer to do something. Support a candidate. Give to a cause. Adopt a belief. Accept a decision. Join the team. Celebrate a victory. Change a lifestyle. The problem is that speakers often fail to state clearly what they want the audience to do. Instead, they assume the hearers will listen intently, naturally connect the dots, and then respond appropriately. A lack of specific instruction from the speaker then results in a lack of intentional application among the hearers.

6. Ignoring time parameters. Seldom are speakers given open-ended time slots for speaking. Most often, we have an established time period that fits neatly into the organization’s overall plans and goals. To ignore those parameters is not only disruptive to the schedule; it is inconsiderate at best, arrogant at worst. Finishing within the allotted time shows respect, and it might even strengthen our speaking by demanding brevity.

7. Neglecting continued improvement. I suspect the more we speak, the less we see a need to improve. Perhaps we subconsciously convince ourselves that practice really does make perfect. There is little question that speaking regularly can make us more comfortable with the task, but actual improvement is not always the result. Growing as a public speaker requires an intentional strategy for improvement.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless serves as professor of evangelism and missions and dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake, Forest, N.C. This column first appeared at ThomRainer.com.)
5/16/2013 3:09:05 PM by Chuck Lawless, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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