Month: December 2022

84 percent of Christians say U.S. has forgotten true meaning of Christmas

WASHINGTON (BP)—Three quarters of U.S. adults say Americans have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, with Christians more likely to make the claim than non-religious individuals, according to a new Ipsos poll.

Among Christians, 84 percent voiced the opinion, with 50 percent strongly agreeing and 34 percent somewhat agreeing, Ipsos said. The numbers compare with 42 percent of all Americans who agree strongly with the presumption, and 33 percent who somewhat agree, Ipsos said.

Conversely, 16 percent of those polled disagreed with the statement, compared with 13 percent of Christians who disagreed, and 60 percent of non-religious respondents who disagreed.

The poll did not ask respondents their view of the true meaning of Christmas, a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. Ipsos conducted its online poll Dec. 9-11 among a nationally representative sample of 1,023 adults using the probability-based KnowledgePanel, which Ipsos described as “the most well-established online probability-based panel.”

The sentiment that Americans have forgotten what Christmas means also proved more prevalent among Republicans and those over the age of 50, Ipsos said, with 88 percent of Republicans agreeing and 81 percent of those over age 50 and above agreeing.

Among Democrats, 66 percent agreed with the presumption, as well as 68 percent of all respondents between the ages of 18 and 24, and 66 percent of those between 25 and 34.

The findings track with a 2017 Pew Research study that found most respondents believed Americans were putting less emphasis on the religious aspects of Christmas, Pew reported that year.

“Not only are some of the more religious aspects of Christmas less prominent in the public sphere, but there are signs that they are on the wane in Americans’ private lives and personal beliefs as well,” Pew said of its study of U.S. adults conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 4 of 2017. “For instance, there has been a noticeable decline in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they believe that biblical elements of the Christmas story – that Jesus was born to a virgin, for example – reflect historical events that actually occurred. And although most Americans still say they mark the occasion as a religious holiday, there has been a slight drop in recent years in the share who say they do this.”

In the Pew study, 55 percent of respondents planned to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday in 2017. Of that majority, 46 percent perceived Christmas as more of a religious than cultural holiday, and 9 percent perceived the occasion as both religious and cultural.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Asian pastors in Metroplex, Houston celebrate birth of Christ

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Asian pastors and wives recently gathered in different areas of the state to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Asian churches from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, representing more than 10 countries, gathered to worship and praise Christ, listen to God’s Word, fellowship, and share a meal at New Life Gospel Church in Lewisville, where Thomas Wang is the pastor. The event was sponsored by the SBTC and organized by Hyoung Min Kim, who serves the convention as a consultant to Asian churches.

Bruno Molina, SBTC’s language and interfaith evangelism associate and president of the National Baptist Hispanic Network, started the event with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving that celebrated diversity, the grace of God, and the unity of all the Asian pastors. Tony Mathews, SBTC’s senior strategist over missional ministries, preached the message.

Referencing Matthew 1:18-25 during a message titled, “God with us,” Mathews encouraged the Asian pastors to rejoice in the fact that God is with us in the person of Jesus Christ.

“The incarnation is amazing,” Mathews said. “‘God with us’ was not an ordinary Son because He was born of a virgin. He identified Himself with us as an everyday human, and He understands us because He was tempted but did not sin. You are not alone because God is with us. [He] is our Savior. ‘God with us’ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

“In the manger, a Christian can find justification, adoption into the family of God,” Mathews continued, “which gives us access to the Father—where we can find protection, refuge, provision, and the discipline of God.”

Pastor Angelo Tolentino from Mosaic Fellowship Church in Lewisville shared his testimony of how the Lord has been present in he and his wife’s lives during the sickness and healing of their baby, who was born weighing only two pounds with heart problems. “I learned that because God is silent doesn’t mean He is absent. He will walk with you in the valleys of our lives,” Tolentino said.

Jung Yun Kim praised the Lord with her gift of music by playing her violin. She offered a masterful rendition of “O Holy Night,” and the general worship time was provided by the worship team from Great Commission Church.

Pastor Darrell Vang, from Unity Point Church, guided the group to play games and have a moment of laughter. All received a gift provided by president of Hanna Isul, Myung Hoon Jeong, while the children were ministered to by Jihyun Kim from Child Evangelism Fellowship.

Guided by Hyoung Min Kim, the participants had a time of group prayer, where all prayed in unity for various prayer concerns including the religious persecution Christians are facing in Myanmar (Burma). They all prayed the same prayer concern in 11 languages. At the end of the event, Albert Seung from 4C Fellowship offered the benediction.

A strong number of pastors and their family members attended the SBTC Asian pastors gathering in Houston. SUBMITTED PHOTO

SBTC Asian churches from the Houston area also gathered with the same purpose, to honor the Lord Jesus and celebrate His birth. The Houston Asian pastors and family Christmas banquet was coordinated by Pastor Michael Liga of International Victory Christian Church in Pearland.

Molina represented the SBTC at this gathering, as well. He greeted participants on behalf of the SBTC and encouraged pastors to continue their ministries and know that the SBTC will be with them and praying for them. “We are glad about what God is doing in and through the Asian churches in the Houston area, and we are looking forward to a fruitful collaboration in 2023,” he said.

Pastor David Mai preached a sermon based on Luke 2, encouraging pastors to be as faithful and grateful as Mary, and to depend on God in their ministries. Pastor Clifford Lee of River Oaks Chinese Mission gave a wonderful testimony regarding God’s faithfulness in and through his family and ministry.

SBTC to provide Send Network SBTC planters with portable baptistries

GRAPEVINE—A great year for church planting through Send Network SBTC is ending with a special opportunity for planters.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Nathan Lorick on Friday announced the SBTC will provide portable baptistries for church plants that plant through Send Network SBTC. Though this initiative will begin Jan. 1, 2023, the SBTC will also make this opportunity available to any Send Network SBTC church plants that launched in 2022.

The gift of baptistries, which can often be costly, will be a practical and welcome tool for church planters who often operate on tight budgets and with limited resources. Lorick said the heart of the effort to provide baptistries is to serve and resource planters as they launch new churches across our state. One of the most tangible ways to do this, he said, is by helping them be able to take the gospel to the people in their community.

“I love church planters. I know they face unique challenges as they work diligently to fulfill the calling God has on their lives,” Lorick said. “As they see lives transformed, we also want them to have the opportunity to celebrate as churches by being able to baptize those who have come to Christ. It is an awesome privilege to provide church plants with a tool like this as they seek to reach their communities for Christ.

“I know many church plants may not have the space or need for this gift,” Lorick added. “However, if a church plant needs one and desires to have one, the SBTC considers it an honor to come alongside these churches and provide this opportunity.”

Send Network SBTC Director Julio Arriola said the gift of baptistries “has the potential to make a difference in dozens of churches every year.”

“We believe in our church planters and we know they are doing what they are called to do—engaging their communities with the gospel and making disciples of Jesus,” Arriola said. “Providing a baptistry to each one of our church plants when they launch will be a clear statement that we believe lost people will be reached with the gospel at that new church and that they will not need to go somewhere else to celebrate baptisms.”

Arriola said Send Network SBTC leaders not only understand the limited funds planters have, but the logistical challenges they face when they do not have their own baptistries. Those planters often are forced to find alternative locations or means to baptize the people they reach.

The end of 2022 also marks the end of the first full year of the church planting partnership between the SBTC and Send Network SBTC. During that time, Arriola said, “We have seen more churches planting churches than we have seen since 2005.” He added that the network has started English and Spanish Send Network assessment retreats for Texas planters, and that it also has been working on developing church planting residencies.

“That is allowing us to see an amazing record harvest of new churches,” Arriola said.


African American leadership institute set to launch in 2023

COLUMBIA, Md. (BP)—Formerly enslaved African American pastor George Liele planted churches in Jamaica nearly a century before beloved missionaries Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon spread the Gospel abroad.

Two years after the Southern Baptist Convention added a George Liele Church Planting, Evangelism and Missions Sunday to the official SBC calendar, plans are underway to found a leadership institute in the name of the trailblazer who began his international ministry in Jamaica 1783.

“In Southern Baptist history, we have a lot of role models but we don’t have a lot of African American role models we have embraced historically that have had international impact,” Lanham, Md., pastor Bernard Fuller told Baptist Press. “If we’re going to get the Black church involved, we have to show them examples of individuals who look like them.

“And one of those individuals is George Liele, whom we’ve overlooked many years and haven’t brought to the forefront. George Liele is a great example because he fulfills everything we exist for.”

Fuller, pastor of New Song Church and Ministries, is a planning committee member of the George Liele Leadership Institute that the African American Fellowship of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCMD) plans to launch in January 2023 with a Martin Luther King prayer and worship service. Classes are scheduled to begin in September. The BCMD is an institute co-sponsor.

“Image is important,” Fuller said. “Not that Lottie Moon or Annie Armstrong were not great missionaries. Our desire is to continue the legacy of his life. It’s something we believe not just African American churches can rally around, but this brings other Black churches, churches of color, (to be) engaged in this, because he went to Jamaica.”

The institute will be designed as an affordable training option for Maryland and Delaware churches of all ethnicities, but will especially focus on equipping African American congregations in the areas of church strengthening, planting and international missions. In addition to pastors, congregational leaders including deacons, trustees, associate ministers and women’s leaders will benefit from institute, Fuller said.

“This is multicultural. Anybody can come,” Fuller said. “The goal of the institute is to equip disciples to make disciples. It’s an equipping institute in every area,” Fuller said. “Our passion is discipleship and we believe that a great commitment to the Great Commander who gave us the Great Commandments and the Great Commission will result in great results.”

Charles Grant, associate vice president for African American relations for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, expressed “joyful anticipation” in advance of the institute.

“The African American Fellowship’s emphasis on connecting George Liele’s life and legacy to leadership training is a win for both African American churches and for Southern Baptists in Maryland/Delaware,” Grant told Baptist Press. “With focus and intentionality, leaders will be developed and educated about George Liele. The prayerful results will be healthy church growth, an increased pool of potential church planters and international missionaries from African American churches.”

The African American Fellowship and the BCMD appointed a planning committee for the institute in the summer of 2022. It will not be an accredited Bible college, but that option might be explored in coming years, Fuller said.

Joining Fuller on the George Liele Leadership Institute Committee are African American Fellowship Vice President Victor Kirk, pastor of Sharon Bible Fellowship Church, Lanham; Mark Roy, senior pastor of Good Shepherd Ministries, Capitol Heights, Md.; and several members of the African American Fellowship’s board, including Vernon Lattimore, senior pastor, First Baptist Church of Mount Rainier, Md.; Michael Mattar, senior pastor of Hope Fellowship Church in Ashburn, Va.; Byron Day, senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Laurel, Md.; Nathaniel Thomas, senior pastor of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church, Forestville, Md.; and Monroe Weeks, Hope Fellowship worship leader.

A survey of BCMD pastors found the need for a financially affordable training center for lay ministers, Fuller said, that emphasizes the teaching of core theology and Bible literacy in platforms lay ministers impact. Surveyors also encountered young bivocational pastors who had not been able to receive formal training in ministry.

The logistics of the institute are still being planned, with the goal of a hybrid online and in-person format also utilizing webinars from Southern Baptist educators. The fee will be nominal, Fuller said.

In addition to the January Martin Luther King prayer and worship service, activities preceding the September launch of classes include a February George Liele Missionary Breakfast, an AAF Awareness Conference, and an AAF Planning Retreat.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Second appeals court blocks ‘transgender mandate’

ST. LOUIS (BP)—A second federal appeals court has blocked the Biden administration’s attempt to require doctors and hospitals to perform gender-transition procedures, as well as abortions, over their objections.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Dec. 9 a permanent injunction that barred enforcement of a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule that has become known as the “transgender mandate.” A three-judge panel of the appeals court, which is based in St. Louis, unanimously affirmed a North Dakota federal judge’s decision that the Catholic entities that challenged the regulation were entitled to protection under a federal law that guarantees free exercise of religion.

In August, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans unanimously endorsed a permanent injunction against the HHS rule issued by a federal judge in Texas. The Biden administration declined to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court by the 90-day deadline in late November.

Religious liberty advocates hailed the Eighth Circuit’s opinion.

The ruling “is another important victory for conscience rights in the United States,” said Hannah Daniel, policy manager for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“The Eighth Circuit has rightly affirmed that medical providers should not be forced to violate their most deeply held religious beliefs in order to do the essential, God-honoring work of providing care for those made in His image,” she told Baptist Press in written comments.

The religious freedom advocacy organization Becket commended the decision for its clients, The Religious Sisters of Mercy and other Catholic organizations.

“The federal government has no business forcing doctors to violate their consciences or perform controversial procedures that could permanently harm their patients,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, in a written statement. “The government’s attempt to force doctors to go against their consciences was bad for patients, bad for doctors, and bad for religious liberty.”

In a similar fashion to the Fifth Circuit’s August ruling, the Eighth Circuit opinion found the Catholic entities had a valid claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993 federal law that prohibits the government from substantially burdening the free exercise of religion. The government may gain an exemption if it can show it has a compelling interest and is using the “least restrictive means” to further that interest.

In his opinion for the panel, Eighth Circuit Chief Judge Lavenski Smith said federal judge Peter Welte was correct in finding the “intrusion upon the Catholic Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion is sufficient to show irreparable harm.” The panel agreed with other circuit courts that have ruled that showing “a likely RFRA violation satisfies” the conclusion there is “irreparable harm,” he wrote.

During the Obama administration, HHS’ original mandate, issued in 2016, defined sex to include “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy.” The Trump administration issued a rule in 2020 that rescinded the Obama-era policy by returning to the ordinary interpretation of the word “sex.”

Under President Biden, however, HHS announced in May 2021 a reinterpretation of sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation includes homosexuality, bisexuality and pansexuality, while gender identity refers to the way a person perceives himself or herself regardless of biology at birth.

HHS issued a proposed rule earlier this year that largely revives the 2016 regulation. The proposal would not only force doctors, clinics and hospitals to perform procedures to which they object but require health-insurance companies to cover ones they find objectionable, critics say.

The proposed HHS rule is another in a series of actions by the Biden administration to support abortion access and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights. These include executive orders by Biden regarding both matters.

Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.” It also invited all transgender people to trust in Jesus.

A 2016 resolution on sexuality reaffirmed Southern Baptists’ love for those who identify as transgender.

This article originally appeared in Baptist Press.

Survey reveals most churches plan to open on Christmas and New Year’s Day

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On Christmas Day, churches plan to welcome “all ye faithful” and anyone else who wants to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, and for most pastors, that gives them all the more reason to gather. More than 5 in 6 U.S. Protestant pastors (84%) say their church plans to have services on Christmas Day, according to a Lifeway Research study. Slightly fewer (71%) say the same about Christmas Eve. While 85% plan on hosting New Year’s Day services on Sunday, 21% will have a Saturday New Year’s Eve gathering. Few pastors (2%) are not planning on having services on any of those days.

“Families have many traditions on Christmas morning, and most pastors acknowledge not as many of their members will be present compared to Christmas Eve and services earlier in the month,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “However, churches not holding services on Christmas Day are still the exception.”

Christmas celebrations

As pastors recognize Christmas Eve specifically and the holiday season in general as a high attendance time at their churches, most plan to capitalize on the potential crowds by hosting services. Overall, churches have similar plans as they did six years ago, according to a 2016 Lifeway Research study.

In 2016, the last time Christmas fell on a Sunday, 71% of U.S. Protestant pastors planned to hold a Christmas Eve service, the same percentage as this year. On Christmas Day, slightly fewer pastors plan to be open this year compared to six years ago (89% in 2016 v. 84% in 2022).

This year, 60% plan to have church services on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and 25% will only have a Christmas Day service. Around 1 in 10 pastors (11%) plan to only have a Christmas Eve service, higher than the 8% in 2016.

“Only 6% of Protestant churches will skip both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day services, likely including traditions that don’t meet on Sundays,” said McConnell. “Churches that do not meet when these holidays land on Sunday often say it’s for staff and members to spend time with their families. But few want to disrupt the churchgoing rhythm by missing two weeks in a row.”

Several demographic groups of pastors are more likely to be making plans for Christmas Eve services. Younger pastors, those 18 to 44, are more likely than the oldest pastors, those 65 and older, to say they’ll have a Christmas Eve service (76% v. 65%). White pastors (74%) are more likely than Hispanic (62%) and African American pastors (38%). Pastors in the South (64%) are the least likely to say their churches will be gathering on Christmas Eve.

Denominationally, Lutherans (95%), Methodists (91%) and Presbyterian/Reformed (84%) are more likely than non-denominational pastors (64%), Baptists (60%), Restorationist movement pastors (52%) or Pentecostals (45%) to be making plans for Christmas Eve services.

For those wanting to worship on Christmas Day, larger congregations and churches with an African American pastor are more likely to be open than non-denominational churches or those in the West. African American pastors (93%) are more likely than Hispanic pastors (80%) to make plans for Christmas Day services. Pastors in the West (74%) and those in non-denominational churches (61%) are among the least likely. Those at churches with 250 or more in attendance (90%) are more likely than those with fewer than 50 (80%) to plan for a Sunday service on Christmas Day.

Ringing in the New Year with church bells

Similar to Christmas services, few pastors are making changes to their New Year’s plans compared to 2016. Today, 85% of U.S. Protestant pastors plan to hold services on New Year’s Day, unchanged from six years ago. Slightly fewer pastors plan to hold New Year’s Eve services this year (25% in 2016 v. 21% in 2022).

In 2022, 16% of pastors plan to have both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day services, lower than the 20% who said the same in 2016. Most pastors (69%) are planning to only have a New Year’s Day service on Sunday, while 5% are planning on only having a New Year’s Eve Saturday service. Fewer than 1 in 10 (8%) aren’t planning to hold a service on either day.

“Some churches meet on New Year’s Eve for a service followed by fun and fellowship,” said McConnell. “Others have a late-night or watchnight service reflecting on the past year with spiritually significant times of prayer and observing communion. For African American churches holding services, there is also observance of Emancipation as it was first anticipated on the eve of January 1, 1863. Even among groups where New Year’s Eve services are most common, it’s still a minority who gather that day.”

While New Year’s Eve is the day during this season when the fewest U.S. Protestant pastors say they plan to hold services, there are some churches that are more likely to gather on the last day of the year. The oldest pastors, those 65 and older, are more likely than the youngest pastors, 18 to 44 (24% v. 17%). African American (45%) and Hispanic pastors (45%) are more than twice as likely as white pastors (17%) to make plans for New Year’s Eve. Pentecostal pastors (34%) are more likely than Baptists (23%), Methodists (20%), Restorationist movement pastors (14%) and Presbyterian/Reformed (5%).

On New Year’s Day there are several groups of pastors who are more likely to treat it as a normal Sunday and have services. Pastors under the age of 55 (88%) are more likely than those 65 and older (81%). White pastors (87%) are more likely than African American (77%) and Hispanic pastors (77%). Those in the Midwest (87%) and South (86%) are more likely than those in the West (79%) to plan for a New Year’s Day gathering.

Restorationist movement (94%) and Baptist pastors (92%) are more likely than Methodist (82%), non-denominational (76%) and Pentecostal pastors (71%) to plan services for New Year’s Day. Those at churches with more than 100 in attendance (90%) are more likely than those with fewer than 50 on a normal Sunday (80%).


Keith and Kristyn Getty bring Sing! An Irish Christmas to Seminary Hill

FORT WORTH—Keith and Kristyn Getty performed Christ-centered Christmas music and traditional carols of the season for almost 1,700 people through “Sing! An Irish Christmas” Dec. 7 in the MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Christian hip-hop artist Trip Lee and worship leaders Matt Papa and Matt Boswell joined the concert in Fort Worth, the fifth stop of the 17-city tour for the internationally known artists.

Interim President David S. Dockery said it was “a genuine delight” to welcome the Gettys to campus.

“MacGorman Chapel served as a beautiful context to host this marvelous evening filled with Christmas music, readings and the special contributions of the incredibly talented musicians involved with the Getty team,” said Dockery, who has known the Gettys for more than a decade. He said he has “watched their influence continue to expand across the global evangelical world.”

Before the concert, Keith Getty met with faculty and students from the institution’s School of Church Music and Worship to answer questions about leading worship, how the Gettys met, and how he came to write his most well-known song, “In Christ Alone.”

Joseph R. Crider, dean of the school, said during the 10 years he has known the Gettys “one of their most consistent characteristics has been to intentionally pour into the next generation of artists and musicians and hymn writers,” which Keith Getty did during the private time with students.

Crider said the Gettys “are well aware of the fact that what the church sings significantly impacts what the church believes.”

“Another powerful impact of the Gettys’ ministry is that through an amazingly diverse musical vocabulary, they help foster and produce great artistic expressions that captivate our imaginations,” he said, adding: “people in our churches need more than just their minds to be engaged in worship, we need our affections arrested with expressions of the Gospel that cause us to sing.”

Crider’s observation of the Gettys’ two-fold ability to engage the mind and heart in worship was on full display during the nearly three-hour-long concert.

The concert consisted of two parts. Part 1, themed “Christmas Carol Festival,” included many traditional carols such as “What Child is This?”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Deck the Halls,” “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” Other songs performed in part 1 were “Consider the Stars,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Take Shelter” and “Pass the Promise.”

“Christmas Carol Service” was the theme of part two, which was “inspired by the tradition of the King’s College Cambridge Service of Lessons and Carols” and included nine Scripture readings in between songs that told the prophecy of Christ from Genesis and Isaiah and the advent of the Lord from the gospels of Luke and John. Part two songs were “Czardas,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Brightest and Best,” “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery,” “Sing We the Song of Emmanuel,” “Rejoice,” “Carol of the Bells,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “In Christ Alone,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

Dockery expressed his “deep appreciation to the many Southwestern staff and faculty members who went above and beyond the call of duty to offer support and coordination for this event.”

“Keith and Kristyn Getty provided a music feast and a night that we will all remember,” he said. “For their presence with us and their ministry to the friends and constituencies of Southwestern, we are genuinely grateful.”

Give generously toward the solution

“Will you make the first and most expensive Christmas gift this year a gift to our Global Missions Offering?”

Sitting in the sanctuary of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston Salem, N.C., on the first Sunday of December, I heard Pastor Will Toburen ask that question of his congregation.

Why does generous giving to support missionaries matter? Reality for every human being is this: No matter where they are, who they are, where they have been or where they are going, who they know, what they do, whether or not they have an education, whether they can or cannot see, can or cannot hear, can or cannot walk, live in plenty or poverty, enjoy peace or endure war, whether they are free or imprisoned, sober or addicted, short or tall, eastern or western, tribal or urban, Asian, European, African, or Middle Eastern, it is appointed unto every human being once to die.

The author of Hebrews states this clearly: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (9:27). John’s vision, recorded in Revelation 20, reveals the consequences of that judgment: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (v15). Because all have sinned, no one who is apart from Christ is able to escape God’s judgment nor the eternal consequences of their sin.

This is the world’s greatest problem.

The solution to that problem, determined before the foundations of the world were set in place, begins at Golgotha, where the Son of God was lifted up on the cross and died. The solution is completed at a garden tomb where the One who died is raised, crushing the head of the ancient serpent, casting him into the lake of fire, and declaring victory over death, hell, and the grave.

God’s solution to the world’s greatest problem, the problem of lostness, is the gospel. It is the true story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the good news that any who have faith in Jesus and what He did, who repent, and confess Him as Lord, are saved from God’s judgment.

The church remains on earth for the purpose of sharing this solution. The church remains on earth because more than 7,000 people groups remain unreached with the gospel and 3,000 of those unreached people groups have yet to be engaged with the gospel. The church remains on earth because 157,690 people die lost every day.

The International Mission Board, created by Southern Baptist churches, exists because Southern Baptists know the solution to the world’s greatest problem and we have determined, together, to go to the very ends of the earth and share the good news. For more than 177 years, Southern Baptists have been sending beautiful feet to preach the good news to the nations. The primary channel for supporting Southern Baptists’ sent ones is through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. In fact, every penny given through the Lottie offering is used overseas to support missionaries and their work.

Will you join with my family and Southern Baptists across the country to support your IMB missionaries by making your first and most expensive Christmas gift this year a gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions?

Lone Star Scoop • December 2022

Rural church completes 400 consecutive nights of preaching

KRUM After 400 days of preaching, pastor Tim Robinson of Plainview Baptist Church ended a sermon streak begun more than a year before in late October 2022.
The 400 days of preaching involved more than 500 sermons, since Robinson preached twice on the 57 Sunday mornings during the streak and also did Sunday evening services. Members invited friends to come to “the church that meets every night.” Weekday sermons featured simple hymns to keep things “relaxed and less formal.”
Holidays fueled the streak. At the church’s recent fall festival, Robinson preached about the Holy Spirit to about 400 guests, “the largest gathering of any kind in the church’s 128-year history.”
The goal was “to see more souls saved,” and the church added a Roku channel and streamed the sermon series on Facebook each night. Demographic reports from Roku and social media revealed Plainview Baptist had reached more than 20,000 across the country and internationally, Robinson said.

—Jane Rodgers

5 SBTC pastors among those honored by SABA
San Antonio The San Antonio Baptist Association honored 19 pastors with an accumulated 573 years of ministry service at its 164th annual gathering on Oct. 16. Among the honorees were five current Southern Baptists of Texas Convention pastors: Steve Branson of Village Parkway Baptist Church (28 years of service), Carlos Navarro of Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville (29 years), H. Statt Riddlebarger of Pearsall Road Baptist Church (28 years), Dennis Wall of The Hills Church (44 years), and Robert Welch of Parkhills Baptist Church (28 years). Each pastor honored received a special plaque bearing images of the San Antonio area. On the opportunity to honor long-serving pastors, SABA Executive Director Darrell Horn said, “When some Baptist associations across the U.S. might only have 19 churches, we are grateful to have 19 pastors who have served 25 years or more in one church. They are an example of faithfulness and longevity in ministry. These men leave a legacy for others to follow.” —Jane Rodgers
Pastor, former SBTC president Bowman to step aside in 2023
AUSTIN J. Kie Bowman, senior pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church, announced plans to transition from his pastoral role in March of 2023, following 25 years at the Austin church. Bowman told congregants in a special video announcement that being called as senior pastor of Hyde Park in 1997 was “the greatest privilege” he had ever been offered. “I have loved every minute of this journey, and I still love it today,” the pastor said. In addition to his time in the pulpit, Bowman has authored six books and contributed to 13 others. His prayer literature has been read by more than 1 million people. In 2018, he was chosen to preach the keynote sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Dallas. He also served more than a decade on the executive board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, including two terms as president in 2020 and 2021. —Hyde Park Baptist Church

Supreme Court debates website designer’s freedom of speech over same-sex marriage

WASHINGTON (BP)—The U.S. Supreme Court debated with lawyers at length Monday (Dec. 5) whether a state has the right to compel speech in the latest case involving the intersection of religious freedom and same-sex marriage.

The justices heard oral arguments for more than two hours in a designer’s challenge of a Colorado policy that requires her to create custom websites for same-sex weddings in violation of her religious beliefs. After two lower courts ruled in favor of the state, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the government can use a public-accommodation law – in this case, the Colorado Anti-discrimination Act (CADA) – to compel an artist to speak or remain silent without violating the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

The high court is expected to issue an opinion before it adjourns next summer in what is so far the most significant case of its term involving the rights of religious adherents.

Lorie Smith, owner of 303 Creative in the Denver area, designs websites for a variety of causes and clients, including people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). She will not create websites for same-sex weddings, however, because of her belief as a Christian that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Smith’s refusal to design a website for a same-sex ceremony is based on the message it would send, not on the people involved, Kristen Waggoner told the Supreme Court during Monday’s oral arguments.

Smith “serves all people, deciding what to create based on the message, not who requests it,” said Waggoner, president and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Colorado forces her “to create speech, not simply sell it,” Waggoner told the high court. The state “says it can compel speech on the same topic, but Miss Smith believes opposite-sex marriage honors Scripture and same-sex marriage contradicts it. If the government can label this speech equivalent, it can do so for any speech, whether religious or political,” she said.

While Waggoner contended Smith’s refusal to design websites for same-sex ceremonies is based on the message she would be communicating about marriage by doing so, lawyers for Colorado and the United States argued it is based on the “status” of the couple seeking the service.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson told the justices her business’ policy is “status-based discrimination,” since the CADA includes sexual orientation as a protected class. Brian Fletcher, the U.S deputy solicitor general, agreed with Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor that Smith is asking for “a status-based exception” to the CADA. Sotomayor went on to say Smith is not seeking “a speech-based exception.”

“[I]f she is discriminating based on status, and that includes if she is defining the message or product based on the status, defining the what by the who, that is not OK,” Fletcher said.

The Supreme Court’s precedent in a 1995 opinion should govern this case, Waggoner told the justices. In a 7-2 decision, the high court ruled the organizers of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade did not violate a public accommodation law by refusing to permit a lesbian, gay and bisexual organization to participate.

The First Amendment “is broad enough to cover the lesbian website designer and the Catholic calligrapher,” Waggoner said. “The line is that no one on any side of any debate has to be compelled to express a message that violates their core convictions …”

The justices offered numerous hypothetical situations in their questioning. Sotomayor asked whether the speech of artists would be protected if they declined to provide services for the wedding of an interracial or disabled couple based on their beliefs. Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson asked about a photography business that refused to include black children in scenes with Santa Claus.

The message in Jackson’s hypothetical is not in the photo, Waggoner said. In response to a follow-up question, she explained the Supreme Court did not say in its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage that religious objections to gay marriage are the equivalent of objections to people of color.

Sotomayor, Jackson and Associate Justice Elena Kagan, in particular, seemed to be skeptical of Waggoner’s arguments, while conservative justices such as Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch appeared to be more receptive to her points.

Afterward, Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press, “Christians have, for 2,000 years, said that marriage is a picture of the Gospel. It was clear from today’s oral arguments that several justices have never encountered this notion on a prior occasion. This is unfortunate as it is central to understanding why a Christian creative professional would object to being compelled by the state to say something contrary to this deeply held belief.

“That is why Justice Gorsuch was exactly right when he seemed to suggest this case is not about who is being served ‘but about what’ the state of Colorado is forcing upon the speech creator,” he said in written comments.

“Today’s proceedings reveal why the court should rule in favor of 303 Creative, because to do otherwise would be tantamount to giving the government keys to a paver to roll right over private, business-owning Christians who disagree with whatever cultural notions about marriage and family happen to be fashionable at a given moment.”

In a 7-2 opinion in 2018, the justices ruled in favor of Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips in a similar case under the CADA. Phillips had declined to design and decorate a cake for the wedding of two men.

The high court’s decision was not an expansive victory for religious freedom, however. The justices found the Colorado Civil Rights Commission demonstrated “religious hostility” toward Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, but said similar facts in different contexts may produce different rulings.

The case is 303 Creative v. Elenis.

This article originally appeared in Baptist Press.