ABN Columns & Viewpoints

Editor's Note: This section includes current and past ABN columns - published in the print edition and online exclusives - as well as viewpoints from a variety of Arkansas Baptist and Southern Baptist authors. Opinions expressed are that of the author and are not necessarily an endorsement.

Thursday
Apr232015

ABN Day of Prayer celebrates God’s work in Ark.

Tim Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

It’s that time of year when the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) partner together to provide churches with bulletin inserts to help remind people  of how God is using Arkansas Baptists to bring literally thousands of people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

YarbroughMay 17 has been designated as the official 2015 ABN Day of Prayer.

The focal Scripture passage of this year’s Day of Prayer is 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV): “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

The passage parallels the convention’s focus on prayer for revival and awakening. We don’t need to be reminded that America is in desperate need of revival. Just read the news. Arkansas Baptists can play a key role in bringing revival and spiritual awakening to our beleaguered land.

So, please join me and other Arkansas Baptists May 17 to pray not only for the role of the ABN in telling the story of Arkansas Baptists, but for the work being done across the Natural State through the ministry of Arkansas Baptist churches and institutions.

Every week we are told of the great work God is doing through Arkansas Baptists and our churches. What a privilege it is to play a small part in making those stories known throughout the state! I want you to know that our staff and board of directors are praying along with you and your church for a mighty movement of God in 2015.

To help your church promote the special emphasis, special bulletin inserts will be mailed to all churches the week of May 3. The insert is being produced by the ABN in cooperation with ABSC executive and administrative team. One side is specifically about the ABN Day of Prayer. The other side includes information about the Cooperative Program and its impact in Arkansas.

Please consider inviting an ABN staff or board member to your church during May to speak in support of the emphasis.  To do so, please call 501-376-4791, ext. 5153, or email abn@arkansasbaptist.org.

Tim Yarbrough is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.

Thursday
Apr162015

When your faith is offensive

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

YarbroughNow when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. – Excerpt from Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin before he was stoned to death (Acts 7:51-58, ESV)

Secular humanists seem to be having their way in our country, and they are using every means possible to sway public opinion and influence public officials to their way of thinking.

Today, as we stand at the precipice of a fundamental transformation of our country, clarification is perhaps needed more than ever on what it means to freely exercise one’s religion.

Just this past week we saw such a spectacle play out at our State Capitol, with hundreds of people rallying against Arkansas House Bill 1228, also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which attempted to affirm the traditional interpretation of “free exercise of religion” under the U.S. Constitution and the Arkansas Constitution.

While as followers of Jesus Christ we can’t dictate what others believe or control how our government behaves, we can stand tall and stand for Truth just as Stephen did before the Sanhedrin in his day.

While our fate may not be a physical death like Stephen’s, we need to be prepared to be ridiculed, denounced and perhaps to lose the friendship of friends and family who have embraced a false gospel.

It is our duty as believers to condemn the sin but love the sinner, exhibiting Christ’s love in all of our words and actions, acting in accordance with our convictions. But Christians will suffer the consequences.

In Washington, a florist was fined $1,001 for refusing to provide flowers to a gay couple for their wedding, due to her Christian beliefs. An Oregon bakery was ordered to pay a lesbian couple up to $150,000 for refusing to bake them a wedding cake. A New Mexico photography studio owned by a Christian couple was found to have violated the state’s Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

May God give us courage and boldness as we represent Him within each of our own spheres of influence.

Tim Yarbrough is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News. Email him at tim@arkansasbaptist.org.

Saturday
Apr042015

I serve a Risen Savior - Steve Ellison

EllisonIn 1933, A.H. Ackley wrote, “I serve a risen Savior; He’s in the world today. I know that He is living, whatever men may say. I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer, And just the time I need Him, He’s always near. He lives, He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!... You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.”

Our experience is a wonderful proof that the tomb is empty and Christ is alive and well today. His presence in our lives affirms that truth. The fact that we were radically and permanently changed when we were converted is very good evidence that Christ is risen. In addition to our personal experience with the risen Christ, the Bible also provides evidence through eyewitness accounts.

1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NASU) summarizes the resurrection appearances of Christ and indicates the significance of His resurrection, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” 

If each of these eyewitnesses were given 15 minutes to testify it would take more than five whole days around the clock to finish the testimony. Many of these eye-witnesses were still alive when 1 Corinthians was written. The fact that these eye-witnesses did not dispute Paul’s account is great evidence that Christ lives.

Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 declares that the testimony of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection was of “first importance”. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 (NASU) further emphasizes the significance of Christ’s resurrection, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised;  and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 

Those are strong words. If Christ is not resurrected, we are false witnesses and our faith in Christ is useless and we are not forgiven of our sins. If Christ is not resurrected, we should be pitied more than anyone else. 

Aren’t you glad for the evidence in your heart and for the solid testimony of so many eye-witnesses? If you do not have personal experience to verify Christ’s resurrection, will you take the word of these eye-witnesses and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for your eternal salvation? Your sins can be forgiven and your place assured in heaven only by God’s grace and your faith in Jesus Christ alone. Romans 10:9 (NASU) states it very plainly,“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Will you trust Him today? Happy Easter. 

Steve Ellison serves associational missionary for Ouachita Baptist Association, and interim pastor of First Baptist Church, both located in Mena. Contact him at pastorsteve8800@gmail.com.

Thursday
Apr022015

After some drama, Arkansas gets a Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Larry Page
Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council

The Arkansas General Assembly adjourned April 2. As one of their last acts, legislators enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). For a while, there were actually two RFRA bills that had passed both legislative chambers and each one needed only the governor’s signature to become law.

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The first RFRA bill approved by legislators was House Bill 1228 (HB1228). HB1228 was slightly different from a federal RFRA law enacted by Congress and signed by then President Bill Clinton in 1993. It also was similar to many of the 21 state RFRA laws passed in the last 20 years.

HB1228 passed with good majorities in both the state Senate and the state House of Representatives. After some amendments had been added at the governor’s request, he agreed to sign the bill into law. The governor then changed his position and asked that HB1228 be further amended so that it reflected the federal RFRA law.

Since it was thought that time might not be adequate to amend HB1228 and send it back through both legislative chambers, an alternative course of action was chosen. The idea was proposed to take a dormant bill, Senate Bill 975 (SB975), amend it so that it was essentially a law patterned after the federal RFRA law and by use of expeditious means, get it to both chambers for floor votes. That strategy succeeded, and SB975 became law with the governor’s signature.

The House of Representatives then recalled the first bill, HB1228, which effectively killed the bill. That left SB975 as the sole and actual RFRA law for Arkansas.

The obvious question has to do with whether SB975 is as good a law as HB1228 would have been. To make that determination, we turned to the experts. We consulted attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF); there are no others with as much experience with and knowledge of RFRA law. They told us that SB975 would accomplish 90 percent of what HB1228 would have achieved. Without getting into the legal weeds, just let us say that the differences in the two bills were not significant.

Now, I will try to explain as concisely as I can what SB975 will offer in the way of protecting religious freedom. SB975 is not a license to discriminate. It is a defense that can be asserted in court if one thinks his religious freedom is being burdened by some governmental action. He may or may not prevail in court in invoking RFRA as a defense.

Here’s a hypothetical situation to explain how an RFRA might be used to defend religious liberty. If some government entity or official ordered a Christian minister to officiate at a wedding of sun worshippers, the minister could invoke the RFRA law as a defense. In order to proceed, the minister would have to show that to be forced to conduct such a wedding would represent a substantial burden on his religious freedom. The burden would then shift to the state, and it would have to demonstrate that it had a compelling governmental interest in forcing the minister to perform the wedding and that there was no less restrictive means to accomplish that interest.

In the rather obvious example above, there is little doubt that the minister would prevail and not have to perform the wedding he had objected to. The resolution of other situations aren’t quite as certain primarily because a law like this needs more court decisions to gain clarity. In matters involving bakers, florists, photographers, caterers, musicians, etc., it would depend on the specific set of facts in each case and the analysis and interpretations the court reached in each controversy.

In summary, for an RFRA to be successfully employed in defending religious liberties, it must be shown that some prescribed governmental action will substantially burden one’s religious freedom based on a deeply held religious belief, that there is no compelling governmental interest in forcing the individual to perform the act ordered, or if there is such a compelling governmental interest, that there is a less restrictive means of achieving the governmental action prescribed. 

Larry Page is the executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council.

Thursday
Mar262015

America’s support of Israel must be unwavering  

Tim Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News

There was a time when the foreign policy of the United States government was something that many Americans could readily champion.

In recent years, however,  that has all changed.

YarbroughWith an activist liberal administration in the White House and many liberal leaders occupying Washington D.C., what Americans once considered as “givens” from its leadership have given way to indecision, inaction and outright left-wing post-modern progressivism.

Such is the case with the state of America’s relationship with the Israel.

In spite of their personal belief concerning the matter, every U.S. president since the rebirth of the state of Israel has publically supported the right of Israel to exist and pledged support for the nation with financial and strategic military support.

Recently, some watchers of Israel have asked, “Should evangelical Christians continue to support a nation that is in many ways secular and has not received Jesus Christ as Messiah?”

When I am asked to answer this question I point directly to Scripture. After all, Israel is God’s original chosen people. What’s more, God says He is not done with Israel just yet, as Paul writes in Romans 11:25-29 (ESV): “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’; ‘and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’ As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Yes, while we cannot fully understand the ways of the God of the Universe and the Creator of all things, we should never, ever doubt His plan – even if it sometimes doesn’t make sense to our human minds.
What really concerns me is what has happened to the nations that have turned  away from God and support of His chosen people.

Here are few other Scripture passages to look to when you are asked to defend your support of Israel.

“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, (ESV).

An example of a Gentile receiving a blessing from God because of love for Israel is the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant in Luke 7:2-6 (NIV): “There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, ‘This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.’ So Jesus went with them.”
Finally, a few other notable items (I could include more if space allowed):

– The roots of Christianity are in Judaism (Rom. 15:27).

– Jesus Christ has a Jewish lineage (Matt. 1:1-16).

– God commands us to pray for peace in Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).

Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the Arkansas Baptist News.