News

Here you will find the very latest news from the Baptist Press (BP), NAMB (North American Mission Board) and IMB (International Mission Board). Each entry includes the title, source and date of the article and a brief summary.

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BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 3:20pm
NOTA DEL EDITOR: La columna First-Person (De primera mano) es parte de la edición de hoy de BP en Español. Para ver historias adicionales, vaya a http://www.bpnews.net/espanol.

LA MIRADA, Calif. (BP) -- Últimamente he escuchado con bastante frecuencia a muchos líderes cristianos afirmar que la fe en Cristo es lo más importante de todo y que todo lo demás es secundario. De varias maneras ellos afirman que la salvación o lo espiritual es más importante que lo terrenal o social.

De acuerdo a este racionamiento, la función principal de los cristianos es proclamar el mensaje de salvación espiritual a través de Jesucristo sin perder el tiempo por acciones sociales que nos pueden distraer de lo realmente importante. No es que lo social no tenga valor, sino que de acuerdo a esta forma de pensar no es lo esencial y puede servir como un distractor. Como un predicador recientemente afirmó: "si uno se preocupa por la justicia social, pero no comparte el evangelio, las personas a las que servimos de todas maneras se van a ir al infierno."

Sin embargo, me parece que esta manera de pensar refleja una dicotomía falsa entre lo espiritual y lo terrenal. La fe y las obras no son enemigas, sino que siempre van juntas. Ambas son parte de la gracia de Dios en nuestras vidas y nunca se contradicen en los verdaderos creyentes. La gracia divina nos ofrece el perdón de nuestros pecados solamente por la fe en Cristo (Efesios 2:8-10). Este regalo no depende de nosotros y se recibe solamente por la fe. Las buenas obras que podamos hacer también son el resultado de la gracia divina quien produce en nosotros tanto el querer como el hacer por su buena voluntad (Fil. 2:13). Así que, la obra de Cristo en nuestras vidas incluye de manera inseparable tanto lo espiritual como la manifestación terrenal de nuestra fe. Tanto un evangelio espiritual sin acción terrenal como un evangelio social sin la fe en Cristo son incompletos y degradan la obra redentora de Cristo en el mundo.

Esta unión entre lo espiritual y lo terrenal es claramente explicada por el apóstol Santiago en la carta bíblica que lleva su nombre. En Santiago 2:14-26 la Palabra de Dios nos enseña nuestra fe en Cristo y nuestras acciones para servir a otros siempre deben de estar unidas de manera inseparable. No se puede afirmar que un área es más importante que la otra ya que deberían de ser áreas indivisibles en las que no se encuentra ninguna contradicción. La fe y las obras no pueden separarse como algunos sugieren ya una fe que no se manifiesta en buenas obras no es una fe verdadera. Lamentablemente existe la tendencia a enfatizar solamente la fe o las obras y de esta manera caemos en extremos equivocados como lo hizo Martín Lutero al menospreciar la carta a Santiago y relegarla a un apéndice en su traducción bíblica porque pensaba que la fe era más importante y Santiago no lo afirmaba como él pensaba. Irónicamente al querer ser bíblicos algunos como Lutero menosprecian el mensaje de las Escrituras que afirma el evangelio completo de Cristo.

Santiago no enseña un evangelio diferente al del apóstol Pablo en su carta a los Romanos por ejemplo. Santiago simplemente enfatiza que la fe y las obras son elementos inseparables de la obra salvífica de Cristo en nuestras vidas. Santiago nos advierte acerca de escondernos en una fe meramente teórica sin relevancia práctica. En este pasaje, Santiago empieza y concluye con la afirmación que la fe y las obras siempre están unidas y de tres ejemplos, uno cotidiano, uno teológico y uno práctico para apoyar su punto central.

Santiago 2:14 afirma lo siguiente: "Hermanos míos, ¿de qué le sirve a uno alegar que tiene fe, si no tiene obras? ¿Acaso podrá salvarlo esa fe?" Santiago se refiere a creyentes y les pregunta si es posible afirmar tener una fe en Cristo sin mostrar buenas obras. Quizá algunos que querían seguir a Cristo estaban contentos con mantener su fe privada y alejada de cualquier responsabilidad social. Santiago enseña que esto es imposible y primero responde en los versículos 15-17 a las preguntas del versículo 14 con un ejemplo de la vida diaria para sus lectores:

"Supongamos que un hermano o una hermana no tiene con qué vestirse y carece del alimento diario, y uno de ustedes le dice: 'Que le vaya bien; abríguese y coma hasta saciarse,' pero no le da lo necesario para el cuerpo. ¿De qué servirá eso? Así también la fe por sí sola, si no tiene obras, está muerta."

Si los creyentes no ayudamos a otros a nuestro alrededor con necesidades físicas nuestra fe carece de significado. Santiago afirma que la fe sin obras está muerta. En los versículos 18-19 Santiago da ahora un ejemplo teológico para continuar explicando la relación entre la fe y las obras:

"Sin embargo, alguien dirá: 'Tú tienes fe, y yo tengo obras.'"
"Pues bien, muéstrame tu fe sin las obras, y yo te mostraré la fe por mis obras. ¿Tú crees que hay un solo Dios? ¡Magnífico! También los demonios lo creen, y tiemblan."

Aunque algunos pueden tomar partido entre la fe o las obras, la realidad es que ambas siempre están unidas. La fe no es solamente un ejercicio intelectual sino práctico. La fe no es meramente un conocimiento teológico ya que aun los demonios conocen a Dios, sino que la fe se manifiesta en nuestras acciones que reflejan el carácter de Dios. Los versículos 20-25 muestran dos ejemplos bíblicos sobre la relación inseparable entre la fe y las obras:

"¡Qué tonto eres! ¿Quieres convencerte de que la fe sin obras es estéril? ¿No fue declarado justo nuestro padre Abraham por lo que hizo cuando ofreció sobre el altar a su hijo Isaac? Ya lo ves: Su fe y sus obras actuaban conjuntamente, y su fe llegó a la perfección por las obras que hizo. Así se cumplió la Escritura que dice: 'Le creyó Abraham a Dios, y esto se le tomó en cuenta como justicia,' y fue llamado amigo de Dios. Como pueden ver, a una persona se la declara justa por las obras, y no solo por la fe. De igual manera, ¿no fue declarada justa por las obras aun la prostituta Rajab, cuando hospedó a los espías y les ayudó a huir por otro camino?"

Tanto en Abraham, el padre de la fe, como en Rajab podemos ver que su fe actuaba conjuntamente con sus obras. Evidentemente su fe en Dios originó y motivó sus acciones y no al revés. Pero no existe una brecha o jerarquía entre su fe y su accionar. La fe siempre es práctica. La ortodoxia (enseñanza correcta) debe siempre estar unidad a la ortopraxis (la práctica correcta).

Santiago concluye su argumento en el versículo 26 de esta manera: "Pues, como el cuerpo sin el espíritu está muerto, así también la fe sin obras está muerta." Nuestra fe en Cristo y nuestras acciones en beneficio de los demás son partes indivisibles de la gracia de Dios en nuestras vidas. No podemos conocer a Dios si no le servimos y no podemos servir a Dios si no le conocemos. Cualquier inconsistencia entre el cristianismo que profesamos y nuestras acciones el resultado de un evangelio incompleto. Todo lo que somos es gracias a la gracia de Dios y nuestras acciones son la manera en la que también anunciamos el aroma de Cristo a todos a nuestro alrededor (2 Cor. 2:15). Read more...

BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 2:59pm
MONTROSE, Ark., (BP) -- On the morning of Jan. 16, two Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief (ABDR) volunteers found themselves responding to a present emergency -- a real-time disaster.

ABDR, a subsidiary of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) primarily focuses on giving aid to communities where natural disasters have struck.

While volunteers were working on repairing a roof damaged from recent tornados in the southeast Arkansas region, they noticed smoke billowing up just a few houses down the street.

Suspecting the house was in danger, two volunteers left repairing the roof to investigate.

After being informed by a neighbor that inside the now burning house were two elderly women, the volunteers entered the house to find and remove the victims.

Howard Moose, one of the volunteers at the scene said they had to act quickly to rescue the women.

"We just didn't have time to think about it," Moose told Baptist Press. "We were there and we were working next door and we saw the house on fire and we heard a lady screaming and we just went in and did what we had to do."

It was completely black from smoke inside the home, Moose recalled.

"We went in and we couldn't see, we couldn't breathe," Moose said. "We were choked, we were down at floor level."

But miraculously, the smoke lifted for just the right amount of time for Moose and another volunteer to find the victims.

"For a brief moment the smoke did clear," Moose said. "No explanation other than divine intervention."

One of the women also used a wheelchair, but had been unable to retrieve it and exit because of the smoke, even with the help of the other occupant.

Moose said the woman who could walk on her own was trying to help the other victim, but was quickly succumbing to the smoke.

In the moment of clarity, the volunteers were able to successfully remove the women from the house and then quickly reenter to rescue the occupants' dog.

The dog, found on the back porch, was unconscious and required mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, ABSC said in a release regarding the event.

Moose recalled that as they exited the house and went down the wheelchair ramp with the victims, the room immediately filled again with black smoke and began to cave in.

The house was destroyed by the fire, but volunteers were also able to retrieve the occupants' car, saving it from damage.

Many teams and groups of volunteers played a role in the rescue, Moose said. Some even accompanied the two women to the hospital after the incident.

Randy Garrett, Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief director, said any volunteer on site would have acted the same as Moose.

"You just have to know these guys," Garrett said. "They're just good people. It could have been any volunteer in the state of Arkansas. If it would have been other units, the same thing would have happened."

Garrett credits the timing of ABSC's relief work and the nearby home affected by tornados to God's providence.

"It was a God thing that we happened to be working," Garrett noted. "We had two teams that just were there. It was a blessing that we were in the vicinity and they didn't hesitate. When they heard there were people in the home, they immediately rushed in."

Garrett said the Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief seeks to help fill practical needs but also give spiritual guidance, trying to facilitate recovery in all disaster situations.

"We just go to help folks and share the word of Jesus," Garrett said. "Any disaster, we are in a position to give recovery help and get to people in need."

Read more...

BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 2:54pm
SAN DIEGO (BP) -- The San Diego Southern Baptist Association (SDSBA) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) are standing behind a British church planter and his family who are facing deportation at the end of the month.

Obed Brefo, pastor of King's Cross Church in San Diego, and his wife Elena were working toward extending their religious (R1) visa and applying for permanent residency and eventual U.S. citizenship when the church sponsoring their visa terminated their application in 2018.

"When we started seminary [in 2010] ... the goal was to graduate and head back to England to start a church," Brefo said in an interview with the Biblical Recorder Jan. 15. "But after being here for five, six years, we really began to look around and see the need around us in southern California."

In 2017, Brefo learned of an opportunity through NAMB to plant a church in one of the least churched neighborhoods of San Diego.

First Baptist Church of Pacific Beach, then under interim leadership, agreed to sponsor Brefo and host King's Cross in their facilities, providing him an office and the new church space for their services.

King's Cross launched in March 2018, but members of FBC Pacific Beach voted weeks later to end their partnership with King's Cross and no longer sponsor Brefo's application.

The Recorder contacted FBC Pacific Beach for a comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

SDSBA became Brefo's sponsor, but last week the Brefos learned the couple's application for green cards was denied because of inconsistencies in their visa status, referring to the 2018 cancellation.

Obed and Elena, along with their three children who were all born in the U.S., must now leave the country by the end of the month. When they arrive in England, the couple will refile for a new R1 visa in hopes of returning to California by February 2021.

"It's so challenging for us as a family," Brefo told the congregation in an announcement Jan. 12.

"This church is our home. You guys are our people," Elena said through tears. "None of us want to leave. We're still shocked, to be honest."

The family is praying God would provide an unexpected way for them to stay in the U.S., or at least reduce their time in England.

King's Cross, which now meets at a different location in San Diego, is a "thriving" church, according to Brefo and Mike Carlisle, SDSBA director of missions. Brefo said members "stepped up" when they heard the news and committed time and resources to help the family with the transition.

"Our San Diego association stands behind Obed in his attempt to finalize his immigration process. We are his sponsor and would love to see something worked out for him to stay and continue pastoring the new church. It [the church] is going very well," Carlisle told the Recorder.

The congregation will rely on guest preachers and video sermons Brefo plans to record from England, continuing a sermon series in Acts.

"I've got incredible leaders on the ground that will take care of a lot more of the discipling and administrative responsibilities that need to be done.. I can do a lot remotely across the pond, as well," Brefo said.

NAMB expressed support for the family and church.

"Our city missionary in San Diego has been closely involved and is working with Obed and the church plant," a NAMB spokesperson told the Recorder. "He is working to be sure the church is well led and cared for in Obed's absence. The church loves Obed, and everyone is praying he will be able to come back and continue to be their pastor. We are doing everything we can to support the church and Obed during this process."

The Pacific Beach neighborhood is known as a "graveyard for church plants," Brefo said. "We haven't been surprised by these intense challenges.... We're praying this actually really brings about incredible things."
Read more...

BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 2:47pm
Priscilla Shirer recovering after lung surgery
By Staff

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Priscilla Shirer, Christian speaker, actress and author, is recovering from surgery to remove a node from her left lung Jan. 13.

Her husband Jerry posted a brief update on the Facebook page of Shirer's ministry Going Beyond with Priscilla Shirer.

"Surgery went well. Doctors are pleased. We are so grateful for your prayers," the post said.

Shirer's initial announcement about the surgery said the issue was one her doctors had been monitoring.

"Three years ago, my doctors discovered a small nodule in my left lung. Several pulmonary specialists and I have watched it meticulously since then. This past summer, it was clear that something surgical needed to be done as the nodule had begun to grow and show signs of dangerous irregularities.

"As you know, the past few months has been filled with alot of difficulty for my entire family. For those reasons, the surgery was delayed but I cannot put it off any longer without jeopardizing my own health."

The difficulty to which she referred included the illness and death of her mother, Lois Evans, wife of well-known pastor Tony Evans. Lois Evans died of cancer Dec. 30, 2019. Shirer is one of the Evans' four children.

"Through it all, we still believe God," Shirer's statement continued. "We are trusting Him for a favorable outcome and that I will return to full health personally and full function in ministry."

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Send Relief ministry centers to host MLK Day of Service
By Staff

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- The North American Mission Board's Send Relief compassion ministry will host an MLK Day of Service Jan. 20 at its ministry centers in Ashland, Ky., Clarkston, Ga. and Pittsburgh and at five locations around Puerto Rico.

The Send Relief webpage announcing the effort lists the day's primary task as collecting gently used children's clothing for children placed in foster care "with only the items on their back." The Puerto Rico locations will collect food and clothing for residents still reeling from recent earthquakes and from 2017's Hurricane Maria.

“Everything we do through Send Relief is about mobilizing people to meet tangible needs," Send Relief vice president Ray Clark told Baptist Press. "We expect this event to be a great opportunity for people and churches to do just that. They will be a great witness to their community.

"When the people of God are mobilized, they go with the Holy Spirit and with eyes wide open to finding those who are open to spiritual conversations and hearing the Gospel. We believe many will hear about Christ through the MLK Day is Service."

A Send Relief announcement about the events said, "Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become a time to not only celebrate [King's] legacy, but to use it as an opportunity to help people in need. We invite you to join Send Relief for this national day of service as we meet needs and change lives at one of the Send Relief ministry centers or in your own community."

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NOBTS apologetics conference addresses tough questions
By Marilyn Stewart

NEW ORLEANS -- Top apologists from around the world, including John Lennox and Alister McGrath, addressed a crowd of 400 gathered at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for the annual Defend the Faith event Jan. 6-10.

"Because we're living in a post-Christian culture that is rapidly becoming an anti-Christian culture, anybody engaged in Christian ministry needs training in Christian apologetics," said Robert Stewart, director of the NOBTS apologetics program. "More than ever, believers must be able not only to explain their faith to a lost world but also defend the Christian worldview."

The week-long conference featured resurrection scholar Gary Habermas and noted speakers and apologists Douglas Groothuis, Tim McGrew, Craig Hazen, Lisa Fields, Frank Turek and others. More than 120 breakout sessions focused on questions asked by today's culture.

Jamie Dew, president of NOBTS and Leavell College, welcomed participants and urged them to conduct every apologetic encounter with virtue and common sense. An effective apologist must first abide in Christ as taught in John 15:5, Dew said, and approach people with love, humility and civility. Common sense guidelines in conversation include listening more than talking, discern the openness of the person to the Gospel, and finding "as much common ground as possible" when engaging another worldview.

The work of an apologist takes time, Dew said.

"Apologetics is hard work," Dew said, adding that there is no "silver bullet" or statement that answers objections. "Ultimately, what people need from us is an investment, not a quick, one-off conversation."

Topics covered in the breakouts ranged from world religions, science and faith issues, engaging the college campus and philosophical topics.

Science and Faith

Speaking via live video, Oxford University professor John Lennox told listeners that there is no conflict between science and faith.

Lennox, who teaches mathematics and authored "Can Science Explain Everything?", explained that people reject caricatures and human inventions of God, rather than the true God, and that science and faith complement each other rather than conflict.

"True scientific understanding of the universe no more competes with God as an explanation than the law of internal combustion competes with Henry Ford as an explanation of the motor car," Lennox said.

Lennox has debated famed atheists Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger and others in public forums. Lennox explained that the real conflict is between worldviews, rather than between faith and science noting that there are "brilliant scientists" on both sides.

Naturalism, the idea that reality is the result of only natural forces, undermines human rationality, Lennox explained, adding that if thoughts are the product of mere physical interactions then human thinking cannot be trusted to discern what is true.

"I have to reject atheism [and naturalism] because I am a scientist," Lennox said. "I have to reject atheism because I believe in truth and rationality."

The 'best evidence' for the New Testament

Gary Habermas, NOBTS visiting professor of Christian apologetics and author or editor of more than 40 books, said the New Testament creeds offer the best evidence for Christian belief.

Habermas explained that the creeds, typically brief sayings used by the early church that are embedded within the New Testament text, show what the earliest believers preached and believed about Christ between about 30 and 50 A.D., the time between the crucifixion and the first New Testament book, considered by many to be 1 Thessalonians.

The evidence and significance of the creeds is "deep, it's historical, and it's strong," Habermas said.

The creeds show that the earliest Christians saw Jesus as God the Son -- a high Christology -- and stressed his death, deity and resurrection. Some examples are Romans 1:3-4, Romans 4:25, Romans 10:9, and 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.

Habermas noted that even agnostic Bart Ehrman dates the creeds, such as 1 Corinthians 15: 3-4, as being no later than one to two years after the crucifixion.

"Why is this important?" Habermas asked, adding that the doctrine of Jesus as God the Son wasn't embellished hearsay, wasn't added later, and wasn't the result of the people passing on inaccuracies as in the child's game of "telephone."

"Because it's as early as you can imagine, as 'high' as you can imagine from the outset," Habermas said, adding that most importantly, "The source is, critics allow, the apostles."
Read more...

BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 2:16pm
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- There are no immediate options to bring home a U.S. pastor whose passport was confiscated in India on a Customs charge, his wife told Baptist Press Friday (Jan. 17) after his fifth unsuccessful court appearance.

"Right now, we do not know. We don't know," said Rhonda Nerren, wife of International House of Prayer pastor Bryan Nerren of Shelbyville, Tenn. "He's just stuck. He's not a hostage like holding a gun to his head; but you know, they are holding him in India for no reason."

Nerren has been stuck in India since October 6 when authorities arrested him for a week, charging him with violating customs laws for not declaring $40,000 he carried to conduct Sunday School conferences in India and Nepal. A judge confiscated his passport and imposed a travel ban.

Nerren has paid a $4,000 fine, his son Kevin told WKRN TV of Nashville, but a judge refused to return his passport Thursday.

The International House of Prayer posted an update on Nerren's case Thursday.

"The news is very bad again. The fifth time to court with the same result," the church said. "No possible release in near future unless God wills it. Please keep praying, our only hope is a miracle. We believe in miracles even though God remains silent concerning the return of Pastor Bryan home to family."

India, a Hindu nationalist country of 1.4 billion people, is the 10th most dangerous country for Christians, according to international religious freedom watchdog Open Doors. Christians there number 66 million, Open Doors said.

Nerren, a nondenominational pastor, has led Sunday School conferences in India and Nepal for 17 years as leader of the non-profit Asian Children's Education Fellowship ministry. His wife said he is in good spirits, though disappointed in the outcome of the latest hearing.

"He is very strong in faith, and believing that this is a God appointment and that we will walk through this until God says differently, and that He is walking with us through it," Rhonda told BP. "So he is very strong, even though at times I can tell he's disappointed and feels a little bit of defeat through it all."

Authorities say he violated the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and the Customs Act. Rhonda talks with him daily, she said, and he communicates with the church through Facebook, as he is no longer in jail.

"We have teams of people ... here in the United States and in India working on this," she said. "There's not another hearing set yet.... We don't have any kind of options, I mean not anything concrete."

She thanked those who have prayed for him, and requested continued advocacy.

"I would ask for anyone who has any connection at all, if you have a connection with the White House or anybody ... to help," she said. "But most of all prayers, because that's what's going to bring him home. A miracle is going to bring him home.

"We really appreciate [the help of] so many of our brothers and sisters, even though we are not the same denomination," she said. "Everybody has been just absolutely awesome to help us fight, through prayer, finances and everything.

"Even though it's been a tough journey, it's been an awesome thing to see the body of Christ being the body of Christ."

The Nerrens have two grown children and three grandchildren.

The American Center for Law and Justice is among those advocating in Nerren's defense and has started a petition at aclj.org for his return to the U.S. The petition has more than 143,000 signatures.

State and national lawmakers are also advocating for his release, according to news reports. Nerren's church is not affiliated with the International House of Prayer movement out of Kansas City.
Read more...

BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 2:16pm
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- There are no immediate options to bring home a U.S. pastor whose passport was confiscated in India on a Customs charge, his wife told Baptist Press Friday (Jan. 17) after his fifth unsuccessful court appearance.

"Right now, we do not know. We don't know," said Rhonda Nerren, wife of International House of Prayer pastor Bryan Nerren of Shelbyville, Tenn. "He's just stuck. He's not a hostage like holding a gun to his head; but you know, they are holding him in India for no reason."

Nerren has been stuck in India since October 6 when authorities arrested him for a week, charging him with violating customs laws for not declaring $40,000 he carried to conduct Sunday School conferences in India and Nepal. A judge confiscated his passport and imposed a travel ban.

Nerren has paid a $4,000 fine, his son Kevin told WKRN TV of Nashville, but a judge refused to return his passport Thursday.

The International House of Prayer posted an update on Nerren's case Thursday.

"The news is very bad again. The fifth time to court with the same result," the church said. "No possible release in near future unless God wills it. Please keep praying, our only hope is a miracle. We believe in miracles even though God remains silent concerning the return of Pastor Bryan home to family."

India, a Hindu nationalist country of 1.4 billion people, is the 10th most dangerous country for Christians, according to international religious freedom watchdog Open Doors. Christians there number 66 million, Open Doors said.

Nerren, a nondenominational pastor, has led Sunday School conferences in India and Nepal for 17 years as leader of the non-profit Asian Children's Education Fellowship ministry. His wife said he is in good spirits, though disappointed in the outcome of the latest hearing.

"He is very strong in faith, and believing that this is a God appointment and that we will walk through this until God says differently, and that He is walking with us through it," Rhonda told BP. "So he is very strong, even though at times I can tell he's disappointed and feels a little bit of defeat through it all."

Authorities say he violated the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and the Customs Act. Rhonda talks with him daily, she said, and he communicates with the church through Facebook, as he is no longer in jail.

"We have teams of people ... here in the United States and in India working on this," she said. "There's not another hearing set yet.... We don't have any kind of options, I mean not anything concrete."

She thanked those who have prayed for him, and requested continued advocacy.

"I would ask for anyone who has any connection at all, if you have a connection with the White House or anybody ... to help," she said. "But most of all prayers, because that's what's going to bring him home. A miracle is going to bring him home.

"We really appreciate [the help of] so many of our brothers and sisters, even though we are not the same denomination," she said. "Everybody has been just absolutely awesome to help us fight, through prayer, finances and everything.

"Even though it's been a tough journey, it's been an awesome thing to see the body of Christ being the body of Christ."

The Nerrens have two grown children and three grandchildren.

The American Center for Law and Justice is among those advocating in Nerren's defense and has started a petition at aclj.org for his return to the U.S. The petition has more than 143,000 signatures.

State and national lawmakers are also advocating for his release, according to news reports. Nerren's church is not affiliated with the International House of Prayer movement out of Kansas City.
Read more...

BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 12:55pm
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- My parents are cleaning out cabinets. And bookshelves.

They've done this before. Purging. Moving across states and across the world.

But this is different. A time for downsizing. Studying space. Deciding what will fit in the next spot.

They'll move to a smaller place one of these days. So now they are paring down. Letting go.

They push things into my hands when I express interest. A painting, a book. "Take it."

William Carey

Today I sit at my desk and open one of those books that made the cut every other time.

"William Carey: Missionary, Pioneer and Statesman," by F. Deaville Walker.

Inside the front cover my dad printed his name in his neat, spare penmanship.

And this note: Read Nov. 6, 1953.

On the facing page is a stamp of my parents' first international address. Bangkok, Thailand. 1961. Our first home in Asia.

Notes in the margins

A quick perusal of the pages reveals multiple underlines in red and black. Notes in the margins. Reminders of his meticulous attention to detail. Reflecting the man I know.

Including his sense of humor. He drew a smiley face beside this sentence: "During the voyage, he [Carey] threw overboard the ugly wig he had been in the habit of wearing."

I see principles gleaned. On one page he wrote, "A man who had not learned how to spend money caused much grief...." Dad saw the importance of financial wisdom. It's reflected in my parents' generous giving over the years. To the Lord's work. At the Lord's leading.

He marked references on the importance of unity with coworkers. And made a note: "Without unity of heart, mind, purpose, there can be no hope for success." I think of the strong relationships he built with colleagues and national partners over the years.

Carey's focus on languages and translating the Bible are highlighted. Underlined.

In their 29 years overseas, Mom and Dad learned language and culture well. In order to effectively communicate the Gospel and plant churches, teach Bible courses and lead Bible studies.

Later, Dad served as an editor at the Baptist publishing house in Indonesia. Promoting quality materials in the language of the people.

Family heritage

I look carefully through these pages.

I'm holding treasure. A book with my dad's fingerprints and markings in it. And part of my family heritage.

Dad didn't just read about missions. He listened. Heard God's call to go. Obeyed.

He met and fell in love with Glenn Green at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. They were married. After pastorates in Louisiana and Alabama, followed the Lord to the ends of the earth.

They began this journey with a 2-year-old. Me. Crossing the Pacific Ocean. Sent by West Hartselle Baptist Church.

The long obedience

Dad turns 88 this year. And I'm still learning the roots of his long obedience. Those who discipled him as a new believer. What shaped his commitment and perseverance. The books that impacted his walk.

Preparation in these early years of his faith anchored him to the Lord and His Word during storms and trials. In sorrows and fears. Through decades of life and ministry overseas and in the U.S.

Faithful servant. Dedicated husband, father and grandfather. Ever-learning and growing disciple of his Lord and Savior.

I am profoundly grateful. Read more...

BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 12:48pm
YAUCO, Puerto Rico (BP) -- Junior Martinez's church, Iglesia Bautista La Gracia (Grace Baptist Church) in Yauco, Puerto Rico, has served as a shelter for survivors following the Jan. 7 earthquake off the southern coast of the island. This week, he received an invitation to meet with the town's mayor to discuss the continued needs the community is facing.

"Junior saw how tired the mayor was," Jonathan Santiago, a Send Relief missionary in Puerto Rico, said as he relayed the story. "So, Junior stopped the meeting and asked to pray for the mayor, who invited his wife to join. She broke down in tears when she learned that Junior wanted to pray for them."

Martinez has been meeting physical needs, and now doors are opening to see lives changed through the power of the Gospel. Unfortunately for the people of Puerto Rico, persistent aftershocks have resulted in persistent needs as well.

Another 5.1 aftershock this week forced Puerto Rican authorities to restart their safety inspection process, Santiago said. "Any time there is a 5.0 or over, everything starts over again. Everything has to be re-inspected. So, Wednesday, everything went back to ground zero."

The preliminary number of homes that are either destroyed or uninhabitable has reached approximately 700. As long as aftershocks continue, that number is expected to rise.

Roughly 8,000 people were still in makeshift shelters, unable to return to their homes, as of Thursday morning.

Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), has been providing food, water and other supplies to help these churches meet needs in their communities.

The crisis response effort has been operating through five locations -- three churches in Ponce, Martinez's church in Yauco and another in Guayama. The opportunities to serve continue opening up.

On Wednesday (Jan. 15) Send Relief, in partnership with the Guaynabo City Athletic League, were able to reach one of the most remote towns affected by the earthquakes, Guayanilla. They crossed a river to distribute 200 blue tarps and 252 cases of water to families and to the elderly in need.

As Puerto Rican pastors and volunteers respond, they have been able to pray and share the Gospel with their neighbors. The more time they spend with survivors, the more Gospel conversations open up.

"Pray for our churches and volunteers that as opportunities to share the Gospel open up, that we take them," Santiago said. "I keep reminding our volunteers that though we are here helping to meet needs, our hope is to be able to have the chance to share the Gospel."

Felix Cabrera, NAMB's Send Puerto Rico missionary, shared that two people came to Christ at the location in Guayama.

So far, there have been more than 8,600 meals served through Send Relief, and volunteers from at least 12 local churches in Puerto Rico have joined the effort to serve through the crisis response effort.
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BP News Friday, January 17, 2020 - 11:58am
TOKYO (BP) -- Global sporting events bring nations together. Yes, rivals banter and boo, but myriad nations gathering because of a common love is also a beautiful sight. Sports bring about a quirky unity and solidarity.

A few months ago, I attended a rugby match during the Rugby World Cup in Tokyo, Japan. Like the Japanese people who were present in the audience that October evening, I clapped for both teams, Australia and Wales, for we were citizens of neither of the countries who were playing. We didn't need to be a fan of any particular team, because we found enjoyment and exhilaration just being a part of a global event.

Making connections

After the rugby match, two Japanese men posed for me to take their photo. They were wearing two rugby scarves, one for each of the teams playing, and were proud their country was hosting.

When I stopped to snap the photo of them, I took the opportunity to share with them about an upcoming viewing party of a rugby match that IMB missionaries in Tokyo were hosting at Tokyo Baptist Church.

One of the ministry goals of the IMB team for both the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Summer Olympics is to connect Japanese people to God.

Tokyo Baptist Church and IMB missionaries hosted three viewing parties for matches during the Rugby World Cup. The goal was to begin to build relationships with the community and initiate gospel conversations.

Some who wandered into the complex of Tokyo Baptist Church one warm Saturday afternoon didn't even know it was a church, or that churches had activities. Some were drawn in by the posters or were invited by friends and neighbors. Others noticed the booths and activities in the parking lot. Still others heard that a famous rugby player was there.

At a viewing party, retired New Zealand All Blacks player Timo Tagaloa shared his testimony. He also taught the famous Haka dance that is performed before all New Zealand rugby matches.

Japanese children made a square around Timo, squatting half-way as they began to mimic the motions and lyrics that accompany the ancient Maori tradition.

Other visitors took advantage of the opportunity to try new food, including Scottish haggis, Vegemite and chocolate chip cookies.

The crowd then moved inside to watch the rugby match. This was the first time many had stepped foot into a church. Church members sat next to visitors during the match, talking and cheering on the teams, much like I did.

The goal of the viewing party was not just a mere introduction to the Gospel, but the beginning of a long-term relationship to share the Gospel.

It was a fantastic beginning.

Tokyo Baptist Church's ministry pastor reported the church hosted 700 new visitors during the Rugby World Cup events and handed out 2,000 Bibles, 2,700 flyers with links to testimonies of Christian rugby players and 600 Gospel tracts.

Sports as strategy

The camaraderie of sports is infectious. For the rugby match, we dressed up in gear to support our teams. At various points in the game, songs broke out among fans. At other times, songs were broadcast from the speakers and many people joined in -- adding to the feeling of being part of something grand.

During the match, I sat next to an Aussie and a Welsh man who were good friends and had traveled together to watch the match. The Aussie explained some of the technicalities of the sport. He told me he actually prefers American football and watches it every Sunday. These were people I would have never connected with had it not been for the match. The love of sport is unifying, and forges connections.

The mass of humanity in the stadium made me feel a part of something much larger. I felt exhilarated experiencing an event that's being broadcast live and being watched by fans around the world.

Imagine how much more this would be if all of these people were gathering out of a common love of their Creator? I kept thinking how beautiful it would be if everyone in this stadium were singing praises to God and found their camaraderie in Christ.

That's why it's so important for Christians to use international sporting events as a means of engaging with the broader culture in order to build relationships in order to share the Gospel.

It's why IMB missionaries in Japan have created a missions strategy for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Exceptional openness

International sporting events provide an exceptional openness in the hearts of Japanese -- for in these 'festival' times the regulated, and many times stringent, social and societal behaviors are loosened. IMB missionaries say that Japanese see festivals and sporting events as exceptions to general societal rules of interactions and the control of emotions, freeing them to be more relaxed and unrestrained.

I noticed this when a Japanese woman on the subway struck up a conversation with me and asked me if I had tickets to a rugby match and how I bought them.

I'm told talking to strangers is not a common occurrence in Japan, however, during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, one wizened IMB missionary shared how many Japanese initiated conversations with him and his wife, which was unprecedented.

As we ate tempura and Japanese curry at a restaurant, another missionary shared how, in the Nagano Olympics, people would approach their table and strike up conversations, asking them what country they came from, and what sport they were there to watch. The missionary said she and her husband had eaten at this restaurant many times before and no one had ever initiated a conversation with them.

Just as I met four people at a rugby match who I would have never met otherwise, these missionaries met people they would never have met had it not been for the Olympics.

I'm praying for all the men, women and children who interacted with Christians during the Rugby World Cup. I'm praying that just as the nation and world found unity and solidarity in sports this fall, and they will again this summer at the Olympics, they will soon find that same unity and solidarity in Christ.

Click here to learn how you can be involved with the IMB in ministry during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
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BP News Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 4:07pm
WASHINGTON (BP) -- In observance of National Religious Freedom Day, President Donald Trump hosted a gathering today (Jan. 16) of students from different religions to affirm the right of students to pray in school.

Students at the event held in the Oval Office included those of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, NPR reported.

In a statement released by the White House detailing the facts of the briefing, the president said, "Our Founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one's religious conviction."

Trump announced three primary areas of focus for his administration: protecting prayer in public schools, promoting equal treatment and championing religious freedom.

"President Trump is updating Federal guidance regarding protected prayer and religious expression in public schools, which has not been issued since 2003," the fact sheet read. "The update will help safeguard students' rights by giving education providers and students the most current information concerning prayer in public schools."

The release continued by detailing other aspects of student prayer and exercise of religious freedom which the federal guidance clarifies.

While no changes to actual law will be made, the White House is seeking to "empower students and teachers to exercise their rights," NPR reported.

During the event, Trump gave students in attendance the opportunity to share experiences of when their religious freedom in schools had been restricted.

Students of varying ages and religions shared experiences of bullying, harassment and discouragement -- each student thanking Trump for his work in upholding the First Amendment.

Trump responded with reassurance to each student, shaking their hands and thanking them for speaking.

In the White House statement, the Trump administration also announced the issuance of "nine proposed rules to protect religious organizations from unfair and unequal treatment by the Federal government."

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, noted that emphasis on religious freedom is imperative.

"For years I have sensed a growing restraint being placed upon students, faculty and administration about practicing prayer in public schools," Floyd said. "I am convinced the greatest need in our schools is to release students, faculty and administration to live out their faith publicly, including the practice of prayer. Therefore, I am thankful for any clarity about First Amendment rights that releases all persons to practice their faith in our schools and in every public setting."

Alliance Defending Freedom CEO and president Michael Farris noted that religious freedom is the "headwaters of all freedoms."

"We're grateful that President Trump and his administration have taken numerous opportunities to acknowledge and protect it for all people and organizations of faith," Farris said, in written comments on the briefing. "Unfortunately, some states and local government officials continue to treat religious organizations as second class citizens, and discriminate against them in government programs."

Farris said that students across the country are still finding their First Amendment freedoms under attack the moment they set foot on their public school campus and are denied the freedom to pray together during free times.

"We affirm the administration's proposed rules designed to ensure that the government doesn't treat religious individuals and organizations as second-class to secular institutions," Farris said. "The president's directive requiring all public schools to respect their students' religious liberty, is also a welcome step to remedy these attacks on people of faith."

President Trump assured the public that his administration will continually seek to uphold religious freedom.

"We will not let anyone push God from the public square," Trump said. "We will uphold religious liberty for all."
Read more...

BP News Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 3:02pm
WASHINGTON (BP) -- "Walking worship" is what the pastor calls it. After the Chinese government destroyed his underground church in Beijing, the congregation resorted to a new thing.

"Without any place to worship, because any place we gather is not safe," Xiang En told Baptist Press Wednesday (Jan. 15), "we used a kind of unique form of worship in the church history. We call it 'walking worship,' WW." The church multimedia team records a weekly audio file of an entire service, from the call to worship to the benediction, and safely distributes it to congregation members.

"When we were walking on the street, the park, even in the wilderness, actually we were listening to an audio record of our Sunday service ... in that one-hour audio file," Xiang said. "We just listen, we cannot speak out loud, we cannot sing out loud, and we cannot gather in outdoor spaces to worship because any organized gathering in public space will be seen as a threat to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) in China."

"Xiang" is a pseudonym for the pastor who moved to the United States in January 2019, after China closed his church. He spoke to BP by phone in an interview arranged by international religious freedom advocate Open Doors upon the release of the 2020 World Watch List of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians to live. China ranks 23.

In closing Xiang's church, China employed technological surveillance, included in a method Open Doors identified Wednesday as a growing trend in religious persecution.

"In March 2018, the government officers ... wanted to install facial recognition cameras inside our sanctuary on the pulpit to watch our congregation," Xiang said. "Of course, we refused that unreasonable demand, but they still installed a facial recognition camera in the lobby of our church building, because we rented a whole floor of an office building."

The floor was formerly a nightclub, Xiang said, but the church transformed it into a sanctuary to worship God.

"Through that camera, the government officers can collect private data of our church members, where they're working, where their children [are] going to school, where the elders are going to hospital, where they're living, every private data they can collect," Xiang said. "And then they can hunt down every single church member to threaten them, to intimidate them and to prevent them from going to our church.

"On Sept. 9, 2018," Xiang said, "hundreds of policemen raided our church, smashed our church building and put our fulltime ministers, our senior pastor under custody, and took away all of our church property and shut down the church."

While China's house church system is modeled after early churches in Rome, Xiang said, walking worship is emerging as perhaps a better option in the midst of current persecution.

"Probably the more reputable question the Chinese churches should ask is, 'Could we do even better than the early church, with the church model?'" Xiang told BP. "We need to be brave, but at the same time we need to be innovative. We need courage, but at the same time we really need wisdom to face the persecution, the situation nowadays."

Neighbors can report house churches to the government, Xiang said, and collect rewards comparable to as much as $5,000. But with walking worship, passersby aren't the wiser.

"But we are praying internally. We are singing, not so loudly," he said of walking worship. "That's kind of a unique experience and encourages a lot of brothers and sisters."

Despite the severe persecution the church endured, Xiang said missions and church planting have remained priorities of the congregation.

When he fled China, he stopped for a month in Canada and planted a church to reach church members who had moved there. The Beijing church sent more than 10 cross-cultural missionaries to minority areas of China, Middle and West Asia, and the Mideast, he said. The church is trying to build a mission center in Israel.

"Even during severe persecution, we're still faithful and brave to be a missionary church, still spread Gospel to nations and send missionaries to plant churches to nations," he said. "Our testimony is just one of the many of the Chinese churches, very encouraging to the global churches and brothers and sisters."

Xiang praised Open Doors for its work to end Christian persecution globally, and recalled a message he preached from Revelation 3 regarding the letter to the church at Philadelphia.

"So it says how Christ our Lord, who holds the key of David ... will open a door that no one can shut," Xiang said. "That message is powerful, because it reminds us the key of our church, the key of our life, the key of our future is not ... in the seats of people -- any authority -- but only ... in the supreme authority, which is the hands of our Christ Jesus."

China needs the support of the global Christian church, Xiang said.

"The recent climate for Christians in China has entered a bitter winter, or even an ice age. A bitter winter, what we need to survive, I think we need warmth," he said. "And I think the warmth will come from the body heat of Christ, the global body of Christ, the prayer, the love, the support of global body of Christ, our global brothers and sisters."
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BP News Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 2:06pm
PONCA CITY, Okla. (BP) -- As French McLemore rode through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, the last thing he expected to see was a sign for a Baptist church.

Born in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it was once known, McLemore and his family lived there until two days before the fall of Saigon in 1975. McLemore's Vietnamese mother met his father, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, while his father served in Vietnam as a civilian contractor.

Today McLemore is the associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Ponca City, Okla. Not forgetting his heritage and initial homeland and sensing God's direction to invest in the work taking place overseas, McLemore and his mother, along with a team from his church, visited Ho Chi Mihn City in 2013. It was their first visit since McLemore and his mother left in 1975.

"I was taken back by the flood of memories as I stepped out of the airport and breathed in the fresh air," said McLemore. "I can only describe it as everything I remember from my childhood."

However, McLemore's childhood memories of Saigon did not include Grace Baptist Church. Founded in 1962 while IMB worker Sam James served in Saigon, the church has prevailed against the test of time, war and countless trials.

McLemore was surprised to see the Baptist church. He merely assumed the church was a "remnant of a bygone era." When he returned from his trip, he immediately searched for the church online and soon discovered Grace Baptist Church wasn't a piece of the past preserved, but a living, thriving testimony to God's goodness in times of trial.

Single survivor

Sam James also had to leave Saigon during the Vietnam War. After living in the country for 17 years, James reluctantly left because of the Communist control over the city. During the Communist reign, all of the Baptist churches in Vietnam were shut down or disbanded.

All but one.

By God's grace, Grace Baptist Church of Saigon remained open throughout what James calls the "dark times" and celebrated its 60-year anniversary this year. Before the fall of Saigon in 1975, Grace Baptist shared a space with a church of a different denomination. Thanks to a Lottie Moon Christmas Offering grant of $50,000, the church members were able to secure property and a building for the church and establish their independence, financially and congregationally.

James explained in a podcast interview, "Back in 1970 when people gave to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, they had no idea that some of that offering would be used to buy the land and the building for Grace Baptist Church and then what would happen as a result of that church being in that place that has impacted the whole country for the Lord. They had no way of knowing that and yet they gave. I just praise the Lord for that."

Long-awaited meeting

When McLemore searched for Grace Baptist Church online back in 2013, he discovered the role James played in the church's history and in Baptist work in Vietnam. After reading James' book, "Servant on the Edge of History," McLemore knew he had to meet James.

Since his initial trip back to Vietnam in 2013, McLemore's church has sent teams to Vietnam four times. McLemore has formed a friendship with the Vietnamese pastor of Grace Baptist Church. The two men are the same age, and McLemore marvels at the different paths the Lord had for each of their lives.

McLemore's church is sending another team to Vietnam in 2020. He asked James to come speak last November to kick off the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and to cast the vision for their 2020 trip.

"Sam did an incredible job in sharing about the work of the International Mission Board and the work that is going on all over the world," McLemore said. "I cannot say enough about Sam's passion and humility to serve our Lord and to make Him known to all people groups. I am truly blessed to have met him and am thankful for his faithfulness."

The work of one IMB missionary has left an impact reaching beyond the limits of Ho Chi Minh City and has inspired a friendship between a Baptist church in Oklahoma and one on the other side of the world.
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BP News Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 2:01pm
NASHVILLE (BP) -- J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is calling SBC churches to participate in a nationwide focus on baptism this Easter Sunday, April 14.

After the success of the first "Baptism Sunday" in September 2019, Greear and other SBC leadership hope to continue to focus on growing proclamations of faith through public baptism services.

"We have heard some of the most amazing stories coming out of our Baptism Sunday in September," Greear said. "We heard stories of family members, friends and even taxi drivers responding in baptism -- many of whom had been prayed over for years. I believe last fall was just scratching the surface of what God wants to do, and will do, when we extend the call to believe and be baptized. Many sit in our pews that simply need to be instructed and invited."

Greear explained that a Baptism Sunday service is an opportunity for thousands of people in churches to immediately respond to the Gospel by taking that first step of obedience and faith.

"Many of the people who will fill our pews on Easter will come as interested spectators," Greear noted. "When we invite them to be baptized, we're calling them to make a decision to be followers of Jesus -- and that's exactly what people who hear the Gospel need to do."

Ronnie Floyd, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, said that while churches should baptize regularly, "emphasizing a day like Easter takes baptism to an entirely different level.

"Challenging people to be baptized on this Easter Sunday makes this a memorable day they will never forget," Floyd continued. "It also serves as a Gospel illustration in each worship service that a pastor can mention in his sermon as he calls people to follow Jesus, even into the public declaration of baptism."

Because of the large of amount of potentially unbelieving attendees on Easter, Greear said it is a powerful opportunity to present the true change the Gospel makes in the hearts of those who believe.

Greear connected the "Who's You One" evangelism initiative from the past year to the emphasis on baptisms in April.

"Over the last year, thousands of people in our pews faithfully prayed for and shared the Gospel with their 'one' through the Who's Your One initiative," Greear said. "We pastors ought to fill our baptismal tanks in faith, believing that God is calling many to salvation and expecting a harvest of souls."

Church members and leaders alike are encouraged to take the stories of changed lives to public platforms, sharing images and victories on social media using hashtags like "#BaptismSunday" and "#Fillthetank."

Nathan Lorick, executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention, said he plans to join the baptism emphasis.

"Colorado Baptists are excited to join with others across the SBC to champion #FillTheTank on Easter Sunday," Lorick said. "What an opportunity to encourage churches to put God's redemptive grace on display for all to see through baptism. We are believing God will take this initiative and allow many to hear the Gospel in a powerful way."

Greear hopes the online focus on baptism decisions will spark real-life conversations about faith.

Resources regarding Baptism Sunday have been made available through the North American Mission Board.

These resources explain how baptism can be done in a biblical way, but in an inclusive way, not creating "extra-biblical barriers to obedience."

Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, emphasized that on this particular Sunday the command to believers remains the same -- call people to Christ.

"Some people will accept Christ. Others will follow the Lord in the first step of discipleship. Invite people to repent and believe in our risen Lord Jesus, then be ready to baptize them," Richards said.

Also included in the resources from NAMB are helpful guidelines on how to plan a baptism service for the church.

Baptism Sunday is not a gimmick, Greear emphasized. Rather, it is a statement of faith that God is drawing people to Himself in surrounding communities.

The call to this special Sunday comes with an equally vital call to prayer -- prayer for a great number of souls saved, and for the Lord to move in great ways in 2020.

Randy Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said the common goals surrounding Baptism Sunday are wonderful ways to create unity within the convention.

"Nothing builds unity like a clear and compelling biblical vision. What greater vision than the spiritually lost being saved, baptized and set on the road of discipleship," Davis said. "Tennessee Baptists look forward to joining Southern Baptists across the country in seeing thousands of new believers baptized on Fill the Tank Easter Sunday."
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BP News Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 10:05am
NASHVILLE (BP) -- This weekly Bible study appears in Baptist Press in a partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Through its Leadership and Adult Publishing team, LifeWay publishes Sunday School curricula and additional resources for all age groups.

This week's Bible study is adapted from the Explore the Bible curriculum.

Bible Passages: Deuteronomy 5:17, 19:4-13

Discussion Questions:
-- Where is the balance between grace and justice?
-- How can believers demonstrate God's character when dealing with situations where a human life is taken?

Food for thought:

At times, grace and justice seem to be in a tug-of-war. Grace and justice appear to be in opposition, not in sync. Grace sometimes gets positioned as the opposite of justice in that grace, working with mercy, offers second opportunities to seemingly undeserving people. Justice sometimes gets positioned in black and white terms without room for compassion (a cousin to grace). We may even begin to wonder if grace and justice can coexist and work as partners instead of antagonists. Moses gave us an example of these two crucial qualities working together.

In Deuteronomy 19, Moses gave guidelines for cities of refuge. These cities were established to serve as a safe haven for people who accidentally killed another person. The Old Testament law mandated that if a person was murdered, the next of kin was to avenge the death by executing the murderer.

However, cities of refuge were created so that a person who accidently killed another person could find protection until a fair hearing could be conducted. Moses also identified a system that called on cities of refuge to hand over anyone found to be a murderer (one who killed another person on purpose and with intent). Thus, in the establishment of cities of refuge, both grace and justice were demonstrated.

The cities of refuge point to God's character and wisdom. We know God to be holy and righteous. As such, He serves as the righteous Judge over His creation. His righteousness calls for Him to judge unrighteousness. Because of the fall and our sin nature, all humans fit into this category. At the same time, God demonstrates His love by offering us grace and mercy through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

We cannot fully explain why He offers His undeserved grace and mercy to us, but we can (and should) be thankful that He does. He carries out justice and grace at the same time, and this is where we need His wisdom and His character in our lives. We must seek Him to understand how to act in His character in this world, showing grace and justice to all people, all of whom are created in His image.

Explore the Bible
Explore the Bible is an ongoing Bible study curriculum that helps groups dig into the key truths of each Bible book, while keeping the group on pace to study through the Bible books in a systematic way. More information can be found at LifeWay.com/ExploreTheBible.

Other ongoing Bible study options for all ages offered by LifeWay can be found at LifeWay.com/SundaySchool or ordered at LifeWay Christian Stores.
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BP News Thursday, January 16, 2020 - 10:04am
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Tennessee state senators approved legislation Jan. 14 that would prohibit the state from forcing Christian or other faith-based adoption agencies to place children in homes that would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies."

Senate Bill 1304 passed the Senate by a margin of 20-6. Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville was the only Republican voting against the bill, joining the chamber's five Democrats, according to an article in The Tennessean.

The bill will now go to Gov. Bill Lee for his signature, having passed the house last year by a 67-32 margin.

The bill was opposed by gay rights activist groups and those who felt the bill would have a negative impact on the state's economy.

Dickerson, in speaking against the legislation, said passage of the bill could cause the state to suffer an adverse financial impact because of "bad public policy," The Tennessean reported.

Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, praised the legislation.

"I am thankful to live in a state where the governmental leadership respects religious liberty," Davis said.

"This adoption bill recognizes the biblical values of Christian adoption agencies in Tennessee and provides a measure of protection as these values are exercised. I am confident that Gov. Lee will sign the bill into law," he added.

Greg McCoy, president of Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes, supported the legislation even though TBCH "really does not have a dog in that fight because we don't accept government funding."

He noted the bill "does provide another layer of protection" for faith-based adoption agencies such as TBCH.

McCoy noted the law is not about denying the gay community the opportunity to adopt. The bill does not keep homosexuals from being involved in adoption but "protects faith-based adoption agencies from going against their beliefs," he said.

"We recruit evangelical Christians to serve on our foster care team. If you don't accept the Bible as God's authoritative Word, we will refer you to another agency where you can be involved in foster care. If we were forced to go against our convictions, we would get out of the foster care business."

In the state of Tennessee, people must serve as foster parents for six months before they can adopt, McCoy said.

The TBCH is a licensed adoption agency but focuses more on foster care, McCoy said. Last year, TBCH had 10 children adopted and "we probably will see more than 10 adoptions" this year, he added.

Though the TBCH does not receive government funds, they do place children from the Department of Children Services. "We have a no-cost contract with DCS. They do not pay us to place children. We are the only entity in Tennessee that does not charge the state for our services," he said. "It actually saves the state money when they use our team."

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention supported the legislation.

"In Tennessee, faith-based agencies are a vital part of a comprehensive system designed to maximize the number of families available to help children in need of foster or adoptive homes," said Brent Leatherwood, director of strategic partnerships for the ERLC. "This law adds an additional layer of protection to ensure that remains the case."

Leatherwood also noted that in other places, groups have been pitted against one another to the detriment of children.

"Thankfully, Tennessee isn't going to do that," he said. "This legislation was a high priority for Southern Baptists. The ERLC engaged on this bill because it was based on the principle of freedom: the freedom for anyone to help children; the freedom for faith-based organizations, like the Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes, to keep doing their good work consistent with their principles."

According to The Tennessean, eight states across the country have passed similar legislation. The paper also reported it had contacted the governor's office and received confirmation the governor "would be signing the bill as soon as it reaches his desk."
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