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Guest Author:  Pastor Jimmy Seibert

Dear Friends,

I recently shared a message called, “Clarity and Compassion.” The purpose was to be Biblically clear about gender identity according to God’s word and create a compassionate environment to work towards wholeness.

In Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:21-24 we see God’s outline for mankind. God is the One who created us and decided we would be male and female. God is the One who initiated how we would relate to one another physically, mentally and emotionally in the purity of marriage and the uniqueness of our gender.

In Genesis 3:1 when Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden, the enemy asked, “Has God really said…?”, beginning the temptation that would eventually bring sin into the world and blind us from God’s purity, purpose, and plan.

Today, that question, “Has God really said…?” is brought up daily. As we move forward during these challenging days we, as pastors and leaders, must be clear on what the Bible says about who we really are. With great compassion, we can draw people back to the scriptures and to God’s original design. Through Jesus we have not only been forgiven of our sins, but also brought back into the wholeness that Adam and Eve had before sin entered the world.

I have spent years meditating on Genesis 1:1-3 because I believe with all my heart that if you can fully absorb God’s original intent and understand the power of sin, you will be well-equipped to navigate the issues of the day, specifically related to gender, marriage, and family.

At Antioch Community Church, we are on a journey to help people through the confusion of our culture. When we deal specifically with the issue of homosexuality, I realize there are three categories of people we are communicating with:

Category 1: Those who know homosexuality is sin and desperately want help. It is our responsibility to offer help with great compassion. At Antioch, we offer a program called Living Waters, an eight week in-depth approach to healing sexual brokenness and clarifying identity. We also have specific counseling services as well. But the core of who we are is our small groups, which we call Lifegroups, where we offer discipleship and community. The sense of belonging that comes from those relationships is really the make or break for someone coming out of any addiction, especially sexual addiction.

Category 2:  Those who are not sure if homosexuality is right or wrong.  I have found that those 30 years of age and younger are Biblically illiterate and culturally immersed. When we are speaking to that group, they are not necessarily resistant to God’s word, it is just that they don’t know what God’s word says. For those who have honest hearts and honest questions, we offer clarity on where we stand in written form, spoken communication and books and resources offered. We also offer discipleship to answer those in-depth questions such as, “How do I deal with a friend or family member?” and “How do I deal with my own struggles?”  By realizing we are re-educating a generation, we can better understand where to go and what is needed.

Category 3: Those who believe homosexuality is who they are and it is their lifestyle of choice despite any loving insight from the Bible or other believers. This is what the Bible calls rebellion. Psalm 68:5- 6 says God is a Father to the fatherless and gives a home to the lonely. The passage ends with the phrase, “only the rebellious live in a parched land.” After 25 years of ministering to people, not just with sexual brokenness but all kinds of sin issues, I find God is willing to heal and restore anyone, unless they are willfully rebellious to God, His word and His people. That rebellion ultimately keeps them from what they need.

The way I describe it to people who choose to walk another way but still want to be a part of the church, is that the church is not simply a civic organization or a social gathering. The church is a group of people gathered around Jesus Christ and the scriptures who are trying to live life according to His way and not their own. In our by-laws we have a clear doctrinal statement that clarifies what we believe about marriage and about how we live our lives. To be a member of Antioch, one must sign off on that doctrinal statement and on a Matthew 18 discipline process for those who choose sin and rebellion. There is a rare occasion where someone will go all the way through a discipline process because they obviously can choose in a voluntary organization to walk away whenever they like. What needs to be clear, though, is what God’s Word says and where we stand for discipline through the journey.

Throughout American history, and actually world history, revival has always come when we have realized our sin and brought people back to God and the scriptures.  In the midst of the brokenness of our society, we need a revival; a returning to God and His ways. As pastors and leaders, we do it with compassion, but we also do it with such clarity that people truly can come face to face with who God is, how their sin breaks God’s heart, and also destroys their own lives.  When we do that, no matter what the challenges are, we can trust that God will use us to set men and women free.  And isn’t that we are called to do? To be the rescued who in turn rescue others so God might be glorified and people might be helped.

http://antiochcc.com/sermons/clarity-and-compassion/

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Churches and religious organizations face a rapidly-changing American culture.  Many churches are confronting things they never thought they would a decade ago.  The issues of same-sex “marriage”, homosexual behavior, and gender-identity, are among the emerging issues that confront churches today.  The legal impact of these issues on churches can appear confusing.

In responding to a culture seemingly bent on fulfilling every whim of the sexual revolution, today’s churches must take the time to revise or implement their statement of faith on the issues of marriage and human sexuality.   Churches who know their position on these issues may think it unnecessary, but every church must understand that culture at large no longer subscribes to a Judeo-Christian sexual ethic or morality.  As one pastor recently put it, the church is no longer the “home team” in America.  As a result, it is important for a church to put in writing what it believes on the issues confronting culture.  And from a legal perspective, it is always better to act in advance.  If a church is ever required to legally prove its religious beliefs on these issues, having written evidence will ensure that it can do so easily.

So, here is some advice and resources to start the process at your church:

1.         Adopt or revise your statement of faith to include the church’s religious beliefs on marriage and human sexuality.  Alliance Defending Freedom has a resource that explains the importance of including these issues in your statement of faith.  Feel free to download and print this document for your church leaders.

2.         Use the suggested language put together by Alliance Defending Freedom as a guide for statements of faith on marriage and human sexuality for your church.

3.         Put it in your own words as your church would state it. There is no “magic” or legally required language to adopt in your statement of faith.  Instead, this simply state the church’s religious beliefs on the issue of marriage and human sexuality

4.         If you are in the process of revising your bylaws, review the resource by Alliance Defending Freedom entitled Seven Things All Churches Should Have In Their Bylaws.

Taking proactive steps to update or implement your church’s statement of faith will strengthen a defense should one be legally necessary in the future.  Please take advantage of these resources or call us at (800) 835-5233 if you have specific legal questions.

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By: Brett Harvey

Wars turn on single battles in key places that shift momentum, alter public perception, or redefine the nature of the entire conflict. Civil War buffs know that the fortunes of both the North and the South were changed forever on battlefields near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The infamy of the attack on Pearl Harbor was a stark reminder to the American people that remaining idle in the face of advancing tyranny does not protect people from danger. The battle on a wooden bridge in Concord, Massachusetts moved a struggle for the rights of British subjects into the American War of Independence.

The same is true for social conflicts. Harriet Beecher Stowe, a preacher’s daughter, was targeted by defenders of the South’s economic engine, but her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, solidified the anti-slavery movement and inspired Abraham Lincoln, who later penned the Emancipation Proclamation. Susan B. Anthony defied the law and cast a single vote in the presidential election of 1872.  When found guilty, she refused to pay the $100 fine and led the movement to give women the right to vote. Facing what critics called the inevitable rise of communism, Ronald Reagan stood in the center of Berlin, Germany — in the shadow of the “iron curtain” that shielded the communist bloc — and demanded “tear down this wall!”

History looks back on these momentous events with pride.  But taking a stand in the midst of constant criticism and attack, when the outcome is anything but certain, takes courage and commitment. A small town in upstate New York is taking just such a stand. Greece, N.Y. is in the bullseye of a nationwide attack challenging the right of people to offer prayers to open public meetings.

On November 6, 2013, Alliance Defending Freedom and the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher will defend this small town before the United States Supreme Court in Town of Greece v. Galloway. Opposing the town stands Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, among others.

The Supreme Court decision will be a watershed moment in a nationwide battle to define the liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment. At stake is the right of volunteer citizens to decide for themselves how they pray, and the right of a town to accommodate the beliefs of its citizens. The forces arrayed against the town are demanding that the town either stop opening prayers or censor the way people pray.

Opening public meetings with a prayer is a historic and cherished tradition that predates the founding of this nation. From the landing of the Mayflower, through the deliberations of the Continental Congress, and still continued in every state at every level of government, including the U.S. Congress, Americans seek Divine guidance and blessing on their deliberations. In 1983, the Supreme Court recognized this history and noted that Congress hired paid chaplains to open its meeting with prayer while they were writing the very words of the First Amendment. Finding such prayers unconstitutional would absurdly suggest that the framers of the Constitution were violating the document as they wrote it!

Despite the historical pedigree, AU and its allies want to redefine religious liberty to give them the right to silence or censor prayers simply because they don’t want to hear the way others choose to pray. Since 2004, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed, and hundreds of towns and counties across the country have been threatened in an effort to silence or censor prayers. Many towns and counties have given up under the threats of costly litigation. Now, all of the legal firepower is aimed at the Town of Greece. The stakes are high as the outcome of this case will help shape the definition of religious liberty in America. Alliance Defending Freedom is proud to stand with the courageous people of the Town of Greece.

If you support public prayer and think this valuable tradition should continue, sign the Statement of Support for prayer.

To learn more about the case and what’s at stake, visit www.FreeToPray.com.

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By David J. Hacker

As a pastor, you see them—the signs of a new school year are all around us.  The teachers you shepherd are preparing for a new year teaching a new class of students. Yellow school buses are back on the roads, parents are taking advantage of back-to-school specials, and recently empty school parking lots are now buzzing with activity.  Your church is likely also in the swing of things, promoting Sunday school kids from one grade to the next and starting a new year of curriculum.  But with the start of school—whether kindergarten or college—comes many questions about students sharing their faith on campus.  There are things you as a pastor should know to help guide your congregation during the school year.

Religion is Allowed in Public Schools

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right of students of all ages to express their religious beliefs on campus.  As the U.S. Supreme Court said nearly twenty years ago, private religious speech is not a “First Amendment orphan.”  Students can pray on campus—on their own or in groups.  Students can bring Bibles to campus and reference them in assignments (if it’s relevant to the subject matter being taught).  And if a public school or college allows students to form clubs on campus, students can form religious clubs and receive all the same resources provided to non-religious student clubs.

Students May Share their Faith in Public Schools

Of course, many students will want to share their faith with their classmates.  Whether in class or among friends, students do not need to suppress their religious viewpoints, and school administrators cannot tell them to do so.  In fact, the Constitution protects students’ rights to pass out religious flyers and materials.  This is especially true if schools already permit students to hand out non-religious materials.

Religious Freedom in Schools is Under Attack

Religious freedom is alive and well in public schools and universities, but that’s not to say it isn’t under attack.  In recent years, public schools have adopted vague and overly restrictive anti-bullying and diversity policies.  The problem is that these policies give school administrators virtually unrestrained discretion to decide what constitutes “bullying,” and all too often they define “bullying” as sharing the Gospel.  Many public schools also have adopted policies prohibiting religious flyers or proselytizing.  The thinking is that these activities violate the so-called “separation of church and state.”  But as we said above, the First Amendment protects students who want to share their faith on campus.  Finally, public schools are increasingly censoring religious student speech and prayers at football games, graduations, and other activities.  But so long as school administrators are not telling students what to say or how to pray, students speak as private individuals and may do so freely.

You would hope that public universities, the quintessential “marketplaces of ideas,” would prove to be better examples of protecting religious liberty on campus, but they are not.  Like their public school siblings, public universities nationwide use vague speech codes to punish religious students who hold views or opinions that are outside the secular campus mainstream.  These universities also try to limit student speech to “speech zones”—typically, small areas of campus where students may engage in speech, but which prevent students from sharing their faith elsewhere.  And many public universities put special restrictions on religious student organizations—telling them they cannot select leaders based on religious beliefs, or they cannot access mandatory student fees if they pray or worship.  All of these policies discriminate against students of faith and are unconstitutional.

There is Help Available

Students should not think that when they return to campus this year they must leave their faith at home.  The Supreme Court said long ago that students do not shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse gates.  Students may share their faith freely and boldly on campus.  But if they experience any of these threats to religious liberty on campus, they should contact Alliance Defending Freedom for free help.

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By Matthew Sharp

Imagine that one day you receive a notice from your child’s school that a weapon or ammunition had been found on campus. Your mind would immediately turn to the frightening stories from places such as Sandy Hook Elementary or Columbine High School where innocent children were targeted by ruthless killers.

That is what one New Hampshire parent faced when she learned that bullets had been found in a restroom at Concord High School where her two children attended school. But as a devout Christian, Lizarda Urena knew that the best course of action she could take to help protect her children and all of the students and staff at the high school was to pray. And that is exactly what she did.

After obtaining permission from the school principal, Ms. Urena began going to the campus each morning about 45 minutes before school starts (and before most students had even arrived) to pray. In an isolated area of the campus, she would spend 15 minutes quietly praying for everyone’s safety. She never imposed her beliefs on anyone passing by, nor did she create any disturbance.

But when the Freedom from Religion Foundation learned of Ms. Urena’s prayers, they sent a letter to the school district demanding that Ms. Urena be prohibited from ever praying at the high school again. And unfortunately, the school caved in to these unreasonable demands.

Are the prayers of caring parents and community members banned from schools? Absolutely not. Praying for divine guidance and blessings is one of the great American traditions. Our Founding Fathers prayed that God would “look down in mercy…on these our American states” as they undertook the task of declaring independence and forming a new nation. Since then, our Presidents have consistently prayed “may God Bless America” in their public speeches and Congress has opened its sessions with prayer. Indeed, courts have repeatedly upheld activities such as See You at the Pole and the National Day of Prayer where students, parents, and community members gather to invoke God’s blessings and protections over their schools and communities.

As our students head back to school, your church has a variety of ways that it can continue this important tradition and cover the students, teachers, and schools in your community with prayer for the coming year:

1.     Encourage the students, parents, and community members in your congregation to participate in See You At The Pole, scheduled for Wednesday, September 25th, at your local schools.

2.     Support the faith-based student clubs at your local schools. Co-sponsor events with them or donate needed items to support the activities and mission of the clubs.

3.     Select a local school for your church to support. Contact the school’s principal and offer to donate school supplies to students in need. Have the members of your congregation send notes of thanks and encouragement to the teachers at the school. And pray for the school and its staff and students during your worship services.

Alliance Defending Freedom is working tirelessly to defend the right of Lizarda Urena and parents, pastors, and community members throughout the country to pray. But that right is meaningless if we as people of faith don’t exercise it regularly. So in the words of Paul, “pray without ceasing” for your students, teachers, and schools.

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