Month: February 2006

EMPOWER EVANGELISM CONFERENCE: Bellevue pastor: Finish the journey

EULESS?Using the biblical story of the faithful servant seeking a bride for Abraham’s son Isaac as his text, Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn., exhorted those attending the Empower Evangelism Conference in Euless Feb. 6 to finish the journey God assigns.
Gaines, successor at Bellevue to Adrian Rogers, who died late last year after retiring from his legendary pulpit, said the story found in Genesis 24 is one of a man of submission, prayer, worship, focus and completion.

Gaines said that like Abraham’s servant, when believers accept Christ they get a master, Jesus.
“I’m not in Memphis because I wanted a bigger church,” said Gaines, who left a 16-year pastorate in Alabama. “I’m in Memphis because God wanted me there.”

Additionally, Christians are under government authority and pastoral authority. A wife is to submit to her husband’s lead; children are to obey parents.

Genesis 24:12-14 also shows that Abraham’s servant was a man of prayer and if churches are to thrive in reaching the lost, “Let God’s house be a house of prayer again,” Gaines said.

Moreover, Jesus’ disciples learned from the master of prayer, Gaines said. “They knew the Lord met early in the morning with the father in prayer.”

Gaines said prayer is integral in a minister’s life.

“You don’t have any business speaking for God, preacher, until you have prayed,” Gaines stated. “Pray.
Make prayer the priority of your life and preaching the priority of your ministry.”

Further, Genesis 24:15 shows the servant was a person of worship.

Gaines said authentic worship must be central to the individual and to the church. He also criticized church services geared toward the unchurched.

“I want you to never again plan a church service to attract people.” Gaines insisted, noting that worship is the central purpose of the church. He said if true worship is offered, the unchurched will find it.

“Don’t tell me location is the issue,” Gaines said. “Jesus in the house is the issue.”

“The worship service is not for us,” it’s for God, he said.

Gaines closed by noting the servant was focused on his goal of finding God’s bride for Isaac and he finished the journey by completing his task.

“Finish what God is calling you to do.”


Danny Forshee, a professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Lord does amazing things through his people when they simply trust him.

Forshee, preaching from the Matthew 14 account of Jesus walking on the water and calming the wind, said it is imperative for the believer to live his Christian life in the same manner by which he entered it: by faith.

“We need passionate, courageous, bold men and women of God who will do anything and everything that the Spirit of God calls us to do.”

Peter, who walked on the water with Jesus until he began to fear, was prone to judgment errors but he also had passion and great faith, Forshee noted.

“When Jesus Christ walked on that water, that was Almighty God passing by,” Forshee said. In fact, the “It is I” in Matthew 14:27 is literally understood as the “I am” is passing by.

Forshee said three important lessons can be taken from Matthew 14:27, which reads, “Immediately Jesus spoke to them. ‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” (HCSB)

The first lesson is “Stop being afraid,” he said.

“Some of you tonight are paralyzed by fear. ? Maybe it’s attempting something great for God. Maybe it’s witnessing to your neighbor. Maybe it’s going on some mission trip. Or maybe it is something that you need to stop doing tonight.”

“What is it tonight that’s holding you back? Unless you slay this monster called fear, you will not accomplish the things God wants you to do.”

The literal rendering in Matthew 14:27, Forshee said, is a present imperative, “Stop being afraid.

“You’ve got to get out of your boat of fear, of passivity, of mediocrity.

“It takes no courage to stay where it’s comfortable. But there are times in life when God is going to give you the desires of your heart. And it’s going to be your time to shine. You’re going to say, ‘OK, Jesus, I’m tired of being afraid. Lord, out of the boat I go.'”


In an age when reality television shows abound and seemingly everyone seeks his proverbial 15 minutes of fame, Christians should stand in contrast, urged Greg Matte, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Houston.

Preaching from Colossians 1:3-5 of Paul’s praise for the faith, love and hope of the believers in Colosse, Matte said the Christian should pursue the fame that pleases God.

“It used to be materialism. It used to be power. Now it’s just fame” that people seek most. “They want to be known. They want somebody to wear their t-shirt with their name on the back. They want their name on the back. They want to be famous.”

Unfortunately, Matte lamented, one of the greatest threats to God-honoring churches is competition among churches?the antithesis of love.

“We want God’s vision as long as we get credit for it being our idea,” Matte said.

“The way to be famous for the right things is, number one, not to count your blessings but to count other people’s blessings. See, being famous is to count other people’s blessings, not yours.

“We’re so competitive, and it comes from our desire to be known.”

Paul is a great example, Matte noted, because he had not his own glory but God’s glory on his mind.

“It’s having the spiritual maturity to say, ‘I’m so excited about what’s happening down the street. I’m so glad about what God is doing down there.” A mature Christian says, “‘God, I want your fame so badly I don’t care who you use. Just use somebody.'”

Matte also encouraged the audience to be heavenly minded.

“Heaven is a hope for the believer ? not a conditional ‘I hope’ and if it happens we’ll be glad. It is a hope that is centered in the soul so deeply that it is an expectation. Not some type of hopeful crutch and preference. And this expectation and this realization and this understanding that there’s a hope of heaven thrusts us forward to deep faith, deep love, and to be famous for the right reasons.”

Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, Matte said, “As you read history you will find the Christians who made the biggest difference in this present world are the ones who spent the most time thinking about the next.”


“He took my sin, and he gave me his righteousness. Now you talk about a deal. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Bob Pitman, pastor of Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., told the crowd.

“He gave me his righteousness. And I stand before God today declared not guilty, cleared of all guilt in the matter. I’ve been declared to be innocent.”

That’s the meaning of justification, which God declares for the new believer, said Pitman, who preached on the meaning and method of salvation.

Pitman said the biblical prophet Hosea and the wayward woman he married, the prostitute Gomer, are a picture of the redeeming God and the redeemed sinner. Hosea sought Gomer, finally finding her on the slave block after she fled and had grown old and haggardly.

“Before Jesus came into our lives, we were enslaved. People may not think they are enslaved, but they are.”

Believers, however, are “no longer on the slave block” because of the blood of Christ, which Pitman, citing Hebrews 9:25, compared to the blood that covered the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies of the ancient Jewish tabernacle.

Because of the sufficiency of Christ’s blood sacrifice, “As God comes through those books, he comes to my name but he doesn’t look. He just passes over ? and he withholds the judgment that should be mine because of Jesus Christ,” Pitman said.

EMPOWER EVANGELISM CONFERENCE: Hispanic session weighs ‘Da Vinci Code’ against Scripture, historical evidence

EULESS?Biblical and extra-biblical evidence shows the claims of the blockbuster book “The Da Vinci Code” are purely fiction, despite subtle suggestions by the author that he has mined the truth about the historical Jesus.

That’s one of the messages Carlos Fernandez Silva of FaithSearch, a Chaska, Minn., Christian apologetics ministry, is spreading to Hispanics in the United States and Latin America.

Silva brought his message about “The Da Vinci Code” to about 35 participants in a workshop during the Hispanic Session of the Empower Evangelism Conference Feb. 6 at First Baptist Church of Euless.

The book’s author, Dan Brown, has written “The Da Vinci Code” in a way that combines history with fiction and leaves unwitting readers struggling to parse the truth, Silva said.

The story portrays Jesus as married to Mary Magdalene, whom he plans to install as leader of the church. The couple has a son and Mary and the child flee after the crucifixion. From Jesus and Mary Magdalene a line of European royalty is produced, according to the book. Over the centuries an elite group that included famed painter Leonardo Da Vinci guards the secret.

The book contains numerous and noteworthy fallacies, Silva told conference participants. Aside from the claims of a married Jesus, the book asserts that the early church did not view Jesus as God and the Scripture as infallible until 325 A.D. when the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea, which produced the Nicene Creed.

Brown claims the Nicene Council sought to canonize an infallible Bible and proclaim Jesus as divine to increase the power and riches of Rome.

As Silva noted, history shows the early church fathers referred numerous times to New Testament passages in their own writings. For example, Clement, a pastor in Rome writing in A.D. 96, cites 11 different books from the 27 that Christians view as the New Testament. Additionally, Ignatius, writing in A.D. 110, cites 24 New Testament books. And in 2 Peter 3:15-16, Peter cites Paul’s letters among “the rest of the Scriptures.”

In fact, there was general agreement, based on extra-biblical sources, about the New Testament canon 200 years before Nicea, Silva said.

Moreover, the basis of the flourishing early church was the deity and resurrection of Jesus, Silva added.
What history does show is that the Nicene Creed?in response to heretical views spread by Arius of Alexandria?helped clearly state what the Scriptures teach about God as eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It did not invent Jesus as God; the early church believed in the deity of Jesus from the resurrection on, Silva stated. Furthermore, archaeology and extra-biblical writings attest to this, he said.

Silva said a Spanish language version of the book “Breaking The Da Vinci Code” by Dallas Theological Seminary professor Darrell L. Bock is now available.

Later this year “The Da Vinci Code” will hit the big screen in a movie starring Tom Hanks.

The Hispanic Session included a Feb. 5 rally that drew around 550 people to Primera Iglesia Bautista in Garland. Sessions on Feb. 6 included a series of morning seminars that drew 180 people and an afternoon worship service that exceeded 230, said Mike Gonzales, Hispanic Initiative director.

EMPOWER EVANGELISM CONFERENCE: Women at conference encouraged to carry fragrance of Christ into the world

Other 2006 Empower Evangelism Conference Articles

EULESS–Those attending the 2006 Empower Evangelism Conference Women’s Session at First Baptist Church of Euless were encouraged to share “the most effective tool of evangelism a woman can have.”

Susie Hawkins, wife of Guidestone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins and a part-time instructor at Criswell College, told the women: “I’m convinced that the most effective form of evangelism for a woman is to live her life with a fragrance for Christ,” Hawkins said. “There is nothing as powerful as a life that is fully sacrificed to the Lord Jesus Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, and lived obediently walking with him.”

Hawkins explained that throughout history, fragrance has been considered a powerful source of communication. And in the Bible, fragrance is frequently mentioned as a worship experience.

“Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than our sense of taste,” Hawkins said. “Your sense of smell is stored in the same part of your brain as your memory. That’s why so many smells trigger your memory.”

She stated that the fragrance of Christ results from three sacrifices in the life of a believer: physical, financial, and spiritual. “It may be financial, praise, prayer, or your own life,” she said.

Hawkins encouraged the women in attendance to sacrifice in all areas of their lives to please the Lord and bring others to Christ.

She concluded, “Preach the gospel at every opportunity. When necessary, use words. The finest apologetics never brought people to Christ. They were drawn to God by the fragrance of Christ.”

North Carolina speaker and author Angela Thomas shared the story of her awkward childhood (and her desire to become an astronaut), her teenage years discovering the reality of life, and how she came to call herself the “Jesus girl.”

A divorced mother of four whose life took an unexpected turn, Thomas said she grew up in a Christian home, and found her passion as a young adult in teaching the Word of God to others. After college and then Dallas Theological Seminary, she began ministering to high school girls in her church’s youth group, eventually got married and had children.

According to her website, “she seemed to be living the life every woman dreams of having. But on the inside, Thomas was keeping all the balls in the air and going through the motions, eventually pretending and becoming what she calls ‘a church lady.'”

It was through her divorce–something she never thought would happen–that she said she became empowered by God to share her story and what God taught her in those dark times.

“Life caught up to me,” Thomas said. “It was beyond anything that you could have imagined could come to you. It was the most awful day when my perfect Jesus-girl dream broke.”

According to Thomas, she began to better understand the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5 in her brokenness. She said, “Growing up, I heard all of these things in this list … and it seemed like [I had] to be all of these things in one woman. I asked myself, ‘How could you be all these things?'”

But she soon realized that people in the Bible came to Jesus in their disappointment, brokenness, aches, and wounds, and he looked into the truth of their humanity and spoke words of comfort.

Thomas said, “The Lord took me through a season of dire brokenness and I asked, ‘Lord, what do you do with a woman who is broken into a million pieces when the wounds are paralyzing and the consequences make living almost impossible?’”

“What I’ve come to know about the Lord … is that he’s not afraid of broken people or broken lives or broken hearts,” Thomas said. “If we will stay in his presence, he can work with that. I just don’t know how many people know that about the Lord. It took the most devastating life circumstances for me to know that.”

“When you come with the truth of who you are into [his] presence, he will come in with the covering of his blood and add the blessing. … The Lord in his sovereignty took an ordinary broken-down Jesus girl and …[covered me] with his blood and raised me up.”

Thomas concluded, “You can’t bring it until you’ve been somewhere to get it, so you’ll have something to bring. Jesus said, ‘When you come and you abide in my presence and you stake your whole life on the truth, then that is enough and I will add the blessing to your meager offering.”

Closing out the session, LaDonna Gatlin, sister to the legendary singing trio The Gatlin Brothers, entertained the crowd with her testimony and singing. A resident of Frisco, Gatlin has been speaking to audiences, writing and performing for many years. She encouraged those in the audience to value the blessings that cove from unexpected trials in life.



EMPOWER EVANGELISM CONFERENCE: Houston minister: Make home the center of discipleship or face extinction

Other 2006 Empower Evangelism Conference Articles

EULESS, Texas–In America, biblical Christianity is dying because the home has lost its place as the center of evangelism and discipleship, Voddie Baucham told the Empower Evangelism Conference Feb. 7.

Baucham, a Christian apologist and author from Spring, Texas, near Houston, cited recent studies by the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life and LifeWay Christian Resources, showing that somewhere between 75-88 percent of students raised in church are leaving the church by their freshman year in college.

Lamenting the generation gap in the SBC, Baucham stated: “There are a lot of you in here who are upset with the Emerging Church movement. You’re upset with Brian McLaren and some of the theology that he’s espousing. I don’t like a lot of the theology that’s coming out of the Emerging Church movement, but can I tell what the impetus is behind the Emerging Church movement. Twenty-somethings are gone. The Emerging Church movement is saying, ‘What do we do to recapture this age group?’

Compounding the danger is that for the first time in history the American birthrate–1.9 children per family–is below the replacement rate?2.1 children per family–and the birthrate among evangelical Christians is similar.

“What that means is we’ve not having enough children for our culture to continue to survive. Our culture is dying one generation at a time.”

The French birthrate of 1.5 children per family, for example, is not only below the replacement rate, it is overshadowed by Muslim immigrants, who average six children per family.

“Which means in two generations France will be a Muslim nation by sheer numbers alone,” Baucham said. “Why? Because they want prosperity more than they want children. And it’s the same for us.”

The unwritten rule among Southern Baptists and others is two children per family.

“We despise children in the Southern Baptist Convention. You don’t believe me? Find a woman who has six or seven children and follow her into a Southern Baptist church and watch the way we mock her. Watch the way people who don’t even know her come up to her and say, ‘Haven’t you guys figured out how that happens yet?'”

Baucham noted that there are 16 million Southern Baptists–“on paper,” he said, an obvious allusion to the many inactive members on church rolls.

At the current birthrate, Southern Baptists will number about 250,000 in three generations. Increasing evangelism efforts alone will not suffice, Baucham said.

“In order to replenish those numbers by evangelism alone, we would have to reach three lost people for every one Christian. Currently, we only reach one lost person for every 43 Southern Baptists,” Baucham noted.

“Now let me make it plain and bring it home: Christianity in America is dying one generation at a time, one home at a time. Christianity is dying.”

Among the Jewish community the same thing is happening, according to researchers Anthony Gordon and Richard Horowitz, Baucham said.   Intermarriage, declining birthrates and inadequate Jewish education “continue to decimate the American Jewish people,” Baucham stated, reading from their report.

“We’re right behind them,” Baucham insisted.

“Our answer has been to divorce ourselves from the issue and hire youth pastors to make it better.”

The last 30 years has seen the greatest number of specialized youth ministers, youth resources and parachurch youth ministries and an unprecedented decline in youth baptisms.

Preaching from Ephesians 6:104, which speaks of children obeying parents and parents gently training their children in the Lord, Baucham said the predominant youth ministry model not only lacks biblical foundation, it is antithetical to Scripture and it doesn’t work.

“Or do I need to say it again? Seventy-five to 88 percent is our current failure rate.”

“I want to show you through the Scripture the centrality of the home in the discipling and evangelizing of the next generation,” Baucham said. “God has a plan for multigenerational faithfulness. That plan is the family.”

Many church youth ministries have as their mission to evangelize teenagers, to disciple them, and to equip them to reach other teenagers.

“Two problems with that. Number one, nine times out of 10 we never mention parents. And number two, it’s not your job. Whose job is it to evangelize my children? The church? No, it’s mine. Whose job is it to disciple my children, the church? No, it’s mine. Which means that any youth ministry that’s going to exist at all had better have a mission statement which says ‘We exist to equip and assist parents as they do what God called them to do and not the church.’”

Many youth ministry programs are moving toward ministering to youth and their families.

“That’s still the wrong answer,” Baucham maintained. … The problem is that “for 30 years we’ve been telling (families), ‘We’re trained professionals. Please don’t try this at home. You don’t understand your kids. Your kids don’t like you. Trust me, just drop them off, now.’ And now (parents are) mad because they’re doing what we’ve taught them to do for 30 years.”

The context of Ephesians 6:1-4 depends on Ephesians 5:15-18, which speaks of walking wisely, being filled with the Spirti, being worshipful, thankful and submissive.

“What he’s saying here is this: ‘Show me a child who is not submissive to his parents’ authority and I’ll show you a child who is not a yielded to the Spirit of God.’ Which means if we want to lead a child toward being Spirit filled, we don’t lead them toward a youth pastor, we lead them toward mom and dad.

“I’m not telling you all to go fire your youth pastors tomorrow.   That’s not what I’m saying here.   But we have to completely revamp our philosophies.

“Disciple your children. ‘Can I get someone else to do it?’   No, it’s your job. You do it.”

Current evangelistic efforts amount to filling up a bucket with a hole in the bottom, Baucham said.

According to Barna Research, the Nehemiah Institute and the National Study of Youth and Religion, less that 10 percent of professing Christian teens operate from a biblical worldview and less that 5 percent are “theologically born again.”

“By that, I mean they say they are born again and they say they trust Christ as savior and Lord of their life. But they’re wrong on the deity of Christ. They’re wrong on substitutionary atonement. They’re wrong on just about every important theological issue related to salvation. Only 5 percent of them have the information they need to be saved.”

Baucham said the answer lies in Christians having a biblical view of children as blessings from God, revamping youth ministry to help parents disciple their children, and “we have to adopt a biblical view of church leadership.”

He said it is a biblical imperative that the pastor be able to teach and be able to manage his household well. “The Bible says if you are not discipling your children in an exemplary fashion, you’re not worthy of being called a pastor.”





EMPOWER EVANGELISM CONFERENCE: Texas evangelists challenged to be fearless, persevering

TRONG>Other 2006 Empower Evangelism Conference Articles

EULESS?Those attending the Conference of Texas Baptist Evangelists (COTBE) at First Baptist Church of Euless Feb. 6 were exhorted to walk by faith, finish well the task God gives them, and to maintain undivided hearts toward God.

The COTBE session preceded the Empower Evangelism Conference.

Preaching from 1 Chronicles 28, evangelist Alan Buchanek of Longview explained how David commanded his son, Solomon, to “Be strong and do it” as he explained God’s plan for Solomon to oversee the temple’s construction.

David promised God’s blessing and care over Solomon until he had faithfully finished the work.

“He said ‘Be strong and do it’?twice,” Buchanek noted.

“God’s not impressed with the quitters, whiners. God is looking for good finishers. It’s not how well we start; it’s how we finish that matters most to God.”

Buchanek said most entrants into the rigorous Iron Man Triathlon don’t compete to win the race but rather to finish well. He told of a distance runner at the 1968 Olympics who was injured during a fall and yet refused to quit, limping across the finish line several hours after the other runners.

“My country didn’t send me here to start this race,” Buchanek said, relaying the runner’s comments to reporters. “My country sent me here to finish it.”

Buchanek added, “That’s God’s word to us.”

Dennis Erwin of Edgewood, Texas closed out the COTBE session, preaching from Hosea 10 and urging his listeners to seek revival by bearing the fruit of God’s presence, and worshiping God authentically with undivided hearts.

Erwin said ancient Israel at Hosea’s time was full of religious activity, “but it was all wrong” and included idol worship and a people with divided hearts.

“When we quit being faithful to the house of God, we’ll find other gods to worship,” he said.

Executive committee of IMB trustees propose withdrawing motion for SBC to remove Burleson; preferring internal approach


The nine-member executive committee of the International Mission Board’s trustees will recommend at
the board’s March 20-21 meeting in Tampa that trustees reverse a Jan. 11 motion asking the Southern
Baptist Convention to remove Wade Burleson of Enid, Okla., as a trustee.

IMB trustee chairman Thomas Hatley of Rogers, Ark., told the Southern Baptist TEXAN the
committee determined that the board has the authority to address the matter internally without
the necessity of making a recommendation to the SBC. Burleson has vocally?and allegedly improperly,
according to the trustees?opposed the board’s action on new missionary candidate criteria; however
it was Burleson’s conduct as a trustee?not his opposition to the recent actions that prompted the earlier
effort to remove him as a trustee, according to an earlier IMB release.

Meeting Feb. 10 in Atlanta, the committee reviewed the Burleson matter and acted unilaterally to offer the
new plan. The committee includes the chairman, first and second vice chairmen, recording secretary and
chairmen of the board’s five primary standing committees. Hatley informed trustees of the proposal
through e-mail Feb. 15.

“As a board we continue to affirm our missionaries, our president, and our staff, and we stand with them 
in leading Southern Baptists to reach the harvest fields of our world,” Hatley told the TEXAN on Feb. 14.
Several weeks from now Hatley will release an historical and theological explanation of the board’s 
November decision to assess missionary candidates’ use of “private prayer language” and mode of

Misinformation disseminated through informal weblogs caused confusion in the minds of some Southern Baptists, Hatley said. He said he hopes a detailed accounting of the timeline and rationale for those standards will help separate those issues from the matter of Burleson’s personal conduct as a trustee and answer questions that have arisen.

When the original action proposing removal was announced, Hatley said the board first explored others ways to handle the impasse with Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., and immediate past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

“The decision to seek removal was based on broken trust and resistance to accountability, not Burleson’s opposition to policies recently enacted by the board,” the official Jan. 11 statement read. At various intervals of the Jan. 9-11 meeting Burleson posted updated reports on his interaction with trustees, refusing trustee requests to stop the practice out of concern that inaccurate and confidential information was being disseminated.

Burleson said he used the weblog to express his concerns to a broader Baptist constituency, believing potential missionaries could be held back due to the new criteria and accusing certain trustees of “political power plays” and private caucuses.

Burleson, on his weblog Feb. 12, stated, “Trustee leadership has been very communicative with me these past three weeks, and I appreciate their hearts in dialogue. I have been asked to prayerfully consider shutting down this blog. Let me be clear. I have said, from the beginning, if I can be shown where my blog violates any policy or procedure of the IMB I will cease blogging immediately. In all fairness to my fellow trustees, blogging by a trustee is something new, and for everyone[‘]s benefit I am considering possibly ending the blog until an official policy on blogging can be established in the [upcoming IMB trustee] meeting.”

Later, on a Feb. 15 post, Burleson expressed gratitude to those who made suggestions about the weblog, stating, “I have chosen to continue blogging in support of our efforts through the International Mission Board and will continue to be extremely conscientious, as in the past, to fully abide by every policy and procedure of the IMB. I am always positive about our work, conscientious about confidentiality, and will only write those things that I believe can improve our cooperation together to win the world to Christ.”

Texas team seeks ways to aid Lebanese Baptists in 4th year of venture

Jimmy Pritchard’s mind’s eye saw a stereotypical Middle East culture where Islam dominates and freedom is repressed. But once he was on the ground in Beirut, Lebanon with his fellow Baptists from Texas, he said was “blown away.”

“I could have easily been in any urban area of the United States,” he said.

“I found it to be a very Westernized culture,” said Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Forney, who ventured to Lebanon Jan. 17-23 with an SBTC contingent. “We found a lot of secular Muslims–people who have bought into Western materialism but aren’t reading the Koran, aren’t practicing.”

Pritchard joined a small group of pastors and church leaders, including SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards and Terry Coy, SBTC senior church planting associate, in seeking ways for SBTC churches to partner in 2006 with Lebanese Baptists.

The SBTC is entering its fourth year of partnership with Lebanese Baptists, who count among themselves 28 churches, a Baptist school in Beirut, and the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, which trains nearly 60 students from various Muslim-dominated Arab countries.

Additionally, Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board employs workers who are active in Bible distribution and house church planting in Beirut, where nearly everyone lives in multi-story apartments.

Among Arab countries, Lebanon has the greatest religious freedom. In Beirut, Muslims and Christians–most embrace merely a cultural Christianity–have lived peaceably with each other since a 16-year civil war ended in the early 1990s. Beirut has flourished amid the rebuilding. Western stores and restaurants are common in downtown Beirut.

“The beauty was incredible, but the warmth and generosity of the people was unexpected and unbelievable,” Pritchard noted.

Even in heavily Muslim west Beirut, where a contingent from Forney joined IMB missionaries in Bible distribution, the team was usually respectfully received, Pritchard said.

“We did have a situation where a Muslim answered the door and refused the Bible,” stating he had a Koran and didn’t read it. “Why would I want another book I won’t read?” he asked.

“It’s an open opportunity,” Pritchard said. “Once they realize that materialism will leave them hollow, they will be open to the gospel. (The materialism) is fresh and new for them, but they’ll reach the end of that road as well.”

Pritchard said his church plans to participate in the partnership by sponsoring a student at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. For about $9,500, a church can pay a student’s tuition and living expenses for a year.

Richards said this was his second trip to Lebanon and God’s work is evident.

“Muslims are being won to Christ. Ministers are being trained and sent out to other Muslim countries. The International Mission Board personnel continue to coordinate door-to-door visitation and Bible distribution in Beirut. Beirut is a gateway city giving anyone who goes there an opportunity to touch lives throughout the Middle East.”

In fact, Beirut is a destination for many tourists and temporary workers from throughout the Middle East, Coy said.

IMB missionaries, Coy said, are requesting “strategic prayer” for their work among Muslims—something an SBTC church or church members could undertake. Furthermore, small SBTC churches or associations could pool resources to send missions teams to Lebanon for work with Lebanese churches or to work alongside IMB representatives.

“We are trying to encourage those who went on the trip to take the next step,” Coy said.

For more information on the SBTC-Lebanese Baptist partnership, call the SBTC Missions Office toll free at 877-95307282 or e-mail


Coming Out’ meant freedom in Christ for Houston resident

HOUSTON?For Michael Newman “coming out” was a major turning point in his life. He was determined to not look back. No one, this time, was going to convince him that he should live any other way.

It’s been more than 20 years since Newman followed through on what he believes was the conviction of the Holy Spirit and came out?not out of the closet?but out of a homosexual life.

Since then he has dedicated his life to helping other men and women, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and embracing biblical identity in Christ, come out of homosexuality as well.

Newman, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and member of First Baptist Church of Houston, said he recalls life events?dating as far back as when he was 3 1/2 years old?that began to define him. Words that were said, names called, and the unsettling realization that he was not like most other kids began to compound. Growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s gave Newman a “distorted world-view,” he said.
Fathers, he imagined, either all “worked like dogs or they went off to war and got killed.” His father was in the former group. Both his parents were products of divorce; neither of them knew their fathers well, if at all. His dad, he said, did not easily grasp the role of effective father to a talkative, artistic little boy and consequently failed to convey biblical manhood effectively.

“There wasn’t really a place for me in a little boys’ world,” he said.

In retrospect, Newman saw how the lack of a strong father figured into the defining of his own character. He doesn’t blame his father for the choices he made later in life, but Newman has seen, through his studies and counseling of homosexuals, the lack of strong family foundations as a recurring and underlying element with most people in the homosexual life.

His parents tried to do right by him, he admitted, sending him to church and Vacation Bible School (he still has certificates recognizing his participation in VBS). But, he added, it seemed that church was good for him, not for his folks. They went to church but did not reinforce biblical values at home. It is no small irony, he said, that the path of Newman’s homosexuality would ebb and flow from the church.

At 13, Newman heard the gospel for the first time and responded in faith. Yet his ideas of himself in relation to other teenage boys were still conflicted. There were no sexual urges but he admired many from afar, envying their confidence and desiring their friendship.

He remained the odd man out in high school. Not having an outlet for his artistic talents, teachers put him in Spanish class where he excelled. Being the best and brightest at learning foreign languages became his goal, the foundation upon which he would receive approval and self worth.

It was in his freshman year of college that his self-identity was sealed.

“In a drunken stupor,” Newman said, “I gave into all the name calling.” He had been confronted by another student who said, “I’m gay and you are too.” Following his first homosexual encounter, Newman, who was involved with a student church group but not fully committed, began wondering what God thought about homosexuality.

That was in 1972 when pro-homosexual theology was entering the church in some quarters, he said. A rewrite of the 23rd Psalm began: “The Lord is my shepherd, he knows I’m gay.”

Newman said he began to believe that if he were not promiscuous, but sought out a meaningful, monogamous relationship, God would approve. Looking back on such ideas, Newman laughed, “You can’t make deals with God.”

Instead of condoning his homosexuality, God confronted Newman in the form of a godly roommate named Sam. He said somehow God had prepared Sam to hear Newman’s confession because his response was caring and thoughtful. “He didn’t try to fix me. He showed me God could do bigger things.”
Through such encouraging and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, Newman sought counseling and committed to being abstinent. He remained faithful to himself and God through graduate school and his year-long search for a teaching job afterward. In 1978, God brought him to Houston.

“And lo and behold I found homosexuality in the church,” Newman exclaimed. An older man, who left his wife to pursue his self-proclaimed true self, found Newman and “hooked” him. Newman said the relationship was everything he had been looking for just after his first homosexual encounter. He had stopped pursuing that lifestyle idea but it found him and he succumbed after five years of abstinent living.
About a year and a half later, he was jolted back to reality with the death of his grandmother, a woman he dearly loved. He was convicted of his own sin which included being an obstacle to the man with whom he was involved. He broke off the relationship, changed churches, and, more clearly than ever, heard God’s call.

God revealed that his homosexuality was not the only sin in his life, but it was rooted in other sins. His idols were affirmation, approval and achievement. He sought those through his schoolwork, his career search and his relationships. Once he gave his life back to God, he was shown that there was a way out of homosexuality?not just from the sexual act itself, but from the desires and struggles that come with the conflict of identity.

By 1985 Newman was called to be a part of a ministry created to help homosexuals come out of that life and seek their true worth in who they are to God. Christian Coalition for Reconciliation is a Houston-based ministry affiliated with Exodus International, an organization founded in 1976 whose goal is to promote “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.”

Through one-on-one counseling, group sessions, accountability and encouraging partnerships, the life-changing ministry of CCR has extended from Houston to San Antonio, Dallas, College Station and, through his speaking engagements (Newman is fluent in Spanish and French), around the world.

The fundamental element necessary for a homosexual to change is a relationship with God.

“If it had not been for Jesus Christ, there would have been no reason to change. No power to change,” Newman said. It was the intermittent, yet unrelenting, conviction of the Holy Spirit that finally brought him completely out of the homosexual life and into the CCR ministry?a ministry that has become more difficult through the years.

Newman is fighting a cultural tide of approval and affirmation of the homosexual lifestyle?some of his old idols. His counseling used to be primarily to adults, particularly adult men. Today he counsels many teens raised on the social mantra that sexual taboos are passé. They are being brought to his office by parents who have discovered or suspect homosexual proclivities, he said.

“They’ve been brought up with ‘Why is gay so wrong?’ and TV role models,” Newman said. “We are going to lose this generation” of teens if the church does not get actively involved in this issue.

Most churches and Christians, he said, still find homosexuality so off-putting that they fail to address it or, worse, present an image of the church as a place of condemnation instead of a beacon of hope. He was quick to add that some churches?in some cases entire denominations?have, in an effort to show God’s love and compassion for all people, let slip God’s message of sin and the need for reconciliation with God. Southern Baptists, he said, are one church group that has held on to biblical standards regarding homosexual acts.

He does fault the church, though, for being inconsistent in its discussion of this public and, now, political sin. “The church needs to talk about the issue as an overall picture of sexual morality ? not picking on homosexuality at voting time.”

Homosexuality is not a battle to be fought in the voting booth, but o

Houston church builds lodge ministry

HOUSTON?What used to be a snake-infested, mosquito-swarming parcel of land smack-dab in the middle of a flood plain has been painstakingly transformed into a destination for people seeking to experience God in a respite from the daily grind.

It had been the dream of Pastor John Morgan of Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston to create a retreat center where people could renew their spirits and be still before God.

Morgan understood busyness by observing people with schedules filled with commitments to others and little time for family, friends and Christian reflection. Decompression is what such folks needed, he believed. But his vision was tucked away for more than a decade until God began to fulfill it one person at a time, he said.

It started with a Sagemont member who owned an 89-acre tract of land he wanted to use for God’s glory.

He gave three acres of it to his church, and Jim Hastings, Sagemont’s Helping Hands ministry leader, rallied volunteers to clear the land, produce architectural designs, purchase construction materials and organize construction crews.

Since its dedication in May of 2003, the 23-room Lodge at Danbury has hosted church groups, women’s retreats, and a group of underprivileged girls at the quiet get-away. Also, the lodge, with a 3,000-square-foot great room, has been used by businesses for retreats and conferences, giving Sagemont an opportunity to show Christian love to many people who are unchurched.

The entire facility was built debt-free at an estimated cost of $685,000?all of it paid for with gifts and offerings above and beyond the church tithe. The lodge sits on a three-acre tract that was cleared of brush and snakes. The surrounding 86 acres are for lodge guests to use for recreation, Hastings said.

The property sits in the middle of what is called The Lakes of Danbury?almost 1,000 acres of land dotted with more than 100 man-made lakes stocked with catfish, perch and drum. It’s the largest sport fishing location and fish farm in Texas. Birds of prey, including three bald eagles, and scores of waterfowl make the site a bird watcher’s haven. Stately live oaks dot the land around the lodge. And downtown Houston seems a million miles away.

But what has become The Lodge at Danbury was not always such an idyllic setting. Hastings, architect Randy Gardner, lodge minister Wade Owens and more than 300 volunteers worked to make the retreat a reality.

Hastings joked that he was certain the construction of the lodge was in no way God’s will because when he stepped from his car onto the land thick with trees and dense undergrowth, he was immediately attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. One volunteer said the scrub was so thick that a person couldn’t see his hand once he stuck it in the vegetation.

Furthermore, the land was infested with copperheads, a poisonous snake. John Hood, a Sagemont member and lodge volunteer who has since died, had a strong aversion to snakes. Hastings said Hood was helping clear the land using a tractor with a backhoe when he dislodged a fallen log. Under the log, Hastings thought, was a rotting basketball. That was until the “basketball” began to unravel. It was a den of copperheads.

Hood backed up so fast the tractor rolled over a pipe, tearing it open. He then abandoned ship, leaving the tractor running and rolling and giving his friends hours of laughter and story telling, Hastings recalled.
Once the land was finally cleared volunteers were ready to begin construction of what was to be a 12-room lodge with a dining hall and great room.

Then what Hastings said was a providential flood came, which delayed work for six months as crews had to raise the parcel of land six feet to make the construction flood proof.

“It was a Noah rain,” volunteer Charles Shiver said. Then it rained again.

Six months later, on April 26, 2001, the walls for the great room went up.

There were no professional construction crews involved in the building process, save for concrete workers.

It was an unskilled but willing crew that showed up each day from daylight until 1 or 2 p.m. They were retirees and those still working full-time?a chemical engineer, a senior technical associate for Shell, sheet metal workers, military, accountants, Houston Fire Department firefighters, a corrugated box industry employee, and others. Despite the lack of professional construction crews working on the lodge, the architect said the facility is one of the most soundly constructed buildings he has seen.

Sam Peak spent his 80th and 81st birthdays at the construction site. One of his jobs was to stand in the lift and secure wooden planks as the lift was raised over 20 feet up to workers on scaffolding. The plank-and-beam ceiling of the great room took 72,000 pounds of wood to complete.

Bill Lowery, a sheet metal worker who has “busted his thumbs on everything in creation,” found the materials for the venting in the kitchen and welded the job himself. Lynn Toney, wife of volunteer Ed Toney, provided Hastings with moral support by bringing him an egg sandwich and coffee each morning.
Carol Newton, he added, “was just one of the guys.” She worked during the construction and continues to support the project as a member of a maintenance crew that provides monthly “spring cleanings.”
Church volunteers cater to the needs of those in attendance, preparing meals and expediting the functioning of the conferences.

Straight talk

Baptist news is a target-rich environment these days. We have a lot to talk about. New appointment guidelines for missionary candidates, the SBC will be asked to remove a trustee this summer, the SBTC has removed a church, and so on. Let me offer some thoughts on a variety of timely issues this week.

The IMB & baptism
This issue is old news unless you read the “new media,” Internet blogs, specifically. Since the November International Mission Board meeting, private web logs have been abuzz with criticisms of the board’s guideline regarding the baptisms of missionary candidates. More recently these criticisms have centered on the supposed connection between Landmark theology and the IMB’s focus on a missionary candidate’s baptizing church.

The IMB is requiring that candidates be baptized in a church that immerses people after their profession of faith and that believes baptism to be symbolic rather than sacramental or regenerative. They further require that the baptizing church believes in eternal security. This means a candidate baptized in an Assemblies of God church or a Free Will or General Baptist church would need to be re-baptized before being accepted for missionary appointment.

A couple of points about this seem important. First, this is not Landmark theology. Nobody in this discussion has suggested that Baptists, specifically Southern Baptists, are the only legitimate expression of New Testament Christianity. In fact, the guideline does not stipulate that the baptizing church must be a Baptist church at all.

Second, the guideline defines “like faith and order” in the same way that most SBC churches do when they receive members. Right or wrong, this is the environment the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board must work within.

One reason for this policy is that some churches no longer examine prospective members. Another possible reason is that “big tent” evangelicalism appeals to some pastors so that members from other denominations are received by statement with little thought to their understanding of Southern Baptist doctrine. The churches need to do their work more thoroughly. Regardless, the mission boards can’t take anything for granted.

The IMB & Wade Burleson

In a kind of aftershock to their November action, IMB trustees voted to ask the SBC to remove Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson. Some of the trustees I talked to are pretty gentle souls. While they were careful to guard the confidentiality of board executive sessions, there was a general sense that Burleson is an intractable person. His voluminous blog entries would lead to that same conclusion.
Regardless, the IMB is going to have to make its case for the action they’ve asked the convention to take next June. Our messengers are going to have to know why they should take serious and unusual action against a trustee they elected only last June.

Trust does not enter into this. I think we do trust our elected board members. I have great confidence in the commitment and heart of the trustees I know. We’ll be asked to take action for ourselves, though. We will need enough information to make us believe what the board has come to believe?that Wade Burleson is unqualified in some way to complete his four-year term. I’m not saying they can’t but I’m saying they haven’t made that case in public yet.

Creationism & Intelligent Design

While not a specifically Southern Baptist story, a Pennsylvania town’s smackdown of the teaching of any alternative to Darwinism has emboldened that religion’s partisans. Southern Baptists do find themselves embroiled in this debate at all educational levels, and on both sides. The most common error is to equate Creationism, the belief that the God revealed in the Bible made everything, and Intelligent Design, the belief that observable creation is too elaborate to be the product of random chance. The more clever of ID’s critics call it “Creationism lite.”

Here’s an important distinction: all Creationists believe that intelligence and purpose may be inferred from what we can observe and measure. All those who believe in Intelligent Design are not necessarily Creationists, though. Those who follow ID have at least rightly seen that Darwinism is not compatible with theism. They would not consider themselves the leading edge of a fundamentalist deconstruction of modern science.

The error is one part politics and two parts ignorance, I think. Many reporters are heartened by events that seem to discourage the religious right. That’s the political aspect that makes the story front-page news. This distaste for some religious views makes them impatient with explanations offered by religious people. This is largely their ignorance in covering the story. The other part is the looming deadlines that keep them from even knowing what diversity exists within the non-religious scientific community.
A scientific theory, Darwinism, whose adherents are unable to bear the suggestion in a textbook or classroom that some educated and thoughtful people see it differently, is too easily threatened to maintain its monopoly.

The fact is that some smart and highly educated people find faith in Darwinism more difficult to maintain than the belief that someone designed this on purpose. It is also quite possible to substantiate this view with scientific data. Our schools are teaching bad science when they refer to Darwinism as the proven and established scheme for explaining the diversity of life on earth. It is doubly bad when they are free to ridicule any contrary theory simply because it is contrary.

Roe v. Wade & compassion

It should be hard for this anniversary in January to pass without some comment. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone to various crisis pregnancy centers around the state to present financial gifts from SBTC churches to help with their ministries. Most of these centers are funded by groups of diverse churches; others are attached to a very large church that can provide people and financial resources on its own. Here’s what they all have in common: they love women.

They want to help them more than time or money or access allows. They want to know what happens to them after they deliver their babies. They want tell them about Jesus.
Crisis pregnancy centers depend on volunteers. What staff members they do pay work for peanuts and give more time than they’re asked for. Doctors and nurses often volunteer to provide prenatal care. I’ve yet to be in a CPC that didn’t convict me with their commitment and heartfelt compassion for women and babies.

Is this true of abortion clinics? I don’t know from experience and what we see of them in the news is often not their best side.

Doubtless many of the directors and workers in the abortion industry have sincere convictions about freedom of choice and equality for women. It seems it would become an academic exercise at best, though. It’s about winning the political battles and spinning the awful details of their work. The bald truth about CPCs is a much easier story to tell than the plain facts of an abortion clinic. Do you suppose that’s a problem for the workers? Are they thrilled to tell the stories of lives they’ve touched through their work the way CPC workers are thrilled?

It’s not an absolute gauge but that difference in attitude and experience implies something about the nature
of a ministry. I can’t imagine too many people envying the joy of an abortionist’s work. Perhaps the employees of abortion mills are also victims of our American Holocaust. Join me in continuing to pray for freedom and life for all these victims of pro-death culture.

Weblogs & dialogue

The immediacy of electronic communication has ramped up our expectations. I can now get