Our favorite stories in the final stretch of 2014

by Staff, |
Calvary Church in Clearwater baptized 107 while a drone overhead captured images. | Courtesy Calvary Church, Clearwater, Fla.

HOUSTON (Christian Examiner) – With a small team, but a large footprint, Christian Examiner launched into the evangelical Christian news scene in the last quarter of 2014 with "Digital news and commentary with a Christian view."

In just three months, we found ourselves engaged in some of the biggest stories in evangelical life around the globe – bringing our readers critical insights about far-reaching issues.

The Christian Examiner was founded in 1983 as Christian Times and quickly recognized for its journalistic excellence and integrity. Its print and online presence grew to several regions throughout California and to Minnesota before it was re-organized as a web only news source in October 2014, after it was sold to Christian Media Corporation International.

The growing team at Christian Examiner includes Will Hall, former vice president for news services with the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and executive editor of Baptist Press; Joni B. Hannigan, former managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness, the official newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention; Karen Willoughby, former managing editor of the Baptist Message, the newsjournal for Louisiana Baptists; and Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, a Houston-area writer.

Since October, our team has connected to evangelicals around the world to bring our readers stories about evangelism, baptisms and discipleship; religious liberty; sex trafficking; modesty; Christian celebrities; culture wars; and more.

Our favorite stories from 2014, and the ones that remind us of our purpose, are:

1. 'God's not dead' text reply leads to 87 new Christians in N.D. oil fields, and one very happy wife

The reality that a single nasty text message could lead to a grace-filled response delivered from Colorado to the oil fields of western North Dakota might be strange, but true. This story illustrates the power of perseverance, the importance of evangelism, and the incredible ministry of the Christian film industry.

2. Billy Graham continues to reach the world with the Gospel - 5,000,000 salvations online!

Many people may have no idea how they found the Billy Graham association's PeaceWithGod.net website, but more than five million made decisions for Christ after linking to it. Among those the article celebrates is the faith of a blind woman who went online looking for a Bible in braille.

3. The altar is where God calls many to salvation and restoration

With a rise of controversy over mass evangelism and altar calls, this story looks at the questions through the ministry of crusade evangelist Rick Gage in Van, Texas. Clarifying the purpose for an altar call and how he addresses discipleship in his crusades, Gage boldly addresses what it means to be "saved" by Jesus Christ alone.

4. Prof calls for SBC overseas missions reform: Does drastic drop in IMB baptisms merit major remake?

As missions strategies increasingly focus on "unreached people groups" of the world, a seminary professor suggests his idea of a biblical approach—reaching both receptive and resistant groups—as a better way for one of the largest missions sending agencies in the world.

5. Drone targets 107 new Christians in Gulf of Mexico

A Florida church sends a drone out to capture an important baptism event where congregants and families are gathered to celebrate believer's baptism. While some congregations favor reporting attendance over membership – baptism is an outward sign of obedience to many evangelicals who require this church ordinance for membership.

6. Marcus Mariota: Great athletic ability and great faith

Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota kisses the Heisman Trophy Dec. 13. | REUTERS: USA TODAY Sports/Brad Penner

Heisman Trophy winner and Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota sheds light on how his faith guides him.

7. Dodgeball a new event for 'same Gospel' of an old-fashioned tent revival

With a new spin on a traditional way of presenting the Gospel, a Tampa-area church reaches hundreds of young people.

8. Craig Wayne Boyd points people to 'Old Rugged Cross' on The Voice

Staying relevant to the culture and yet belting out a popular, traditional hymn, a new star on The Voice captured listeners hearts and inspired evangelicals as the story behind the soon-to-be country music artist was told.

9. 'Ground Zero' wedding at Ferguson unites community after burnout

When the Billy Graham Rapid Response team drove to Ferguson, Missouri after racial unrest, they did not expect to encounter a couple who wanted to get married. With assistance from First Baptist Church in Ferguson, members of the disaster relief team were able to assist a family of seven into a new apartment, while also providing a setting for a quickly-organized wedding.

9. Black leaders Tony Dungy & Fred Luter call for unity

Speaking at a critical time for America, two black leaders weighed in on racial reconciliation and unity in the community.

10. Rafael Ramos receives posthumous seminary degree, recognition as NYPD chaplain

In all the chatter over protests and police presence in New York City following a Grand Jury decision in the chokehold case, the killing of two police officers by a man who later took his own life received a lot of attention. Less known was that Rafael Ramos, who was preparing to be a chaplain on the force, received a degree posthumously, from an evangelical seminary where he was nearly finished with his studies.

11. Uncertainty a challenge in Christians' response to Africa's Ebola epidemic

The extreme sacrifice and commitment of many evangelical Christians could have gone unnoticed in the panic and fear of the Ebola crisis were it not for the Examiner's timely and sensitive coverage with stories such as these and others that interviewed workers in affected countries.

12. Iraqi leader says American church callous to Iraqi Christians, underestimates enemy soon at our door

When heartbreaking stories continued to pour out of Kurdistan, Iraq, or Christians fleeing Musil and being terrorized by ISIS, the Examiner began interviewing residents in Iraq, and those with close ties. Detailed coverage told the story.

Indonesians hold up candles during a vigil for the victims of AirAsia flight QZ8501 at Surabaya Dec. 31, 2014. | REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

13. Surabaya churches lose members to AirAsia crash and Southern Baptist pastor killed in triple murder

Within hours of dark tragedies, stories that get the facts right and help Christians know how to pray are instrumental in letting readers know we care deeply and we are praying ourselves. Whether it's a story based in Indonesia, or something that's going on in Florida, Texas, California, New York, or Minnesota – we want our readers to know we are on it.

14. Houston's 'never' pastor vows not a 'jot' or a 'tittle'

When five Houston ministers were told to provide sermon notes as part of a subpoena for an ongoing controversial case related to an equal rights ordinance, an area pastor caught the heart of America by vowing to stand up to Houston's mayor and her legal counsel, declaring the request violated religious liberties. The issue has caused deep questions about the erosion of First Amendment protections for pastors and church leaders, and the collision of rights between those who espouse Judeo-Christian beliefs and those who do not.

15. Happy 2015? Newsweek hit piece smears Bible, Christians ; Baptists defend Atlanta fire chief; and Ex-gay Jackie Hill-Perry: God made the galaxy, He can change me

Because of guest columnists like FOX News commentator Todd Starnes, and through careful stories of our own, Christian Examiner published up-to-date features about what's going on in the culture wars – and how our readers can respond.

16. Modesty advocate: New fashion doll figures to challenge Mattel's Barbie

There is a yearning out there for good, wholesome entertainment and advice related to toys and clothes practical for raising children in a godless society. Modesty plays a part.

17. 15-year-old Katie, a sex-traffickers dream

It is not enough to cite statistics, though startling enough, but when you read this story about one young girl – you are moved to want to change the world.

18. Attempt to raise awareness against suicide & cyber-bullying creates stir against Georgia family struck by teen suicide

Irish statesman Edmund Burke said, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." Bullies gain power through domination and aggression.

19. Piper says 'no regrets' befriending 'flawed' Driscoll, other supporters largely silent

When Mark Driscoll and his mega Mars Hill church disintegrated, the quake registered across Christian and secular news, but religious leaders who had promoted him for at least a decade—while knowing his ongoing flaws—largely stayed silent about their responsibility for the predicament. Only John Piper has come clean and he still stands by his actions.

20. As matrimony dips & marriage is redefined, U.S. birthrates plummet

A report on the declining U.S. birthrate is just one of many analyses of Pew Research Center surveys, and findings from the Centers for Disease Control that readers will find at Christian Examiner.