Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bible Trivia - 2/21/2009

Question: How many people altogether survived in Noah’s ark?

Answer: Eight. (Genesis 7:13)

Comments: Though numerous animals survived the Flood described in Genesis, only eight humans withstood the deluge: Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives. (Genesis 6-8)

On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark,14they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds. (Genesis 7:13-14, NASB)

Note: This oil on canvas, L’Arche de Noé (The Ark of Noah), was painted by Marc Chagall (1887-1985).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/20/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 20, 2009 · (09-23)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer
In this issue
CBF cuts spending by 20 percent, partners by 30 percent (695 words)
Survey: Crisis has some churches slashing budgets, more worried (707 words)
Baptist pastor convicted in Azerbaijan (520 words)
Lutheran task force proposes process to allow gay relationships for clergy (687 words)
Opinion: In vitro industry out of control (721 words)


CBF cuts spending by 20 percent, partners by 30 percent
By Bob Allen (695 words)

DECATUR, Ga. (ABP) -- Starting March 1, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will operate on a contingency spending plan that cuts staff salaries by 1 percent and reduces funding for theology schools and other CBF partner organizations by 30 percent.

The plan, adopted by the CBF advisory council and reported to the full CBF Coordinating Council Feb. 19-20, saves $5.5 million over the next 19 months.

Connie McNeill, the Fellowship's coordinator of administration, said the cutbacks anticipate a worst-case scenario of revenue projections during the current economic recession. Should the financial picture get brighter, she said, the cuts will be only temporary.

"You can imagine that these have been painful and thoughtful decisions," McNeill said. "We are fully aware of the possible implications to the entire Fellowship movement. We also know that we are held responsible by you to be good fiscal managers of CBF."

McNeill said no current CBF employees will lose their jobs in the contingency plan, but some vacant positions will not be filled. She said further staff reductions could come in the future, however.

Daniel Vestal, CBF's executive coordinator, is recovering from surgery and did not attend the meeting.

The plan cuts salaries by 1 percent across the board and decreases contributions to employees' retirement plans by 3 percent. It includes no raises in 2010, reduces travel by 20 percent and requires employees to reimburse CBF for personal use of their cell phones.

CBF has about 60 paid employees at its headquarters in Atlanta, along with 135 global-mission personnel in 29 countries. Thirty-five of those missionaries are CBF "affiliates," who are commissioned by CBF but provide or raise their own support.

The contingency plan also cuts funding for 15 theological schools and 17 other autonomous "partners" that receive part of their support through CBF. They include Associated Baptist Press, which stands to see its $110,000 annual CBF allocation -- about a fifth of its annual budget -- reduced by $33,000 in each of the next two budget years.

Jack Glasgow, CBF moderator, said receipts early in the fiscal year were about 79 percent of budget levels, prompting CBF to cut back spending to 80 percent of amounts approved in the 2008-2009 budget adopted at last year's General Assembly in Memphis, Tenn.
"This is a spending plan that is an effort to match our current spending with receipts, and it is based on the early-fiscal-year look at receipts," said Glasgow, pastor of Zebulon Baptist Church in Zebulon, N.C.

Glasgow said in an interview that partners would be cut at a higher level -- 30 percent instead of 20 percent -- because they have the possibility of making up the difference from other sources. "With partners and schools, CBF funding is a piece the funding," Glasgow said. "A 20 percent cut is a real 20 percent cut to us."

CBF leaders said they decided to tighten the belt now, rather than waiting for a crisis that could force even harder decisions down the road.

"We're trying to figure out how not to panic," said Colleen Burroughs, chair of the CBF finance committee. "Everybody in America is panicking right now. It's better to come up with a plan now to spend wisely on the front end rather than to panic on the back end."

Burroughs said if the economy rebounds and revenues increase, CBF can go back to spending at budget levels. Glasgow said any funding due partners and schools would be made up at the end of the year.

"We did not feel reserves were at a place where we could ignore this revenue shortfall," Glasgow said. He added that if revenues are lower than the contingency plan anticipates, such as 78 percent instead of 80 percent of budget levels, reserves could be tapped to make up the difference.

In other business, the Coordinating Council approved a $16,150,000 budget for 2009-2010. The contingency plan continues into that budget year, however, meaning that unless revoked the new budget will start out with spending at 80 percent.
The proposed budget, to be presented for approval at the CBF General Assembly July 2-3 in Houston, is 2 percent lower than the $16.5 million originally budgeted for 2008-2009.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Survey: Crisis has some churches slashing budgets, more worried
By Robert Marus (707 words)

DALLAS (ABP) -- Churches that aren't cutting their budgets due to the economic downturn are, by and large, taking measures to curb expenses, according to a survey the National Association of Church Business Administration has done of its members.

The organization -- the professional society for church administrators of all denominations -- released the study Feb. 20. It found that 57 percent of the congregations represented by members surveyed had experienced a slowdown in contributions.

Thirty-two percent of the churches' administrators said the dip was "not common for our congregation this time of year," while 25 percent could not say for certain whether the downturn was due to the economy.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of the respondents said their churches were "doing okay" but "not seeing strong growth in financial support." Twelve percent said their giving was "strong" and continuing to grow, while only 1 percent said their financial support was "very strong."

Twenty percent of the respondents said their churches had been forced to lay off employees and 26 percent said they had postponed a major capital project. Nearly half -- 47 percent -- said they had reduced or frozen staff compensation packages.

Phill Martin is NACBA's deputy chief executive and a veteran Baptist church administrator. He said the 32 percent of members who believed the economy had definitely affected their congregations was much higher than the 14 percent who thought so when they answered a similar survey in August.

"I think we are starting to see more pain felt -- although nothing like in the private sector," Martin, who is also a member of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, said.

Martin noted that it is often more difficult for churches than businesses or secular non-profits to judge whether the economy is responsible for a dip in contributions or if it owes to some other factor, such as church conflict or the a lack of a pastor.

"Our local ABC [TV] affiliate came and asked me to give them the names of five churches in [economic] trouble," he said. "But I can give you five churches in trouble when the economy's in good shape."

He also noted the differences in local economic effects are causing differences between metropolitan areas and regions of the country in how particular churches fare.

"If we look at North Dallas, things are pretty good," he said Feb. 19, noting he had just come from a meeting with 40 local church administrators and that they simply "had a good dialogue" about the state of the economy. "But [members of] our chapter in Phoenix are really struggling because so many people there have lost their jobs because of downsizing."

That's the case in Dalton, Ga., a small city about an hour northwest of Atlanta where floor-covering manufacturers dominate the local economy.

"There have been layoffs in almost all of the major carpet companies located in Dalton," said Debra Haney, administrator at First Baptist Church of Dalton. "These layoffs have been necessary due to reduced need for floor covering. Of course, this need is directly tied to the declining housing market."

Haney said the church has cut its 2009 budget by more than 11 percent -- across all budget categories and including reductions in working hours for some staff.

Bill Wilson, the church's pastor, is a member of the Associated Baptist Press board of directors.

The cuts may only be the beginning. The economy shows no obvious signs of a quick recovery, and many economists are predicting a multi-year recession.

Martin pointed to a study by the Christian research organization Empty Tomb, Inc., showing that there has not necessarily been a correlation between nationwide recessions and declines in annual per-capita giving to churches in the last 40 years.

However, Martin noted, between 1968 and 2005, church giving declined in three of the 10 years that showed one month or more of economic contraction. Out of those three years of drops in church giving, two were the last year of recessions that stretched over multiple years.

"What I got out of that is that a lot of times multi-year recessions tend to catch up with the church; they're not instantly affected," he said. "And so I think it is a wise caution that churches are displaying."

Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.

Baptist pastor convicted in Azerbaijan
By ABP staff (520 words)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) -- A Baptist pastor in the South Caucasus country of Azerbaijan has been found guilty of what supporters say are bogus weapons charges and given "a two-year corrective labor sentence," according to a worldwide Baptist group.

The Virginia-based Baptist World Alliance announced Feb. 20 that Hamid Shabanov, who pastors a house church of approximately 60 members in the town of Aliabad, had been convicted. He was arrested on June 20, 2008, after police claimed to have found an illegal weapon in his home after a raid.

Denying the allegations against Shabanov, and claiming that the weapon was planted by the police, Baptist Union of Azerbaijan General Secretary Elnur Jabiyev said the arrest "was a provocation by the police" and that it was "a deliberately targeted action," according to a BWA press release. Jabiyev claimed "the police's aim is to halt Baptist activity and close the church in Aliabad."

"I will continue to fight against this sentence and to clear my name," Shabanov said after his Feb. 11 conviction. The two-year labor sentence is equivalent to eight months in prison. Thus Shabanov, who has already spent more than seven months in detention or under house arrest, will not be locked up. He was ordered to pay a fine to cover the remainder of the sentence.

After his arrest, the trial against Shabanov began on July 22, 2008, but the case was referred back to the prosecutor by the judge on July 29 for further investigation. Another hearing was called on Aug. 22 without the knowledge of Shabanov, his lawyer or family. This hearing extended his detention by a further two months, which ended on Oct. 21.

The trial was scheduled to begin on Oct. 28. But it did not begin -- despite his lawyer traveling 450 kilometers (280 miles) from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku -- because police failed to bring Shabanov from jail to the court.

In addition, neither the pastor's family nor lawyer had received a copy of the indictment against him. "They haven't even given us the case materials," Shabanov's lawyer said.

After another hearing on Jan. 26, Shabanov's trial began on Feb. 4 and the verdict was handed down Feb. 11.

Shabanov is the second Baptist pastor in Aliabad to be convicted of a crime. Zaur Balaev was arrested in May 2007 and given a two -ear sentence after being convicted in August of that year for beating up five policemen and damaging a police car door.

Members of Balaev's church and residents in the town also disputed the charges against Balaev, who was released in March 2008 after protests from officials of the BWA, the European Baptist Federation and former United States President Jimmy Carter.

The EBF, one of six regional fellowships of the BWA, led a delegation to Azerbaijan in January to meet with government, diplomatic, and religious leaders, partly in response to the cases against Balaev and Shabanov.

Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority country, gained its independence after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. There are 22 Baptist churches and 3,000 baptized believers in the country of 8.7 million people.

Lutheran task force proposes process to allow gay relationships for clergy
By Robert Marus (687 words)

CHICAGO (ABP) -- An ad hoc panel for one of the nation's largest Protestant bodies is recommending a four-part process to begin allowing members of its clergy to live openly in committed same-sex relationships.

But both supporters and opponents of gay rights in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America expressed mixed reviews of the Feb. 19 proposal by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality.

The denomination represents nearly 5 million Lutherans in centrist-to-liberal congregations nationwide.

The proposal is divided into two main parts: First, a proposed "social statement" that affirms the multiple "conscience-bound" views of ELCA members on the propriety of monogamous same-sex relationships, to be voted on by the denomination's Churchwide Assembly, scheduled for Minneapolis in August.

Second, the task force recommended a four-step process for beginning to allow the "rostering," or official denominational recognition, of clergy members in monogamous gay relationships. The recommendation also will be voted on during the Minneapolis assembly.

The first step would be an affirmation that the assembly "is committed to finding ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

If it were to fail, the rest of the proposals would die. But if it passed, the assembly would then be asked to affirm recommendations that the church allow rostering of partnered gay clergy, in good faith respect the consciences of those who disagree and finally create a process for allowing such rostering while allowing exceptions for congregations, synods and bishops who do not want to act in ways they view as affirming homosexual behavior.

It stopped short of recommending specific marriage rites or liturgies for same-sex unions in the church.

A group that supports full equality for gay Lutherans praised most of the recommendations, but expressed reservations about churches or clergy from areas with conservative bishops.

"Clearly, the Lutheran Church has ample room for conscience-bound opposition, but that ought to lie at the congregational level," said Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned North America, in a press release issued in reaction to the task force's recommendations.

"[T]he recommendations provide for a framework in which congregations, synods, candidacy committees and bishops may discriminate at will against ministers and candidates in a same-gender relationship," Eastwood said. "In the ELCA, congregations retain the right to call the minister of their choosing from approved rosters of the whole church. The recommendations could restrict a congregation's ability to call a well-suited minister in a same-gender relationship. Candidates in locations with unsupportive leadership could be denied candidacy."

A conservative group of ELCA leaders, meanwhile, expressed strong opposition to the task force's recommendations as well as the proposed social statement.

"When any church finds itself accommodating its teachings to the ways of the culture, that church is in trouble," said Erma Wolf, a Lutheran minister from Brandon, S.D., in a statement released by Lutheran CORE. The group opposes gay equality in the ELCA.

"In these documents the ELCA would accommodate itself to the demands of our culture that the desires and needs of individuals trump everything else," Wolf, vice chair of the Lutheran CORE steering committee, continued. "The exceptions become the rule, until finally there are no rules. That movement is happening in a number of areas, including human sexual relations. But no church has the authority to overturn the Word of God that protects sexual relations by placing them properly in the structure of marriage, and establishes marriage as being between male and female."

The task force report builds on an earlier set of recommendations. In 2007, the church asked its bishops to refrain from enforcing the previous policy barring gay ministers in same-sex relationships pending the outcome of the task force's study. Earlier that year, an Atlanta pastor was defrocked after announcing to Lutheran officials that he was living in a same-sex relationship.

The ELCA's approximately 4.8 million members are spread throughout the country but concentrated most heavily in the Midwest. Two much smaller Lutheran denominations -- the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod -- are far more conservative on issues such as homosexuality and women in leadership.

Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.

Opinion: In vitro industry out of control
By David Gushee (721 words)

(ABP) -- In January, a California woman named Nadya Suleman gave birth to octuplets through in vitro fertilization. These eight babies were added to six others that Suleman had also conceived through in vitro procedures.

Nadya Suleman is an extreme example of a growing trend. The reproductive-technology industry is booming, with over 130,000 procedures and 50,000 births a year, up from around 65,000 procedures and just below 20,000 births a little over a decade ago. Almost 90 percent of in vitro procedures involve transferring more than one embryo; nearly a third of in vitro live births involve multiple children; 2 percent of them involve triplets or more. And these multiple births often come with health consequences such as the need for long-term care due to low birth weights and various disabilities. Sometimes these long-term expenses are paid by the taxpayer.

Demand for in vitro and other reproductive technologies is driven from a number of directions. Infertility rates among couples seeking children now stand at over 10%, due to social and environmental factors. Single and divorced women, and some men, also have turned to the industry in search of the children they cannot have any other way. The breakdown of marriage has produced more and more people in such situations.

The reproductive-technology industry is almost entirely unregulated. Professional standards for the industry are primarily framed as guidelines and not enforced by law. For example, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine established a guideline, not a rule, that doctors should transfer no more than two embryos for women under 35, and no more than five (!) for women over that age. But this is just a guideline, and even statistical reporting of what fertility clinics are doing is voluntary.

As a competitive industry, reproductive clinics must sell themselves based on their results. The bottom line is that people are desperate to make babies. Implanting multiple embryos, it has been believed, increases the likelihood that at least one will survive to birth. It is therefore in the business interest of fertility clinics to do whatever maximizes their live birth rate. Meanwhile, the expense of these procedures motivates patients to make the most of every round of in vitro fertilization.

The spate of well-publicized multiple births appears at least partially related to a striking paradox -- conservative religious believers who do not believe in wasting, destroying, or "selectively reducing" the embryos from their in vitro processes. These are people whose religious beliefs do not prohibit them from intervening via technology in the procreative process, but do prohibit them from destroying embryos once they have been produced. It makes for an uneasy combination of tradition and innovation, of ancient beliefs partially adapted to contemporary medical practices.

Certainly reproductive technologies have brought into the world hundreds of thousands of children much loved by their families. No one can or should question that. In a society in which over a million babies are aborted each year, it is heartening that the desire to give birth to new life still runs so deep in so many.

But this industry needs better regulation. Federal law is required to establish basic professional standards for the industry in areas such as physician training, reporting and practices. I would like to see a healthy debate on a ban of the transfer of more than two embryos, as well as on "selective reduction." Any reform of our health-care and health-insurance system requires consideration of the cost and value of these procedures.

Meanwhile, Christian ethics has work to do. While Roman Catholic ethics officially has rejected any technological intervention in the procreative process, Protestant ethics has tended to offer an uncritical blessing, to try to suggest a few caveats or limits, and mainly to say nothing. A handful of recent younger ethicists and social critics have begun exploring the deeper implications of this increasingly massive industry. But this analysis hasn't really filtered to the grass roots. Most local-church pastors have little background or training to help couples and families think through the theological, financial, and moral issues raised by the reproductive-technology choices they are presented with when they face fertility problems.

Absent any serious reflection or guidance from their churches, many of our people gradually wander into the thicket of reproductive technology without a guide. The churches must do better. Our nation must do better.

David Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University.

Word of the Day - 2/20/2009

Natation

Natation is an act or the skill of swimming.

The only time Biblical characters engage in natation occurs when Paul and his companions are shipwrecked in Acts 27.

but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention, and commanded that those who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land,(Acts 27:43, NASB)

All of those involved in the shipwreck made it successfully to shore.

Note: This illustration of the shipwreck in Acts 27 was painted by Gustave Doré (1832-1883).

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/20/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Thursday, February 19th, 2009

-On Thursday night, I attended Bible Study at Fellowship Evangelical Free Church. The class I attended is entitled “I Corinthians: The Christian’s Guide for Living in a Hostile World” and meets from 7 PM-8:15 PM in the Fellowship Prayer Chapel. On this night, Dr. Kevin Huggins taught on I Corinthians 4. I highly recommend this group.

-After briefly visiting JTH at MoFoS I picked up soup at Panera Bread for KLTW, RAW, and myself. They had requested I bring the warm soup as they were having a bonfire outside.

-After getting the food, I joined the Walkers and MPW in RAW’s backyard for the fire. KJW was having her usual Thursday night slumber party at her aunt PWC’s home. I love the child but prefer bonfires without her as the combination of KJW and fire makes me nervous. Case in point: KLTW, a grown up, actually melted some of her shoe by sticking it too close to the fire.

-Having not known of this plan when I left the house, KLTW provided me with a jacket and toboggan to wear. KLTW wore the Barack Obama beanie I picked her up in DC. The coolest item used on this day was a cup that lit up in different colors. One of RAW’s customers at Best Buy had done promotional work for Ziggy Marley and gave it to him.

-I enjoyed the hours I spent talking to my friends but to be honest, I have never understood the draw of sitting outside in the freezing cold to do so. That’s why God invented heating units.

-Finally, Thursday was my high school friend CAR’s birthday. I never forget you, Courtney!

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/20/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

-On Wednesday night, KJW, MPW, RAW, and I watched the Tennessee basketball game at RAW’s home. JTH and ALK joined us for the second half and KLTW arrived just as the game was ending. They did not miss much.

-When I arrived, KJW and RAW were eating pasta. KJW loves pasta (see above) but on this night decided to be obstinate about not finishing her meal (see left). Thankfully, her foul mood was short-lived. I attribute this in part to her father and I never caving in to pouting. Unfortunately, I do, however, cave in to cuteness. (You will note KJW was the only one who wore orange for the game.)

-The Vols played Ole Miss in Oxford. The game was broadcast by Raycom Sports. For the first time on the station, the game was shot in High Definition.

-The Rebels blew open a two-point half time lead (34-32) by beginning the second half with a 16-3 run. The Vols never really challenged after that. Tennessee shot horribly, missing 33 of 57 shots from the floor and 13 free throws. The final score was 81-65.

-While Ole Miss’s overall record of 14-11 is not especially impressive, they are 11-2 at home. Despite the loss and the Vols’ disappointing season, they finished the day in a four-way tie atop the SEC East standings. They are 7-4 in conference play.

-While the game was disappointing, KJW was as entertaining as ever. As she struggled to vie for attention with the game, she brought out a series of props. She carted out three Mylar Valentine’s balloons. Asked where she got them, she replied, “In my room.” When we were more specific in our questioning, we learned they were bought by her aunt, PWC.

-Later she gave us some of her mother’s Valentine’s flowers. When asked if she stole her mommy’s flowers she denied it. She was sharing.

-After the game, JTH, ALK, and I ate at Applebees where AFH was our waitress. We had just missed Amy (another frequent waitress) and her children. Amy’s daughter, Emma, followed the manager (Marsha) around the restaurant and made $7 in tips!

-We also learned that the store’s other manager, JL, was feeling better and scheduled to return to work on Thursday. (See this February 15th Prayer Blog for details.) After being mis-diagnosed in the emergency room, it seems he had a bacterial infection.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prayer Blog - 2/19/2009

Tonight while at Bible Study at Fellowship Evangelical Free Church, I met a girl named Deanna who is seeking employment as a lawyer. She is the only person one company is talking to and one of three finalist with two other firms. A great deal of her wait involves seeing how the federal bailout money will be distributed. Please keep Deanna and all of those seeking work in this economic crisis in your prayers.

Word of the Day - 2/19/2009

Docent

A docent is a college or university lecturer.

Among Paul's vast credentials was the fact that he studied under the legendary docent, Gamaliel.

"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today." (Acts 22:3, NASB)

Note: This image of Gamaliel's counsel (see Acts 5) comes from Volume 10 of The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer and published by Francis R. Niglutsch in 1910.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/18/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 18, 2009 · (09-22)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
SBC Executive Committee postpones vote on ouster of Broadway Baptist Church (680 words)
Baptists gather in Rome for peace conference (375 words)
FCC to churches: Don't throw out your wireless mics -- yet (378 words)
Opinion: Faith versus science?

SBC Executive Committee postpones vote on ouster of Broadway Baptist
By Bob Allen (680 words)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee has asked a Texas church to clarify its views on homosexuality before determining whether its toleration of gay members violates a constitutional ban on churches that "act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior."

A motion referred to the committee by the SBC last June seeks to declare Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth "not to be in friendly cooperation" with the denomination.

While the original motion did not state the cause of the action, SBC leaders interpreted it to be in response to news stories about a controversy within the congregation over whether to allow same-sex couples to be photographed together in a church directory. Rather than vote up or down, the church opted for a compromise that used candid photos of members instead of separate family portraits to illustrate the membership.

The full Executive Committee voted unanimously and without discussion Feb. 17 for a recommendation "that the study of whether Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, should continue to be considered to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention, and further inquiries and continued communications with the church be made, with the goal of arriving at an appropriate report to the convention at its June 2009 annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky."

The vote came after long discussions in two subcommittees open to the press under background rules forbidding direct quotation or attribution.

In written correspondence with the Executive Committee, church leaders said members hold a "variety of views" on homosexuality, but the church has not acted in a way that violates the constitutional membership requirement.

Several Executive Committee members said the church's clear declaration that it does not affirm homosexuality seemed in tension with the admission that five of its 1,400 church members are openly gay and two of the five are assigned to a committee.

The Executive Committee asked the church to provide more information about the congregation's views on homosexuality and the church before it reports back to the convention on the referred motion at the SBC annual meeting in June.

Church leaders appealed to Southern Baptist leaders to help them to get past a number of difficult issues troubling the church, adding that homosexuality isn't one of the major ones.

"We are not a church where homosexuality is a defining issue," church leaders said in a letter. "While we extend Christian hospitality to anyone -- including homosexuals -- we do not endorse, approve or affirm homosexual behavior."

The SBC, the nation's second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics, changed its constitution in 1993 to exclude churches that are welcoming and affirming of gays. In the past, the amendment has been interpreted to apply to churches that take some formal action, like ordaining or licensing a gay minister or conducting a ceremony to bless a same-sex union.

In 2006, an SBC-affiliated state convention with a similar policy said a church could be expelled for simply being perceived as affirming homosexual behavior.

The next scheduled meeting of the Executive Committee is June 22, just prior to the SBC annual meeting scheduled June 23-24.

If Broadway Baptist Church is disfellowshipped, it will have implications for four of its active members who teach at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, including the church's choir director and Sunday morning worship leader. Southwestern requires all full-time faculty members to belong to a Southern Baptist church.

"We are pleased that we were received so graciously," Lyn Robbins, a Broadway member and the church's general counsel, said after the vote. "We believe that we are in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. Our purpose here today was to express that and also to share who Broadway is and what we are about."

Robbins said the church members at the meeting would relay the Executive Committee's request for more information back to the church, and he anticipates Broadway will be willing to have more communication.

"Nothing happened today that makes me believe that we cannot reach a conclusion that will be in the best interest of both Broadway and the SBC," he said.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Baptists gather in Rome for peace conference
By ABP staff (375 words)

ROME (ABP) -- Baptists active in non-violent struggles for justice convened Feb. 9-14 in Italy for a conference aimed at strengthening the Baptist peacemaking witness around the world.

Between 300 and 400 Christians, many from troubled and war-torn regions who had to struggle just to be there, gathered for worship, addresses, storytelling, training and encouragement at the Global Baptist Peace Conference. Though sponsored by Baptists, the conference was open to people from other denominations as well.

Plenary speakers included Anna Maffei, a conference planner and president of the Unione Cristiana Evangelica Battista d'Italia (Italian Baptist Union.) She spoke about the effects of violence on children in virtually every country in the world.

"There are 50 countries currently in armed conflict, but I do not think it is only 50 countries who have declared war on children," Maffei said.

She contrasted those who plan conflicts and violence as looking down from above and "playing God" instead of seeing the world from below as the victims do and as Jesus chose to do.

"We need to stop playing God and become human beings again," Maffei said.

Gustavo Parajón, a Baptist pastor and physician in Nicaragua, described trauma in his country resulting from conflict between the Sandinista government that led Nicaragua between 1979 and 1990 and the United States-backed Contra forces who opposed them. A leader in mediation efforts between the two parties, Parajón described of the church's non-violent witness that helped transform armed conflict into peaceful resolution.

Workshops covered topics ranging from a theology of peace to environmental concerns.

The conference concluded with a worship service at Rome's oldest Protestant congregation, the Waldensian Church, where the Italian Baptist Union has its headquarters.

It was the fifth international peace conference for Baptists held in the last 20 years. Previous conferences were in Sweden (1988), Nicaragua (1992), and Australia (2000.)

Sponsors of the 2009 gathering included the Italian Baptist Union, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, International Ministries of American Baptist Churches USA, Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

From Rome, the BPFNA delegation headed for a Feb. 12-March 2 friendship tour to the Holy Land, visiting sites in Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, with transit through Syria.

-- Katie Cook for Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America contributed to this report, which included information from a blog by Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

FCC to churches: Don't throw out your wireless mics -- yet
By Norman Jameson (378 words)

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Churches: Don't throw out your wireless microphones -- yet.

With the shift of the nation's broadcast communications from analog to digital, early indications were that wireless microphones might become outdated or even illegal.

A Federal Communications Commission official said Feb. 17 that rules were still being written to address those issues, even though Feb. 17 was the original day the switch was to be made.

The national deadline for switching to digital broadcast is now June 12. Television stations in some smaller markets made the switch by the original deadline and there will be a "rolling" switchover, said the official who spoke only on condition that he not be identified.

He said rules governing the digital channels that microphones would use will be finalized "soon," which he defined as "in the coming days and weeks."

The background: Signals broadcast through the air occupy a specific band or channel. Digital signals can be compressed much more efficiently and they occupy less air space, or fewer channels. Consequently, a national switch to digital opens space, into which will slide new commercial and public digital services, including "interoperable" radios that will put fire, police, rescue and emergency response services on equipment through which they can talk with each other.

Recent large-scale disasters have exposed major difficulties in communication and coordination for response teams in ways that have proven catastrophic.

While television stations occupied the spectrum in channels 2-69, the digital compression is packing them into channels 2-51. Now new services and the interoperable systems will locate in channels 52-69, the empty space in which many church wireless-microphone systems operated. The government auctioned that air space for $20 billion.

Church wireless-microphone systems will need to find a home in channels 51 and below. That availability varies city by city, depending on what other services are there.

It actually is not the microphones that will be out of date, but the transmitters that send the signal to the amplifier. Some can be reconfigured. Others will be no good. Churches will generally have more flexibility if their sound-system equipment is new or high-end.

The equipment manufacturer should be able to help local-church audio crews, as well as help them with what channels are vacant in their areas, the FCC official said.

Norman Jameson is editor of the Biblical Recorder, the newspaper of North Carolina Baptists.

Opinion: Faith versus science?
By Marv Knox (678 words)

(ABP) -- Talk about a pointless war. The battle between faith and science just doesn't make sense.

The whole world seems to be thinking about the relationship of science and religious faith this week, as we mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. (In fact, the Baptist Standard and our New Voice Media partners recently prepared an entire package of articles on Darwin, evolution and the varieties of creationism, which you can read on this website.) Nothing this side of Galileo has inflamed so many Christians as Darwin's evolutionary tome, On the Origin of Species.

Still, I must confess: I just don't "get" the fight between religion and science or faith and reason.

Missing the point

Oh, I understand the arguments. Some Christians feel threatened by the scientific assertion that the world came to be as it is through natural selection and an infinite number of mutations. On the other side, some scientists feel Christians who disagree with them willfully ignore plain evidence of observation. (I know those are gross oversimplifications, but I'm just pointing to the parameters. This is a column, not a book.)

It's just that the folks who argue most stridently miss the point -- not only of their adversaries' purpose, but of their own.

The faith/reason or religion/science debate would go away if people simply acknowledged the role of each.

God & science in creation

Take creation -- please.

The Bible's account in the Book of Genesis seeks to explain the "Who?" and "why?" of creation. In the beginning, God launched the process that resulted in humanity because God desired a loving, reciprocal relationship with other sentient beings. Genesis offers two accounts of creation (in the first two chapters) that do not specifically harmonize with each other, much less current approaches to science and history. But they reinforce the Who and why of creation.

Science, on the other hand, seeks to explain the "what?" and the "how?" Darwin proposed a model for explaining how the species as we currently find them came to be. Both before and certainly ever since, scientists have been proposing and testing hypotheses to demonstrate the chemical and biological processes that bring them along.

Two purposes

So, religion and science have two different purposes. No amount of logic must deduce they oppose each other. They're asking different questions, which lead to different answers, but not necessarily contradictory answers.

Religion errs when it seeks to dictate the range of answers science can discover. Science errs when it claims all its answers are final, and nothing -- or, more specifically, no One -- lies behind them.

I've been listening to this debate my whole life, and I've decided I'm a Christian who's comfortable with theistic evolution. The Bible -- my authoritative guide for faith and practice -- tells me God is the Who behind creation and God's love is the why. Science seeks to explain how life developed on Earth through the millennia.

Annoyed and/or embarrassed

Sometimes, atheistic evolutionists annoy me. They overstep their bounds, confident that because they feel they have good answers for the what and how of creation, they do not need a Who or why. But more than annoy me, they make me sad. For when they close their minds to the possibilities outside their sphere, they also close their hearts to a relationship with the God of love, Who has transformed my life and filled it with meaning and purpose. I feel sorry for them.

Almost always, however, hard-line creationists embarrass me. I guess it's because we're fellow believers, part of the same family. Your kinfolk can humiliate you far more intently than neighbors and people you don't even know. Their arrogance is bad enough, but their lack of faith is worse. They think they've figured out how God did creation, and they deny the possibility of any other process. Don't you see the irony? They become the ones who would limit God.

And worse still, their stridency, anger and mean-spiritedness gives God a bad name and drives unbelievers away. That never was God's divine plan for creation.

Marv Knox is editor of the Texas Baptist Standard. This column is adapted from a Feb. 12 entry on his blog, FaithWorks.

Prayer Blog - 2/18/2009, Part 2

Yesterday, church member JMT's father fell and broke his hip. He will be recuperating in a nursing home for three months. Please keep him in your prayers.

Prayer Blog - 2/18/2009

When I picked up my lunch order at the Silver Spoon Café today, my good friend and bartender, LMF, requested prayer for her son Jared (JDF). He has been experiencing panic attacks which she thinks is the result of nervousness about going back to school for his senior year. Please keep JDF in your prayers.

Word of the Day - 2/18/2009

Imbrue

To imbrue is to stain.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God informed the Israelites that they had imbrued themselves with a stain that could not be cleansed by soap.

“Although you wash yourself with lye
And use much soap,
The stain of your iniquity is before Me,” declares the Lord GOD. (Jeremiah 2:22, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/18/2009, Part 3

News & Notes from Tuesday, February 17th, 2009, Part 2

-On Tuesday night, I ate with KLTW and KJW at Mangia Pizza & More. I tried the pepperoni stromboli and it was awesome.

-When we pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, KJW informed, “I want to sit by you.” KLTW told her that she had planned to seat her at the table next to us. KJW objected and KLTW told her she could only sit at our table if she promised there would be no shenanigans. KJW agreed.

-As I got KJW out of her car seat I instructed her that we would need to work fast as it was raining. She advised me: “Maybe you should use my umbrella.” We did. I am fairly sure she just wanted to play with the Dora the Explorer item.

-KJW had spent the day at preschool where she participated in a Valentine’s day party. She enjoyed it but there was an incident. KLTW had her tell me the story by asking, “What did mommy put on you?” KJW immediately responded, “A tiger...but I don’t want it!” It seems one of the boys in her class gave her a Valentine that included a small tiger tattoo. KLTW placed it on KJW’s arm and she freaked out. Somewhere, KJW’s grandmother was very proud.

-As we left we selected a pizza for RAW and then picked him up from work at Best Buy. KJW said that she wanted to eat the pizza too. KLTW asked her if she thought her daddy would share with her. She said yes because it was the nice thing to do. I do not think anyone could have denied her request at that moment.

-Finally, in some sad news, one of KJW’s fish, Dwight, has gone “to see Jesus.” Only one of KJW’s original three fish is still living. KLTW believes that Dwight’s death was due to a filter that is designed to be changed every four to six weeks not having been changed in the half-year they owned the fish. This was not intentional. The tank has two filters and one lasts significantly longer than the first. KLTW thinks the fish were oxygen deprived as the surviving fish, Tang, appears to be brain damaged, running into the walls of the aquarium. Please do not report my friends to the ASPCA.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/18/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Tuesday, February 17th, 2009, Part 1

-I spent a large part of Tuesday getting my paperwork in order at UT. (See the February 12th Prayer Blog for details.) I received a phone call from JRH at 8:34 AM alerting me that the form which I re-filed on Monday had been misfiled as a Master’s Program! I drove to campus and submitted yet another change of program form. Soon afterwards, I received a call saying that they needed an official transcript from the McAfee School of Theology before the form could be process. Thankfully, I was in a meeting and did not received this call as the transcript was found just a short time later. They have also found my GRE scores since the February 12th phone call indicated they too had been lost. After dealing with several offices at UT, I called JRH at 3:37 PM and as of that time, all of my paperwork is in order. How long it stays that way remains to be seen.

-At 3 PM, I met with Dr. WDS at his church, First Baptist Church, Knoxville downtown. I parked in the church’s lot on Locust Street and found this sign threatening to tow trespassers humorous. The lot is downtown so I understand the necessity of such a policy, but I found the sign strange for a church to display.

-I arrived early for the meeting. After I was buzzed into the building, I looked around. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Photos of every pastor in the church’s long history are displayed in a hallway. The church is so old that many of the early pastors sported thick moustaches, a la the Deadwood television series. WDS did not seem too impressed with my suggestion that he bring that look back.

-I met with WDS for approximately half an hour. It was grueling as he peppered me with hard questions that were completely necessary given the nature of the conversation. His church is seeking an administrator and otherwise is in no position to hire anyone but he graciously offered to send my resume to his friends. He accurately assessed that getting my name “out there” is critical at this juncture.

-As always, please keep my educational and professional future in your prayers.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/18/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Monday, February 16th, 2009

-On Monday night, I picked JTH up from MoFoS. He had worked there all day as the daycare was closed for President’s Day. He covered the store manager's shift as his kids were out of school. Before hitting the road, we dropped JTH’s truck off as he did not want the vehicle to get defaced again as part of a prank. (Note: This is JTH forcing TJK to assist him in yet another superfluous project.)

-JTH and I ate at Gerald’s Smokehouse in Lenoir City (located at 501 Hwy 321 N) for the first time. The restaurant is a small brick building that has been family owned and operated since 1991. It is directly off of the main drag in Lenoir City. Photos of the Lady Vol basketball team adorned the walls, including signed photos from when the team dined there. A major motion picture, That Evening Sun (originally titled I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down), filmed scenes in the restaurant last year. The movie, starring Hal Holbrook, will be released in 2009.

-It appeared like a barbeque joint so JTH ordered a barbeque sandwich and hush puppies. I ordered the prime rib sandwich and potato wedges. The food was great. If you are ever in Lenoir City, I highly recommend this quaint little diner.

-After eating, JTH and I picked up MPW at his condo and we headed to the Christian Academy of Knoxville (CAK) to watch the CAK Warriors play basketball against the Berean Christian School. I had run into church member and CAK player ESN at the Tennessee basketball game the previous Saturday and he told me of the game. The guys and I decided to go to support him. Despite the school being located 2.31 miles from MPW’s condo, neither he nor I had ever been on its campus.

-We arrived and sat in front of DKN, ESN’s father, and DKN's sister, whom we had not previously met. I expected the two Christian schools to start a brawl as in my experience I have found that Christians competing in basketball tends to be less Christian than about anything on the planet. I was pleasantly surprised. Christian music played from the p.a. and a prayer was said prior to the game. Former Bearden High girl’s coach Richard Cowan (CRC) operated the microphone while he ate.

-ESN’s mother and sister were on vacation in Florida but we did get to chat with his older brother, AN. AN is a senior at CAK. He and the team’s other upperclassmen quit the basketball team due to a dispute with the coach. AN has finalized his college choices to Auburn and Clemson with Auburn in the lead. DKN's family is from Gadsden and his aunt was very pleased with this decision. He and his friends played “Gotcha!” at halftime. Sadly, this was a better halftime show than anything seen at the UT men’s games all season.

-On Friday night, when I watched Bearden play, I saw the best high school basketball team I have ever seen. On this night, I saw the worst. The Berean Eagles are absolutely horrid. At halftime, CAK led 30-6. ESN had eight points and had outscored the opponent single handedly. CAK is playing with all freshman and sophomores and has won just four games all season. Still, even resting their starters in the fourth quarter, they won 66-21 over Berean!

-I wish there was a Knoxville team that used Lions as the mascot so they could play CAK. Then the Christians could play the Lions...

-ESN was very impressive. He is the team’s leading scorer and at 6'4", he plays forward though he could just as easily play the point. He could have accrued a triple double had his teammates converted some brilliant passes. The team had a big game the following night and the coach rested his starters in the fourth quarter. After not resting during the game, ESN finally sat down with 6:01 remaining after having scored 12 points. DKN admitted his son would have been more selfish against a more quality opponent.

-The game was short and we were glad to have supported one of the many great kids at the church.

-Also on Monday, I had a positive check up with the Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center. I was given free samples. I learned that Astelin is being replaced by a new product, Astepro. Remember, you heard it here first.

-Finally, Monday was ANDR’s birthday. Happy birthday, Amber.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Word of the Day - 2/17/2009

Fulgurate

To fulgurate is to flash or dart like lightning.

Moses raised his staff and fire fulgurated from the sky. This fire preceeded the hail that would become the seventh of ten plagues that maligned Egypt.

Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt. (Exodus 9:23, NASB)

Note: This digital artwork of the seventh plague was created by Ted Larson.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 2/16/2009

Associated Baptist Press
February 16, 2009 · (09-21)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
Arkansas House passes bill allowing guns in church (288 words)
Pastor says faith sustaining family of pilot in deadly plane crash (470 words)
Service central to becoming externally focused church (1,210 words)
Simple steps lead to 'next-level' ministry to communities (451 words)
Contact with global partners gave church expanded vision (380 words)
Basketball player at Baptist university suspended after altercation (307 words)


Arkansas House passes bill allowing guns in church
By Bob Allen (288 words)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (ABP) -- The Arkansas House of Representatives approved a bill Feb. 11 that would allow people with concealed-weapon permits to bring their guns to church.

The bill, approved by the House by a vote of 57-42, now goes to the state Senate. If passed, it would amend to state's gun laws to remove "any church or other place of worship" from a list of places where firearms are currently banned.

Rep. Beverly Pyle (R-Cedarville) said she introduced the measure, which has 14 co-sponsors, in response to a series of church shootings across the country.

"It is time we changed our concealed-handgun law to allow law-abiding citizens of the state of Arkansas the right to defend themselves and others should a situation happen in one of our churches," Pyle said, according to the Associated Press.

Proponents of the bill point to incidents like the 2007 shooting at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., where a gunman killed two and wounded three others before he was shot down by an armed security guard while heading toward an auditorium packed with 7,000 worshipers.

Opponents say it flies in the face of the centuries-old tradition of the church as a "sanctuary" free from the fear of violence.

Drew Smith, director of international programs at Henderson State University and a Baptist minister, called House passage of the bill "a hasty and tragic response to our need to feel safe everywhere we go."

If the bill passes into law, Smith said in his blog, "I would hope that faithful Christians and faithful churches would reject the need to arm themselves, reject the attempt to create false security, and most importantly, reject violence and the system that promotes it as necessary."

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


Pastor says faith sustaining family of pilot in deadly plane crash
By Bob Allen (470 words)

LUTZ, Fla. (ABP) -- The pilot of a deadly plane crash Feb. 12 in upstate New York was a Southern Baptist.

Marvin Renslow, captain of the Continental Connection commuter flight that went down and crashed into a home while trying to land at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, attended First Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla.. The 900-member congregation is affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention.

Alan Burner, an associate pastor at the church, read a statement from the Renslow family.

"They're very proud of Marvin's accomplishments as a pilot," Burner said. "They know that he did everything that he could to save as many lives as he could, even in the accident."

He continued, "They want you to know that their faith is that God is sovereign and God is in control even when it seems that everything is out of control.

"They want you to know that their faith, their trust, their hope is in the Lord, the one true and living God," he said. They know -- through their faith -- that life does not end on this earth, but life continues as believers with God in heaven. They know that Marvin's physical life as ended, but his eternal life has just begun."

All 49 people aboard the aircraft perished in the fiery crash, along with one person on the ground. The flight originated in Newark, N.J.

Renslow, 47, was an Iowa native who lived in the Tampa suburb of Lutz with his wife and two children. He had logged more than 3,300 flying hours since joining Colgan Air, the company operating the flight, in September 2005.

Investigators don't know what caused the plane to drop off the radar and nosedive to the ground amid light snow and sleet around 10:20 p.m. Crew members did not indicate there were any mechanical problems and no distress signal was given -- but other pilots around the same time reportedly complained of ice building on their wings.

"We are greatly saddened by this accident," said Philip Trenary, president and CEO of Pinnacle Airlines Corp., parent company of Colgan Air. "Our prayers are extended to the family and loved ones of those aboard Flight 3407 and those affected on the ground. Please know that we will commit all needed resources to assist the [National Transportation Safety Board's] investigation of this accident and work to ensure that a tragedy such as this does not occur again."

Renslow and four other crew members died in the crash. So did 44 passengers, including an off-duty airline pilot, the widow of a man killed in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, one of the world's leading experts on genocide in Rwanda and two members of jazz musician Chuck Mangione's band. Two other people in the house escaped with minor injuries.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


Service central to becoming an externally focused church
By Marv Knox (1,210 words)

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- Chase Oaks Church in Plano, Texas, and LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colo., minister 817 miles apart. But they stand side-by-side in their response a devastating question-and-answer.

Q: If their church evaporated, would anybody outside the church notice?
A: Probably not.

Glen Brechner, pastor of leadership at Chase Oaks, and Rick Rusaw, senior minister at LifeBridge, acknowledged the pain of that answer. But they told participants at the recent Next Big Idea Conference at Baylor University their response also revolutionized their churches. Baylor's Truett Theological Seminary, the Baylor School of Social Work and the Leadership Network sponsored the conference on the Baylor campus Feb. 9-11. It brought church leaders and academic researchers together to discuss how congregations could make a difference in their communities.

Both Chase Oaks and LifeBridge were successful churches by conventional standards, Brechner and Rusaw recalled. They enjoyed vibrant worship, pulled members together into meaningful small groups, and operated a plethora of programs.

"But we were an internally focused church," Brechner acknowledged. "We had lots of programs. We were a really busy church. Our church was healthy ... but so focused on the church that it did not effectively reach the community and meet community needs."

Leaders at LifeBridge had a hunch they were in the same predicament. That prompted them to pose the question that became "the turning point for our church," Rusaw reported. "We asked, 'If our church disappeared, would anybody miss us?'"

The realization that they made little impact outside their own membership alarmed leaders at both churches, Brechner and Rusaw said. So, both congregations decided they must serve others -- for the very existence of the churches, the benefit of their communities and the fulfillment of God's kingdom.

Their response places them within an emerging trend, noted Eric Swanson, a staff member of Leadership Network who works with "externally focused" churches.

"God is taking the church and placing it back in the community," where it can make a difference in the lives of all kinds of people, Swanson observed.

Churches exist in a context that involves three key variables, he said. They are the needs and dreams of the city, the callings and capacities of the church, and the mandates and desires of God. Service is the "sweet spot" where all three of those variables intersect, he added.

The place where the interests of the church and God overlap is where salvation takes place, where individuals come to know Jesus as their savior, he said. And the place where the mandates of God and the needs of the city overlap is called "common grace" -- where the overall welfare of the community is served, such as police and fire protection.

To illustrate those two areas of overlap, Swanson cited 16th-century Reformer John Calvin, who observed: "We pay taxes to provide for common grace, and we pay our tithes to support saving grace."

The point of overlap exclusively between church and city is a sensitive zone, where struggle for control can exist, Swanson said. This is why separation of church and state is important, so that one does not dominate the other, he added.

But the "sweet spot" -- the place in the middle, where God's mandates, the city's dreams and the church's capabilities all intersect - is service, Swanson said.

"That's where churches serve and bless their cities," he noted. Churches' ministry to the needs of people in the community achieves "the things God wants, the city wants and the churches can do."

The trend toward service is bubbling up from within churches, explained Diana Garland, dean of the Baylor School of Social Work and a prolific researcher of American church life.

The Church Census, which studied more than 100 congregations across 15 years, asked families to tell how their church can help them, offering almost 50 options from a variety of aspects of family life, she said.

"Help in serving others outside our family" was the No. 1 request in every age category, except for couples in their 20s and 30s, whose greatest desire is help for developing strong marriages, Garland said. And even for those younger adults, "serving others outside our family" ranked second.

That strong desire to serve others transcends family types, from families headed by married couples, to remarried couples and divorced singles, she said.

"The most interesting challenge for the church is to offer guidance and support for families ... that are grounded in the beliefs and values of the Christian faith," Garland said. "Only the church can ground these life issues in Christian values and practices.... These families are asking their churches to ground their service in Christian mission."

That's exactly the track taken by Chase Oaks and LifeBridge churches.

LifeBridge's mission is to "help people know Christ, grow in Christ and live gracefully," Rusaw said. Chase Oaks disbanded most of its programs and focused members on "connecting to God, connecting to people and connecting to need," Brechner added.

Both congregations re-tooled their standards for members, stipulating they are expected to attend worship (LifeBridge's "know Christ" and Chase Oaks' "connecting to God"), participate in small groups that study the Bible ("grow in Christ"/"connecting to people") and serve others ("live gracefully"/"connecting to need").

But service transcends the categories, Rusaw indicated, noting, "We believe you grow best when you serve."

Chase Oaks conducts four churchwide ministry projects per year. But it also serves on a smaller, more direct and more continuous scale, Brechner said. Each adult life group is expected to have a "bridge" -- an ongoing human-needs ministry in the community. During every fourth meeting, each life group meets at its bridge and serves non-members in the community.

Similarly, LifeBridge has linked its small groups with 54 partner organizations in its community -- from schools to non-profit agencies and other social-service organizations.

In fact, LifeBridge intentionally avoids starting ministries, because that would waste resources and pass up opportunities to build relationships outside the church, Rusaw said.

"We won't start something that already exists," he said. "The church has one thing that every agency in your community needs -- people. They need volunteers. So, the church is not the competition [to non-profits, schools and social-service groups]. Partner where you can partner."

Often, the church's service not only meets the felt needs of the community, but it also reaches deeper to transform lives. For example, through LifeBridge's service in public schools, hundreds of teachers and coaches and administrators have come to faith in Christ, Rusaw reported.

That relates to something Swanson has seen as he's worked with externally focused churches: Good deeds prepare the way for people to hear the good news of Christ.

But externally focused, service-oriented churches are, like Christ, committed to meet people's needs, he noted -- whether or not they respond spiritually.

"Evangelism is our ultimate motive, not our ulterior motive," he said. "We always want people to come to Christ, but even if no one comes to Christ, we'll still keep doing these acts of service."
So, service improves lives, strengthens churches and changes communities, Swanson said.

Referencing Jesus' Great Commandment, he added: "Spiritual transformation occurs when people are loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Societal transformation occurs when people are loving their neighbors as themselves."

Marv Knox is editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.


Simple steps lead to 'next-level' ministry to communities
By Marv Knox (451 words)

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- Churches can strengthen the ministries they provide to their communities by taking five key steps, ministry specialist Amy Sherman told participants during the recent Next Big Idea conference at Baylor University.

The "next level" of ministry effectiveness is attainable by:

· Moving from commodities to relationships.

Benevolence ministries become frustrating when they focus merely on giving people things but do not develop relationships, said Sherman, a senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research and director of the Center on Faith in Communities. A good way to break past this barrier is to ask benevolence recipients, "Is there something you would like to learn or change that would help you in avoiding your problems?" she said.

One church that sponsored a food-and-clothing closet asked this question and learned people in their neighborhood needed tutoring, English-as-a-Second-Language training and ministry for their children while they shopped in the food pantry, she said.
The new ministries provided opportunities for friendship that enriched lives.

· Moving from emergency relief to betterment and development.

Rather than merely running a soup kitchen, a church can turn it into a jobs-training program by hiring some recipients of the ministry as kitchen apprentices, Sherman suggested.

· Engage more of the congregation in ministry.

"Use small groups in your church to engage more people in ministry," she said. "Community service is in the DNA of what small groups should be about.

"And don't just leave it up to them. Prepare [local-service-provider] partners that are willing to use volunteers in their work."

She describe how a church choir participates in a local Christmas store for low-income families, a men's Bible study class "adopts" boys who need male role models, and a Mothers of Preschoolers program created a parallel MOPS program for teen mothers.

· Get more strategic in collaboration.

Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., wanted to make a difference in its community but realized the task was too big for one church alone, she reported. So, they invited participants from other churches to meet for breakfast once a month and also invited local leaders, such as the mayor and sheriff, to "come and talk about what the churches could do to improve the city."

Ultimately, the churches banded together to conduct a citywide tutoring program. They ensure that every third-grader in Springfield will learn to read, because learning to read by that stage in a child's life is a key indicator in whether she or he will drop out of school later.

· Move from ministering "to" to ministering "with."

"Ask people about their dreams for their community," Sherman said. "And recognize the people ... we're trying to reach have gifts, too. Work with them."

Marv Knox is editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.


Contact with global partners gave church expanded vision
By Ken Camp (380 words)

WACO, Texas (ABP) -- When Lynne Hybels and her husband, Bill, started a church in suburban Chicago 33 years ago, they had two dreams. As a young pastor, he wanted to plant the kind of church where people who were far away from God could be reconciled to him. As a social worker, she wanted to develop a community of faith who wouldn't be afraid to confront "the messiness of life."

Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill. -- now one of the nation's largest and most influential congregations -- combined those two visions by ministering to the spiritually broken people God led to their congregation and by expanding its outreach to meet needs and confront injustice internationally.

Through its global partnerships with churches in Latin America and Africa, Willow Creek gained a deep sense of responsibility to mediate God's love to hurting and oppressed people, Lynne Hybels told participants at the recent Next Big Idea Conference at Baylor University. Baylor's School of Social Work and Truett Theological Seminary jointly sponsored the event in conjunction with the Leadership Network.

Willow Creek ventured into caring ministries incrementally, she noted. The church began by offering recovery ministries, support groups and other programs for troubled people who came to the church who "who needed the compassion of God mediated to them through caring people," she said.

Next, the church began extension ministries -- entering partnerships with other churches, groups, social-service agencies and organizations already meeting needs in the communities around Willow Creek. The most significant step of faith involved entering partnerships with churches internationally -- first in Latin America, later in Africa -- that were transforming their communities.

Rather than going to churches in developing nations and presuming to have all the answers, Willow Creek learned from those indigenous Christians and was inspired by their selfless devotion, she stressed.

"We were transformed by our global partners," Hybels said.
Contact with Christians around the world has affected the way Willow Creek members view news reports about war, poverty, disease and suffering around the world, she added.

"We are all part of the human family," Hybels said. "Every member of the family is as important to God as you are. ... If there is tragedy anywhere in the world, it is touching my family."

Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.


Basketball player at Baptist university suspended after altercation
By Bob Allen (307 words)

DANVILLE, Va. (ABP) -- A student athlete at historically Baptist Averett University has been suspended from the men's basketball team and could face and could face criminal charges after allegedly beating a teammate at practice Feb. 13.

The Register & Bee newspaper in Danville, Va., reported that freshman forward Rakeem Davis was kicked off the team after an altercation with freshman guard Mike Ferrell in a hallway following a team film session.

The newspaper cited unnamed sources who said Davis punched Ferrell in the face, Ferrell fell to the floor after hitting his head on a wall and Davis jumped on Ferrell and hit him twice more before being restrained by a teammate.

Ferrell, 19, was taken to a local hospital and transferred Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he was moved to intensive care. A university spokesman said he is expected to fully recover from the injuries and was scheduled to be transferred out of hospital's intensive care unit Feb. 16.

Averett players wore Ferrell's initials and uniform number on their socks during a Feb. 14 victory that moved the team into first place in the USA South Athletic Conference standings.

Davis, 19, was reportedly removed from campus and, pending the outcome of an investigation by the Danville Police Department, could face criminal charges. While enrolled, he also is subject to the university's student judicial process, which could result in his expulsion from the school.

Averett's student code of conduct forbids fighting and "expects each of its students to be of high moral character and meet or exceed all standards of decency normally expected" of an institution founded on Christian principles.

Averett was affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia for 145 years, until a dispute over homosexuality prompted the state's Baptists to sever ties with the 800-student school in 2005.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Prayer Blog - 2/16/2009

Tomorrow at 3 PM, I meet with WDS, pastor of First Baptist Church, Knoxville, to see if he can help me with job placement. Please pray for this encounter.

Word of the Day - 2/16/2009

Exiiguity

Exiguity is inadequacy; scantiness; littleness.

Jesus cited the exiguity of the disciples' faith as the reason for their inability to drive out a demon while he was on the Mount of Transfiguration. (Matthew 17)

And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. (Matthew 17:20, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/16/2009, Part 3

News & Notes from Sunday, February 15th, 2009

-On Sunday morning, I attended Fellowship Evangelical Free Church for the second week in a row. On this day, my friend JCN preached. He preached a sermon on II Timothy 2:2 entitled “Entrusted with the Gospel”.
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Timothy 2:2, NASB)

-As always, JCN was good. In the sermon, he acknowledged that his daughter will be named Annie.

-After the sermon, I bumped into a lot of former members of the Central Baptist Church of Bearden. JCN’s parents and the Luper family were my former Sunday School teachers who were in attendance. The gigantic (not in an obese sense), RLM, was a greeter at the door.

-After the worship service, I attended Soul Purpose for the second week in a row. Research scientist Ryan Bennink (RSB) taught the second week in a series on the Beattitudes called “Jesus’ Guide to True Happiness.” Matthew 5:4 was our text.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, NASB)

-The lesson was great. RSB used the book of Job as a lense through which to view the text.

-I sat by a social worker named Melanie and a girl named Julie who works from home for a California based company called CIC. Julie actually lives in the same community of condominiums that MPW does. I told her of his “Bringing Sexy Back” moniker. When I told MPW this he informed me that he would now have to move.

-At one point, I lamented that I had never had a job with a water cooler. A newcomer named Trip told me that it was a TV myth. The real gossip comes from smokers around loading docks. Since producers are reluctant to show smoking on television, they invented the water cooler scenario. That bit of information was well worth attending Sunday School for.

-On Sunday night, I met JTH and ALK at Applebees. It has become a tradition that we meet there following road trips. This time they were the travelers. They had been to see Jeff Dunham at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. The show started at 5 and they called me at 7:37 to let me know they were on their way home. They rushed and made it to Applebees before close.

-Amy was our server. On hearing of the trip, she congratulated JTH on a great Valentine’s gift. He acknowledged that the trip was actually ALK’s Christmas gift to him. Amy became indignant as she thought he just used it as a Valentine’s gift for her. He did not. They actually went on “double date” with his friends Chris and Tony. (If you know JTH, you get that joke.)

-Despite our frequent trips to Applebees, I had never eaten there on a Sunday. This meant I could finally try their dessert shooters. The chocolate mousse was very good. Plus, Amy gave it to me free making it taste that much better.

-The big news was that Nate, a problem child with severe special needs that has been terrorizing the daycare for some time, has been given two weeks to find a new after school home. The relief from JTH was palpable.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/16/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Saturday, February 14th, 2009

-Saturday was Valentine’s Day. I am not one of those single people who is very affected by the holiday. I did get this card in the mail from my grandmother. She has not missed a Valentine’s Day yet.

-On Saturday morning, I received a phone call from a telemarketer (from the 917 New York area code), promoting the February 20th release of The Velveteen Rabbit in theaters. After informing me that I could get a rebate on DVDs if I attended, he asked if I would commit to go on opening weekend. I responded, “Who’s in the movie?” This must have completely disoriented the guy as he paused and then went to ask for help. I stayed on hold a couple of minutes before I hung up. I realize that some of you have not gotten past the fact that I actually answered the phone.

-At noon, I met RWB at Subway. He had called the previous afternoon to see if I was free for lunch. His wife was out of town and he had planned to spend the weekend working at the church. He picked the location. We discussed the church for over two hours.

-We ended the conversation as he knew I had tickets to watch the Tennessee basketball team play Vanderbilt at Thompson-Boling Arena (TBA) at 3 PM. I met KL and MPW at TBA. They had been car shopping off of Alcoa Highway. It was the fourth consecutive day I had attended a basketball game.

-On the way in, I passed DKN and his son, ESN. They were getting situated in Section 126 along with more than seventy other former Vols to celebrate the centennial of the Tennessee basketball team. It may be their presence that forced Scotty Hopson’s crew from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to sit in the two rows in front of us in Section 317. I was embarrassed that highly vocal rednecks would probably be their lasting impression of Knoxville.

-It was the day of the orange blazer. Not only did Bruce Pearl don the jacket but so did all of his assistants. At halftime, Tennessee presented the All-Century Team and they too were wearing the coats. (You can click on the last link to see the twenty players selected for the squad.)

-Many of the players on the All-Century team were on hand. Ron Widby, Tony White, Bill Justus, Mike Edwards, Dyron Nix (bald aka sans the Jheri curl!), A.W. Davis, Gene Tormohlen, Dane Bradshaw, Dale Ellis and Bernard King were presented at halftime. Ernie Grunfeld, Chris Lofton, C.J. Watson and Allan Houston had other basketball engagements and did not attend. Ron Slay was announced with no explanation given for his absence. Former coach Don DeVoe participated but did not speak. The administration must have learned their lesson from his speech at the 20th anniversary of TBA when they could not pry the microphone from him.

-MPW was disappointed that Lofton could not attend. (He was in Turkey with his professional team.) He was even wearing the Lofton jersey that KL had gotten him for his birthday. Lofton was represented by his mother Kathy and his uncle Curtis Jackson. Unfortunately, the uncle is not 50 Cent.

-The game was less entertaining than the festivities, but the Vols won handily 69-50. The victor was never in doubt. Tyler Smith scored a career-high 30 points in front of the legends and his mother, Shawanda Kennedy, who was in town for the game.