Month: January 2004

Beruit Trip

During the Christmas-New Year’s break, I traveled along with 20 other hearty souls to Beirut, Lebanon. My concept of the area was one of militant extremists and veiled women. It was not like that at all. Lebanon is about as Muslim as America is Christian. There is an influence, but the overarching culture is very secular. We were able to speak freely and safely as we went door-to-door witnessing and distributing Bibles.

Lebanon is the gateway to the Middle East. If we want to change the mindset in the stricter Muslim countries, we can do it through the work in Lebanon. Plans are being made to expand our partnership with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and the nationals in Lebanon.

Several SBTC leaders went on the trip: Mac Brunson (FBC, Dallas); Steve Washburn (FBC, Pflugerville); Lamar Cooper (The Criswell College) and Terry Coy (SBTC staff). I would encourage you to prayerfully consider making the next trip to evangelize the lost and encourage the believers in this strategic country.

Right upon us is the emPower Evangelism Conference. Much planning, work and prayer has gone on in the last year. The speakers and musicians are the best ever. This is a time of inspiration, encouragement and challenge. I hope every pastor will attend. Set aside the time to be with us on Monday and Tuesday.

On Tuesday at noon, the annual Cooperative Program Luncheon will be held. IMB President Jerry Rankin is the guest speaker. We will hear what God is doing through our SBC missionaries and once again be blessed by the news about the Cooperative Program.

Pastor, consider bringing some laypersons to the conference and luncheon. This is the best occasion for you to ignite a passion for souls and commitment in your laypersons. Layperson, this conference is for you. Plan to attend.

God is beginning to stir a fire of spiritual awakening in Texas. Be a part of what He is doing. See you in Arlington.

Your servant in Christ,
Jim Richards

Short takes for mid January 2004

• The Dallas Morning News editorial staff voted President Bush “Texan of the Year.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. What Texan has been in the news more? What was disappointing was the verbal gyrations they went through to make sure we knew they weren’t necessarily honoring him. Their version of “fair and balanced” is to make sure they give as many words to criticism as to praise. What a stupid misunderstanding of journalistic objectivity.

• Britney Spears got married and unmarried within a 12-hour span. This may be the first (and last) time the words “Britney” and “Spears” have appeared together in these pages. During the New Year’s holidays, Miss Spears wed a childhood pal after a night of “partying.” Saying the next day that it was a lark, they had the relationship annulled. One comment out of so many possibilities?marriage is not a joke. Annulment, easy divorce, all night (and drive through) wedding chapels, and “marrying Sam” pastors have done more damage to this institution than same-sex marriage advocates ever will.

• The SBC will likely depart the Baptist World Alliance. Our departure is overdue. The BWA has become the Baptist version of the United Nations. Such organizations have their uses but are too slow and timid when the mission is urgent. The things they do well are often available through other, already existing organizations. This will not end our cooperation with Baptists around the world, by the way. We will no doubt continue to work with most of the same people we do currently. There are many advantages to starting fresh with new ways of doing our work together.

Larnelle Harris among emPOWER conference guests

Larnelle Harris, winner of numerous Grammy and Dove awards, will be a featured musician at the emPOWER Conference, sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Feb. 9-10 at the Arlington Convention Center.

Harris will join Christian leaders such as Henry Blackaby, Jack Graham and Zig Ziglar at the conference?formerly known as the State Evangelism Conference.

The Kentucky native has performed several times at The White House, has performed at Carnegie Hall and was the featured soloist prior to the 2000 vice presidential debate. In 1999 Harris was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Campbellsville University in Campsbellville, Ky.

Among his Grammy Awards includes a duet version of “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” with Sandi Patty.

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.

1400th church affiliates with SBTC

IRVING?The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention finished out 2003 by passing the 1,400 mark in affiliated churches. West Heights Baptist Church in Corpus Christi and Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington numbered 1,400 and 1,401 in their letters of affiliation, respectively.

During the same week, Kentuckytown Baptist Church in Whitewright and North Park Baptist Church in Sherman also affiliated, raising the total number of SBTC-affiliated congregations to 1,404.

Ronnie D. Watson is interim pastor at West Heights, Gary A. Smith is pastor at Fielder Road, Rodney Stanford at Kentuckytown and Ronald Cantrell at North Park.

The SBTC began in 1998 with about 120 churches. Its core values are theological agreement based on biblical inerrancy and mutual accountability; missiological activity with minimal bureaucracy and emphasis on missions and evangelism; and methodological approach through the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program missions funding channel.

East Texas couple sounds culture warnings

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While most folks their age are looking forward to or already enjoying retirement, Russ Polson, 77, and his wife, Wynell, 66, spend weekends traveling among the churches of East Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, calling Christians to discern the destructive nature of much in today’s entertainment industry.

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Their motivation, they said, is their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the many young people they encounter week after week growing up in a culture hostile to biblical values. Using videos produced by the Phil Chalmer True Lies Ministry, the Polsons present a message intended to enlighten and engage Christians without browbeating them.

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Russ Polson Ministry, formerly Resource Center for Biblical Morality, is about a passion to help young people and their families understand that some of the influences of this world can only bring heartache and desensitize people to the value of human life, Russ explained.

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What the couple presents is relevant and compelling, said David Nugent, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jasper. He said the students of his church were encouraged to live pure lives. And they, he added, are not ignorant of the things of this world. “The youth are in the know. Nothing really surprises them.”

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It’s the parents, Nugent said, who are shocked to learn what kids listen to in music and see in movies and on TV. “Parents are the ones who are naïve.”

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“Tell me about it!” Russ exclaimed. “I just want to shake them and tell them.”

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There is no physical shaking during Russ’s presentation, merely spiritual shaking. He said many parents are stunned to discover what their kids?church kids?have been exposed to via the entertainment industry in foul language and sexually explicit lyrics in music CD’s, movies and even video games. For example, Russ said, much of rap music and other violent and sexually explicit forms of pop music “have just ravaged our kids.”

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“It’s ruining our kids,” echoed pastor and long-time friend, Ray Tenpenny of East Mountain Baptist Church, home church for the Polsons.

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Tenpenny said as far back as Aristotle adults have been concerned with the unseemly elements of their day and its influence on the young and impressionable. For his generation, Tenpenny, 71, admitted with a laugh, it was country music?Hank Williams, if one were to name names. For his kids it was Elvis and Archie Bunker. “That was mild,” he said, compared to what kids mentally ingest these days.

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Russ admits that every generation of parents has its concerns of what negatively impacts their children. But things are different today, said the World War II veteran. The messages proclaimed through music and movies?be they explicit or subtle?can negatively impact the value a teen places on his own life or the lives of others.

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Russ said the problem of unwed motherhood was real when he was a teenager, but it was not as common and casual an issue as today. Fifty years ago, he said, the young girl in question would “go visit her aunt” and come home a few months later. Now young girls visit an abortion clinic and come home that afternoon.

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His involvement with the Right to Life movement years ago was truly the impetus for what he does today. Just seeing how life is held in such disregard moved him to action in ministries such as the Gideons, Underground Evangelism, or his ministry today. At the heart of the ministry is his love and concern for his 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. For them and all the children who will inherit this nation, Russ said, “I’ll do this until the Lord calls me home.”

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If just a few hearts are touched by what he and Wynell present, than it is well worth any effort, he said.

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When the couple speaks to churches it is usually in three different venues. Wynell addresses the youth while Russ talks to the parents and other adults of the church. The evening service with all church members is a time of celebration of God, country, and what God has in store for those who seek his will in their lives and the lives of their families.

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“He is always very positive, very upbeat,” said James O’Dell of Calvary Hill Baptist Church in Mesquite. “Our folks just love it.”

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O’Dell said he believes the heart of what the Polsons do is simply rooted in a sincere desire to share with churches that are not aware of ungodly influences that hold sway over teenagers. “He’s there to encourage you ? it’s never a condemning. He never does a lot of preaching.”

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Russ said he doesn’t even go behind the pulpit. He said he’s not a preacher or evangelist. He doesn’t even quote a lot of Scripture. “Our churches have enough pastors,” Russ said with a laugh. “I’m just a Southern Baptist layman with a burden on my heart.”

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His wife shares that burden. “I find it so rewarding,” she said. “It’s just something I can do at this time in my life.”

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Wynell said she approaches the students as a grandmother. She encourages the teens to hold one another accountable to the higher