Month: November 2003

Paris church discovers God’s faithfulness

PARIS, Texas?After a year of declining receipts for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program (CP), East Paris Baptist Church in Paris discovered God’s faithfulness through consistent?and sometimes sacrificial?missions giving.

Founded in 1942, East Paris began as an Independent Baptist Church. In the mid-1940s, the church affiliated with the SBC. Under the watch of the current pastor, Mike Fortenberry, the church has been a regular contributor to the CP and to state missions endeavors.

In 2002, the Paris congregation channeled $46,217 through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) for CP missions. Through September 2003, the gifts totaled $36,000.

“The Cooperative Program gives us an opportunity, whether our church is large or small, to join together all our resources to do a better job than any of us could do alone,” said Fortenberry, who has served at the church since 1979.

“One of the things that our people have learned about giving to missions and the Cooperative Program is that you cannot out-give God,” Fortenberry remarked. “We have a great opportunity to make a difference through the Cooperative Program.”

When the church is faithful toward biblical causes, God is faithful to provide the needs of the congregation, Fortenberry said, sharing a recent testimony of sacrificial giving from his own congregation.

“When we became a part of the SBTC [in 2000], our church leadership felt very strongly that what the state convention was seeking to do would be pleasing to the Lord and not only help us locally but in our state, to continue to expand our national and international missions effort,” Fortenberry said.

Because the church was growing, land was purchased for building a facility. The offerings on the fourth Sunday of each month were set aside for the payment of the property. Although not desiring to enter into long-term debt, the church voted to send the fourth Sunday offering to the SBTC state missions offering instead.

“They were wholeheartedly supportive of it and said the Lord will pay off the land,” the pastor said. “The Lord is faithful to bless us when we keep missions at the forefront.”

Two days later, a friend visited the pastor in his study that he had not seen in 10 years. “He pulled out a bank envelope and handed it to me sealed, and he said, ‘I appreciate your church and it’s ministry, and I want to have a little part in it.'”

Because the envelope was sealed, Fortenberry laid it on his desk and continued to visit with his friend. A few hours later, the pastor remembered the gift and opened the envelope; inside rested enough money to pay off the property fees.

“I called him, and I said ‘Are you sure?’ He said he had been saving the money and shared that he wanted the Lord’s work to be blessed through the gift,” the pastor recounted. “I was able to report to the church the next Sunday that we were able to pay off the land and that we were able to sponsor a mission trip. I was able to say to them if we’re faithful to God and to obey his commandment in the Great Commission, the Lord will bless us, if not monetarily?in other ways.”

Fortenberry said the Lord’s lesson of provision has instilled in church members to put missions first in their lives.

“Our church missions giving has continued to increase,” he said, “because they’ve seen the faithfulness of the Lord.”

In 2001 and 2002, East Paris gave $41,149 through the SBTC’s state missions offering.

Despite being a promoter of the SBC’s cooperative giving method, Fortenberry was not always Southern Baptist. Raised and trained in Independent Baptist churches and schools, Fortenberry’s first Southern Baptist church membership has been East Paris.

After being exposed to the methodology of the SBC for national and international mission work through his Southern Baptist wife, Gency, Fortenberry accepted a call to East Paris. Since that time, Fortenberry said he has tried to instill in church members the importance of consistent and cooperative missions work.

While many churches share Fortenberry’s love for collaborative work in missions endeavors, SBC officials have warned of a looming financial crisis “unless giving increases.”

The SBC Executive Committee reported in October that Southern Baptists began sending less to CP missions each year beginning in the 1980s, with an average CP designation of 10.5 percent of budget. The SBC Executive Committee’s figures for 2002-03 show an overall SBC giving decline?including CP gifts and designated receipts?of .92 percent from the last fiscal year. Meanwhile, unprecedented numbers of missionary candidates seek appointment with the International Mission Board.

“That figure fell to 7.39 percent (in 2001-02). Additionally, giving by chur

Dead Sea scrolls exhibit extend through December

Dallas?The “Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book” exhibit held at the Biblical Arts Center in Dallas has extended the museum exhibition through December 31.

The unprecedented exhibit documents the Bible’s history through rare fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the rare collection of manuscript and printed Bibles.

The exhibit was rated “Best Bet” by Dallas Magazine and is endorsed by local universities, seminaries, and church organizations.

Agreements have been finalized to lower the weekday (Monday-Friday) admission price to $12 (originally $21) for adults, seniors and students. Children 6-12 are just $7 during weekdays and under 6 are free. Weekend (Saturday and Sunday) admission is $17 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, and children 6-12 are $9.

Patrons of the “Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book” exhibit view a 20-minute documentary featuring some of the world’s foremost scholars on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the forbidden early English Bibles.

After the video orientation to the history of Scripture, patrons can browse at their leisure the rare and authentic artifacts that include several 5,000-year-old pictographic clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, and early New Testament. The Bible exhibit contains a handwritten Wycliff New Testament (the first Bible ever in English), a leaf from a 1455 Gutenberg Bible (the first Bible printed on a printing press), Tyndale, Matthew’s, and Coverdale (Great) Bibles, Geneva Bibles, a 1st Edition 1611 King James Bible, the Aitken Bible?the first Bible printed in America and endorsed by Congress?and many others.

The Biblical Arts Center is at 7500 Park Lane, just west of NorthPark Shopping Center, in Dallas. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-877-33BIBLE or by visiting For information concerning a new program for churches please call 1-877-33BIBLE.

The miraculous birth of Jesus

Merry Christmas! It is time to celebrate our Savior’s birth. Let me share my thoughts about the miraculous birth of Jesus as recorded in Luke, chapter 2.

Luke recorded in detail the Lord’s birth and related events. What majesty unfolds around the humble stable as the God-man is viewed as a babe. Lowly, obscure, and uneventful should have been the birth of a child to a teenage peasant girl who was married to a carpenter. However, the impact of this One, birthed into a hated race, deprived of worldly possessions, and despised by the powerful can hardly be measured today.

His birth was and is a marker. An agnostic once told the great evangelist of the 19th century, D.L. Moody, that he would never pay homage to Christ. Moody asked him what year was it, and the reply was 1887. The unbeliever suddenly realized that even time is affected by the birth of Christ. The calendar used by much of the world is mute testimony to Jesus Christ.

The birth of Jesus was a manifestation. The difference between Jesus and other world religion founders is His claim to be God. Jesus, with an earthly mother and a heavenly Father, embodied all of God as a man. A mystery to be true, but nevertheless a claim that must be reckoned with. The Scriptures present this fact in 1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh . . .”

Ironically, the God of glory wrapped in human flesh was placed in a manger. Yes, at Jesus’ birth and then throughout His life He identified with the poor, the meek, and the downtrodden. The manger, a symbol of poverty and humility, characterized Jesus’ mission to the world. Jesus left the riches in heaven to make man spiritually wealthy.

Perhaps most significantly, Jesus’ birth provides a meeting place for God and man. Man cannot be good enough to meet God’s standard of perfection. This is the expressed purpose for the first coming of Christ. If man could pay for his own sins or be good enough to get to heaven, then Jesus would have never been born. Jesus was born to die. He paid the penalty for all sin by His shed blood and satisfied the Father as evidenced in the resurrection. He is the potential Savior of the world, but only the personal Savior of those who receive Him as Lord.

During the holiday time, people are more conscious of spiritual matters. Let us use this time to share Jesus with them.

emPower Conference to feature Jack Graham

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano and Southern Baptist Convention president, will be among the speakers at the emPOWER Conference, sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Feb. 9-10 at the Arlington Convention Center.

Graham will be among other well-known Christian leaders at the conference?formerly known as the State Evangelism Conference?such as Henry Blackaby, Zig Ziglar and Larnelle Harris.

Born in Conway, Ark., and saved and baptized at age 6 at First Baptist Church, Conway, Graham became an ordained pastor at age 20 while married and halfway through Hardin-Simmons University, where he graduated before going to Southwestern Seminary.

Graham began his ministry as pastor of East Side Baptist in Cross Plains (1970-’71). Following his associate pastorate at Sagamore Hill Baptist in Fort Worth (’72-’75), he went on to pastor First Baptist Church in Hobart, Okla. (’75-’78); First Baptist Church in Duncan, Okla. (’78-’81); and First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla. (’81-’89).

In 1989, Prestonwood Baptist Church?already a landmark Dallas congregation?called Graham as senior pastor. Since then, the church has grown from 8,000 members to more than 21,000, with an average weekly attendance of 16,000 and three weekend worship services.

His published books include: “You Can Make a Difference,” “Diamonds in the Dark,” “Lessons from the Heart,” and most recently, “A Hope and a Future.” Many pastors across the U.S. use his booklets “New Life in Christ” and “Is the Bible Just Another Book?”

For more information on the emPOWER Conference, call the SBTC office at 972-953-0878 or toll free at 877-953-7282. For lodging group rates, see the hotel list below and state that you are attending the emPOWER Conference when making reservations.

The conference hotels are as follows:

• Wyndham Arlington, 1500 Convention Center Drive, Arlington, Texas 76011. Call 1-800-442-7275 for reservations or go to Use group code: 0208650SB.

• La Quinta Inns, 825 N. Watson Rd., Arlington, Texas 76011. Call 1-800-453-7909 for reservations.

• Baymont Inn & Suites, 2401 Diplomacy Drive, Arlington, Texas 76011. Call 817-633-2400 for reservations.

Bible conference scheduled for Conroe area

The 15th Annual Bible Conference in the Conroe area is planned Jan. 7-9 at Mims Baptist Church, 1609 Porter Road, in Conroe.

The conference will feature speakers such as Junior Hill, Bob Pitman, Herb Reavis and David Miller. Music will be led by Legacy Five, The Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet and the Mims Baptist Church adult choir and orchestra.

The schedule is as follows: 7 p.m. Jan. 7; 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Jan. 8; 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Jan. 9.

For more information see or call 936-756-0065.

Faithful tithing fuels decision to boost

MARTINDALE?It was late last summer when Glen Howe met with the deacons at Martindale Baptist Church in the south central Texas town of Martindale. On the agenda was the $1,000 or so of surplus the church was taking in each month and what to do about it.

It’s a situation many churches would love to have. Howe, a former missionary in a new work state, had on his heart a plan: Use the extra funds to float one month of the year, December, on what was given the previous 11 months, a realistic goal given the church’s monthly receipts.

What the church gave in December, minus Cooperative Program and associational giving, would be sent to the mission field through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions?Southern Baptists’ year-end collection to fuel work abroad, 100 percent of which goes directly to the field.

After some discussion about the needs of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, which has some prospective missionaries on hold for lack of funds, the deacons gave a united thumbs up.

“I’ve never seen all of our deacons agree on something so quickly,” recalled Howe, whose church runs about 125 in Sunday school. “I mean, it was a matter of less than a minute. Every deacon in the room was saying, ‘Yeah, this is what we need to do.'”

Next, the issue came before the church.

“There was unanimity with no discussion. No questions,” Howe said.

When Howe came to Martindale in 1998, the church gave to Lottie Moon mostly through funds generated from a foundation of a deceased church member. Typically, the gift was around $2,500, Howe said.

“Every December I’d stand up and challenge the church with the same challenge: to make its largest gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. In other words, whatever amount you spend on your wife or on one of your children, give an amount larger than that. Make your largest gift to Jesus Christ and his cause by giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. And so the people really took me up on that.”

In 1999, the church gave $3,400 through the Lottie Moon offering. In 2000, the figure grew to $5,000, then $5,000 again in 2001. In 2002, the church doubled its gift to more than $10,000.

“We’re excited because we can see where

Church’s faithful tithes fueled decision to boost Lottie Moon giving

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the Lord could use us to give over $20,000?we could double what we gave last year.

“That has created a real air of excitement for us because at the same time I’ve been challenging the church to be not only a mission-giving church but also a mission-going church.”

The church is funding several women from its ranks to go to Russia on a short-term mission trip and is sending 15-20 families to a Mexican border town the weekend before Christmas with clothes and other items.

In October, Howe issued a call for those upon whom the Lord had placed a burden for missions.

“We had literally dozens of men say, ‘I want to be involved in missions.'”

Howe said his church has issued a challenge to other churches in its area to be sacrificial in their giving to missions.

“This is a time when we have to be sacrificial or the work will not be done the way the Lord wants it done,” he said.

The IMB reports that in 2002 the board appointed 412 long-term missionaries; because of budget constraints, though, only 300 are expected to be appointed in 2004. In 2002, 620 short-term workers went, but only 300 are expected to go next year. The current missionary count of 5,510 likely will fall by the end of 2004, the IMB states on its website.

Because of his earlier work as a church planter and mission pastor in Indiana, Howe said his heart is soft toward missions. He serves on the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention state missions committee.

Howe said he preaches through the Scriptures and “I preach on giving as I come to it. Where the Bible talks about giving, then we’ll talk about giving.” He emphasizes the obedience of tithing and “the joy of giving over and above that,” he said.

The Federal Marriage Amendment: a hill to die on

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled Nov. 17 that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Strangely, they left the actual crafting of new law to the state legislature, giving them 180 days to fix the problem. This is not, as some on both sides of the issue are saying, the shot heard ’round the world. That happened last June. The Massachusetts decision is the devastating volley that follows a first shot.

In June, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Texas anti-sodomy law, advocates of special rights for homosexuals said that this decision was no threat to America or the institution of marriage. With their other mouths, they called it a watershed decision. I believe the second mouth now as I did then. Something big has happened. The second step toward a very dark place for America.

I know I may be preaching to the choir here. Readers of the TEXAN are not generally fans of homosexual behavior. On the other hand, many biblically orthodox Christians, including some Texas Baptists, say and do contradictory things on this subject. We cluck our tongues and wonder how we got to this point. We wonder why nobody did anything.

Maybe we can see a clue in the poll published by the Dallas Morning News the day after the Massachusetts court decision. The poll indicates that a significant majority of Americans believe homosexual behavior is a sin. Among evangelicals, the margin is substantially greater. A somewhat smaller majority oppose homosexual marriage. Already we see a disconnect.

If homosexuality is a sin, it is ultimately a choice, not a condition. If a group of Americans define themselves by a behavior most of us call sinful, why would any of us favor granting them special rights based solely on that behavior? It continues. A majority of likely voters of both parties claim to oppose homosexual marriage. As expected, that margin is greater with those who plan to vote for George Bush, but still, a majority of Democrats agree with the Bush voters on this issue. There is no mandate for vacating the institution of marriage. The opposite seems true.

And yet, many of these same folks will vote for a candidate who will not support a national family amendment to the Constitution or who will, like our last president, support special treatment for a class of people defined by deviate sexual behavior. Some folks will vote for senators and representatives far more liberal than themselves on this issue. Others of us, some of you perhaps, will not vote at all. At least one of two things is true. These voters or non-voters are essentially irrational, or they do not consider this an important issue. They consider it less important than, say, how good-looking a candidate is or how he spells “potato.”

How does this happen? That’s how. We vote against our convictions on morality, hoping our guesses about economics will pay off. Or we just don’t vote at all.

It is important. We can imagine some of the results of assigning legal equivalency to just anything people might want to call a family. That means they can adopt children, maintain custody after a divorce, and do anything else legally married people can now do. It normalizes, ultimately, a behavior and gives it the same status as any morally neutral human condition. This is a new thing. Currently, we cannot discriminate against a white, brown-haired, Baptist, Romanian male for any of those descriptive reasons. If he is also a drug addict, we might deny him some responsibilities because of that behavior–regardless of if he has a genetic disposition to drug addiction. The behavior affects his fitness for some responsibilities. This makes sense. Homosexuality is a behavior, regardless of the source of those urges. It is a behavior that affects the fitness of a person for some responsibilities. Even those who have low regard for traditional marriage must see that same-sex marriage is a terrible mistake.

Okay, back to Massachusetts. This is the first step beyond Lawrence v. Texas. The 13 states that have not passed a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) could be forced to recognize marriages based on homosexual behavior in the coming years. States with a DOMA would be quickly challenged and face a better than average chance of losing in the U.S. Supreme Court. These are the reasons why pro-family groups consider this a bad thing. It’s also why people for the special treatment of homosexuals are so happy with the ruling. They get it and can see a multitude of next steps in what most of us consider a wrong direction.

At this point, given the state of our courts and the tenacity of the “other side,” a family amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the best, perhaps only, remedy. The wording suggested is simple, “Nothing in this Constitution (the U.S. Constitution) or any state constitution shall be construed as requiring marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman.” An amendment would require passage by 2/3 of the U.S. Congress and 38 states before becoming part of our Constitution. That’s what it takes at this point to rein in our courts. That’s why pro-family Americans must be informed and involved citizens. Every election above the county level will affect the outcome of this effort.

Obviously some will oppose the effort and pressure politicians beholden to them to defeat the amendment.  That cannot happen if those who have already stated their convictions will express those convictions on Election Day.

We can look at this unfolding process on of two ways.  We may see it as the dismantling of something positive–traditional family structure.  Only the willfully blind deny the advantages of a two-parent, male and female, loving home in the lives of children.  The other perspective is to see the rise of a destructive, new, legalized, legally-imposed description of family.  Homosexual culture is promiscuous, dangerous, and unstable.  If these things were not true, it would not change the fact that this model has never been at the foundation of a successful culture.  Never.  It is not better and it is not equivalent.  The models cannot peacefully coexist in our nation.

I agree with those who say that this is the place where we should become single issue voters if that is what it takes.  We should not support any elected leader, regardless of his beliefs or promises on any other subject, who will not support (not merely not oppose) an amendment to the Constitution that will end this judicially-imposed madness.

Go to and enter your zip code for a list and e-mail links to your national legislators.  Tell them you support a family amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Their response should tell you something you need to know.

Hispanic rally honors Marcos Ramos

CORPUS CHRISTI?Marcos Ramos, pastor of Galena Park First Baptist Church, received the Dr. Jose Rivas Annual Outstanding Achievement Award Oct 26 during the Annual Hispanic Pre-Convention Rally.

Rudy Hernandez lauded Ramos for “his tireless effort for the kingdom” as SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards presented the award.

Serving as master of ceremonies, Hernandez expressed gratitude for God’s presence and empowerment as described in Isaiah 41:10. Richards thanked Hernandez for coordinating the Hispanic rally in spite of health challenges in recent months. Hernandez previously served as SBTC Hispanic consultant.

Richards spoke of the vital role of Hispanics within the state convention, describing Hispanic Baptists as a deeply conservative group who believe in presenting the gospel to the lost and starting churches. Southern Baptist Hispanics in Texas have a long tradition of cooperation with the Southern Baptists in Texas,” Richards said. “Hispanic Baptists and the SBTC are compatible in virtually every area,” he emphasized.

“We stand for the inerrant, infallible word of God and the doctrines that flow from it,” Richards said, describing the confessional fellowship of SBTC. While putting missions and evangelism in the forefront, more ethnic than Anglo churches are being started, the majority of which are Hispanic. “SBTC started with a small number of Hispanic congregations,” he said, adding, “It would be easier to plant new churches in Texas if more Hispanic congregations were affiliated. Without a strong Hispanic Southern Baptist presence in Texas where will the next generation go for leadership?”

Richards predicted, “If Jesus tarries his coming and I live long enough, I expect to see a Hispanic executive director of the SBTC. I will rejoice in that day.” He spoke of the strong participation of Hispanics on the program of the fifth annual meeting, including Dt1:PersonName>avid Galvan of Garland delivering the convention sermon, Bob Gomez of Corpus Christi leading music, and Rudy Hernandez of Grand Prairie receiving the highest award of SBTC. “Hispanics are vital to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.”

SBTC First Vice President Dt1:PersonName>avid Galvan, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida in Garland, praised the relationship between Hispanics and SBTC, expressing gratitude for “the hand of God on the convention.” Through the Hispanic Initiative conceived by Hernandez in cooperation with Richards, Galvan said Hispanic Baptist ministers would be challenged to move “from a G.E.D. to a Ph.D.” He and Hernandez spoke of the commitment of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson to encourage such educational pursuits by Hispanics.

Local pastor Isaac Rodriguez of Segunda Iglesia Bautista in Corpus Christi welcomed the more than 100 participants. Gospel singer Julio Arriola of Guadalajara, Mexico, provided a brief concert and Houston pastor Silvano Paiva of Baptist Missions Fellowship delivered a message on “God’s Word for This Hour.” Kevy Rojas of the SBC Annuity Board challenged ministers to take advantage of the services offered in the area of retirement planning.

Boldly stand for sound doctrine, walk

Speaking from the theme, “Living Godly in an Ungodly World,” preachers at the SBTC Pastors’ Conference in Corpus Christi Oct. 27 exhorted their contemporaries to boldly stand for sound doctrine, walk with integrity before the world and pursue God’s agenda in avoiding burnout.

Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington and newly elected Pastors’ Conference president, preached from Jude 1, verses 3, 4, 20 and 21, exhorting the congregants to pursue the biblical truth that keeps believers from falling.

“Jude taught that God is able to keep believers from stumbling or falling,” McKissic noted, “if they build themselves up in the most holy faith. Jude taught that believers were responsible for their own spiritual well-being and development, even if false doctrine and loose living somehow crept into the church. God wants each of us to take responsibility for our spiritual growth and hold fast to our biblical faith.”

McKissic said Jude intended to write his epistle on the nature of salvation but false teachers in the church led him in another direction. He told of similar situations today, citing examples of a pastor convicted of murder, another accused of sexual assault and still another who once preached biblical salvation but now affirms universalism.

“Sometimes we talk about at-risk children, at-risk students, but Jude saw an at-risk church. An ‘amen’ belongs there,” McKissic quipped.

“Wrong doctrine leads to wrong behavior.”

Some have said that biblical inerrancy, for example, is a truth, if true, that “does not matter.”

“But I’m here to tell you today,” McKissic said, “that there is a truth that matters and the inerrancy of the infallible, inspired, indispensable, immutable word of God is a truth that matters.”

McKissic told how legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, a stickler on fundamentals, once held high a pigskin after a disappointing loss and exclaimed, “Men, this is a football.”

“Well I’m come today to say, ‘This is the Bible.’ And the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God. And we ought to believe it to be saved; we ought to practice it to be holy; we ought to read it to be wise.

“Jude said if we don’t build ourselves up in this word of God, this most holy thing, he says we’ll ultimately experience moral and spiritual failure,” McKissic said.

Using a video showing British sprinter Derek Redmond being helped across the finish line by his father after the younger was injured in a race, McKissic said God wishes to help us, and, in fact, has already provided for us the victory.

McKissic said contending for the faith according to Jude’s instructions implies an “agonizing” wrestling match “but the victory goes to one who receives strength and sustenance.”

He said victory comes from realizing we have an adversary, Satan, who seeks to destroy us, building oneself up in God’s word and then praying according to God’s spirit or will.

Ken Hemphill, national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth, said as God reveals his character in Christians, local churches and a denomination, he will draw the nations to himself.

Using Ezekiel 36 as his text, Hemphill explained God’s purpose in moving his people out among the nations to live a distinctive lifestyle.

“They would live out his character in such a way that these pagan nations would be made jealous and drawn to him and his integrity.” Hemphill said it is not for lack of training that barely two percent of Southern Baptists share their faith. Rather, he said, they recognize their own lack of credibility in witnessing to God’s power in their own lives.

“Every day, whether you know it or not, people make a decision about the nature of your God based on your life.”

Through God’s spirit, Southern Baptist believers can be cleansed from impurities and idols, Hemphill noted.

“We worship people, buildings and bigger buildings,” he warned, fearful of the day when Southern Baptists are called to account for all of their resources. “What did you do with it to reach the nations? More and more we’re keeping additional resources at home rather than sending them around the world. I did not think I’d see a day when Southern Baptists had to cut back on the number of missionaries we’re sending” due to funding shortages.

“The conservative resurgence worked. We restored all of our seminaries to a commitment to inerrancy and the word of God,” Hemphill remarked, recalling the early prediction that young people would respond in record numbers to mission service once biblical faithfulness returned.

“We weren’t pr

Annual meeting sermons offer hope,

“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Hosea 10:12)

CORPUS CHRISTI?About half the meeting hall?more than 200 people?answered the altar call given by guest SBTC speaker Tom Elliff following his message of conviction regarding the sin of a hardened heart.

After reading Hosea 10:12, Elliff said a “fallow” or hardened heart is a condition to be feared by Christians. As the reprobate heart is to the lost, the fallow heart is to the saved and both can incur God’s condemnation. He noted that speakers at the convention called for revival among families, churches, and the nation, even giving advice on how to bring it about. But a true spiritual awakening in America will never happen until the hearts of individual Christians experience revival.

Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., used the hard, packed earth of his home state as an example of what a fallow heart is to God. Homesteaders saw the prairie lands as fertile ground just waiting to be plowed and turned to accept the seeds of crops. But, Elliff said, they soon discovered how hard, tough, and impervious the ground truly was. Settlers had to use axes to pick at the earth in order to dig up sod to build homes and begin working soil for farming.

Such is the hardened heart, Elliff said. It is unmoved by the Holy Spirit’s pricking and any other spiritual emotion or sentiment.

Seed cannot take root in impervious ground, he added. Such a heart could read the word of God, hear it in a sermon, or listen to it in a song and not be changed.

Stubbornness is yet another indication of a hardened, fallow heart. Most people know the response they will get from a stubborn person because it is always the same and, Elliff added, usually negative.

As a fallow heart can accept no seed it certainly can bear no fruit. There is great potential in fallow ground but, left untilled, it will only lay barren.

A fallow heart, Elliff said, “will require incredible effort if change is ever to be produced.” What, he asked the pastors, will God have to do to wake them up to the needs of their own families and churches. “Every problem is God saying, ‘Give me your attention, please.'”

After giving all the warning signs of a fallow and hardened heart, Elliff struck a cord. He said to those in the congregation who have fallow, hardened hearts, “This message will mean little to you.”

To change requires a choice. Elliff implored the people to allow the “plow of God’s Holy Spirit” to dig deep into the dark, secret places of their hearts and to turn up the “creepy crawlies” which are kept hidden and expose them to the light. To choose not to respond to God’s call for brokenness is to invite disaster. He said, “If you refuse to break up the fallow ground of your heart, your most effective days of ministry are in the past ? Life is only going to get worse, not better.”

Seek the Lord and let him make changes, Elliff said. Changes for the good only occur in our families, churches, communities, and country following a change in each individual. To think it can be done without sincere introspection is the “height of ignorance,” he claimed. He said people are the way they are because of the choices they make in their lives. Individuals, for the most part, cannot control the circumstances in their lives but they can control the way in which they respond to them, he noted.

Elliff encouraged his audience to create a “sin list.” At the top of the page they can write God’s promise from 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

“Be specific,” he told them. Don’t make a list of vague misdemeanors, but a list of true unrepentant sins.

Emphasizing the urgency of the situation, Elliff urged, “If you choose not to break up the fallow ground of your heart, this could be your final choice in the matter ? Seek God while he may be found.”

The “plow of the Holy Spirit” moved through the convention hall, turning people from their seats and moving them to the altar.

Nearly a year ago, San Antonio pastor George Harris received a visitor to his hospital room where he was recovering from a catastrophic motorcycle wreck. The tattooed biker wearing a leather outfit told Harris’ son he’d heard one of the “motorcycle buddies was down and out” and he wanted to come by and pray for him.

Harris had broken 184 bones in his face, requiring 10 hours of surgery over a three months.

“They took my face off, cutting me from this ear to this ear, pulling my face down to about my nose.” Eleven titanium facial plates and two orbital implants were used in the process of reconstruction. With his skull fractured, his jaws were wired together and a feeding tube in