Friday, August 8, 2008

Bible Trivia - 8/8/2008

Question: What colour of hair did Esau have?

Answer: Red. (Genesis 25:25).

Comments: Esau is synonymous with the color red. He was born a hairy redhead. (Genesis 25:25). In fact, his name, Esau, means "hairy" and the other name by which he was known, Edom, means "red" (Genesis 25:30). Edom, the land which took his name, contains an abundance of red rock.

Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. (Genesis 25:25, NASB)

I have always liked to think of Esau as the Bible's best looking character.

Note: This image is the birth of of Esau and Jacob, as painted by Benjamin West (1738-1820).

Word of the Day - 8/8/2008


To deracinate: to pull up by the roots; uproot; extirpate; eradicate.

In his parable regarding tares among wheat, Jesus explained that the (undesirable) tares would not be deracinated until they sprouted so as not to uproot the wheat with them.

“But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.’” (Matthew 13:29, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 8/8/2008

On Thursday morning, I voted in the general election at Rocky Hill Elementary School. In all my years voting, I have never voted with such ease. Unfortunately, this was not due to improvements in the voting process but rather because virtually no one was there. My mother and her friend JLW (Team JuDo, Judy and Dotty) were sitting outside campaigning for Ron Leadbetter.

Unfortunately, I had just missed my old friend RLT whose father was running for the office of sheriff. RLT is now an environmentalist and will soon be moving to Indiana where his wife will be attending Purdue University. I have a sneaky suspicion we both voted for the same candidate for sheriff.

Afterwards, I went to the church where we held the first of two weeks discussing the many philosophical and theological dimensions of The Dark Knight. I will post our results at the conclusion of this “series”. For now, I will simply say that we agreed that the film was exceptional but the film’s message was antithetical to the Christian message.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Prayer Blog - 8/7/2008

Associated Baptist Press
August 7, 2008 · (08-77)

Greg Warner, Executive Editor
Robert Marus, News Editor/Washington Bureau Chief

Iin this issue
Johnson resigns from Criswell after public spat with Jeffress
Playground brings hope to rural Miss. county

Johnson resigns from Criswell after public spat with Jeffress
By Vicki Brown

DALLAS (ABP) -- Criswell College President Jerry Johnson resigned Aug. 5, after a public clash with a powerful local pastor over the institution's future.

His resignation, accepted during a called session of the college trustees' executive committee, "was due to philosophical differences the president had with the chancellor and trustee leadership about the future of Criswell College," board members said in a statement released Aug. 6. The resignation takes effect Aug. 15.

An interim president is expected to be named quickly, trustee chair Michael Deahl said by telephone Aug. 7. "Our plan and expectation is to have someone named and to be in place as close to that date [Aug. 15] as possible so there will be no gap in leadership," Deahl said.

He also confirmed that controversy over the possibility of selling the college's assets "played a part" in Johnson's decision to step down.

Johnson and at least one Criswell trustee recently accused First Baptist Church of Dallas and its pastor, Robert Jeffress, of planning to sell the institution's assets. The proceeds, they contended, would go to fund a massive new proposed sanctuary for the historic church.

First Baptist, under the guidance of its legendary then-pastor, W.A. Criswell, established Criswell College in 1971. The church must approve appointment of the college's trustees, over half of whom must be First Baptist members, and the church's pastor serves as the school's chancellor. Criswell College is affiliated with the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

"For six months, the chancellor has been trying to cannibalize Criswell College to fund his building program at the church, which will cost $170 to $240 million," Johnson told the Dallas Morning News a week prior to his resignation.

The president also accused Jeffress of planning to stack the board with trustees who would agree to sell the Dallas-based campus and its radio station, KCBI. The FM station and its two satellite stations broadcast over large portions of Texas and Oklahoma.

Johnson claimed that, earlier this year, Jeffress said nearby Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary would absorb Criswell. Southwestern operates its own undergraduate college at its Fort Worth campus.

Criswell College Steve Washburn, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pflugerville, Texas, also accused First Baptist of plotting to sell the school's assets, in a letter released in late July.

According to news reports, Johnson and some trustees, such as Washburn, have pointed out that the college is meeting financial and enrollment challenges. But Jeffress has advocated for a study to determine whether a need for the institution still exists.

In spite of the disagreement, trustee chairman Michael Deahl praised Johnson's leadership in the college's Aug. 6 statement. He expressed gratitude for the "accomplishments that have been achieved at the college and KCBI under Dr. Johnson's leadership, which are too numerous to mention.

"I firmly believe that, due in no small part to Dr. Johnson's contributions, the greatest days at Criswell College are yet to come."

An Associated Baptist Press reporter's calls to Johnson, and Washburn were not returned by press time Aug. 7.

Johnson was named Criswell's president and a professor of theology and ethics in 2003. Prior to that date, he was dean and assistant professor of ethics at Boyce College, the undergraduate program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Johnson is a Criswell alumnus, earning a bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies from the institution in 1986.


Playground brings hope to rural Miss. county
By Carla Wynn Davis

ATLANTA (ABP) -- It was a beautiful moment for the people of Goodman, Miss., and the teenagers from First Baptist Church in Greenwood, S.C. After days of building, the teens completed a new playground in Goodman -- where children once had to play in the street.

On a Tuesday evening this summer, the teens and children walked hand-in-hand toward the playground, with the children's excitement building as the slides, swings and playhouse came closer into view.

"When we got within 50 feet of it, the children started running," said the church's youth minister Blake Kendrick. "It was a thrill to watch them play on it for the first time."

But the smiling, climbing, running and playing wasn't all that caught Caroline Burch's eye. It was one local man who stood at the end of the slide to make sure the children didn't go too fast or hurt themselves. It was the other adults from Goodman's Walden Memorial United Methodist Church who gathered to watch the children. It was the laughter, the conversation -- the community -- that made Burch grateful to be in Goodman in that moment.

"Our playground helped make that happen, but the best part is, even without the playground, the little church would have been that way -- community in the most sincere sense of the word," said Burch, 18.

Burch was one of 16 teenagers who traveled to Goodman to serve with the Methodist Church. Walden Memorial's pastor, Martha Williams, suggested the youth could make a difference by building a playground.

"There was nothing in the community for these children to do. There was no gathering place," said Steve Street, CBF of Mississippi's coordinator, who connected the South Carolina church with Williams' ministry in Holmes County.

Ranked statistically as one of the nation's poorest counties, Holmes County is a focal area of Together for Hope, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's rural-poverty initiative focused on 20 of the poorest counties in the United States. Together for Hope's goal is to work alongside local people and at the direction of local leadership who know the community best.

Under the theme "Let the children come to me" (Mark 10:14), the middle- and high-school students explored the importance of children in Christ's eyes. They also learned about socio-economic issues, racial reconciliation and hospitality.

"The [Walden] church welcomed us and really taught us a great lesson in Christian hospitality," Kendrick said. "They were really open to being in conversation and dialogue with us."

As a finishing touch on the playground, the youth group nailed together two extra pieces of wood, and to the top of the playhouse they added a cross - a reminder of the reason for all their efforts.

"The children of Goodman, Mississippi ... will continue to grow in that church and become community leaders," said Caleb Hopkins, 17. "Our work made it easier for kids in Goodman to come to Christ."

On the last day, Kendrick knew the youth had made a difference for local children, but he didn't know how much it had meant to the church until Williams issued an invitation. She invited the youth to return and for Kendrick to preach when the church moves into its new building.

"It was a profound thing for her to say," Kendrick said. "Wherever I am, I want to be part of that service."


Prayer Blog - 8/7/2008, #2

I received an e-mail today from CEH asking for prayer for Botswana. Her is her latter:

Hello fellow prayer warriors,

I just received a special prayer notice from my mission family in Botswana, to join with them and countless others across the states in the next few weeks in prayer for Botswana. I love Botswana and the people that i came to think of as close personal friends! I saw firsthand the evidence of your prayers, and i ask once more that you join with me for God's hand to be upon this beautiful country.

This month the missionaries are asking believers everywhere to join with them in a concert of prayer for Botswana. The emphasis will be August 8th - 21st while a prayer walking team from Cotton Wood Baptist Church, from Dublin, Texas is ministering in Botswana. Attached is a prayer guide prepared by four missionaries from around Botswana, Dana Blankenship, Fay Cannady, Kelly Carruthers and Daren Davis. Please print this guide for yourself, your church and other prayer warriors. In addition to praying for Botswana personally, look for opportunities to pray corporately, bring Botswana before your Bible studies and Sunday School class, ask your pastor to pray for Botswana during your weekday services in addition to your Sunday service.

Please join us and others for a very special time of prayer for the Tswana, my people group that i worked with in the city, and the Kalanga people group that i worked with in the village. Thank you in advance for lifting Botswana and it's people before the throne!!

Prayer Blog - 8/7/2008

Today is election day in Knoxville. Pray that God's hand guide the election and that the winners are more concerned with service than themselves. Pray that today's election will be one piece of the puzzle in healing Knoxville's problems.

Bible Trivia - 8/7/2008

Question: Which of the original twelve disciples was the first to be martyred?

Answer: James. (Acts 12:2)

Comments: Christian tradition asserts that all but one of the original twelve disciples (not counting Judas Iscariot) was martyred, with John surviving into old age. James, son of Zebedee, was the first to be martyred and the only one whose death is described in the New Testament. (Acts 12:1-2)

James was beheaded in 44 CE in Jerusalem at the command of Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who tried to kill the infant Jesus in Matthew 2). Both Hippolytus (170-236) and Eusebius (263-339), early church historians, corroborate the New Testament witness.

And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. (Acts 12:2)

Herod, who ordered James' beheading, dies himself later in the same New Testament chapter as his victim (Acts 12:23).

Word of the Day - 8/7/2008


Sciolism is superficial knowledge.

Jesus illuminated the Pharisees' sciolism by exposing the hyporisy of Israel's law enforcers. They knew in detail all that the law said but did not follow its true meaning.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:3, NASB)

Note: This image ("Jesus upbraideth the scribes and Pharisees") was engraved in 1728.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 8/7/2008

On Wednesday night my parents graciously took KLTW, KJW, RAW and I to Big Fatty’s Catering Kitchen. (See the May 7th edition of Eckleburg’s Eyes for my review.) I chose the place for several reasons, not the least of which is that the acoustics in the place make it naturally loud. This meant that KJW could have a meltdown if necessary without greatly disturbing the place. Not that she is prone to do that, I just like having a contingency plan. On this night, she could not have been louder than the employees of the establishment if she had tried.

I also wanted to partake of the chicken ‘n dumplings but learned that it is available only on Tuesdays. It probably would not have been good to eat that dish twice in one week anyway. The French dip I had instead was quite good.

The Walkers, whom had never been there, also seemed to enjoy their food. It did take me a little while to convince RAW that Big Fatty’s was the actual name of the establishment and not some clever nickname I had contrived. RAW’s only complaint concerned the decor. Concert posters advertising upcoming local events engulf the Big fatty’s landscape. RAW could not get over one announcing Hanson’s October 1st visit to Knoxville. No, he is not a fan. It is the fact that the advertisement describes Hanson as “America’s best straight up rock band.”

It was a pig tail night for KJW which is always a crowd pleaser. She has grown to like them herself, even requesting them on occasion.

Other than this one very brief tantrum, which would have ended earlier had we not been making fun of her for it, KJW did great as always. My parents were impressed that she remembered their names despite not seeing them regularly or in some time. We pointed to my dad and asked “Who’s that?” She replied, “That’s Bill. Hi, Bill!” The only negative to connecting KJW with my parents is that it adds to my mother's already substantial desire for grandchildren.

While walking KJW around the restaurant, we passed the dessert display. (Big Fatty’s is known for their desserts). I asked KJW which one she wanted to try and not surprisingly she picked the chocolate pound cake. Chocolate with KJW is not only a great topper to a meal but also an accessory that goes with any outfit. As you can tell from this photo, she was pleased with her selection.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Bible Trivia - 8/6/2008

Question: What modern city used to be called Thessalonica?

Answer: Saloniki.

Comments: Paul founded a church in Thessalonica (Θεσσαλονίκη, (Acts 17:1-9) during his "second missionary journey" and later wrote two letters to the church there that are preserved in the Bible (I and II Thessalonians). Thessalonica was located at the intersection of two major Roman roads. This coupled with its use as a port made it a prominent city.

The city was founded around 315 BCE by King Cassander of Macedon in celebration of successful campaigns against the Persians. The city was built near the site of the city Therma. He named it after his wife Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great. The name means the "victory of Thessalians".

Today, Thessalonica or Saloniki is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of Macedonia, the nation's largest region. It is one of the largest cities in southeastern Europe. Very little has been uncovered at ancient Thessalonica because the present city was built atop the remains of its predecessor. No memorial churches or places commemorating Paul's visit exist there.

Word of the Day - 8/6/2008


Pluvial means of or pertaining to rain, espeically much rain; rainy.

The book of Ezra records that the Israelites elected to allow officials to act on behalf of the whole assembly when they needed to disperse from the foreign wives because it was during the pluvial season and would be imprudent to stay outside for an extended period. (Ezra 10:13)

"But there are many people; it is the rainy season and we are not able to stand in the open. Nor can the task be done in one or two days, for we have transgressed greatly in this matter." (Ezra 10:13, NASB)

Note: This image "The crowd is too big, and it's raining hard" is by Annie Vallotton.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 8/6/2008

I spent Tuesday night with JTH and JBT (who has recently deleted his MySpace account). We kept JBT company as SCB incrementally prolongs her Virginia vacation. At present, she is scheduled to return on Friday.

Naturally, we met at Applebees, though we did not assume our regular seats near the bar. Our server, and high school classmate of JBT’s, Ashley Hopkins (AFH). Requested we sit in her section. So we did. JTH asked about a girl he has seen her with, describing the girl as short. The 6'3" AFH reminded him he need be more specific as everyone is short to her.

Afterwards, despite it being very late, the three of us decided to head to the Halls branch of MoFoS so that JBT could take care of some business. This included me scripting a lengthy checklist for his employees as he is still struggling with the use of his right arm (basketball injury). I cannot explain it but there is something especially fun about shopping in a store after hours. I do not know if this applies to all stores or just the ones one ordinarily likes to shop at in the first place.

If nothing else, I have made two visits to Halls in a calendar week. I am fairly certain that is a first.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 8/5/2008

Associated Baptist Press
August 5, 2008 · (08-76)

Greg Warner, Executive Editor
Robert Marus, News Editor/Washington Bureau Chief

In this issue
Falling revenue causes LifeWay to cut staff
BWA births division for justice; scholars spotlight ecology, diversity
Riverside Church taps Braxton, former Wake prof, as new pastor
CBF missions blitz helps poverty-stricken Ark. county
CBF field personnel encourage artists, build bridges in Asian communities
Opinion: 'The Dark Knight' of the free will

Falling revenue causes LifeWay to cut staff
By Steve DeVane

NASHVILLE (ABP) -- LifeWay Christian Resources will cut 5 percent of its workforce by Sept. 30 because revenues are lower than expected, officials of the Southern Baptist Convention's publishing arm have announced.

The cuts represent about 100 jobs. Officials would not say exactly how many workers will be displaced.

The agency's $458.7 million revenue last year was higher than expenditures. LifeWay spokesman Rob Phillips said income this year is ahead of last year's pace, but below projections on which the budget is based.

LifeWay is also cutting expenses in other parts of its operations, said Thom Rainer, president and chief executive officer.

"These are hard but necessary steps to ensure the continued effectiveness of LifeWay ministries," he said in a written statement.

The organization is funded totally through the sale of its resources and does not receive direct financial support from the SBC.

Phillips would not release specifics, but said the lower income affects all business areas.

According to SBC Life, a publication of the SBC Executive Committee, LifeWay provides income over its expenses to the SBC. Last year, LifeWay contributed $790,000 to the SBC operating budget, according to a story written by Phillips. Those funds were part of nearly $12 million in financial and "in-kind" contributions to the SBC and its entities.

Phillips said in an interview that there is "a whole lot of in-kind contributions" in that total. In-kind contributions are services or products provided free of charge. Therefore, Phillips said, concluding that SBC LifeWay would have sufficient income to retain the jobs without the contributions is like comparing "apples and oranges," Phillips said.

"Those are two totally different ways that funds are being spoken of here," he said.

The shortfall in revenue could be due to a number of factors, less business than expected at LifeWay's regional bookstores, fewer participants attending events at the agency's two national conference centers and fewer outside retailers stocking literature published under LifeWay's Broadman and Holman imprint.

"The economy is basically hitting consumers in their pocketbooks," Phillips said. "Discretionary spending is down all over."

Phillips said the 100 jobs would be lost "mostly in Nashville," where the agency is headquartered, and "across the spectrum," including administrative, professional and support positions. Some employees losing their jobs are eligible for retirement, but he could not say how many.

Rainer said those whose positions have been deleted will get severance pay, some benefits and outplacement services. He said LifeWay is enduring the economic downturn better than many other Christian ministries.

"LifeWay is debt free and in excellent financial condition," he said. "Although we are adjusting our priorities and scaling back some operations, we are well positioned to continue our ministry to people and churches across the nation and around the world."

Phillips said LifeWay officials implemented "some reallocation of resources" in the past year that resulted in a "fairly small number of staff reductions." He said LifeWay's employment has "ebbed and flowed with the economy throughout its history."

The agency's most dramatic job reduction in recent memory came in 1992, when revenues were not keeping pace with expenses, according to Phillips. Jimmy Draper, who had recently become head of what was then called the Sunday School Board, instituted a voluntary retirement incentive program, which was accepted by 159 employees.


-- Norman Jameson contributed to this story.

BWA births division for justice; scholars spotlight ecology, diversity
By Vicki Brown

WASHINGTON, DC (ABP) -- Concern for freedom and justice were on the minds of participants at two recent international Baptist meetings in Prague, Czech Republic.

Participants at meetings related to the Baptist World Alliance's annual gathering created a new office for global justice and issued a declaration of commitment to advocate for the world's marginalized, as well as a declaration of commitment to environmental concerns.

At their July 20-25 annual gathering, members of the BWA General Council established a division of freedom and justice. The office will address refugee and migrant issues and other social-justice concerns that are affecting member bodies of the global umbrella organization for Baptist groups.

"We are all fellow sojourners in this world and ... our treatment of the immigrants in our midst is central to authentic scriptural faith," council members declared in a separate resolution on justice issues.

They noted that globally there are more than 67 million refugees and internally displaced persons and more than 191 million international migrants. They urged the world's Baptists to "freely share resources" and to "act as advocates" on behalf of migrants and refugees.

The resolution came against the background of increasing discrimination and even violence against refugees and migrants in several parts of the world.

The council passed a separate resolution to express specific concern for the Romani people -- also known as Gypsies -- in Italy. It decried the Italian government's recently instituted policy of fingerprinting all individuals of Romani descent.

Through the new division, BWA will bring justice issues to its members' attention and advocate at the United Nations on behalf of refugees and migrants.

Following the council's sessions, a related meeting of Baptist theologians and scholars also called their brothers and sisters to a broader commitment to social justice. In a declaration, they stressed concern for ecology and diversity.

Gathered July 26-29 for the seventh Baptist International Conference on Theological Education, Baptist educators, pastors, theologians and emerging leaders committed to "[u]phold the sacredness of all life." Respecting and caring for God's creation "actively" demonstrates faith, participants declared.

Baptists should "welcome" the insights they can glean through the diversity already inherent in the cultures and contexts found in the "common Baptist way of life," participants noted in the declaration.

Participants agreed to "seek repentance for our failure to advocate for those who are abused, impoverished and marginalized." Then they promised to "prepare leaders" to help believers "live the Christian life, share the gospel and engage in works of justice."


Riverside Church taps Braxton, former Wake prof, as new pastor
By Robert Marus

NEW YORK (ABP) -- One of the most prominent churches in mainline Protestantism has tapped a former Wake Forest Divinity School professor to fill its historic pulpit.

The pastor-search committee of Riverside Church, a landmark on the Upper West Side of Manhattan since 1929, has recommended Brad Braxton to become the congregation's senior minister. The recommendation, reportedly unanimous, was announced during Riverside's morning worship service Aug. 3.

The 39-year-old Braxton has been an associate professor of homiletics and New Testament at Vanderbilt University Divinity School since 2004. He previously taught at Wake Forest University Divinity School and has served also as pastor of the interdenominational Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore.

If approved by the Riverside congregation in a Sept. 14 vote, Braxton would become the 2,400-member church's sixth senior pastor. He would assume a pulpit once occupied by famed preachers Harry Emerson Fosdick and William Sloane Coffin.

Braxton would replace James Forbes, 71, who retired last year after 18 years at Riverside. Forbes was the church's first African-American pastor. Some members grew disgruntled with his leadership for several reasons, including what they perceived as a lessening of the church's historic commitment to social justice.

Riverside's roots are in the former Park Avenue Baptist Church and a series of other progressive Baptist congregations in Manhattan. The church is now dually aligned with the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.

In the past, Riverside leaders have publicly opposed the United States' involvement in the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Church leaders were also early and outspoken Christian voices in favor of racial integration and the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of Christian communities.

Braxton, who is also an African American, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Aug. 5, but told the New York Times that he would continue Riverside's commitment to social engagement. "Part of what religious communities do in their best moments is to seek after the truth with a sense of humility and a sense of openness for the sake of the common good," he said. "So I certainly would hope to continue in that marvelous legacy of congregational care internally, and bold, courageous, prophetic action externally, for which the Riverside Church has been known now for so many years."

Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest Divinity School, said by telephone Aug. 5 he was "delighted" that his former colleague would be recommended to Riverside.

"He was a fine colleague for us for four years and is not only an excellent preacher, but he is an excellent teacher of preaching," he said. "I'm just very, very delighted for him and his family and for Riverside Church; it's a great moment."

Braxton, the son of a Baptist minister, grew up in Salem, Va. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where he earned the prestigious Jefferson Scholarship. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he received a master's degree, and earned a Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Emory University.

He and his wife, Lazetta, have a three-year-old daughter, Karis.


CBF missions blitz helps poverty-stricken Ark. county
By Carla Wynn Davis

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. - His name is Frank, and he hadn't been near the water in more than 40 years. And who can blame him? The last time he got in the water, he was 11 years old and nearly drowned.

But now his grandchildren can swim, and they love it so much that he bought them an above-ground pool -- and that's what brought him to the Helena-West Helena, Ark., municipal pool for swimming lessons taught by members of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner churches.

The CBF supporters had to help Frank walk into the shallow end of the pool. But, by the end of the lesson, as the rest of the adult swimmers and teachers gathered for the closing prayer circle, Frank -- so deathly afraid of water -- nonetheless made it out of the shallow end.

"When I turned around, I saw Frank in the circle standing in the mid-section of the pool," said Kate Hall, the swim camp director and a member of Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. "He told the volunteer, 'I have to go under this rope and join that prayer circle, because I have to thank God for what he's enabled me to do tonight.'"

The more than 230 children, teens and adults who took to the pool during swim camp were only one part of the All Church Challenge, a two-week missions blitz in Phillips County, Ark., where CBF field personnel Ben and Leonora Newell have served since 2002. The ministry is part of Together for Hope, the Fellowship's rural-poverty initiative in 20 of the poorest counties in the United States. Phillips County, of which Helena-West Helena is the seat, is in the Mississippi Delta region -- one of the nation's most poverty-stricken.

More than 250 Fellowship Baptists representing 21 churches traveled to the county to serve during the challenge July 12-24. Many have come before -- some year after year.

"As they make a long-term commitment, their ministry deepens," Leonora Newell said.

One of those churches is First Baptist Church in Elkin, N.C., which has sent teams for three years. Church member Betty Pittman spent the week traveling on the Stories on Wheels bus to Elaine, Ark., where they held a children's camp that included basketball, games and a Bible story.

"We're planting the seed, believing -- even though you can't see -- that the seed will sprout," she said.

Individuals keep coming back, too, like Van Jones, a member of St. John's Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., who has stayed both weeks for three years.

"I've planted roots in a mission project," he said. "This is worthwhile. I see a lot of change in the community. I might not live here, but I make a lot of friends."

And that's one of the goals of the All Church Challenge -- for local residents to get involved in, and energized by, the work. During the first week, Leonora Newell nearly canceled preschool camp because she didn't have enough workers, but local resident Jean Williams stepped in and said she'd find enough workers from the community. Local residents showed up, and the camp ran as planned.

"God intended local volunteers to get involved," Leonora said.

Fellowship Baptists came from as far away as Virginia and Texas for the blitz. B.F. Waddell, 87, came to help finish a new pavilion at the pool. On the way to Helena and back to North Carolina, where he is a member of McGill Baptist Church in Concord, he stopped to see two friends from his service in World War II. One he hadn't seen in 50 years.

Participants like Waddell spent the two weeks "sharing the gospel in all types of ways," Ben Newell said. They catalogued books for the community-center library, hosted a children's camp, worked in the community gardens, taught water aerobics and visited local residents in the nursing home. They also helped with construction like installing new siding at the home of Charley and Winifred Wells, who saved money all year long to buy the materials.

"This means the whole world to me," said Charley Wells. "I am being blessed. We've waited a long time."

At the end of the two weeks, there was time for celebration. Nearly 400 people gathered to see children perform the new songs they learned, to honor the efforts of local leaders, and to see the new pool pavilion dedicated to Hall, who helped launch the annual swim program four years ago, and Earnest Womack, the long-time local pool director.

As Ben Newell looked over the crowd, seeing the smiles and hearing all the laughter and conversation, he knew the last two weeks had made a difference.

"This is when you really realize the impact [the All Church Challenge] has," he said.


CBF field personnel encourage artists, build bridges in Asian communities
By Patricia Heys

ATLANTA (ABP) -- "Did you hear the music they're playing," said a wedding attendee to his friend. "These Christians are just like we are."

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field workers Jonathan and Tina believe that the arts have the power to break down barriers, as music did at that wedding in Southeast Asia. The wedding couple, two of the few Christians in the community, invited many of their non-Christian neighbors to the celebration.

"So often there is no separation between ethnicity, culture and religious tradition, even in North America," Jonathan said. "As the world becomes more multi-cultural, I think we have a difficult time dividing what is cultural and what is of our faith.

"In some places in Asia, if you follow Christ, then you can no longer say you are part of the community. Christianity is seen as the religion of the foreigner, and local Christians are sometimes asked to leave."

Jonathan and Tina -- whose names and specific location are not being published because of security concerns -- encourage Christian artists to stay connected to their cultures, using the music, dance and visual arts of their indigenous community to express their faith. They hope these expressions will help remove the walls between communities and local churches.

"When we began looking at how the arts are used in local communities, we realized that the arts could be a part of redefining in popular understanding what it means to be a Christian," Jonathan said.

"To follow Christ doesn't mean that you leave your culture behind and accept Western culture, but that you could live out your faith in your local community wearing your traditional clothes, playing your traditional instruments, and that is valid."

Pak Wayan became a Christian five years ago. When he did, he lost his inheritance and was asked to leave his community. Wayan serves as Jonathan and Tina's gamelan instructor, teaching them and other Christian musicians how to play the 20-piece metallaphone instrument that is the foundation of music in Southeast Asia.

His group of students has quickly grown from six to 16, and earlier this year, they played a piece Wayan wrote based on Psalm 150.

Recently, Wayan was invited back to his community to participate in its annual arts festival. Even while he celebrates this step toward acceptance, he is facing a new challenge -- diabetes. Through his relationship with Jonathan and Tina, Wayan was provided with a blood sugar tester, donated by a member of Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C. Now, Jonathan and Tina are helping raise funds for Wayan to have cataract surgery.

"Though still struggling with this life-changing illness, he is working diligently to change his diet and lifestyle," Tina said. "Not only has the blood sugar tester helped him physically, it has given him the opportunity to testify to the God who provides."

Jonathan and Tina provide support and encouragement to other artists as well. They also facilitate visual-art exhibitions, teach music and dance classes, work with local musicians to create compositions for worship and provide training to seminary students.

"God has placed within us such creative potential," Jonathan said. "And the arts speak in ways that make visible things that are invisible. When you read Scripture you know you see the music, the poetry, the stories. You see that Jesus walks away and leaves us to figure out the story's meaning. And artists today are doing the same thing.

"There's tremendous potential among artists to create expressions of the gospel that will continue to speak even when they have walked away."

Jonathan and Tina encourage churches and individuals to partner with Christian artists and communities around the world. They hope believers with skills in music, dance, painting, drama and other art forms will share their gifts.


Opinion: 'The Dark Knight' of the free will
By Adam English

(ABP) -- Among those in the record-breaking crowd that appeared with money in hand to see The Dark Knight opening weekend were me and three of my friends. The second installment of the new Batman series from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, which sold over $158 million in tickets the first weekend, set a new record for most money made in the first three days.

The Dark Knight is superior to Batman Begins in many ways: plot-development, suspense, action, effects and, of course, villainy. One cannot help but think that the premature death of actor Heath Ledger had something to do with the buzz surrounding the new film. But let that not take away from his performance. He played a wickedly unpredictable Joker.

As we pulled into the theater parking lot Friday night, my friends and I were engaged in a heavy discussion. Of all things that could be discussed before seeing a Batman flick, we were talking about free will. I have no idea how we got onto the topic, and I certainly could not have known how relevant our exchange was to the movie we were about to see.

Nick was saying that free will is tied to intention: knowingly choosing one thing over another. Free will is necessary because all of us are responsible before God for our actions. This implies that we somehow have a choice with regard to those actions. How can you be responsible for something you did not choose or something you were unaware of choosing?

Wes did not buy Nick's argument that we can exercise real choice with eternal consequences. Wes contended that God had already made the greater choice - for forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. God's choice was to redeem the world and not count our sin against us; any insistence on our part that we can escape or opt out of the love of God is illusory.

Choice is a key component of The Dark Knight. Every character is confronted by choices. Among the minor characters, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) must choose between two men. Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) must decide what to do with a certain letter. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) must decide whether or not to help Batman by using morally objectionable technology. And Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldham) must choose between aligning himself with the vigilante caped crusader or arresting him.

Among the main characters, Harvey "Two-Face" Dent (Aaron Eckhart) sees all choices as a matter of random chance, a flip of a coin. The Joker is a nihilist for whom all choices are absurd. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) walks a razor's edge as Gotham's unelected but semi-official vigilante, choosing to protect the innocent, do justice and (in his words) inspire goodness while trying to avoid his own personal vendettas and emotions. Bruce Wayne's choice is even more complicated by his acknowledgment that vigilantism is not a good substitute for law and order, and if there was a way he could support the justice system without his bat suit, he would.

In The Dark Knight, more than a few characters - Batman/Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent, Lt. Gordon, the mobsters, and the people of Gotham - are faced with impossible choices. The Joker revels in creating situations that force people to act against their moral commitments, against the law, against their better natures, and against their best interests. Director Christopher Nolan said in a Newsweek interview: "The Joker gets pleasure from taking somebody's rule set - their ethics, their morals - and turning them against each other. Paradox is the way you do that -- giving people impossible choices."

At first glance, one might say that, through his macabre "games," the Joker is the champion of choice and the true believer in free will. He certainly gives everyone plenty of choices to make. But, his choices are demented: choosing one life at the expense of another or saving oneself by ruining someone else.

The Joker is not after money, fame or even control. He says he simply wants to "introduce a little anarchy," "upset the established order." But, in a twisted way, isn't this the triumph of free will - choice that has been unmoored from the safe docks of law and order and morality?

As it turns out, what the Joker offers is not freedom or even choice. The characters in the movie act most freely when they can get around the Joker and outwit his false "choices." But when they cannot, their actions become involuntary. They act out of compulsion, fear and necessity. Even the Joker seems to be driven by an unrelenting anarchical agenda from which he derives no pleasure or relief. He is a prisoner of his own design, or perhaps his own madness.

The Joker has brought to life Friedrich Nietzsche's dream and St. Paul's nightmare. Nietzsche, that notorious 19th-century German challenger of Christianity, declared that moral systems of good and evil, noble and ignoble, right and wrong, were nothing more than human constructions, social conveniences and silly customs. Rules of ethics are no more true or absolute or eternal than rules of etiquette. They are manmade and arbitrary, and for these reasons should be consigned to the flames.

According to Nietzsche, humankind must forge ahead, beyond good and evil: "What is strong wins. That is the universal law. To speak of right and wrong per se makes no sense at all. No act of violence, rape, exploitation, or destruction is intrinsically 'unjust,' since life is violent, rapacious, exploitative, and destructive and cannot be conceived otherwise."

Survival of the fittest. What is strong wins. But, the game is given away in the last line of this passage, "and cannot be conceived otherwise." Why not? Who says? Here we glimpse the rigid determinism and unquestionable dogmatism that lies just under the surface of Nietzsche's so-called liberation of the will. There is no place for any alternative to the unswerving law of nature. When Harvey "Two-Face" Dent becomes "liberated" and uninhibited, the result is monstrous. He looks and acts less than fully human, more like a rabid animal or a machine programmed for vengeance.

For Paul, the worst of all possible conditions is finding that "I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). These are exactly the kind of options the Joker (and Satan) supplies: the kind that we can only hate. Sin, selfish behavior and disobedience to the law are not Promethean feats of free will but signs of slavery. According to Paul, disobedience, rebellion, and sin do not liberate us to "do whatever we want," as we might suppose, but trap and imprison our wills. We become "slaves to sin" (Romans 6:17).

Freedom, according to Paul and the Christian tradition, is not something we naturally possess and exercise. It is not our right or ability. Rather, like life itself, freedom is a gift. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). And a little further, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2).

True freedom is not being able to do whatever we want any more than it is a choice between two options. True freedom means finding out who we really are, what we were created to be, and who our true family is. It does not mean declaring independence from all things, severing all ties to kin and kith, breaking all rules, and striking out on one's own. It means being redeemed: identified in the pile, picked up, cleaned off and given a home. "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12).

The Dark Knight poses dilemmas of choice and free will well worth pondering. But, the distance between Gotham and Jerusalem is considerable. In the world of Batman, choice is always tainted, plagued, tragic and maybe even absurd. In the free country of Zion, by contrast, choice is gift, adoption, recognition and surprisingly even love.


-- Adam English is assistant professor of theology and philosophy at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. (

Bible Trivia - 8/5/2008

Question: What sorcerer was blinded by Paul?

Answer: Elymas. (Acts 13:8-11)

Comments: Paul encountered Elymas on his "first missionary journey" while in the city of Cyprus. Elymas ("wise" in Arabic) is also referred to as Bar-Jesus ("son of Jesus", then a common name). Elymas opposed Paul and Barnabas by attempting to dissuade the Roman proconsul of the island, Sergius Paulus, from becoming a believer.

Elymas is described as a μάγος (magos), which the King James Bible translates as "sorcerer". The word is used in five New Testament verses, three in reference to the magi/wisemen in Matthew's nativity (Matthew 2:1, 7, 16) and twice in deference to Elymas/Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:6, 8).

But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. (Acts 13:8, NASB)

Paul responded to Elymas by blinding him. The proconsul was converted soon after witnessing this miracle.

Note: This painting, "The Conversion of the Proconsul", was painted by Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520) in 1515-1516.

Word of the Day - 8/5/2008


An ecdysiast is a stripper.

In his 2006 book, What the Bible Really Says About Sex, Tom Gruber cites two Biblical ecdysiasts performing in a public setting (p. 33-35). Surprisingly, both are presented in a positive light! Gruber titles these stories "King David takes it off for the slave girls!"(II Samuel 6) and "The Shulamite Girl puts on a burlesque show for an eager crowd" (Song of Slomon 6:13-7:9)

Though David's dance was an act of praise, his wife,Michal, did not respond favorably.

But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, "How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants' maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!" (II Samuel 6:20, NASB)

Note: This image of "David Dancing Before the Ark" was created by James Tissot (1836-1902).

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 8/5/2008

I had a great Monday night with KLTW, KJW, and RAW. This week marks KLTW's hiatus from a rigorous quarter at South College. So what did she do on her first day off? Among other things, she cooked me my favorite meal - chicken 'n dumplings. This is a woman with her priorities in order. (Note: KJW does not like this meal, so she instead ate a cheese sandwich which is evidently better when separated and mashed.)

KJW was extremely tired all night and it was obvious the poor child was not feeling well. We made a pallette for her on the couch and she watched television and laid there most of the night, highly irregular for the active child. On the plus side, she was also highly susceptible to snuggling and we all took advantage of her rare stillness. Germs?

An update of KJW's development: she has learned the art of both subtly and bluntly asking for what she wants. For instance earlier in the day she exclaimed, "Mommy, I know! You need to take me to the park today." Contrast this with the subtle, "I think SpongeBob is on." In my experience, probability is always in her favor on that one.

She has also learned to fist bump like athletes. This has replaced the high five in her repertoire. Her responses of yes and no have been replaced by "yes, sir" and "no way". Also, her new big word is "propaganda". It is a shame this word does not come into conversation more often.

Inspiration also struck on Monday. KLTW was still feeling the effects from moving obese hospital patients all weekend. Clearly, a size 0 like KLTW should not be moving 400-pound unconscious men for her sake and theirs. In response, RAW plans on creating a "Medical Fat People Mover". As long as he employs that sensitive moniker, I cannot manage the project not raking in millions.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bible Trivia - 8/4/2008

Question: How does the cross of the apostle Andrew differ from others?

Answer: It is X-shaped.

Comments: The apocryphal book, the Acts of Andrew depicts the apostle being crucified on a cross called Crux decussata (X-shaped cross, commonly known as the "St Andrew's cross") in Patras. His crucifixion was ordered by the Roman Proconsul, Aegeates, who was infuriated that his wife (Maxmilla) and brother (Stratoklis) had been converted to Christinaity through Andrew's efforts.

The book claims that the crucifixion was carried out on an X-shaped cross with the body of the apostle upside down so that he saw neither the earth nor his executioners, but only the sky which he glorified as the heaven in which he would meet his Lord.

It is worth reiterating that these stories concerning Andrew stem from tradition and are not found in the Bible.

In the 8th century, Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland. Legend has it that some of his remains were transported into Scotland. To this day, the X-shaped St. Andrew's Cross (also known as The Saltire) is the national flag of Scotland.

Word of the Day - 8/4/008


An apothegm is a short, pithy, instructive saying; a terse remark or aphorism.

As used by some biblical scholars, the term "apothegm" denotes brief stories in the Gospels that culminate in a saying of Jesus. Examples include Matthew 8:18-22; 9:10-13; 16:1-4; Mark 2:18-22; 10:13-15; Luke 6:1-5; 11:37-44. (Walter A. Elwell, Philip W. Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, 2001, p. 96.)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 8/4/2008

I had a relatively laid back weekend, getting to see friends and family and leading a couple of Bible studies.

On Saturday, I saw PAT in his first return visit to Knoxville in several months. He was originally scheduled to film a wedding on this day, but unbeknownst to the wedding party they had received a videographer as a gift. (The videographer was for the day, they did not receive an actual person.) Upon hearing this news, they still asked PAT and his faithful sidekick JTH to the wedding. Meeting up with PAT took more doing than we expected as PAT had the unenviable task of seeing everyone he knew in a six-hour block.

PAT drove in Saturday morning and was to call JTH and I after playing frisbee golf with his friend Jubin. In the meantime, JTH and I ran errands, such as getting gas at Weigel’s, getting his glasses fixed at Sears (they have an eyeglass center), and distributing some CDs to PCR at PacSun. The last two chores meant that we foolishly traveled to West Town Mall
on yet another tax free weekend. Some notes from our travels:

  • JTH had finally taken his driver’s test with co-worker JJ on Thursday (July 31st) to allow them to drive the new church vans for the daycare. They did no preparatory work other than while waiting to take the exam. Perhaps not surprisingly, both failed. The test consisted of two parts, 20 and 50 questions apiece. To pass, one had to demonstrate 80% proficiency. JTH scored the necessary 16 on the first part before failing the second while JJ failed both halves. The benefit of this failure is that it acclimated them to the test and bought them time with co-workers who are tired of having all of the driving duties. Had they passed the written portion of the test, they would have received permits and later taken the road test. I asked if they could simply repeatedly postpone the driving portion and continue to renew the permit since there would theoretically always be another licensed driver in the van with them. We may check the possibility of this contingency.
  • What was a Gondolier Restaurant near Farragut High School is now another restaurant called Papalinas. Clayton “Smity” Smith and his wife, Mary Ann, purchased the restaurant, now the first Papalinas in what Smith hopes to make a local chain. Most restaurants have failed in that location. (Well, I suppose all to date have since they are no longer there.) You may remember than in the April 8th edition of Eckleburg’s Eyes, I vowed never to go to that particular Gondolier again.
  • We made an illegal detour through the Farragut High School parking lot. They have a sign that says “speed humps” as opposed to “speed bumps”. Does anyone know what the distinction between the two is?
  • We ran into the recently divorced BA at the gas station. She still looks great. She was there with her boyfriend , Stuart. He looks like a Stuart which made JTH feel good to see a beautiful girl with a Stuart.
  • There are actually three eyeglass businesses in the mall. That just does not seem right.

By the time we arrived at the mall it was past 1 pm and JTH and I were quite hungry. When PCR said that he could meet us for lunch at the food court, we jumped at the chance and had PAT meet us there when possible. That would be a 1:45.

There was nary a seat in the food court and the restaurant lines were long. I braved the line at Sbarro to get my beloved spaghetti and meatballs (naturally with extra balls). JTH and PCR, veteran mall workers that they are, selected a new establishment, The Baja Bistro, simply because there was no line. The smaller sign of Baja Bistro reads “Burgers and Burritos”. With that winning, completely natural combination, I have no idea how they were not busy.

I took this picture of a wall-sized advertisement for the Rush Fitness Complex. You will notice that the girl pictured is headless (acephalous if you will). I always feel bad for her. Its as it they are saying, “we may not be able to do anything with your face, but we can improve your body...”

PCR has been enlisted in a group called Mavericks where he will supply input to the corporate offices of PacSun. I informed PCR that I was there on business and drew him out of retirement to play church league basketball. The league dates have not been set but my friends are anxiously awaiting the season. He had two requests, neither of which will likely be granted. 1. Since the basketball court is being repainted we discussed the possibilities of having a picture of he and “GQ Jesus” at center court. 2. He wanted me not only to give the devotions but play just to see the fear of God enter the opponents. I felt good.

When PAT arrived we had the unexpected pleasure of seeing his sister AMTT and brother-in-law JCT. They are all well. We got the scoop on PAT’s beautiful new girlfriend CDM. The biggest issue was where the Georgia native’s football allegiances lie. Her father graduated from Georgia Tech and she has always supported the Georgia Bulldogs as she has lived in the area. We believe there is still room to educate the girl. The good news is that according to PAT she is as sweet as she comes off in his blog.

After a brief stop at Marshalls (where I got a Peyton Manning Tennessee jersey for $15), I returned home. My parents and I soon drove to Strawberry Plains to go to the Outback Steakhouse. We met my family there to celebrate my cousin LV’s 20th birthday. It is a restaurant we seldom frequent as there is not a location near our home. On this night, our meat was dry and we were not overly impressed.

The highlight for me was that our party of fifteen pushed our waitress to the limit simply by being there. She spoke to us all night as if she was performing crisis intervention. It was good to see the family. LV’s son CWV sat at the head of the table and the hit of the night, especially for my mother.

My aunt supplied the dessert - cupcakes from Cities Cupcakes Boutique. This is a new, novelty bakery and gift shop that opened in May in a 1,250-square-foot space at 5201 Kingston Pike. It seems that there are now several businesses in Knoxville which specialize in simply cupcakes. They were a big hit. I refrained as it was a day early for me to be eating dessert.

On Sunday morning, Sunday School convened at RAW’s home. KJW was not there. RAW had been working in Inglewood, Tennessee, until after 10 pm the previous night so she stayed with her grandmother. I was able to send out a text message to inform the class of her absence. I did not want to be accused of false advertising.

Despite KJW’s absence, we had a great class if I do write so myself. We discussed among other things the ramifications had God appeared to Moses as a giant worm in Exdous 34. Believe it or not, this was not from WAM! As always, there is a WAM Quote of the Day posted.

On Sunday night, the Summer Breeze Bible Study convened in MLM’s basement. It had been a long time since I had been there. I taught on the hallowed ground that his son’s band The Big Tease used for rehearsal space.

We had a good adult contingency, but only one student arrived - HAS. In deference to this, I have dubbed my group “Holy Haley and the Heathens”. MLM and I have decided that we will conclude summer Bible Studies by mid-July in the future. Note: I took this picture of a disgruntled me to encourage the rest of you to allow me to take unflattering pictures of yourself for the blog.

In spite of the minimal attendance, we were all pleased with the session though this inconsiderate teacher droned on too long. It only hurt myself as it gave me less time on Sunday night with KJW.

As you probably guessed, after class I returned to RAW’s house where KJW, her parents and I watched an episode of Wonder Pets. For ther first time, we saw a part-time Wonder Pet named Ollie the Bunny. Afterwards, we flipped through the channels and RAW found the Colts first preseason NFL game. KJW said, “I don’t like this.” Since she usually likes basketball, we remarked that she must be more a hoops fan like her daddy. She then said, “No basketball.” Soon afterwards, she added, “How about Wonder Pets?” It was a good night.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Prayer Blog - 8/3/2008

MLM has requested prayer for a non-profit organization on which he serves on the board. Internal dysfunction has reached a point that one of the organization's prominent members had to be strongly persuaded to attend a retreat scheduled for tomorrow (August 4th). Pray that this schism is mended and for the organization’s future.

WAM Quote of the Day - 8/3/2008

WAM attended Sunday School this morning at RAW's house. Somehow the discussion made its way to beer. Thankfully, for once, I was not the instigator. RAW, who abhors beer in the first place mentioned that he especially does not like it with food. This prompted:

"Beer is a food in and of itself...all that always see these guys with all these beer fills them up pretty good."

Before this diatribe was over, WAM told a story about a customer he had while working at Taco Bell whose stomach looked "seriously like a basketball." I think my favorite part of this rant was that he used the word "yeast." I just find that word funny.