Jordan’s Historical and Christian Sites Are Worth a Middle Eastern Journey

AMMAN, Jordan – Just the mention of traveling to the Middle East today may raise red flags given all the unrest the region is experiencing. However my recent weeklong tour of Jordan left me with a new understanding and appreciation for a country I can only describe as an oasis of glistening water in an unsettled desert.

I had the privilege of being part of a delegation of religious journalists invited as guest of the country’s tourism bureau to experience the country. Having never traveled to the Middle East I was a bit leery about the trip, as were my family and friends. I had to ask myself if I would be safe during our journey and would my experience make a lasting impression in my faith walk.

The answer; yes and yes.

I’ve traveled extensively in the U.S. and made trips to other second and third world countries and I must admit, I felt safer in Jordan than I usually do walking in some U.S. cities. As with any unfamiliar destination you visit, using common sense and following standard safety rules should keep you safe and secure in this Middle East country.

Jordanians are warm and hospitable people and welcomed our group with open arms as we traveled to the country’s most significant historical destinations. Tourism is an important component of Jordan’s economy and due to the various levels of unrest in some of the neighboring countries; the number of people seeing its sights has diminished over the last few years. Hopefully that will soon change.

The five days spent on the ground were a whirlwind of activity that took us from the mountainous northern terrain near the Sea of Galilee at Umm Qays to Wadi Rum, to the shores of the Dead Sea.

The capitol city of Amman, like most major metropolitan areas, is highly “westernized” yet still able to preserve the country’s long Arabic culture. With its unique blend of old and new, Amman’s most unique historical destination is what is known as the Citadel – a hill with ruins of the Temple of Hercules, an Ummayyad Place and a Byzantine Church. Capping this destination off is a 6,000 seat Roman theatre.

Umm Qays offered us a look at how various cultures occupied and fought for some of the most critical trade routes in the last three thousand years. As you stand in the shadows of fourth century Roman ruins you can look out onto the Golan Heights while seeing the distant Israeli city of Tiberias on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee where the Bible tells the story of Jesus chasing demons out of a man.

Although approximately 95 percent of Jordanians claim Islam as their religion, the country is immersed with Christian history.

With all its amazing sites, my favorite day by far was our visit to Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Mount Nebo. Biblical accounts in the Old Testament confirm how God granted a special place to the land that is now Jordan. Elijah, one of the most important Old Testament prophets ventured into the area with Elisha and it was there that he ascended into Heaven.

Just steps away you can find what is believed to be the cave where John the Baptist lived and the stream where he baptized hundreds of Christians including Jesus. Nothing can compare to seeing the recently discovered spot where Jesus began his earthy ministry to ponder the possibility I may have walked on the same ground that Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter or John walked on was a bit overwhelming.

To my astonishment, his site was uninhabited for decades due to tension between Israel and Jordan, but in 1994 the minefields were cleared and excavation uncovered the churches and prayer halls that Christians built early in the first century.

A short bus ride from the Israeli border carried us to Mount Nebo where Moses looked upon the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley and the distant hills of Jerusalem; what God told him was the “Promise Land.” Moses is believed to have died near the site and for centuries Christians made their way here to commemorate the end of his life. Some of the same stones from a fourth century church remain in their original place with great care being taken to preserve the mosaic floors that for years have been left exposed.

Our trip concluded with a visit to the ancient city of Petra, named one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Of all the amazing photographs I have seen of this treasure city that lies deep inside a valley accessible only by a 25-minute walk, videos or still images cannot do justice to its awe and simple beauty.

Petra’s most famous monument – commonly referred to as “The Treasury” – was not an early day Wall Street but a burial chamber for the city’s wealthy citizens. After being deserted by residents in the aftermath of seventh century earthquakes, it was rediscovered by a Scottish explorer in 1812.

But if it’s sunsets you’re looking for, seeing the sun fall behind the mountains that dot the desert landscape of Wadi Rum is breathtaking.

Would I go back to Jordan? In a heartbeat if simply to continue my exploration of the great Christian historic sites that lie within its boundaries. I would also urge you to make it part of any Middle Eastern visit you have planned, especially if it involves a trip to Israel. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Holly Starr, 20, Uses Own Struggles, Including Body Image, as Inspiration for New Album, ‘Focus’

FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Holly Starr never imagined her experience working on her family’s farm in Quincy, Wash., would propel her to a career in Christian music, but then again the former athlete knows exactly how to combine a devoted work ethic with pure talent to make her dreams a reality.

While her music education began with the piano, it was making both words and music come together that stimulated the budding artist. “I believe songwriting is a gift from God but I’ve had to work hard at developing the skill,” she explained.

Her new CD, Focus, is now out and is packed with ten songs Starr believes come from the bottom of her heart and that will speak to people on a number of issues. “Let’s Go,” the title track “Focus” and “Satisfied are just a few of the songs featured on her CD.

Holly Starr headshot

Starr sat down with The Christian Post between writing sessions in Nashville and a trip back to her hometown to talk about her acquired songwriting talent and what life for a 20-year-old is like. Throughout the interview she gives readers a glimpse of how the struggles of a young woman can be overcome by listening to God reveal His true plan for our lives. And it seems He has big plans for this small-town farm girl.  Her next venture will involve the Breakout Tour that will begin later this week. OBB and Mr. Talk Box, who is a part of Tobymac’s band, will also be performing.  The tour opens Sept. 21 at the Hopkins Civic Center in Sulphur Springs, Texas, with dates into October. Check out her latest works at www.hollystarrmusic.com.

CP: What was the turning point in your life that has influenced your music?

Starr: In sixth grade I began taking voice lessons from a lady who was also a songwriter. She helped me as I transitioned from classic music to leading worship on our worship team at church and she helped me learn how to lead from a piano. I also thought if I could lead a worship song I could write these types of songs too.

CP: What were the biggest influences on your music at that time?

Starr: Spiritually, I get most of my influences from a number of artists, especially Chris Tomlin. To this day he is a huge influence on my music. From the standpoint of a worship leader there are not many who rise to his level and I really look up to him. He’s had to give up so much in his life.

CP: Do you see yourself as more of an artist or a worship leader?

Starr: Definitely a worship leader. No doubt about it. That’s something that has been surfacing a lot for me. I like to speak from the stage and in my heart I know I’m a worship leader.

CP: Outside of your passion for music, did you have what most would consider a normal childhood?

Starr: Oh yes. I grew up in such a small town that it could not help but be normal. Sure, I had dreams of singing and performing on big stages but my life centered on my family and what I was doing at the time with school and friends.

When I was about 15 I felt God’s call to music and thought I needed to invest more time in it, but it still didn’t consume my life. I did spend more time writing and with my worship team and that’s when God started opening doors. At the same time he called me to stop spending so much time with some of the sports I was engaged in and that’s another reason I spent more time with my music. It was all these doors He was opening and closing. I worked in a small café in town, worked on the farm and did all the others things young high school girls do and then one day a producer heard one of my songs and contacted me. It was so cool.

CP: Growing up as a teenage girl today is obviously a challenge. How did you cope with these issues and how do you help others young girls today?

Starr:  I attended a Christian school until I was in the sixth grade and then went to a public school afterward. I’ve always had a huge passion for Jesus and an evangelist heart and felt called to share Jesus with my friends. When I started in public school and saw things I didn’t like I invited people to youth group.

But after I started attending high school something crept into my life and I struggled with it and that was my body image. I ran track and at that time I became overwhelmed with the way my body looked and someone made a comment to me around that time – he didn’t mean it in a mean way but the way he said it just drove a stake through my heart.

(Her male track coach made the comment Holly referred to. “You don’t look like you did last year” was what he said. Although she insists the comment was not intended in a mean way, it would take her years to overcome the pain associated with that those few words.)

I thought, well, I don’t understand why he said that but then I thought I need to look like I did last year. From that point on everything I did, everything I ate was done to get me back to the point my coach thought I needed to be. I weigh myself every morning and was obsessed with that number. I just remember struggling with that pretty intensely. It was about a five-year struggle and up until the end of the fifth year, which was last year, I started to get control of the issue.

I just remember hearing a pastor speak and say we should not have anything between God and us. Yet I knew this issue was standing between us and I knew I had to get rid of that one issue. I had been idoling myself – the way I looked – and was placing that above God. I would get up at 5:50 in the morning to go to the gym before school and run track after school. Plus, I was obsessed with every calorie I consumed.

There is a song I wrote on my last album called “Undertow” and it described how I was feeling before I revealed exactly what it was. I shared that story in an interview and I was asked what advice I would give to other girls and I was shocked. I had no idea how to answer that question. But in an instant I felt God tell me that if I wasn’t satisfied with me, that it was an insult to Him. That was just so piercing to my spirit. I am not who people say I am, I am what You have made me, so if I complain to others, and then I am complaining to You. That was a big reality check to me.

CP: Do you tell this story when you’re on stage?

Starr: Absolutely. I wrote a song called “Through My Father’s Eyes” that speaks to this and going back to the end of the road when things were at their hardest. I prayed and fasted for a year and about three-quarters of the way through I realized just how much God was changing me. The best way I can describe it is in Ephesians 5 where He describes how He washes us with His works. God was not penetrating my heart. I no longer just read or hear about His healing because I’ve experienced it in my own life. It doesn’t matter if it’s body image, marriage, finances or anything else, God can heal us and meet our every need. I thought I was in such a dark place but Jesus was able to bring me through it.

CP: The music industry in highly competitive. How do you balance your life with all the daily pressures you face?

Starr: God has a way of showing us all we need to know. I just depend on His guidance to keep me humble during all of our travels and performances.

Movie Review: ‘Seasons of Gray’ Showcases the Power of Forgiveness, Reconciliation With Biblical Theme

Over the past several years, a growing number of filmmakers have written and produced quality movies that highlight a variety of Christian and biblical themes. In the latest release from EchoLight Partners, entitled “Seasons of Gray,” the writers tell a modern-day biblical story of a family’s turmoil and how ultimately forgiveness can reunite those who have been torn apart.

Produced by Paul Stehlik and underwritten by Watermark Community Church in Fort Worth, Texas, “Seasons of Gray” is set on a family ranch in Texas.

sogposter

A widowed father is left to raise six boys from his two marriages and the tension between the siblings is brought to a head when one brother feels their father favors another. After four of the older brothers beat up and brand their younger half-brother, Brady, they send him away with a clear message: never return.

Believing his son died in an accident, the heartbroken father loses his hope and interest in the cattle business he has spent a lifetime building.

Much like the Old Testament story of Joseph, Brady Gray, played by Andrew Cheney, ends up in the city and believes returning home or contacting his father will only make matters worse. Instead, he is intent on rebuilding his life with the help of his new friend, who gets him an entry-level job in the building and real estate industry. His intelligence and education quickly catch the attention of his new boss and his lonely wife.

But doing the right thing by rejecting her advances only leads to more problems and eventually lands him in prison. However, his spiritual gift of interpreting dreams allowed him to minister to others.

Like Joseph, Brady gains an early release and returns to his former employer with a big job and opportunity to pursue a female co-worker he had only started to know. This unexpected turn of events soon bring him in front of his brothers when they come begging to keep their ranch.

Having no idea that the executive they meet is the sibling they cast aside, he is faced with the decision to simply walk away or seek the forgiveness and unity his father longs for. It is a decision that could change his life and the lives of others, forever.

Todd Wagner is the senior pastor of Watermark Church in Fort Worth and was part of the leadership team that pulled the project together.

In the intro to the film, Wagner points out that his church has no intention of being in the movie business, instead they want to focus on building God’s kingdom and winning people to Jesus Christ.

When I spoke to Wagner via phone, I asked why they chose to use the narrative of Joseph.

“We know one of the most powerful ways to engage people is through stories,” he said. “Jesus did it throughout the New Testament. Most everyone who has attended church or Sunday school has heard this story dozens of times and it speaks to us on so many different levels.”

“Everyone has been betrayed and felt isolated and rejected at one time and could relate to the characters,” explained Wagner. “But it wasn’t just a good story – but it was one we knew we could tell well.”

Wagner went on to point out that the entire congregation at Watermark played a major role in the project. Whether is was covering the cast and crew with prayer, donating sets and construction materials or catering the multi-week shoot, church members rose to the challenge.

“Never again will I complain about a $10 movie ticket,” he quipped.

I also spoke with Rick Santorum, the new CEO of EchoLight Studios and a recent GOP presidential hopeful, on the challenges many Christian filmmakers face. It appears Hollywood has shied away from movies with conservative and biblical themes, but Santorum and his company are developing strategies to bring films like “Seasons of Gray a mainstream audience.

“The first thing we have to do is create a quality product,” said Santorum. “Everything about the film – the production, the writing, the acting must be top-notch. The reality is conservatives and Christians go see movies produced by Hollywood because of quality filmmaking and I believe that non-Christians and others will come see our movies if the quality is there. I am confident we can attract the people if the content is great and that is our number one goal.”

Although EchoLight Studios was not involved in the production of this film, Santorum points out that upcoming releases from their studio will follow his formula for winning over more mainstream audiences and providing quality entertainment for younger moviegoers.

“As parents we need to enact parental controls over what our children watch, but the conservative strategy of keeping out the bad is only part of the solution,” he said. “We want to change that by distributing films that are excellent quality and contain a positive message.”

“Seasons of Gray” is a riveting story that many people will relate to on multiple levels. It is not just about bounding back from hard times, but about forgiveness and how God never misses the opportunity to use every moment to showcase His glory and purpose. It’s a must-see this fall.

The movie will open on Sept.18 in selected theaters and will be made available to churches and organizations that want to sell tickets or host a screening in their communities. A movie trailer and further information can be found at www.seasonsofgray.com.

The Troubling Reason Why Hollywood Anti-War Elites Are Silent

Have you noticed a Hollywood institution missing in the debate over Syrian intervention?

Every time America is challenged to engage in an international conflict, anti-war demonstrators converge to protest the use of military force – led by at least one Hollywood celebrity willing to be arrested for the cause.

Yet it seems the Jane Fonda’s and George Clooney’s of the world are now silent on President Obama’s intention to attack Syria for their use of chemical weapons. Where’s Michael Moore when you need him?

Why the silence? The reason may surprise you.

Many Hollywood elites are afraid that opposing President Obama will somehow permanently scar their careers. Seriously? Well, yes.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ed Asner, the actor who once portrayed a hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners newsroom editor says the Hollywood community is afraid to differ with Obama’s foreign policies because they fear being labeled “anti-black.”

“A lot of people don’t want to feel anti-black by being opposed to Obama,” Asner told the Reporter.

Asner, a staunch anti-war liberal, further showed his frustration over Obama’s actions in other areas too.

“I voted for him, but I’m not proud. He hasn’t thrown himself on the funeral pyre. I wanted him to sacrifice himself. Instead, he has proved himself to be a corporatist, and as long as he’s a corporatist, he’s not my president,” Asner adds. “A lot of people have lost hope — with the betrayals, the NSA spying …”

Is Asner racist in his views? I don’t think so and neither do I believe protestors were “anti-white” by speaking out against the Clinton or Bush policies during their tenure in the White House. After all, a Rick Santorum or a Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) do not base their opposition to President Obama on the color of his skin (after all, he is half-white), but on the fear that the administration does not have a clear and concise plan on what such an attack will deliver after the dust from an explosion settles.

Crystal Wright, who writes a column on her website, conservativeblackchick.com also takes issue with celebrities who are afraid to challenge the president for fear of being racist.

“None of what Hollywood says, or for that matter, doesn’t say surprises me,” Wright told me. “Their thinking is you can’t criticize the president for his failed policies without being labeled as anti-black or a racist. Of course, the same rule doesn’t apply when white journalist or pundits attack a black woman like myself for having conservative beliefs.”

“Why do we give credibility to actors? What do they know about politics and why do we even care? Frankly, it’s sickening to me.”

Like Wright, I’m not suggesting that I would like to hear more actors and musicians ramble on about political issues either. To the contrary, I would prefer to see and hear their talents in movies and in concert only.

But I will defend their right to voice their opinion and I pray that America can move past the point of the racial hypersensitivity it has seemingly embraced since 2009 and address issues based on their merit and potential outcome.

Given the potential candidates who are likely to be our choices in 2016, America will probably have a Caucasian as our next president. It will hardly be considered a racial setback. America is better than this and our positions over the details of policy should be the subject of debate, not the color of someone’s skin – especially the president’s.

‘Egypt is Bleeding,’ Christian Leader Pleas for Prayer In and For Middle East

As I prepare for my first trip to the Middle East next month I am closely following the events in Egypt. Political unrest is bad enough but when individuals who identify themselves with a particular religion – in this case Christians – are being persecuted, I believe the church should offer up prayer on behalf of those in need.

Below is a request from a Christian leader begging for prayer for Egypt and its leaders. I encourage you to talk a few moments now and prayer that the killing of innocent human beings immediately end.

violence in egypt

Egypt Is Bleeding!

Christian Leader Pleads for Prayers; Says, ‘Those Are the Hardest Days We’ve Ever Witnessed’

(The following analysis about the horrific violence across Egypt was written by a Christian leader in Egypt. He is unnamed due to security concerns).

The words are heavy to put together this morning. The sad day of yesterday (Aug. 14) resulted in a sleepless night not only for me, but also for millions of Christian and Muslim Egyptians who love this country and genuinely seek its good and welfare. It was a day of many tears, pain and agony for what Egypt witnessed for the violence that resulted. According to the official report of the Egyptian Ministry of Health, there were 235 deaths and 2001 injuries. The number of casualties and injuries reported by the Muslim Brotherhood and promoted by Al-Jazeera and other Muslim Brotherhood-supporting media channels are of course much higher.

This is not the time to sit to at a discussion table to decide who is right and who is wrong or what should or should not have been done in the first place. The issue now is not either to decide whether Muslim Brotherhood protesters who were forced to leave Rabaa-el Adawia and Nahda Squares (where they have camped and blocked the streets for the last 45 days) were peaceful protestors who had a legitimate political case to defend or were not. I can pretty much go further to say that it’s not even the time to weep over tens of churches, Christian buildings, schools, Bible bookshops, shops and houses of Christians that have never systematically been targeted, looted, attacked or burnt down like what happened yesterday in Minya, Assiut, Sohag and several other cities.

The murder last week of the 10-year-old girl, Jessica Boulos, as she was walking back home from her Bible study class at one of Cairo’s evangelical churches by a fanatic Muslim gunman is unbearable and continues to throw it’s shadows of pain on her broken family and the entire Christian community of Egypt.

In all of this mess, the loss of church buildings great, but not to be compared with the loss of the many souls, the pains of the wounds and the fear and anxiety that have filled the hearts of all that can yet happen in Egypt today and the days to come. Buildings can eventually be re-built, but when lost, souls can never be restored.

It was announced last night by our interim President Adly Mansour for Egypt to follow the emergency law for one month. Fourteen governorates (including Cairo, the capital) are now under curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. after the numerous attacks of the Muslim Brotherhood on public services buildings and private properties.

We see and hear angry Muslim Brotherhood members coming on TV screens threatening to burn Egypt down entirely to form what is so called “Egypt’s free army” and fight against the current army to accelerate the battle with the Jihadists in Sinai and that Egyptians will not be able to sleep until former president Morsi is back into office.

Please continue to pray for my country. Those are the hardest days we’ve ever witnessed. The peaceful Egypt is now soaked into violence, hatred and desire to revenge. My heart and the hearts of millions of Christian and Muslim Egyptians are bleeding as we see Egypt turning into a strange country we’ve never knew before.

Please pray for:

· Peace to come back to our cities

· Wisdom to Egyptian police and army forces as they handle the major upcoming security issues that are facing them

· Tremendous power of love and forgiveness to fall on the hearts of the Christians as we seek to follow to the teachings of Jesus to pray for our attackers and persecutors and forgive them

· The voice of reason to come back to the crowds of Muslim Brotherhood protestors so the brainwashed followers may stop, think and follow the sound of reason, not the orders of deceiving leadership.

“Ya Rab” ((my Lord) save Egypt from evil!

Ken Hutcherson: A Few Things a Conservative Black Minster Would Do If He Were President

Among the benefits of being a journalist and political opinion editor for The Christian Post is getting to meet and know some fascinating people. One of those is Dr. Ken Hutcherson, the senior pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, Washington.

Hutch-Big-Smile photo

If you are a middle-aged football fan then Ken’s name might ring a bell.

He was a football standout in his home state of Alabama and excelled on the gridiron at Livingston University before embarking on a professional career with the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks.

But somewhere in the middle of throwing offensive linemen and running backs around, Hutch found Jesus and began a career as a minister. He writes columns for CP on occasion and I thought I would share one he penned earlier this week:

A Conservative Black Pastor Says: ‘If I Were President, I Would…’

If I were President, there would be no special treatment for anyone entering our country illegally. I would send a special delegation to Israel to study how to build a fence, secure it and then electrify it.

After the border is secure, I would put out a clarion call that all illegal aliens have six months to register and the clock starts ticking when the fence starts construction. When we catch them after that, there will be no citizenship possibility and then we would deport them.  My concern would be for those who have been here for years and sought legal ways to gain citizenship and I would work with Congress to put them on the fast track like they do inmates on death row in Texas, fast and efficient. I would be sensitive to not breaking up families because that would be inhumane of course, so if you are caught after six months, then you and your whole family, whether your children are born here or not would be deported because you had six months to make it right.  I would work with all illegal aliens if they sign up to do everything possible to get their green cards or work permits. However, if someone is attempting to gain citizenship, they must go to the back of the line.

If I were President, I would make a new commitment to Israel and announce the Muslim brotherhood as a terrorist organization, stop all shipments of money, weapons and planes to Egypt until a free government is elected that we deem is free and not a threat to our greatest ally, Israel.  Syrian leadership must go and no one on either side will get help from us until we deem it safe for Israel and America.  Iran would have one warning to disarm or we will stand with Israel to do it for them.

I would demand a special prosecutor for the IRS, NSA, Benghazi, CIA and Fast and Furious scandals.  There would be no need to investigate Eric Holder because I would fire him today for his past incompetence and malfeasance.

Read the rest of Hutch’s article here.

BMI Showcases Top Songwriters at Annual Christian Music Awards Dinner

NASHVILLE – Broadcast Music, Inc., one of the nations leading music rights organizations, recognized the top Christian songwriters and publishers at their annual awards dinner on Tuesday evening at their offices near Nashville’s famed Music Row. The star-studded, invitation-only event included top artists such as Steven Curtis Chapman, Building 429, Matt Maher and Brandon Heath.

Building 429 BMI pic

Jody Williams, BMI’s vice president of Writer/Publisher Relations, told The Christian Post during the pre-event reception how important Christian music is to the industry and its fans.

“We’re in the business of making sure songwriters and artists get paid when their songs are played,” said Williams. “But tonight we are going to honor the top 25 songs in Christian music in five different genres that make up Christian music. What’s special about this evening is we get to put the songwriters on a pedestal and make sure they are honored. Sometimes the artist is the songwriter and that’s even extra special.”

Williams said he believes Christian music has a bright future, mainly due to its diversity in terms of being inspiration to so many people. More importantly, Christian music tends not to experience the highs and low that others types of music often see.

“There [are] all types of great music coming out of Nashville but Christian music is leading the way here and we’re proud to be a part of its success,” explained Williams.

Building 429’s Jason Roy brought home song of the year honors with “Where I Belong,” (Harvey Publishing and Sony ATV Tree).

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/bmi-showcases-top-songwriters-at-annual-christian-music-awards-dinner-98527/#i81MfSolUTGKdgOW.99

How the Boy Scouts Could Become the World’s Largest Sexual Abstinence Program

“The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” Mission statement of BSA.

On Thursday the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) 1,400 voting members are set to decide whether to open their ranks to allow members who openly confess they are homosexual. If approved, the possibly exists the organization could turn into the country’s largest sexual abstinence program. The concept is not absurd as it sounds.

Assuming the BSA allows homosexual members, the next issue they may need to consider is whether to ask the boys if they are sexually active. Naturally, this means they will also have to ask all members – straight or gay – if they are engaging in any type of sexual activity.

And just how would this work? Would they ask each scout to answer a questionnaire about their sexual activity?  Would you simply ask them verbally? What questions would you ask and in whose presence? Is there a record of the scout’s answer and can it be accessed? At what age do you ask these questions? According to Boy Scout rules, a boy can become a scout as early as age 10.

You may be getting the picture on how that could open up an entirely new set of challenges for the BSA.

In keeping with a scout’s oath for their members to remain “morally straight,” and the Boy Scout’s increasingly strident application of child safety policies, would this mean the BSA could become the nation’s largest group responsible for policing their members to maintain sexual abstinence regardless of being gay or straight?

In 2000 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the BSA was within its rights as a private organization to deny membership to anyone who does not adhere to their value system. Specifically, the court stated:

“The Boy Scouts asserts that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values embodied in the Scout Oath and Law, particularly those represented by the terms “morally straight” and “clean,” and that the organization does not want to promote homosexual conduct as a legitimate form of behavior. The Court gives deference to the Boy Scouts’ assertions regarding the nature of its expression…”

If the BSA elects to allow gay scouts, does this mean the 100 plus year-old group, whose mantra is to train and develop a “moral” young men, is endorsing sexual activity outside of marriage among its as-young-as-10 year-old-members? If not, how will this be policed?

This is why such groups as the Southern Baptist Convention and groups committed to retaining the traditional scouting values. John Stemberger, who formed OnMyHonor.net, is one such group that will be protesting on Thursday outside of the BSA meeting in Grapevine, Texas.

A recent article in the Baptist Press noted that the Middle Tennessee Council of the Boys Scouts of America also voted to affirm Scouting’s current national membership policy as “a core value of the Scout Oath and Law.”

Other councils are set to follow suit.

Some may argue you can call yourself a homosexual or insist you have same-sex attraction without engaging in sexual activity, but with promiscuity increasing among teenagers, why would the same not hold true for so-called gay teens?

Is it progress to move past this legal protection of youths, i.e. maintaining strict moral standards, and take on the role of “sex police?”

On the other hand, if the BSA doesn’t ask these questions, then one could argue they turn into an organization that not only accepts, but also encourages sexual activity among their young members.

Making the BSA become the nations largest organization promoting abstinence while allowing homosexual members is not only ridiculous but also opens a Pandora’s box of unforeseen problems in the area of privacy and child safety.  I’m not sure the BSA has fully considered what they will encounter if this policy change is implemented.

My Shared Journey and Dinner with Mark Sanford: Insight Into Our Changed Lives

In January of 2012 I had the opportunity to have dinner with Mark Sanford, the former Governor of South Carolina.

Besides our love for politics and more than a decade of success in the arena, Mark and I shared another common experience. In the summer of 2009 we were both embroiled in controversy and scandal when our extramarital affairs were exposed and made national headlines – his more so than mine.

I knew all-to-well what it was like to endure the public scrutiny and pressure that came with this exposure. While Mark stayed in office after his affair was exposed, I resigned my Senate seat, hoping to salvage a marriage that was already on life-support. His marriage had also hit a barrier when his wife took their four boys and moved out of the Governor’s residence shortly before she filed for divorce.

Mark Sanford on the campaigning in South Carolina.Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford campaigns for his return to Congress.

The commonalities we shared allowed us to develop a quick bond. We talked about our children, the challenges of parenting post divorce and our changing relationship with our former spouses. I felt some relief because outside of the occasional financial issues I still had to address with my ex-wife, our relationship is quite good compared to other divorced couples.

Over dinner I commented how some of his former constituents seemed friendly toward him along our walk to dinner. But what both of us had grown sensitive to was the occasional cold stare we got from people. It was hard to tell if we were catching the eyes of someone who was just having a bad day or if we were being tried, convicted, and executed behind some of those icy stares.

My intention was not to do most of the talking, but I ended up sharing about my journey and encouraging him to come out of his shell and get back into the public eye. Mark was curious about how I handled everything and I shared how my faith and a few friends had been the saving grace for me. I knew he felt secure in some of the valuable friends that were helping him in his journey.

We discussed how our mistakes had hurt our former spouses, our children and some of our colleagues and supporters. For that we were genuinely sorry.

We briefly talked about what future, if any, we had in politics. What we both knew was that we were good legislators and in his case, a good executive, and our affairs aside, worked hard for our constituents.

On our way back to the hotel, a young lady stopped us and asked to have her picture taken with Mark, to which he graciously agreed. After I snapped the photo and we walked away, Mark expressed concern that the young woman might post it on Facebook or other social media accounts.

“What if they do?” I asked. “You’re the former governor and you should comply with people’s request to pose with them. You can’t help it if anyone puts anything online but hold your head up and be proud of who your are.” It was advice I needed to hear myself too.

We chatted a handful of times after our dinner but it was nearly a year later that I learned that Mark was considering running for elected office again.

I sent him a message with three items I thought he needed to consider prior to making a final decision to run.

First, he needed to sit down with his ex-wife, Jenny, and make sure she wasn’t going to torpedo his race. This was not only critical for his chances of winning but for the welfare of their four boys.

Second, he needed to poll his sons on their thoughts on running and only run if all four boys said it was okay.

Finally, even though he was engaged to be married, I strongly recommended that Maria, the woman with whom he had the affair with and now his fiancée, not make an appearance at a campaign event, or for that matter, even set foot inside the state. If and when he won, that could change, but not now; it was too much of a risk and would draw unnecessary negative attention.

Mark indicated that the first two recommendations were successfully checked off his list and that he agreed with the third.

I also advised him that even though his opponents would continue to bring up his past mistakes, he needed to publicly apologize one time and one time only and then let the issue go. I think his first television ad did a good job in conveying that message.

As expected, he claimed the top spot in a crowded primary field with over a dozen candidates but had to face off against Curtis Bostic, a conservative evangelical who secured the endorsements of Dr. James Dobson and former Sen. Rick Santorum in a run-off.

Running a strong and disciplined campaign, Mark had little problem fending off Bostic. I understand Bostic is a good man and would have represented the district well if elected, but when Mark’s detractors say that the GOP needs to recruit a social conservative to run against in 2014, they must remember that is a hurdle Mark has already overcome and the voters were quite clear on Election Day.

However, it was on run-off election night that I feared the Sanford campaign took a dangerous turn.

His fiancée Maria showed up and appeared on stage during Mark’s victory speech. This should have never happened and had I been on his staff, I would have escorted her out of the building before anyone knew she was there.

The fact that she was first introduced to Mark’s son on stage was not only awkward, but also inappropriate.

Making matters worse, when news of the complaint his ex-wife, Jenny, filed against him surfaced, I was deeply concerned that a large segment of the district’s female voters would turn against him. This also demonstrated that the former first lady was not one of his supporters.

Mark Sanford won the general election because voters knew of his fiscal conservative roots and because his opponent, Democratic nominee, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, was a weak candidate. Voters forgave Mark for his marital indiscretions and I found that to be encouraging.

Mark and I learned some valuable lessons from our mistakes. We learned that serious mistakes often come with severe consequences. We learned to ask for and receive forgiveness, how to respond when forgiveness was not granted and how to get up and move on in life. It’s a lesson we all could learn.

Today we are both in great places.

I am a journalist and the political opinion editor for The Christian Post and my friend Mark Sanford is the new Congressman of South Carolina’s first congressional district. I am proud of him for picking himself up and getting back in the game. Now it’s up to him to conduct himself as a public servant should.

You may not agree with his past indiscretions and neither should you have agreed with mine. However, Mark genuinely asked for and received God forgiveness as did I, which changed us both for the better.

I’m sure Mark will focus on being the best Congressman he can possibly be – I know he is up for the challenges that being in Washington D.C. presents.

And I look forward to our next dinner together.

Phil Keaggy, Christian Music Artists Honored at 35th Annual ASCAP Awards Show

Franklin, Tenn. – The American Society of Composers, Artist and Publishers (ASCAP) recognized a star-studded lineup of top Christian music artists at their 35th annual Christian award show in downtown Franklin, Tennessee Monday night. Among those honored at the historic Franklin Theatre were guitarist extraordinaire Phil Keaggy, singer songwriter Matthew West and songwriter Ben Glover.

ASCAP’s Michael Martin and LeAnn Phelan, who co-head the group’s Nashville membership office, presented the most performed song awards to the writers and publishers on the stage of the newly renovated theater and in front of some of the industry’s most notable performers and executives. The list of honored songs included “Carry Me to the Cross” by Kutless, “Trust in Jesus” and “I Need a Miracle” by Third Day, “The Hurt and the Healer” by MercyMe, “The Light in Me” by Brandon Heath, “Good To Be Alive” by Jason Gray, “Love Come to Life,” and “Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave.

Earning song of the year was “10,000 Reasons,” a song that won two Grammy Awards this year and was written and recorded by Matt Redman, who drew inspiration from Psalm 103. Redman was traveling and unable to attend the ceremony, but accepting on his behalf were representatives from publishers Sixsteps Music, Thankyou Music and Worshiptogether.com.

The songwriter-artist of the year award was presented to Grammy nominee Matthew West, who has penned such songs as “Jesus Friend of Sinners,” recorded by Casting Crowns, and “Forgiveness,” a track off his current CD and inspired by thousands of letters he received from fans across the globe.

West’s songwriting credits include four number one hits recorded by Rascal Flatts, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Diamond Rio, among others.

“When I started my music program in college I looked around and noticed I had half the talent of most of my fellow students, but what I knew was that I had twice the drive to succeed,” said West. “And the half the talent part is still the case after looking around this room tonight. But I also know is none of this happens unless God lets it happen.”

 

Singer/Songwriter Matthew West, songwriter Ben Glover, guitarist Phil Keaggy and Capitol CMG Publishing’s Casey McGinty showcase their awards at the 35th Annual ASCAP Christian Music Awards in Franklin, TN. May 6, 2013

Singer/Songwriter Matthew West, songwriter Ben Glover, guitarist Phil Keaggy and Capitol CMG Publishing’s Casey McGinty showcase their awards at the 35th Annual ASCAP Christian Music Awards in Franklin, TN. May 6, 2013

 

 

West dedicated his award to the fans that sent him letters of their personal triumphs and tragedies.

Ben Glover, whose songs have been recorded by both Christian and Country artists, won ASCAP’s Christian songwriter of the year for the third time. Glover, a native of Loveland, Colo., dedicated his award to his mentor and best friend, Brad O’Donnell, who believed in Ben even when the young red-haired artist had doubts that he would make it in the rough-and-tumble music industry.

“Brad stuck with me and believed in me when no one else was there,” said Glover in accepting his award. “But most importantly, I want to thank God that He lets us all do this.”

Yet it was Keaggy who stole the show in front of a capacity crowd with his breathtaking performance and amazing guitar licks in “Salvation Army” prior to receiving the prestigious Golden Note Award, given to an artist who has achieved extraordinary career milestones. “I do love to do this,” a smiling Keaggy said before striking his first note.

“From now on my nickname for you will be ‘soul catcher,’ because you catch our souls,” noted ASCAP board chairman and fellow songwriter Paul Williams at the conclusion of his performance.

“Phil is one of the most admired guitarist in modern history and I am honored to salute him in this honor tonight.”

Keaggy, who has recorded over 50 albums in his career, found Jesus Christ in 1970 while in the early years of a career that would propel him to stardom. Soon afterward, he met and married his wife, Bernadette. The couple has since celebrated 40 years of marriage and the Dove Award-winning artist shows no sign of slowing down in his marriage or in his on-stage artistry.

“Thanks to God for the wonderful grace he has shown me through Jesus Christ,” Keaggy said in accepting his award.

In a red carpet interview with The Christian Post prior to the show, Keaggy recalled the beginning of his career as one of the early Christian instrumentalist and performers who would achieve international recognition.

“The bridge God provides between music and people is amazing,” Keaggy said. “I am truly honored to be receiving this award tonight.”

Joel Taylor with Bethel Music Publishing was one of those blown away by Keaggy’s performance. “He seems to keep getting better and better with time.”

Added relative and Christian music artist Cheri Keaggy, whose new top-ten single “There Will Be One Day” is currently climbing the Christian Music Weekly charts, “I was praying that Phil would feel loved tonight.” And loved he was.

Georgia-based band Find Favour opened the show with their song, “Slip on By,” penned after front man Blake NeeSmith’s emotional conversation with his grandfather. The group releases their self-titled project today, including their new single “Shake the World.”

Others performances included Daniel Bashta and Jon Egan, and another notable artist attending the show was Chris August, whose song “Center of It” and “He Said,” were honored. The Afters, a young group whose musical roots are Texas-based and who just released their new project “Life is Beautiful,” were also on the red carpet.

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