Month: December 2002

Looking back at 2002

Every year is important, you know. Each one is someone’s birth year, someone else’s last year. The time that God gives us is meaningful because it is given by him, for his purposes. We tend to sift through the days and events so that we can attach meaning to them or so that we might remember them. Here is my attempt to outline 12 months by recalling some of the most significant things that happened.

In the SBTC, this was the year when we achieved milestones in growth. The end of our fourth year in November found us ten times larger than at our inaugural meeting in 1998. We passed the 1,000 mark in February and were at 1,200 for our annual meeting in 2002. Even in Texas, big isn’t everything. On the other hand, growth in numbers and giving can indicate that God is blessing our convention as we seek and follow his guidance.

Last year also saw us complete the purchase of property for a permanent location. Our business and financial plan forbids indebtedness and so we bought the land without borrowing and, as the Lord wills, we should break ground on a building early in 2003. This change should allow us to exercise good stewardship over our operations funds (it’s cheaper to own than rent) as well provide facilities more fit to our ministry.

SBTC also saw signs of maturity in the development of ministries. Staff support in youth evangelism, urban church planting, ethnic church planting, men’s ministries, and music ministries were launched or enhanced during 2002. Last year was also the first full year with The Criswell College as our affiliated school. This fine institution has been a blessing to Southern Baptists, especially in Texas. The school’s founder, W.A. Criswell, lived to sign the affiliation agreement between our two organizations and then died a little while later in early January. The great preacher is now in the presence of the Lord he loved so well and proclaimed so eloquently.

In the SBC, the Baptist Faith and Message was the flashpoint in the disagreement between the SBC and her critics in other Baptist groups. The International Mission Board followed the lead of the SBC seminaries in asking its personnel to affirm our statement of faith as an act of accountability to the Baptists and churches who send and support them. A few could not and resigned-affirming the need for IMB’s decision. We could not ask for a more perfect miniature of the difference between moderates and conservatives. Southern Baptists have been confessional for many years. Each time we’ve acted that way in the past couple of years, moderates have had one sort of fit or another. One state convention reacted this year by forming a new “missions network” which will probably become a mission-sending body in the near future.

The Missouri Baptist Convention continued to seek a way to bring several of its state agencies back into an accountability relationship. Efforts to start a new state convention there have failed for lack of interest. The MBC won a court decision allowing legal action to reclaim the institutions to move forward.

Another record year of Cooperative Program giving indicates the level of support the SBC’s missionary funding vehicle enjoys among our churches and people. Many churches have supported CP giving in spite of complications raised by their own state convention.

In the U.S., two huge religion stories dominated the year. The first was the moral catastrophe in the Roman church. Aftershocks of the crisis will continue and all religions and denominations in the U.S. will feel the affects. I cannot escape the belief that the doctrine and polity of the Romanists made their priests vulnerable. While some blamed celibacy, I think it is more likely the authoritarian nature of Catholic churches coupled with their unreformed view of the clergy made it inevitable. Post reformation churches are more likely to hold pastors accountable on a local, lay level. Non Catholics should take a warning here. None of us are righteous enough to stand alone. We need a body of believers that will know and evaluate our ministries by the standard of God’s Word.

A second big story had many faces but only one theme: the nature of Islam. A few Southern Baptist preachers were placed under the sentence of death by some Moslem leaders for statements made to the U.S. media, most notable among these preachers was Jerry Falwell. Many politicians and most media voices were quick to point out that Islam is a religion of peace. I lean toward those who search in vain for some proof of this assertion. Secularists were quick to maintain that fundamentalism of any kind is morally equivalent, whether it manifests itself in evangelistic campaigns or in mass murder I suppose. Jerry Vines’ comments about Mohammed at the SBC pastors’ conference became national news for most of the summer because of media hunger for anything on the subject of Islam.

No doubt you’ll look at my choices and decry an omission or a priority in my selections. I probably will too. Undeniably, these were important in their respective spheres, though.

For 2003, I think that the culture war between biblical Christianity and all other beliefs will continue to heat up. Everywhere we look tolerance toward depraved things and contempt for truth is more aggressive. This is an opportunity to let our light shine before men during a time when the light infuriates most and draws others to the Lord of that light. I pray that we will be different than the world, whether it is in our denomination or churches, or outside. I pray that we will love God’s truth, wherever we see it, more than the praise of the world. May God help us strive daily to show the love of Christ as well as his fearless commitment to the will of the Father.

Contagious Commitment

I was moved to envy watching the brief testimonies of 95 missionaries at the November 3 appointment service of the International Mission Board. Sitting in the impressive facilities of Prestonwood Baptist Church we watched couple after couple step up and share their call to missions. The excitement in their voices was unmistakable. Some were single, some had grandchildren, some were returning to their country of ethnic origin. All seemed ready to go from where I sat. I couldn’t help but ask the Lord if he wanted me to go. As before, the answer was “no.” This time I was a bit disappointed.

I spoke with a couple of new appointees afterward and gained an even stronger sense of the privilege of the missionary call. Maybe they thought longingly of the more predictable nature of my ministry, but only a little. These folks are adventurers and straining to get at it. We have a high honor to send them.

The emotions we all experienced during the service must be similar to what IMB trustees feel several times each year as they interview and appoint hundreds of God’s best. A hint of that appeared when the staff and board discussed the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering during the trustee meeting. The Richmond-based support staff each had pledged $455 for the offering (a response to their daily proximity to the missionary frontlines). The trustees spontaneously polled their own numbers and their average pledge was $954. Compare this with the SBC average of $17.76 per family.

It’s a simple idea. People care more about things they know or experience. That’s why partnership missions is popular and beneficial to our churches.

Conversely, greater separation bureaucratically or geographically causes a more theoretical commitment to missions. We will pray and give a little but we won’t give up anything for missions. As gently and humbly as I know how to say it, we who live in suburban, Bible belt, Texas too easily forget the needs of northern, western, northeastern, and international locations. We sometimes abandon or demolish facilities and equipment far better than what is available to missionaries within a day’s drive of Dallas. Organizationally, we may consider our church or a denominational body to be “upstream” in the channel of missionary resources. We use what we need and beyond that without adequate consideration of what will be left when the river empties into the ocean of worldwide need.

Try this attitude instead. A few remember and many of us have heard of the conservation measures taken by civilians during WWII. Ration books governed the use of gasoline and tires. Scrap metal was collected for the war effort. Some food items were also rationed and scarce. Many non-gardeners grew “victory gardens” so that commercial farms could provide more for our servicemen. A culture of sacrifice arose that bore fruit way beyond the salvage of recycled steel and aluminum. Miracles of manufacturing, creativity, and production were made possible because the war was “our” cause, not “theirs.” Equipment and material produced in the U.S. supplied our troops as well as those of Russia, England, Australia, Canada, France, and our other allies.

Americans never forgot those on the front lines who needed all we could send them. It helped that everyone was close to someone who was””over there.” Our people also had a sense that something urgent and ultimately important was going on. If they couldn’t go, Americans were honored and obligated to do what they could.
The connection is obvious. The cause of missions is more urgent even than the defense of our nation. Overall, our sacrifice has not yet risen to this great challenge. I’m not suggesting that we worship in decrepit facilities or stop paying our staff members because that is the norm in some places. My father’s generation slept in beds in decent homes while their fathers slept in damp holes across Europe and the Pacific during the war. I’m suggesting that we take this sacred cause as seriously as do the parents of newly appointed missionaries. That we accept an obligation to pray and give and send as modeled by our IMB staff members and trustees. That we go if we are able, send our children when called upon to do so, give up something in our churches and homes so that those on the front lines will be more plentiful and well-equipped. The cause of missions beyond our personal horizons is more important than any merely human cause.

Some speculated what would happen if the roughly half of Southern Baptists we call resident members came to the $455 per household level of giving to our Christmas Offering. It was a staggering number and it won’t happen. What if instead we raised the average gift from $17 per family to $25 or even doubled it? Not staggering, but marvelous and doable. Many of you would have to lower your giving to come to the $25 or $50 level. Don’t do that, but increase it by fifty or a hundred percent and you’ll have the idea.

Stop listening to those who despise our mission. Tales of fat, unused endowments, archaic methodology, and waste just don’t stand up to scrutiny. At their recent board meeting, the trustees gave reporters full copies of staff budget proposals and even discussed Jerry Rankin’s salary package in the open. This kind of transparency is unique among the Baptist organizations I know, Southern Baptist or anti-Southern Baptist. I also don’t know many churches this open.

Our missionary board is exercising good stewardship. They’re cutting all they can cut over here to send more over there. Right now, more people are being called out than the board can see a way to send. A continued commitment to cooperative giving will enable a stronger, more numerous missionary force. A generous response to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is the other significant part of supporting our missionaries. You can keep your scrap metal and use all the gas you need, but remember our people on the frontlines. Read about them, pray for them, meet them when you have the chance-do whatever you can to put missions in your mind and heart. In doing so, you’ll be learning the truth. The truth will put missions in your heart so that the cause becomes ours, not just theirs.

A Year of God’s Blessings

Christmas and the New Year are upon us. When I was a child, summertime was the best. Baseball, swimming, and no school made June through August almost heaven on earth in those early years. Now December affords me family time, reflection (which is more important the older I get) and a little down time to relax and plan. I have come to love this time of the year more than any other.

Let me review 2002 with you for a moment. This has been a very challenging and rewarding year in many ways.

  • The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention passed the 1000 mark in affiliated churches in January. Throughout the last eleven months churches have affiliated at a rate of two churches every three days. We will enter 2003 around 1225 congregations.
  • Cooperative Program gifts surpassed anyone’s expectations. Churches gave enough in the first eight months to meet the annual budget. Over $13 million dollars will be disbursed through the CP giving channel. There were new churches started, seminarians supported, annuitants assisted and many lives touched.
  • A sweet spirit prevailed at the annual meeting, Executive Board business sessions and committee gatherings. God has been pleased to let us be positive and forward looking. Thank you for praying for the staff and ministry of the SBTC.

On to my family. There is nothing I like better than to talk about my loved ones.

  • God gave me a precious wife who loves me. She is a tremendous support in my ministry. I could not do what I do without her.
  • Our three children continue to bless our lives. Rachel is active at FBC, Dallas and works for the Annuity Board. Rebekah and her husband, Joe Lightner, are involved with Apartment Life Ministries, while Joe attends seminary and preaches every opportunity he gets. Nathan is in the 6th grade. Although he is our child, we dote on him as grandparents would a grandchild. It is neat to have a little boy in our house. No empty nest syndrome here.
  • Our extended family of my mother and June’s parents give us joy as well. The Richards pray that you will have a blessed Christmas this year. May you have a wonderful time with family andor friends in celebrating our Lord’s birth.

Finally, (The Apostle Paul said that and went on for two more chapters) let’s look to the future.

  • What will happen in 2003 is known only to the Lord. Perhaps this is the year that Jesus will come. If we are given this year to live for Him, there are things to do.
  • My desire is to see the SBTC help churches reach people for Jesus. The Evangelism Conference January 13-15 at the Arlington Convention Center will kick off a full year of events designed to accomplish my goal. As God’s people give through the Cooperative Program, more churches will be started than ever before. Throughout 2003 many Southern Baptist churches in Texas will make the choice of whether they want to be Southern Baptist or something else. The SBTC will stay the course theologically and remain on mission with a Christ-like spirit.

I hope you have a great December. It is a wonderful time of the year. Enjoy your family, kick back a little and get ready for a tremendous 2003.

It is my joy to remain,
Your servant in Christ