Month: March 2011

Life threatened, Iranian believer finds refuge in U.S.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–Babak Bighash was an electrical engineer for a major government agency in Iran, commuting more than 800 miles every two weeks between his home and workplace. He was a fairly devout Muslim yet he had unanswered questions about Islam.About 10 years ago, he managed to pick up a Christian radio broadcast in Iran, and he heard the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.”After I heard the answer of Jesus and how He could pardon her, it was like a light of faith in my heart,” Bighash told Baptist Press in an interview from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he has found fellowship and support at Vista Grande Baptist Church.”Before I heard about Jesus, what I heard was violence, kill, kill. More than 300 times in the Quran you can read that Allah says kill people by this specification.”The question had lingered in his mind, “If God wants someone killed for a sin, why did He create them?””If He didn’t want them, He wouldn’t create them,” Bighash said. “And a lot more things, like the difference between man and woman in Islam. I prayed in Islam for years. Sometimes for two or three hours I would be in the room, just me and Allah, and I prayed, prayed, prayed with Quran. But as soon as I came out and I left the house, I didn’t have any faith. I didn’t have any result of my conversation with Allah.”After hearing that Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery rather than punishing her, Bighash returned to his hometown and sought more information on Jesus and Christianity. His first attempt was to approach a group of what he thought were Armenian Christians. “Unfortunately they didn’t help me and they told me, ‘We cannot talk with you.’ After a lot of insistence, they told me, ‘OK,’ and they gave me two books,” he recounted. “But when I came back home and read the books, one of them was about the building of a church and the other was about the king of Armenia that brought the Christian religion for them.”So I came back the next day and I said, ‘Excuse me. I paid a lot of money for these books but these are not about answering my questions.’ So they told me, ‘We cannot help you.’ And really I was mad at them, and I said, ‘If you cannot talk about your belief, close the door of this church.’ They gave me an address for another small group of Christians. They told me, ‘We didn’t believe them and we think they are infidels, but they can talk with you about Jesus.'”Bighash made contact with someone from the group, and that person referred him to another man, a Christian in an underground church in Iran.”He told me the name of a street and said, ‘I will wear black shirt and brown shoes and I will have a newspaper in my left hand. You come like a taxi, and I will be your passenger.’ We started talking, and I asked my question. He answered me and he gave me a tract,” Bighash said. “He started to teach me about the plan of God for creation, what happened and then how God tried to bring us back to Himself.”We had several appointments in my car and sometimes in the park. After two or three months, he asked me, ‘Do you believe Jesus as your God and your Savior, and do you believe that Jesus came?’ I said yes. It was in March 1999 when Jesus came into my life.”The man introduced Bighash to other Muslims who had converted to Christianity, and he joined them regularly for worship and prayer. About six months later, Bighash’s wife told him she noticed a difference in him. Before, if someone cut him off in traffic, he yelled at them, but now he was calm, she said. He didn’t tell her he had become a Christian because he feared repercussions from his mother, who was a strong Muslim and who ensured that the family attended the local mosque.But one night Bighash was praying at home to God and his wife woke up and asked what he was doing. He told her to go back to sleep and he would explain in the morning. The next day, he called his pastor and asked what to do. The two agreed that it was time to share his faith with his wife.She wanted more information, so the pastor’s wife met her regularly under the guise of providing cooking lessons or going shopping, and within about three months, Bighash’s wife accepted Jesus. They began going to church as a couple, along with their 3-year-old daughter.”Sometimes the people who sang in church sang about kids. So my kid could remember this song, and one day when we were shopping, she started talking and singing this song,” Bighash recounted. “It was very dangerous, and so I told my wife, ‘Control her. Try to tell her don’t sing and don’t tell about where we were.’ But it was hard because she was just 3 years old.”Soon the family stopped going to the mosque, and Bighash’s mother reported them to the secret police. The mosque police started sending threatening messages to Bighash by calling on the telephone or by throwing stones at his house with warning messages attached. So he stopped inviting other Christians to his home for secret meetings, and after about a year with no contact from the mosque police, Bighash figured he was safe.He invited Christians to his home for worship again, and somehow the mosque police learned of the gathering and arrested Bighash and some others.

There’s an app for that! Maybe

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has provided our culture with some wonderful addictive gadgets. Tools like iPhone and, I hear, iPad, are intuitive to use and continue to learn new tricks through the addition of various applications, or “apps.” Apple allows individuals and companies to develop an app, but the tool must then be submitted to Apple for evaluation and approval before it will be offered for sale (or free) at iTunes. The screening process is an odd combination of pragmatism and moral advocacy.

For example, I recently read of a flap regarding the Exodus International app. Exodus is a ministry that helps lead those enmeshed in the culture associated with homosexual behavior into deliverance in Christ. The app from Exodus was approved by Apple but now is the focus of predictable fury from those who consider homosexuality a neutral state of being rather than a behavior, certainly not a destructive behavior. Apple pulled the app after being petitioned by homosexual advocates.

This has happened before. The Manhattan Declaration is supported by several hundred thousand signatories who believe that Christians must draw moral lines beyond which our society should not, and the signers will not, go. One of those issues exalts the family as being a life-long covenant between one man and one woman. Of course this leaves out quite a variety of things that should not be called a family. Apple rejected the Manhattan app last year because of their belief that it would be “likely to expose a group to harm” and further could be “objectionable and potentially harmful to others.” The Manhattan Declaration was rejected for what it affirmed rather than for what it criticized directly.

OK, maybe we know the ground rules now. Mr. Jobs even went a step further. In a press conference last year he was asked about users submitting apps without the screening process. He responded by saying that “we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” The screening process, then, is intended partly to restrict content based on moral convictions of some sort. So the Manhattan Declaration is out but so is Playboy magazine. Not so. Playboy has an authorized app that warns of intense sexual content and frequent nudity. The content is not recommended for those under 17 but does not meet the pornography, objectionable, or harmful criteria? When asked, an Apple marketing exec responded that Playboy is one the “more reputable companies.” One of the more reputable companies that provides pornographic material in several media, I might infer.

Maybe Apple’s apparent preference for homosexual behavior is limited to the committed and monogamous couples we see on television or movies. Nope. I found 12 apps that help homosexuals find dates, even one that uses the iPhone GPS function to find other users who are in close proximity to the seeker. Heterosexual or homosexual, that is not an app intended to match you with someone based on more than two aspects of compatibility. It’s sordid, but apparently not “offensive” or “harmful to a group.”

Likewise, several apps provide information about the relative kick of different varieties of marijuana. For most users, these apps seem intended for those who break the law. Other apps provide drinking games that encourage winners to drink themselves beyond legal or moral moderation. Destroyed brain cells and bad behavior do not apparently rise to the level of “exposing a group to harm,” we can surmise.

I found an app (free!) for Ashley Madison, a company that provides “a unique dating service catering to married people looking for an extramarital affair.” Really? How moral is adultery? No doubt the great hearts behind this company would argue that no one is harmed by adultery.

An advertising tag line for Apple says “there’s no limit to what you can do.” Not true. You can’t publish a statement that promotes the traditional family against all comers. You can’t offer homosexuals hope in Christ?one commenter called Apple morally deficient for allowing the Exodus International app in the first place. Considering the moral span of apps offered at iTunes, it would be hard to make a case that the company is morally condoning much except market domination.

Hear me, my iPhone is still in my pocket. No company is my moral guide. If you want to hate on Apple because of the breadth of what they apparently condone, don’t walk down the magazine aisle at Wal Mart. Your life will become more inconvenient if you do that in most bookstores or grocery stores. They exist to make money and are doing a credible job of it.

Really, what basis does Steve Jobs have for forming his own system of morality? If you begin with the assumption that God is an impersonal thing who cannot reveal himself except through intuition, we each form our own system that is sensible only to us and only for now. So Apple’s guru is a man. Like me, a sinner in need of grace. For now, we can use the tools Mr. Jobs has developed to good effect in our own ministries, just like we can use Wal Mart or Tom Thumb. These companies provide valuable services but they are not our allies. They are companies run by people who are looking for answers found in the God who revealed himself through his son, as revealed in his written Word. And yes, there is an app for that?in a wide variety of languages and versions.

CP DAY: Sunday, April 10

The following are testimonies from some Texas Southern Baptists about the vital role of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ shared missions funding mechanism. Begun in 1925, the CP replaced the old “societal” method of agencies competing against one another for funding. Prior to the CP, funding often went to the last missionary to visit a given church, or perhaps the most persuasive. Today, more than 10,000 domestic and international missionaries, church planting, six seminaries, a social concerns entity and Disaster Relief are among the ministries underwritten by the CP. Through CP, with every dollar given local churches are able to reach Texas and touch the world.
For a free CP promotional DVD, e-mail

At SWBTS, I think one of the best things has been the quality education I’ve received. Being able to go into a classroom and have some of the finest minds in the United States and even the world teach me Scripture and how to relate Scripture to my people has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. The Cooperative Program makes that education possible for people that normally wouldn’t be able afford it. In fact, it’s going to cut my tuition in half, just from the giving that people all around the country give through the Cooperative Program.

?Craig Seals, Southwestern student

Our giving allows us to join with tens of thousands of other Southern Baptists across the state of Texas, across the U.S. and around the world as we seek to be a part of what God is doing to reach the nations for Jesus Christ. When you give through the Cooperative Program, you make sure that you’re connected to God’s plan to save the world. From West Texas to West Africa, it’s all a part of being connected through the Cooperative Program.

?Clayton Griggs, pastor, First Baptist church, Snyder

Often when I think of the Cooperative Program, I think “many hands make light work.” We’re intentional about the Cooperative Program for several reasons. Probably one of the most important would be church planting?being able to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, providing funds for new church planters, for young pastors to be able to have resources, to our schools, which I have personally benefited from ? and I am forever indebted and grateful for those opportunities.

?Alex Gonzales, pastor, Hickory Tree Baptist, Balch Springs

God has blessed us tremendously through the Cooperative Program, not only in carrying on our ministries, but we are only a few weeks away from being able to close on what we believe will be our permanent church home. We were able to purchase property and that is a result of the Cooperative Program and obviously God changing hearts and changing lives to give according to his biblical principles. We again want to thank you and encourage you to give through the CP. It goes to glorify God and help build his kingdom.

?Josh Henry, pastor, Trail of Life Cowboy Church, Conroe

God has blessed and continues to bless the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists to give support and sustain the various agencies and entities of our denomination. We are honored to support the Cooperative Program at our church here at Great Hills in Austin. I take great joy in knowing Great Hills is able to cooperate with other Bible-believing Baptist churches and we can support our local, state, national and international ministries through the Cooperative Program.

?Danny Forshee, pastor, Great Hills Baptist Church, Austin

Christ has given us a command to go into all the world and baptize believers and teach them the Word of God. When we find ourselves moving and blessing lives with the Word of God, we’ve got to know that God is pleased with that.? [Whenever] you see calamity around the world, Southern Baptists are always one of the first there, and I know that the SBTC is there?. Not only are we saving souls, but we’re making sure that those caught in calamity are taken care of and supported as well.

?Terry Turner, pastor, Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church

In Dallas, IMB appoints 67 new missionaries

DALLAS?”We were your typical American family?two kids, a dog and house in the suburbs,” Ryan Williams shared as one of dozens of testimonies offered March 16 at an International Mission Board missionary appointment service hosted by First Baptist Church in Dallas.

Before following God’s call overseas, Williams was a general contractor. His wife, Melinda, was a math teacher. After an evangelism-focused Sunday School series at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen sparked their interest in sharing their faith, the Williamses couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

The Williamses are trading their “comfortable Christian life” in McKinney, to share Jesus and plant churches in Romania, where they will serve as logistics coordinators for a small IMB team.

Sebastian Vazquez and his wife, Erin, are carrying on a family legacy, serving among international university students in Toronto, Canada, as fourth-generation church planters.

Nearly 100 years ago, Vazquez’s great-grandfather, Angel, was led to Christ in Argentina by a Southern Baptist missionary from Mississippi. Angel, a baker who immigrated to Argentina from Spain, eventually became a church planter, as did his son, Ramon (Vazquez’s grandfather). Ramon’s son, Raul (Vazquez’s father), became a pastor and church planter in Texas after the Vazquez family moved there.

“At first, I carried it (his family’s legacy) as a burden because I thought that it was something that was pushing me into ministry, sort of like the family business,” Sebastian Vazquez says. “But now I really have peace with it and love to share the story because I really think it shows God’s faithfulness?a missionary 100 years ago who probably never realized that the one little baker he led to the Lord would be the first of four generations of church planters.”

The Vazquez’s, Williams’ and two other couples are the only Texas-related missionaries who can be identified publicly with the other 18 going to areas where their security would be compromised. David and Chara Paul from Grand Prairie will be serving the European Peoples affinity group, having first recognized God’s leading them while seeing him work in Vietnam. John and Suzie Hailes of Commerce will minister among Sub-Saharan African Peoples.

Unidentified Southern Baptist representatives have ties to these SBTC-affiliated churches: Cottonwood Creek Baptist in Allen, First Baptist and Southcliff Baptist in Fort Worth, Mosaic of Arlington, First Baptist in Newark and Northwest in Houston.

For Matt Hartwell,* who pastors a Southern Baptist church in Texas, affirmation of God’s call came on a short-term mission trip to Ecuador with his wife, Lilly.* A year later, on another short-term trip, God revealed where they would be serving. As the Hartwells prayerwalked an unreached mountain village in North Africa and the Middle East, His direction was clear.

“We really felt God speak to both of us, saying ‘This will be home,'” Hartwell remembered. The couple is preparing to return to that same mountain area where they will pioneer Southern Baptists’ efforts to spread the gospel.

Fifteen of the 67 appointees are bound for service in North Africa and the Middle East?a region that’s experienced an unprecedented season of unrest since the beginning of 2011. Those missionaries include Hank and Ruby Greene,* who have the unique challenge of sharing Jesus with Deaf Muslims.

“If governments that have previously opposed the gospel are toppling, this is a pretty good opportunity to go in,” he said. “We may as well take advantage while the foundations are cracked and let the gospel fill the gaps.”

The appointment service was a historic event for Southern Baptists’ Deaf missions work. The Greenes were among six missionaries specifically appointed to reach the Deaf, the largest number in a single appointment service. More than 250 Deaf attended the service, including several Deaf pastors and Jim Dermon, president of the Southern Baptist Convention of the Deaf.

Missionary calling isn’t reserved for pastors and those with careers in ministry. Many of the new appointees came from secular careers with little or no professional ministry experience. Their work won’t necessarily fit the stereotypical missionary mold, either.

George Dyer has spent much of his life in front of a computer. But after a short-term mission trip to Russia, the 50-year-old Nebraska man felt God leading him to give up his job in information technology to serve overseas. Dyer and his wife, Laura, are going to Chile, where he’ll use his computer skills to provide technical support for hundreds of Southern Baptist missionaries working throug

Laredo effort yields early fruit

LAREDO?The first week of a two-week mission effort by church groups resulted in more than 70 percent of Laredo’s households receiving a gospel witness in written form and at least 100 professions of faith from block parties and outdoor revival services.

“We had a really good response,” Chuy Avila, SBTC church planting missionary, said on March 22. “We had revivals in 15 city parks and block parties in five different neighborhoods through the week. It was neat to see how the Lord worked in our community.”

Eleven out-of-town church groups?one from as far away as Borger in the Panhandle? and four from Laredo joined to distribute information packets to 35,000 of Laredo’s 50,000 households. The effort involved 252 volunteers, Avila said. Each packet contained a gospel presentation in Spanish and English, along with tickets to an April 17 event at the Laredo Energy Arena featuring Team Impact, a strength demonstration group that ends each performance with a gospel invitation.

Avila is praying for five new churches resulting from the evangelistic fruit of the next month, he said.

“My expectation was that we’d be able to hit 30,000 households the first week; we did 35,000. We still have some local churches who are willing to take the lead for the remaining 15,000 homes.”

Some of the churches that brought groups to Laredo included First Baptist Borger, First Baptist Farmersville, North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Garland, Great Hills Baptist in Austin, and Church at the Cross in Grapevine.

College student Jessica James of FBC Farmersville was one of about 25 people from the Collin County church that made the spring break trip. They ranged in age from 4 to 69.

“Our family was going,” James explained. “It’s just something I felt like I needed to do.”

“It’s a family mission trip,” explained Courtney Aston, wife of missions pastor Matthew Aston. “All sorts of families came.”

Gunther Getting, a high school senior, gave up his spring break to travel the 12 hours from Borger with his church group to canvas neighborhoods and entertain children at nightly block parties like the one he was working in El Cenizo, a small community just outside of Laredo.

Getting said he has been to Mexico on previous spring breaks, but this year the church decided to help with the Laredo effort. They rose early each day to leave door hangers in area neighborhoods and invite people to block parties.

“Hopefully,” Getting said looking around at a gathering of children, “they start coming to church and get saved.”

Meanwhile, the folks back home were praying for the group while they were there, Getting said.

“We just pray for God to work in us and through us while we are here,” he added.

Another FBC Borger member, Layne Rusten, a Texas Tech University student, was on her fifth consecutive spring break mission trip.

“These people just truly love you and want to hear what you have to say, most of the time,” Rusten said. “Being able to minister to them in the smallest ways?painting somebody’s face or giving them popcorn or nachos or playing games with them and talking to them about your relationship with Christ?they care and they want to know what you have to say, and I think that’s so neat. I’m so blessed to be able to be used by God in the simple ways.”

In addition to an anticipated five new congregations being birthed after April’s evangelistic events conclude, churches such as Iglesia Bautista Nuevo Desafio, a year-old congregation of about 30 people, will be following up with new converts who live in their area of the city. With only 2 percent of Laredo residents identifiably evangelical, there are plenty of spiritual fish for everyone, pastor Marco Valdez said.

“As we are working together, everybody remembers we are working for the King. Nobody is working for themselves,” Valdez said.

Iglesia Bautista Nuevo Desafio is helping a sister church begin work in the nearby town of Rio Bravo. Their efforts outside their walls include three soccer camps planned in different areas of Laredo this spring and summer.

“We are working hard,” Valdez said. “We are a small church and everybody is working hard.

“We need to make a better effort to impact Laredo for the gospel. The advantage here is we have no earthquakes, no tsunamis, no tornadoes. No excuse to make a huge impact.”

SBTC Missions Director Terry Coy said the effort of participating churches would yield fruit for months to come.

“God blessed the efforts of SBTC churches working in Laredo,” Coy said. “A heartfelt thank you to the churches who walked the streets and worked the events in Laredo. We expect even greater fruit?new believers, transformed lives, and church plants?after the upcoming Team Impact event and following a summer full of churches on mission trips in the city.”

Elliff setting shoulder, heart ‘to the work’

DALLAS?Before he challenged Southern Baptist churches to “cowboy up” to adopt remaining unengaged, unreached people groups by 2012, newly elected IMB President Tom Elliff leaned over and kissed his wife, Jeannie, prompting a second round of applause from a receptive audience of IMB trustees, staff and guests.

“There’s a reason our kids say they want to love their spouses like I love mine,” he said, paying tribute to his partner of 44 years before addressing the 76 trustees who unanimously elected him March 16 as the 11th president of Southern Baptists’ overseas mission board.

The 67-year-old native Texan and long-time Oklahoma pastor wasted no time outlining his agenda for the position he assumed immediately, but first he made a personal appeal for prayer, having “shed buckets of tears thinking about what’s ahead of us.” Trustees made note of the seven items on the Elliffs’ prayer list:

  • “that there would be in our hearts a looming awareness of the fact that we are ambassadors for Christ and must act in a way that’s consistent with our Lord, but act with confidence;”
  • “a pure heart,” citing David’s attitude in Psalm 24;
  • the exercise of spiritual work in the fullness of the Holy Spirit “so the life of Christ can be manifested through us;”
  • to exhibit the gifts and graces of the Spirit, citing Galatians 5 and Isaiah 11:2;
  • “that never would we unwittingly place in the hands of the adversary something that he might use to mock our Savior;”
  • that God would protect our families, and finally,
  • “that God would keep us faithful to the vision.”

That vision is “a picture painted on the wall of your heart,” Elliff said, one that should not be painted by friends or family, but by God “of what can be by his grace.”

Recognizing that he’s operating on “a fast learning curve,” Elliff then turned to his theology of missions which he said frames any action he will take to be sure it is “biblical, balanced and bold.”

In asking first whether an action is biblical, Elliff said that priority will keep the IMB from being swept away in tides of either sentimentalism or pragmatism.

“Our doctrines, our beliefs have come to us at too high a price for us to ignore asking this question,” said Elliff, prompting various trustees to offer an amen. Elliff said “sound theology and scriptural cohesion is so important” that he will recommend a candidate at the May 19-20 Richmond trustee meeting to fill the vice presidential position he vacated two years ago.

“The person I bring to you will be someone of noted theological expertise, who passionately loves missions and missionaries, who will work closely and carry the banner for God’s Word among our staff and our team on the field, and reach out to our schools and seminaries,” he explained.

“We’re the International Mission Board, but we don’t have a corner on missions strategy,” said Elliff, urging an appreciation for plans developed by Southern Baptist seminaries and behind the pulpits of our churches.

“We need to mine the gold of both those students and their mission strategies,” he said, referring to the resources of SBC seminaries.

Second, Elliff said he will ask whether an action is balanced, citing the need to pursue all three components of the Great Commission?evangelism, discipleship and church planting, as outlined in Matthew 28:18-20.

Third, Elliff said, “There is no way the Great Commission can be obeyed without an incredibly bold, sacrificial, selfless lifestyle,” explaining his insistence on asking whether an action is bold.

Looking to his predecessor, Jerry Rankin, to whom he paid tribute as one of the great men of faith on whose shoulders he stands, Elliff said, “The truth of the matter is, with all due respect, this is a whole different world than it was 18 months ago when you resigned.”

The new president addressed the urgency of the hour that demands a fresh boldness, stating, “It’s as if the reels of history are spinning rapidly and perhaps in our lifetime the last few frames might come ripping off. And to that I’d say, even so, come Lord Jesus.”

Adding, “We can’t simply be content to be for missions,” Elliff said some in the room might be “for” missions in the same way that they are for their local church, helping h

Any other gospel

Aren’t we flighty? I am reminded of the perverse pleasure I took in throwing gravel on the tin roof of my granddad’s chicken house. The stupid creatures within never failed to squawk, fly around and stir up dust at the always unexpected clatter of the small rocks. Every time a Christian celebrity writes a theologically strange book or explodes morally, we, like those chickens, fly around the room squawking before finally settling down to continue our business. The devils scamper in delight and we mill around in discomfort, unnecessarily I believe.

Celebrity makes us care too much about what even an orthodox communicator thinks about things way beyond what he knows. The influence of celebrity magnifies the harm when a communicator reveals that his message is not up to the standards of his delivery. Isn’t that the Rob Bell flap (see page 15 for an article) in a nutshell? Cool videos, stylish delivery and attire, when added to tired liberal dithering on doctrinal basics equals only doctrinal confusion. None of the rest really matters, or it shouldn’t. Celebrity gives Ted Haggard a reality TV show a few years after his behavioral issues disqualified him for ministry leadership. That same celebrity status rocked the ground under his parishioners and admirers when his problems became public. In some cases, celebrity?an assumed importance of a leader?has led those near him to cover up terrible problems for inexcusable years. Nothing good came of that. Well-intended delusion actually did more harm than removing a false leader could have ever done.

A moral or doctrinal crash on the part of any mere man should not result in a crisis of faith for any maturing Christian. Disappointment, yes; sorrow, yes; but not a crisis of our faith in God. The fact that it does for some?or that it doesn’t for those who simply follow him down the new path?indicates a failure of disciple making on the part of many otherwise serious congregations.

Consider the example of the unsaved Bereans in Acts 17. Notice in verses 11 and 12 that the Bereans examined the Scriptures to see if Paul’s preaching was true before they believed. How much more should we be motivated and equipped to compare the messages we hear with what God has said in the Bible after we are redeemed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Notice the Bible describes the Bereans as more open-minded than those who rejected the gospel outright. Those who accept the message of a preacher without testing him are also closed-minded, I think. Unthinking tolerance seems similar to knee-jerk rejection. Those who have a reason for accepting or rejecting the assertions of another will be stronger in their beliefs than those who respond without thinking.

Many will wrongly blame a prominent communicator for the lack of diligence practiced by his fans. It’s on us, whether our pastor or mentor has a 30-year reputation or if he is the edgy new kid. He must pass the test every time he writes or speaks. And we must be courageous to test him, every time. A Christian communicator who takes a defensive attitude to questions or critique is warning us to listen more carefully. It is not gossip or slander or pharisaical judgment to parse carefully the words a man uses when describing the gospel. It is simply exalting the message of God above the interpretations of men.

And a leader found false is a serious matter. Paul spoke strongly of this in Galatians 1:8, But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. There is a place for mercy and restoration of some sort when a man fails catastrophically. But the message is more important than the man; it is always more important than the man and his position. Paul considered the message more important than himself. Without the true gospel message, the preacher is a useless seller of personally aggrandizing nonsense. Examples are plentiful.

A good church will raise up Bereans who test the claims of men against the claims of the God who made men. A true preacher will welcome inquiry, will teach his people to hold him accountable to the revelation he claims to declare. A growing Christian will be increasingly uncomfortable with personality cults that exalt a man without testing his message by revealed truth.

Dallas Japanese congregation prays for homeland

DALLAS?On March 11, a massive 9.0 earthquake shifted the island nation of Japan eight feet closer to the United States. Half an hour after the quake, the resulting tsunami swept through the northern portion of the country, washing away entire villages. A week and a half later, more than 9,000 people were confirmed dead and 12,000 were still missing. Thousands more were in evacuation centers with dangerously low levels of food, water, and little or no heat.

Meanwhile, one small Japanese congregation in Dallas prayed and waited. Futoshi Shingaki is the pastor of the Japanese congregation at First Baptist Church in Dallas. Of the 25 members of the church, none had lost family members in the terrible disaster. But their hearts remained with the people in Japan dealing with this devastating crisis.

Days after the tsunami, they longed to be with family and friends, but were content to do what they could from here. They must wait in the tension between frustration and trust.

“It is very difficult to visit Japan right now,” Shingaki said, “because of all the confusion and especially the transportation problems. We cannot go to Japan; we cannot do anything. But we can spend time in prayer and raise money to donate.”

Prayer for the people of Japan has been a primary focus of the group. Each Sunday before and after services, the church has met for intense prayer meetings for Japan. During the first prayer meeting on March 13, they prayed for missing family members.

“One of our members’ nephew was missing,” Shingaki said. “We heard last Sunday that he was now safe. Another member’s uncle was missing, but we heard this morning that he was also safe.”

Other prayer concerns included physical needs of the people, such as food, water, clothes, medicine and temporary shelter for the thousands of refugees.

“We prayed for the healing of the injuries sustained, both physically and in the heart. We prayed for the salvation of the Japanese people, that they would put their hope in Jesus Christ. We also prayed for the solution of the problem with the power plant.”

The cooling pumps at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, 140 miles north of Tokyo, were damaged by the earthquake, putting the plant in danger of a nuclear meltdown.

Another way the church plans to help is through donations.

“We can send donations through evangelical Christian organizations so that they can help the victims with not only their material needs, but also with their spiritual needs. Only Christians can give them true hope,” Shingaki said.

Conditions in the area make it difficult for aid to reach the people hardest hit. Despite the hardships, Japanese government and Christian aid organizations are working to meet people’s needs. Damage to roads and shortages of gasoline and electric power are major obstacles. The need is overwhelming with too few supplies to go around.

“The greatest need for the Japanese is true hope in Jesus Christ!” said Shingaki, but, he emphasized, Christian organizations on the ground must meet physical needs before they can tackle the spiritual needs of the people.

“The local pastors can help by giving water, food, medicine and shelter. They can care for the hearts of the victims. Then they can explain the true hope in Jesus Christ. I think that is the necessity for the church in Japan now. Many religious groups are helping the refugees, not just Christians. But many Japanese are on their guard against religious groups trying to take advantage of the disaster. Many Japanese think that Christianity is the same as any other religion. Christians need to relieve the Japanese of these misgivings. Churches need to help the Japanese understand that Christianity is different from other religions.

“I pray that God opens the spiritual eyes of the people of Japan to see eternal hope. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:4, ‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ I really think that the enemy has blinded the minds of unbelievers in Japan. I want to see their spiritual eyes opened.”

Due to the nature of the disaster, Southern Baptists Disaster Relief efforts are being managed through the local churches in Japan. The best way for Southern Baptists to help is through prayer and donations.

Shingaki urged prayer for the physical and spiritual needs of the people affected by the disaster, the continuing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and for local churches as they respond to the needs around them. Pray that the Lord would open spiritual eyes

If you would like to donate through SBTC Disaster Relief, mail checks designated “Japan Disaster” to the SBTC office at PO Box 1988, Grapevine, Texas 76099-1988. You may also give online through Baptist Global Response at

Abortion rights supporters find new target: crisis pregnancy centers

Updated to note the Alliance Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit.NEW YORK (BP)–After years of staying mostly out of the spotlight, pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are increasingly coming under political attack in cities nationwide where some legislators and mayors are demanding the centers explicitly declare — in exterior signs and even in ads — that they do not perform abortions. Such legislation, pro-lifers say, is not only unconstitutional but also could lead to an uptick in abortions because some women — who otherwise would be open to hearing about alternatives to abortion — will be deterred from even entering the building.The latest city is New York, which has approved a law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post signs at the entrance and in the waiting room stating they do not perform abortions or provide abortion referrals. If the center does not have a licensed medical provider on staff, that information, too, must be posted on the signs. Although other cities have passed similar laws, New York’s law goes a step further by requiring the information also be disclosed in advertisements and over the phone to people who call the centers.Crisis pregnancy centers are needed, supporters say, because Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest abortion provider — is biased in its counseling and has a financial interest in guiding women to abortions. In 2009, Planned Parenthood performed 340 abortions for every one adoption referral it made, its own data shows.The pro-life centers often provide such free services as pregnancy tests, ultrasound exams, prenatal care, childbirth classes, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, post-abortion counseling and material assistance. Abortion clinics typically do not provide many of these services.The ultrasounds — which show a woman her unborn baby in detail — have been particularly helpful in deterring abortions. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the law March 16, saying it’s needed to make sure women are “fully informed.”Matt Bowman, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, told Baptist Press that pro-choicers want to “shut down the real help and hope that pregnancy centers offer women.” ADF, a pro-life legal group, filed a suit against New York March 18.”There’s not any question that crisis pregnancy centers are being targeted,” Bowman told Baptist Press. “You can read the pamphlets from the abortion movement targeting them. It’s not hidden. I think these attacks on pregnancy centers are an attempt to distract from the growing national scandals in the abortion industry and to give women fewer choices when they experience an unexpected pregnancy.”For pro-lifers, the good news is that courts — so far — are mostly siding with them. In January, a federal judge struck down a Baltimore, Md., law that required crisis pregnancy centers to post exterior signs stating they do not provide abortions or make referrals for abortions. In ruling that the law violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause, the judge, Marvin Garbis, wrote that “it is for the provider — not the Government — to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods.” Austin, Texas, also has a similar law to Baltimore’s. Pro-lifers also won a partial victory March 14 when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against a portion of a Montgomery County, Md., law that requires crisis pregnancy centers to post a sign in the waiting room stating the county “encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.” The law also requires a sign in the waiting room to state that the center “does not have a licensed medical professional on staff.” Judge Deborah Chasanow’s injunction allowed that latter portion of the law to remain but she said she would consider the matter further as the case proceeds.Planned Parenthood claims on its website that crisis pregnancy centers have a history of “giving women wrong, biased information to scare them into not having abortions.” NARAL Pro-Choice America — a leading abortion rights group — calls the centers a “growing threat to women’s health” and says the centers will “do anything to scare a woman away from choosing legal abortion.”CeCe Heil, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, testified in person against the New York law. ACLJ, too, is expected to file suit against the law.”As an attorney, I don’t have to have a sign on my door that says I don’t do balloon characters. There’s no other situation in the world where in any kind of business you have to say what you don’t provide,” Heil said during a panel discussion at the National Religious Broadcasters meeting in February.The laws, Heil says, are “compelled speech” passed by legislators who “want to control speech with which they disagree.”Even if some centers are advertising falsely, Heil said, new laws are not needed because there already are laws against false advertising.Said Bowman, of the Alliance Defense Fund, “You’ve got political allies of the abortion industry being explicitly lobbied by abortionists and abortion-rights organizations to go after those ‘mean’ pro-life pregnancy centers, and they pass a law and only pro-life pregnancy centers are affected.”

Burn victim receives nation’s first full face transplant

burn victim whose face was badly marred in an accident suffered while
painting a Baptist church in Forth Worth has become the first person in
the United States to undergo a full facial transplant.

trailblazing surgery on 25-year-old Dallas Wiens was completed sometime between March 14-18, physicians at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital
announced on March 21. For privacy reasons, the hospital did not say which
day the surgery occurred. It required a deceased donor, whose identity
and date of death was not disclosed, and included a team of more than 30
physicians and nurses led by Bohdan Pomahoc, plastic surgeon and
director of the hospital’s burn center.

to reporters on Monday, Bohdan praised Wiens “for his courage and
strength” while calling the donor’s gift “the most selfless gift one
human can give another.”

also thanked the New England Organ Bank, the Department of Defense,
whose research grant helped fund the surgery, and the surgical team who worked for more
than 15 hours to transplant the nose, lips, facial skin, “muscles of
facial animation and the nerves that power them and provide sensation,” a
hospital news release stated.

Peterson of Fort Worth, Wiens’ grandfather, told reporters he thanked
God “for walking with us through this amazing journey.” Peterson told
Pomahoc that he “inspired confidence” in his grandson the first time
they met him and that Wiens, when he is able, plans to be an advocate
for facial transplant surgery.

November 2008, Wiens suffered life-threatening burns when he came in
contact with a high-voltage wire while painting his church, Ridglea
Baptist in Fort Worth. Through hours of painstaking surgery, physicians
at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital were able to save Wiens’ life but with
severe facial disfiguration and blindness resulting from the accident.

on, Peterson said, Wiens decided “he could choose to get bitter, or he
could choose to get better. Thank God, today he is better.”

said so far Wiens is “meeting all the milestones,” even speaking with
close family and friends on the phone. On Monday morning he had yet to
eat, “but that will be soon.”

on the surgery, “I was very pleased with what we were able to do,”
Bohdan told reporters. Asked what Wiens’ appearance would be like when
his face is healed, Bohdan said he would look neither like his old self
nor would he resemble the donor, but “probably somewhere in the middle.”

used the donor’s skin and some nasal bone to provide some added
structure to Wien’s new face, which should regain most of the sensation
lost in the accident and functionality of the mouth and nose. Attempts
to restore sight to Wiens’ one remaining eye failed last year.

told reporters the surgery is not merely cosmetic and functional but
also involves some ethical considerations. For example, he told of a
former patient who underwent multiple grueling procedures to improve his
physical appearance. Asked by the hospital staff why he continued to
seek treatment with so little promise of significant improvement, the
patient said, “I just want a cab to stop when I’m at the curb.”

Two other people are on a waiting list for similar surgeries, Bohdan said.

will spend several months in Boston recovering from his surgery before
returning to Texas for more care and recovery, physicians said. He will
be taking a low dose of anti-rejection drugs for the next year, Bohdan

Wiens spoke to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Empower Evangelism Conference on Feb. 28.

say I’m tenacious but we know differently,” he told those at the
conference. “On the very first line of my medical record it says, ‘This
young man is a miracle of God.’ Even they cannot deny that it was God
who saved my life ? The doctors that I had?God put their skill to work
in the right place and at the right time to keep me alive.”

The accident, Wiens said, put him in a position to hear from God after running from him since his teenage years.

Wiens’ grandmother, Sue Peterson, wrote in an e-mail on March 22 to friends and family, “We are thankful that we serve an awesome God and that He indeed has all the details under control.”

She added, “We continue to lift the donor’s family in prayer for comfort and for peace. Through their loss, Dallas has been given a gift. We are grateful.”

An earlier article in the Southern Baptist TEXAN chronicled Wiens’ injury and recovery, accessible at