Pages

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Passover observance

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
March 31, 2005

It’s the season when many shop for new spring suits, dye eggs and anticipate Easter Sunday lunch.

But in the midst of the seasonal buzz, many Alabama churches seek to provide meaningful ways for their members to slow down and embrace a deeper understanding of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And though the Lord’s Supper is the traditional observance, many are celebrating the time leading up to Christ’s death by taking the meal He took on Maundy Thursday — the traditionally Jewish Passover seder.

Last year more than 250 people attended a Passover seder hosted by North Glencoe Baptist Church and led by John Phelps of HaOr Ministries, a Kentucky-based ministry that teaches churches about the Hebrew foundations of the Christian faith.

The response was so tremendous, according to Pastor David Denson, that North Glencoe scheduled Phelps again this year for their seder March 24.

To observe the seder, the church served a meal of baked chicken, a green vegetable and kugel, followed by the Passover meal of parsley, kharoset and matzoh — all foods symbolizing some facet of the Passover.

The Passover, which occurred thousands of years ago when the Pharaoh of Egypt refused the commands of Moses to free the Hebrew slaves from captivity, demonstrates how God spared His people through the shedding of the innocent blood of a lamb — just as He did in the crucifixion.

The story — as told in Exodus 12 — follows Pharaoh’s stubbornness in the face of plagues until death for Egypt was the final judgment.

The Lord instructed Moses and Aaron that every Hebrew family should choose a perfect lamb for sacrifice and smear its blood on the top and sides of the door frame of the house.

That night, as each Hebrew family ate the roasted lamb with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, the Lord passed through the land and killed the firstborn male in every Egyptian home, sparing the Hebrews covered by the lamb’s blood.

For centuries, the Jewish people have observed the Passover seder meal to remember their freedom.

God instructed the Israelites in Exodus 12:14, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come after you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance.”

Denson said hearing and participating in the teaching of the seder adds to the greatness of the Easter celebration.

“The seder is another opportunity to bring the Bible to life to review for refreshing and rededication in your Christian walk,” he said.

Since it was the Passover seder — now commonly known as the Last Supper — that Jesus celebrated with the disciples the night before His crucifixion, Denson believes Christians can gain much from understanding the special meal.

“The teaching of the Passover seder covers the ages from the first Passover celebrated by the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, to the Passover in the upper room celebrated by Jesus Christ and His disciples, to its observance by the Jews today,” Denson said.

Jay Isbell, elder of the Beth El Shaddai Messianic Synagogue in Birmingham, a Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, said when Christians take part in the meal and tell the Passover story, they find that the symbolism of the whole service points to the coming Messiah.

Beth El Shaddai, like HaOr Ministries, gives Southern Baptist congregations guidance on how to conduct the Passover seder as well as how to celebrate it their congregations.

“As we celebrate communion, or the Lord’s Supper, we can see a shadow of these things, but if we carry out the whole service, we can see how it underscores God’s eternal plan for His people in a very powerful way,” Isbell said.

The seder is comprised of three parts: the haggadah (the telling), the meal and the afikomen (unleavened bread), Isbell explained. As the story of slavery to freedom and of darkness to light is retold, the pastor also leads the congregation in sharing a meal of bitter herbs, a roasted egg, a sweet apple mixture, parsley and a bone.

According to Isbell, the serving of the afikomen, or matzoh, is the portion of the meal when the lamb is remembered.

“Its blood was placed on the doorposts as salvation from that final plague, and the body of the lamb was eaten completely to give them strength during the coming times,” Isbell said.

“When Y’shua (Jesus) said ‘This is My body’ and ‘This is My blood,’ the disciples saw something very different from what many believers see today in a simple communion service,” Isbell explained. “He came to be our Salvation and our Strength.”

Zola Levitt, a Jewish Christian and founder of Zola Levitt Ministries in Dallas, Texas, said, “We should celebrate the feasts (like Passover) because Jesus celebrated them.”

Levitt teaches that through understanding the biblical feasts, one can see the core of Christianity, as Jesus was the perfect lamb sacrificed for us in order to save us from death.

In his booklet “The Miracle of Passover,” Levitt writes, “Understanding Jesus as a sacrificial lamb, in effect, is to understand the very heart of Christianity.”

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Hokes Bluff church hosts Zola Levitt

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
March 31, 2005

"Israel, Israel, Israel."

Those are the three things of importance to the Christian church today, Zola Levitt recently told the crowd gathered at Immanuel Baptist Church, Hokes Bluff.

Heads nodded in agreement as those listening anticipated hearing Levitt’s views on Israel, end-time prophecy and current world events.

They were not disappointed.

Levitt, who has 50 books in print, held the attention of the congregation for over two hours as he talked about evangelism, a future Palestinian state, hatred of the Jews, the return of Jesus and Armageddon. He also answered questions from the audience on the building of the 3rd temple, the location of the Ark of the Covenant and his opinions on world leaders.

Some of those present were already supporters of Zola Levitt Ministries, based in Dallas, Texas, and subscribe to his newsletter or watch his weekly 30-minute television program, Zola Levitt Presents, which airs on television stations across the nation. Some also had traveled with Levitt on one of his 50 trips to Israel.

A member of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and pastor of a messianic congregation, Levitt is a believer in the biblical concept outlined in Romans 1:16, “First to the Jew and also to the gentile.”

Although educating people about Israel, the Jews and end-time prophecy is a core issue in Levitt’s ministry, more important is evangelism, Levitt said.

“This is the perfect time to share the gospel with unbelievers. The Lord said, ‘In the days of Noah,’ and it is already raining,” he said.

Anthony Copeland, pastor of Immanuel, said Christians should be aware of end-time events. “There’s a need for us to be aware of what’s going on in the Middle East,” he said. “And it is good for our church members to be exposed to a Jewish believer.”

Though Levitt had spent his childhood learning the laws in the synagogue, his life dramatically changed in 1971 when he accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah. For almost 35 years, Levitt has urged Christians to witness to Jewish friends and embrace the Jewish people. “If you have a problem with the Jews, know that when you get to heaven you will meet the King of the Jews,” he said.

Levitt warned Christians about the anti-Semitism in the world but credited the strife to spiritual battles. “The hatred of Israel is amazing. Since it goes all the way back to Pharaoh, it is spiritual.”

He said the Jewish people have always been special to God and the devil seeks to get rid of them. “He can’t win this battle, but he uses all the punches he can,” Levitt said.

"I usually cringe when reporters attend my talks, since they so distort what I say. But, the above article is totally accurate." -Zola Levitt about my article in the Levitt Letter.

Related Link: (Levitt Letter...Go to the bottom of page 9)
www.levitt.com/newsletters/2005-07.pdf

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Prayerful partnership

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
February 17, 2005

The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions (AAEO) continues to be a testimony of the prayerful partnership between missionaries and local church members, according to AAEO representatives.

Since 1934, Southern Baptists have given funds to support missionary salaries, health benefits, church planting supplies and evangelism materials. Last year’s annual giving was a record high, at nearly $54 million, which supported 5,200 missionaries serving in the United States and Canada.

Candace McIntosh, executive director of Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union, said, “Giving through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is one way Alabama Baptists can support Great Commission work, not only in the state of Alabama, but throughout the United States.” Alabama’s AAEO goal is $5 million.

And combining that support with prayer is critical, according to Wanda Lee, executive director of national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU).

“The AAEO and Lottie Moon Christmas Offerings are tangible ways Baptists can express their desire to support missions,” she said. “These gifts, along with faithful prayer support, enable missionaries to do the work God has called them to do.”

Jimmy Jackson, pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville, agreed.
Whitesburg led the 2004 Annie Armstrong offering in Alabama with more than $119,000 and Jackson gives credit to prayer combined with encouragement. “We encourage members to give all year long to both the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings. We have a special six-week focus on each one during which time we pray and keep our goal in front of the people.”

Les Hughes, senior pastor of Westwood Baptist Church, Alabaster, has also found that encouragement and prayer are key ingredients to a successful offering for missions. In 2004, Westwood gave $43,968 primarily through efforts of the missions team and sermons.

Hughes said his church wants to be prayer warriors, cheerleaders and partners in ministering to others and in sharing the gospel. “It’s important for us to give this offering because these missionaries trust us to support them with our prayers and with our resources,” he said.

With an estimated seven out of 10 people living without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, believes we must never lose sight of the mission before us.

Not only does he hope the 2005 Annie Armstrong Offering goal of $55 million is reached but that the lost will give their hearts and lives to Jesus.

“The signs are all around us every day that our homeland is sinking deeper and deeper into a lostness and spiritual darkness that only God can turn around,” he said. “From the school classroom to the Wall Street boardroom (and) from Washington, D.C. to Hollywood, we are losing the spiritual foundation we once had as a nation and along with it, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.”

As millions of Christians in Southern Baptist churches donate to the annual offering, 100 percent of the money utilized to support missionaries and evangelism and careful planning is taken to start new churches.

Reccord explained that NAMB takes a close look at the demographics of the communities, what kind of church is needed most and what groups are missed by other churches in the area. The planning pays off when a new church planter is commissioned.

“It’s an approach that says, ‘We’re not going to design church our way and then expect you to conform to it, Instead, we’re going to be rock-solid in our doctrine and singularly focused on Christ, but we’re going to remove the barriers that sometimes keep people from walking into a church,’” he said.

Until her death in 1938, removing barriers is what Annie Armstrong was known for as she devoted her life to helping the poor, needy and underserved.

“I think she would be amazed to see what her vision for North American missions has grown into,” Reccord said. He believes she would be heartened by the fact God is still using the same method — the obedient and generous gifts and offerings of His people — to support the work that was so close to her heart.

“I think she would also feel more of an urgency to reach this continent for Christ and she would feel an even stronger need for us to continue and grow the mission.”

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Leaders: Girls must be taught modesty can be fashionable

Posted on Nov 24, 2004 | by Theresa Shadrix
ANNISTON, Ala. (BP)--On the heels of ABC's decision not to renew its annual television contract with the Miss America pageant, the issue of modesty has emerged as a center-stage issue with Christians.

This year, contestants were featured in revealing swimsuits in the on-stage competition, and were placed in hot tubs during their pre-recorded introductions.

The reduction in modesty did not yield the pageant the extra exposure it had hoped to achieve. Instead, Miss America received its lowest television ratings in its 50-year history.

Only 10 girls opted for the more modest optional swimsuit, while Miss America, Deidre Downs, donned the two-piece string bikini for the judges and the audience. Downs viewed the swimsuit competition as a reflection of physical fitness and told Baptist Press she tried not to think about what she was wearing before the airing of the competition.

"I just thought about what I would wear to the beach," Downs said.

The issue of modesty is not a new controversy in pageant swimsuits, but as fashion trends like short skirts, tank tops and belly shirts make their way from the local mall to worship services, church members are looking for guidance.

Modesty is one of the topics -- along with dating, eating disorders, depression and self esteem -- addressed in Beyond the Eye conferences.

The conference founder, Leslie Gary, cautions parents to be aware of contents in their daughters' wardrobe and to not only discuss why some things are not appropriate to wear but explore the roots of immodest clothing.

"I feel there are many issues that young girls face today, but I believe these issues stem from their desire to feel needed, be wanted and accepted and to fit in," she said. "Whether these girls end up becoming sexually active, wearing revealing clothing, or suffering from anorexia -- just to name a few things -- they have a longing in their hearts for true acceptance."

The birth of the Beyond the Eye ministry came from Gary's own struggle with self-worth and identity.

"I personally have struggled with low self-esteem and inferiority my entire life," she said, "but God has allowed me to be taught His Word through various ways and has graciously allowed me to have some amazing role models in my life."

Many girls dress inappropriately because they have never been taught that their beauty is far beyond what people see on the outside, Gary said.

"It is a heart issue," she said. "I truly believe that confusion about modesty and clothing that is appropriate will begin to subside once God's Word is planted daily into the hearts of these girls. We desire to judge no one. Our desire is to give girls the key that opens the truth about who they are through God's Word."

Mary Mohler, director of the Seminary Wives Institute at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, sees an opportunity for Christian parents to teach daughters, and other misguided women, that modesty matters.

"A daughter must be taught from an early age that her body is precious and should never be flaunted," Mohler said. "Fathers need to lovingly convey this message to their daughters, as they can give first-hand testimony of how men think and respond."

Younger girls face obstacles when older girls dress inappropriately in church, Mohler said, adding that holiness is not dependent on a woman's attractiveness.

"It is not something that should have to be drilled into women as if restrictive rules were being placed on their personal choices of dress and appearance as some way to punish them," Mohler said. "Regenerate Christian women should deeply desire to reflect Christ in every aspect of their lives -- including how they dress."

Modest dressing, Mohler said, is a reflection of God's work of grace in a woman's heart. Women must dress appropriately not only in church but also in everyday life, she added.

"What started in our churches as a well-intentioned move toward making seekers feel welcome has spiraled into a situation where Sunday dress is virtually disappearing," Mohler said.

The dangerous side to immodesty is women unknowingly causing their Christian brothers to stumble, she said.

"Many young women are more caught up in fashion and trends," Mohler said. "They have to be taught that many fashionable clothing trends that may seem 'fun' to wear are also revealing in ways that plain and simply cause men to lust."

Mohler and Gary both recognize that modesty is not a stylish term but they insist girls and women can be fashionable, while also reflecting Christ.

"I believe the Proverbs 31 women was a tastefully dressed woman in her 'fine linen and purple.' She was not drab, unkempt and unattractive," Mohler said.

"However, women must make wise choices when it comes to fashion such that we enjoy the variety of appropriate styles, luscious colors and a multitude of fabrics available to us. Men have few options in this area. We have so many choices. Eliminating ones that are immodest is certainly not too much to ask.
--30--

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Vietnam POW continues to speak of freedom & faith

ANNISTON, Ala. (BP)--In 1967, U.S. Army Colonel Benjamin Purcell traded his job as professor of military science at Kemper Military School and College in Boonville, Mo., to go to Vietnam as deputy commander of the Da Nang Sub-Area and executive officer of the 80th General Support Group.

That career decision would end up putting his life in peril and his faith to the test.

In Vietnam, Purcell was quite comfortable in the bachelor officer's barracks, considering the turmoil of war surrounding him, and he communicated with his family through daily letters, weekly audiotapes and monthly telephone calls. But a routine midnight helicopter ride on Jan. 30, 1968, changed everything when the aircraft was shot down by enemy fire and Purcell along with Warrant Officer Joe Rose, Warrant Officer Dick Ziefler, SP/4 Robert Chenoworth, SP/4 Mike Lenker and Private First Class James George were captured by the North Vietnamese army.

Imprisonment was an issue Purcell and wife, Anne, had never really weighed. "Anne and I had talked about the possibility of my being injured or killed but never of becoming MIA (Missing In Action) or POW," Purcell recounted.

Almost immediately his faith in Christ was put to the test as the U.S. captives walked all night barefooted with their hands tied behind their backs along a narrow path into the mountains south and west of Khe Sanh.

Private George, his face burned after retrieving a rifle in the flaming helicopter, was in urgent need of medical attention. After Purcell was promised George would receive care, the two men fearlessly recited the Lord's Prayer with the tip of a Viet Cong's gun aimed in their direction. "Never had the words meant more to me," Purcell said. George was left behind anticipating a doctor when a shot echoed in the dark Vietnam air. Although he did not witness the gunfire, Purcell believed George was killed that fateful night, as he was never seen or heard from again.

Purcell feared his broken ribs and blistered feet would slow down the caravan of prisoners and he likewise would be killed so he turned to God. "I prayed for a light to guide me and minutes later the man in front of me turned on a flashlight and pointed it to my feet." This would be the first of many incidents when Purcell's Southern Baptist roots would be planted deep in the muddy soil of Vietnam. "There were times when I wanted to give up but I would think of Anne and then of how Christ endured pain on the cross. I knew I had to keep going," Purcell said.

For 62 months, 58 of those in solitary confinement, Purcell suffered interrogations, hunger, depression, illness, loneliness and complete loss of dignity and freedom. Of the many lessons learned during his nightmare, he noted, "I learned that in order to live with fellow man, a person must first live with himself."

Twice Purcell attempted to escape from two different prison camps. And even though he had trained a chicken as a lookout in one attempt and fashioned a dummy named Charlie out of bamboo and spare clothes in the other attempt, it was not until March 27, 1973, that Purcell and 32 other American POWs tasted the sweetness of freedom. Purcell greeted a crowd at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines by saying, "Man's most precious possession, second only to life itself, is freedom."

From that day forward, Purcell would bear the distinction of being the highest-ranking Army officer captured as a POW and released during the Vietnam conflict.

With no communication during his five-year captivity and no idea of his whereabouts, Purcell's wife, Anne, struggled to raise their five children, David, Debbie, Clifford, Sherri and Joy, who was only 18 months when her father volunteered to serve his country. "Faith, hope and love is what helped us all," Purcell said.

Three days after his release, on March 30, 1973, Ben and Anne were reunited at Bush Field in Augusta, Ga. Their oldest son, David, who was a senior in high school when he said goodbye to his father, greeted him in his West Point cadet uniform with what Purcell called the most gratifying salute of his military career.

Whenever he and Anne share their testimony of faith, hope and love to churches and civic organizations across the country, Purcell brings along items from his captivity. Among them on display during a Nov. 3 visit to Parker Memorial Baptist Church in Anniston, Ala., were a communion set he used once a month; a wedding ring fashioned of bamboo; salt and pepper shakers that never held the precious commodity; and drawings of the bare cells and clothes he was forced to wear. He and Anne also recount the ordeal in their book "Love & Duty." Daughter Joy, a television journalist, traveled to Vietnam with her father and a few other POWs in March 1993 to film a documentary titled, "The Final Healing -- Vietnam Revisited."

Purcell retired in 1980 after 30 years in service with such distinguished honors as the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Parachutist and Combat Infantryman Badges and a Purple Heart.

He subsequently served his home state of Georgia as a state representative from 1993-97. Today the Purcells live in Clarksville, Ga., where they operate a Christmas tree farm. They are active members of Bethlehem Baptist Church.
--30--
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FREEDOM AND FAITH.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Gadsden’s Camper named Miss Alabama in ‘God’s time’

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
October 21, 2004

Shannon Camper thought her pageant days were over when she was first runner-up to Miss Alabama June 12, her seventh and final attempt at the title.

Camper, who turned 25 Oct. 20, aged out of the scholarship pageant system that awarded her more than $28,000, which she used to obtain a degree in mass communications from the University of Alabama.

After the competition, held at Samford University, she moved on with her life and got a job as a leasing agent, focused attention on her ministry of singing gospel music and enjoyed church activities at Central Avenue Baptist in Gadsden, where her father, Larry, is minister of music and mother, Sarah, is a pianist.

Then Miss Alabama, Deidre Downs, was crowned Miss America 2005 in Atlantic City Sept. 18.

Downs is the third Alabama contestant to win the Miss America tiara, along with Yolande Betbeze in 1951 and Heather Whitestone in 1995. With Downs’ victory, the Miss Alabama first runner-up has the option of assuming the state title. In a phone call from the Miss Alabama organization, Camper sealed her name in the pageant history books when she accepted without hesitation.

“There were a lot of decisions to make right off the bat. I had to quit my job and move to Birmingham in the apartment provided for Miss Alabama,” Camper said. “I didn’t have time to think about anything. I was just so excited for Deidre and me!”

Camper said the title offers her the chance to speak about her platform, breast cancer awareness, and share what God has done in her life. “There is a history of breast cancer in my family and now I can help educate women,” she said.

“It is just so amazing to see how God has moved because after seven years this was something I put aside. I think of the song, ‘Wait on the Lord and Be of Good Service,’ and I am reminded that He is in control.”

Family friend and pastor of Arbor Baptist Church in Pell City Whitt Hibbs baptized Camper at age 7 when he served as pastor of Central Avenue.

Hibbs said all Southern Baptists in Alabama should be very proud. “She is one of our own, literally born and raised in the Southern Baptist church, and Shannon has a gleam is her eye and the Lord in her heart,” said Hibbs. “Her faith is real and she also has such an unbelievable talent in singing.”

Born into a musical family, Camper said she has been singing all of her life. “My mother sang when she was pregnant with me when my parents traveled in a southern gospel group. I also remember that she would prop me on the piano stool at the age of 2 and I would sing. It has been a big part of my life.”

Camper’s singing talent does not go unrecognized. She received the only standing ovation when she sang “God Bless America” during the talent competition at the Miss Alabama pageant and she has been working in a studio to record her own music.

“All I want to do is share my testimony and sing. I hope I can do it in churches around Alabama.”

For information on how to schedule Miss Alabama 2004, Shannon Camper, visit www.missalabama.com.

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Faith motivates Miss Alabama as she prepares to compete in Miss America

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
July 22, 2004

Deidre Downs planned on attending medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall but she traded in books for a crown when she was named Miss Alabama.

Held on the campus of Samford University June 12, the Miss Alabama pageant awarded Downs, 23, more than $18,000.

“I was elated,” said Downs, a member of Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham. “It was my fifth time and I really wanted to be Miss Alabama.”

Now she is busy preparing for the Miss America Pageant and making public appearances across Alabama promoting her platform, Curing Childhood Cancer.

“Between now and Sept. 1, when I leave for Atlantic City, I’m preparing by working out, continuing my voice lessons and doing mock interviews.

For talent, I will sing the same selection I performed at Miss Alabama, a Linda Eder song called ‘I’m Afraid This Must Be Love.’”

As an activist for children, Downs is raising funds for Children’s Hospital in Birmingham through a specialty license plate approved by the Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles. Children’s Hospital treats more than 95 percent of children with cancer in Alabama, she explained. “Research is the only way we will approach a cure for pediatric cancer,” she said.

The statuesque beauty takes her new job as Miss Alabama seriously, as well as her life, career ambitions and faith.

The almost $50,000 in scholarship money she received in her five years of competition allowed her to complete a bachelor of arts in history from Samford University.

The funds will help her resume studies at UAB after her reign as Miss Alabama to fulfill her goal to work in the medical profession.

“I want to become a pediatrician because I love kids.”

Her desire to medically care for children started through her experiences at Camp Smile-a-Mile, a camp for children with cancer, and as a volunteer at Children’s Hospital.

She started a nonprofit organization, Making Miracles, four years ago to allow opportunities for high school students to volunteer with pediatric cancer patients in a hospital setting.

Making Miracles has also provided volunteers for the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge and the Leukemia Society’s Light the Night Walk, as well as held a Rock-a-Thon fund raiser for pediatric cancer research.

Downs said her faith in Christ not only motivated her decision to pursue medicine as a career but also her involvement in community service.

She became a Christian when she was 8 years old but feels she has grown in her faith over the years.

“I’ve come to realize what it means to devote (my) life to Christ,” Downs explained. “I hope to always live my life in a way that reflects my faith and to be someone who really walks the walk by putting my faith into practice every day.”

The 2002 Rhodes Scholar finalist puts her faith into action not only through raising awareness of pediatric cancer but also as a role model for young women.

Teresa Cheatham Stricklin, Miss Alabama 1978 and first runner-up to Miss America 1979, judged Downs last year.

She believes the same charm and professionalism the Miss Alabama judges saw in Downs will be seen in Miss America and by people in Alabama who meet her during appearances.

“I am excited for Deidre and she will be a fabulous Miss Alabama,” Stricklin said.

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Mark Lowry reaches crowds with humor, music

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
May 6, 2004

In all of Mark Lowry's antics alongside gospel singer Bill Gaither, there is one thing Lowry wants to be — real.

“Be real for them like you want Jesus to be real for you,” Lowry said.

People will listen if they see what they’re going through is what others have been through, he said.

Lowry’s fusing of clean comedy and southern gospel music on TV and the stages of arenas and churches brings a chuckle and a tear, concert goers say. Among his Alabama church appearances are Hill Crest Baptist Church, Anniston; Dauphin Way Baptist Church, Mobile; and others.

Throughout his 13 years as a baritone with The Gaither Vocal Band, Lowry often pokes fun at Gaither. “I think I am the only one that Bill allows to make fun of him,” Lowry said. “Who else would get to wear a wig and laugh at him?”

Along with appearing on the Gaither Homecoming Series videos and sharing the stage with other gospel music recording artists, such as Sandi Patty and Michael W. Smith, Lowry has made six comedy and musical videos during his 20-year career.

In a phone conversation with The Alabama Baptist from his Houston, Texas, home, Lowry joked that at the moment his real life included cleaning out the swimming pool, feeding a stray dog he adopted and talking on the phone.

“I am ADHD, and I can’t concentrate on one thing at a time!” ADHD — Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder — was no laughing matter to Lowry as a child, because he couldn’t sit still. He was labeled hyperactive. Now he would not change a thing, he said, because it actually helps with his comedy.

“Everything in comedy has truth. Not being ADHD is like asking a blind man what it would be like to have sight. It is all I have ever known,” he said.

Lowry said people love stories about people, and that is why he relates well to his audiences.

“Jesus is for everyone. We ought to let our scars be seen because we’re all sinners, and we all need to know that Jesus is real,” he said. Lowry said that so many times Christians do not encourage one another and talk about what is happening in real life.

On the flip side of his hilarious stage antics and joke-telling is an introspective Lowry, who delves into questions of the soul.

“I had questions for Jesus, but I really had so many for Mary and those questions produced the song,” he said, referring to his hit song “Mary Did You Know?” a Christmastime classic. Lowry owes his life of ministry to his mother.

“I was born two months early, and my mother gave me to the Lord,” he said. Lowry’s mother also dressed him in an American flag at age 11 to sing patriotic songs to a crowd of more than 10,000 at the National Quartet Convention. This performance landed Lowry a recording contract.

After a brief stint at Liberty University pursuing a degree in business, Lowry found more success singing southern gospel music.

His comedy came when jokes were introduced as a filler of time.

“The independent Baptists I grew up around didn’t clap, and they might say ‘Amen’ after a song,” he said. “I needed something to fill in the time and started to tell jokes. Plus, it was the only way I knew they were listening!”


Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Gadsden woman’s ministry teaches teens, college-age girls truths for godly lifestyles

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
April 29, 2004



While women like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson lead the fight for an “anything goes” mentality, many parents battle to keep their teens from being part of statistics this viewpoint generates.

More than 16,500 babies born in Alabama in 1996 were to girls 15–19 years old, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

But parents hope to curb these and other statistics through a ministry named Beyond the Eye (BTE), which focuses on teaching the truth of the Bible to girls grade 6 through college.

With a realistic approach to depression, fashion trends, sex, eating disorders, gossip and self-esteem, BTE holds one-day conferences, taught by college-age girls under the mentorship of its founder Leslie Gary.

Along with break-out seminars, the conference has a praise and worship time, a fashion show and skits. Each girl attending receives a gift bag with a T-shirt, Scripture cards and memory verse outline.
The ministry of BTE started with a Bible study Gary facilitated several years ago for college girls from her church, CrossPoint Community Church in Gadsden.

As the group grew, the concept for the ministry began to form. It held its first conference under the guidance of Breakaway Ministries, a Gadsden-based organization that organizes yearly retreats for students. A dozen BTE conferences later, Gary is juggling teaching responsibilities at Piedmont Elementary School and overseeing the ministry.

Because discipleship was a vital part of the Bible study, it is with the ministry as well. “Our job as women is to seek after Christ and become more like Him. Character will determine true beauty‚” she said.

With discipleship, memorizing Scripture is a vital key to the Christian life. Gary first learned the skill of memorizing Scripture from her father as he made his children quote a verse before each left for school.

No Scripture verse meant the tardy bell. In her adult life she developed a true love for Scripture and seeks to pass on this passion to help fend off temptations from the world.

“Girls are looking for attention and if they don’t get it at home, they are going to go to something or someone looking for it,” she said. She said craving love and attention can lead to wrong choices in dating, friends and fashion.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the conference — a fashion show and skit about the do’s and don’ts of girls’ clothing — is also the main reason boys are not allowed.

“Girls need a setting that they can be themselves and get a clear view of what a godly girl should be,” Gary said.

The skit is important because girls today are bombarded with images and fashion trends that give the wrong message to boys, she noted. “Girls can still be pretty and attractive without showing guys what only their future husband should see. I am thinking about adding a do’s and don’ts about fashion.”

Learning to dress appropriately is something Nikki McClellan, 21, had to learn from Gary. McClellan, a nursing student at Gadsden State Community College, leads the “Getting Past Your Past” seminar because she thinks it is important for girls to know God’s Word. Raised in a non-Christian home and engaging in hurtful activities, she speaks from her own experience and her heart.

“Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll were my life for five years‚” she said. That changed when she met Gary three years ago, and a discipleship lasting two years helped her to change her attitude and heal her spirit.

“God took the desires away,” McClellan said. “It is fun for me to wake up every morning and know that I am accepted by God. I am complete.”

The 17 college girls who lead the seminars are a close group that share with, encourage and teach each other as well as conference attenders.

The bond of friendship is important to Gadsden native, Randi Lipscomb, as she leads the “Friendship & Accountability” workshop.

The 20-year-old attends Auburn University where she pursues a degree in elementary education. She began to study the Bible with Gary in grade 7.

“Coming from a completely different background than Nikki, I was raised in church but I lacked passion for Christ.”

She is now able to teach girls why Christian friends are important. “So many times the reason we fall is that we are not being held accountable by anyone. Friendships are an investment.”

Lipscomb said she is grateful to her parents for providing a solid, Christian home but now Bible study time is the “most amazing encounter with God. I know who I am and teaching girls their identity in Christ is what Beyond the Eye is all about.”

Gary also speaks at church services, Sunday School classes and women’s conferences.

Recently Adrian Rogers invited her to speak to the young women at Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn. Gary said the opportunity was amazing and reminds her that the main goal is to teach young women to have a hunger and thirst to get to know Christ intimately.

“God’s Word is our sword to fight with, our convector and our lamp to guide us,” she said. “We hope to show that to girls.”

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist

Thursday, March 04, 2004

FBC Opelika member sees DHR job as way to serve God

By Theresa Shadrix
The Alabama Baptist
March 4, 2004

A high-level public servant in Alabama infuses commitment to Christ into his life and work as he fulfills his responsibilities to protect Alabama’s children.

Page Walley, a member of First Baptist Church of Opelika, leads the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) as commissioner.

He promises a new day in the child welfare agency that oversees child support enforcement, child and adult protective services, food stamps, foster care and adoption.

The post was left vacant when Bill Fuller announced his resignation to become a career missionary.

Like Fuller, Walley brings a strong sense of faith, desiring to be a vessel used by God. “I will follow the example of Jesus Christ and go out and serve and draw people to Him,” he said.

Raised in LaGrange, Tenn., a small antebellum town of 160 citizens, Walley, the oldest of three siblings, said his childhood offered the perfect environment. His father’s hard work at his job in the cotton industry and his mother’s commitment to raising the family created a safe and loving Christian home. This influence would guide Walley throughout his life.

Upon graduating from high school, he attended Davidson College, Davidson, N.C., on a football scholarship, where he still holds fifth place in the top 10 for career rushing yards.

Although he was a stand-out athlete at Davidson, the pigskin did not determine his future as much as a gothic-style psychiatric hospital located in Bolivar, Tenn., just 22 miles from his hometown.

“I always was intrigued by the mental health field and the massive state hospital and wanted to pursue psychology,” he said.

Walley said he publicly confessed his salvation in his junior high school gymnasium during an evangelism meeting. “I admit though, during my college years I did not always remember the lessons learned in my Christian home,” he said.

His faith would find replenishment after he completed a master’s and doctorate in psychology at the University of Georgia. He then took a residency at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Coral Gables, Fla., and joined University Baptist Church, Coral Gables.

The love and influence of his new church home, as well as the leadership of Dan Yeary, now senior pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, Phoenix, Ariz., offered a renewed faith. Yeary recruited him as the director of Christian counseling ministry at University Baptist, a position he held 1985–1987.

The staff position afforded him the opportunity to discover a gift for preaching after occasionally preaching in Yeary’s absence. “The church approached me about licensing,” Walley said. “Their policy was to reserve ordination for those who have seminary training. The church wanted to recognize a calling in my life, but I am not a full-time preacher.”

So Walley was licensed to the gospel ministry by University Baptist Church in 1986.

Walley said he does a lot of guest speaking in churches and Sunday School classes and is interested in supply preaching.

He met his future wife, Terry, a Montgomery native and Auburn graduate, at University Baptist in Coral Gables. With a strong foundation built on Christ, the Walley family — which includes children Blake, Jordan and Annelise — moved back to his hometown in 1987 so he could take the position of clinic director of Quinco Community Mental Health in nearby Bolivar, Tenn.

Amid his interaction with people in the community, he regained a grassroots feel for the needs of the people, enough so that he ran for public office. “People kept saying things about changing the state policy, and so I ran for office,” he said.

This led him to serve in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1990 to 2000, sponsoring the legislation that created the department of children’s services in 1996. He held membership on the calendar and rules committee, health and human resources committee, finance committee and the governor’s task force to study child care.

But he decided after 10 years in public service he wanted to focus on his family and the career he loved, so he served as a consultant for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. He next became the department’s commissioner. In March 2003 he moved to Alabama when Gov. Riley appointed him director of the department of children’s affairs.

Although Walley was the recipient of the American Psychological Association’s 1994 Karl F. Heiser Award for Advocacy and several other awards, he wants no glory for his achievements.

He said it is the everyday heroes like his parents, grandmother, minister, his wife, his in-laws and those in adversity he has counseled, who have influenced him.

Copyright 2005© The Alabama Baptist. All Rights Reserved. Contact The Alabama Baptist