Month: July 2006

Texans find mighty fortress of peace in Lebanon





“That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;

The spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.”

FORNEY?These words are the fourth stanza of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” written by Martin Luther almost 500 years ago. It has been called “the greatest hymn of the greatest man in the greatest part of German history” and “the battle hymn of the Reformation.” But to a group of 10 missionaries from First Baptist Church of Forney, east of Dallas, it became something else entirely, FBC Forney’s pastor, Jimmy Pritchard, told his flock during his first sermon since arriving back.

At 9:30 a.m. on a Friday?July 7?10 people who have been dubbed by their pastor as the “Texas Ten” left for the airport for Lebanon, the ancient country known for its cedar trees in the Old Testament.

The group, led by Pritchard, was heading out on a 10-day journey where they would get the chance to speak in churches, distribute Arabic New Testaments and deliver a check to the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. Their plans would change drastically.

Everything seemed to come off smoothly at first.

Pritchard said he had a strange sense about this trip from the very beginning. He said he wasn’t sure where it came from, but his prayer the entire first few days was that he would be able to get his flock back home safely.

The first Sunday in Lebanon, the group ministered in churches around Beirut, where Muslims and Christians have peacefully co-existed for more than a decade. A couple from the group visited the Bekaa Valley east of Beirut in the afternoon. The World Cup soccer finals were taking place and excitement was everywhere on the Beirut streets.

Monday after arriving, the Texas Ten began their work distributing Arabic New Testaments. Everything seemed normal. In previous trips Texas Southern Baptists had mingled with Muslims in apartments, occasionally sharing the gospel when given the opportunity and always showing courtesy that was nearly always reciprocated.

On that Wednesday, the cultural climate shifted.

Israeli armed forces began firing missiles into the city of Tyre. Pritchard was on his way to the seminary for meeting

Houston, New Orleans churches ‘love on’ H-Town




HOUSTON?Almost a year ago, Hurricane Katrina forced thousands of people out of New Orleans and into Houston. In July, members from Houston’s First Baptist Church, the oldest church in the city, and Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, the largest in Louisiana, united to minister to Houstonians at Kelly Village Apartments.

On July 11, these Southern Baptists served the low-income citizens of this complex in one of many sites of “The Houston Project”?the city’s largest mission effort. It is led by First Baptist Church and this year joined by many from Franklin Avenue who have called Houston?and facilities of First Baptist Church?home since last year’s hurricane.

Those on mission provided hot meals, frozen treats, Vacation Bible School, praise and worship, games, and Bible study to the neighborhood’s children, youth and adults.

Gary Mack, an associate pastor at Franklin Avenue, said: “I love this. I’ve learned to use the term ‘lovin’ on ’em’ from Pastor Greg [Matte of First Baptist Church] and I don’t normally use that. But I love that term because that’s exactly what we’re doing here. We’re lovin’ on God’s people.”

During the entirety of The Houston Project, First Baptist, Franklin Avenue, and 250 middle school and high school students from various churches in Texas and Missouri ministered to more than 1,500 youth and adults throughout the Houston area in various mission projects.

The Houston Project began in a First Baptist Church singles class in 1998. Today, it has evolved church-wide and beyond.

“Throughout the year, our people come back and build relationships with these folks,” Matte said. “Here at Kelly Village where we are, it’s really even a neater story because this is the location of partnering with Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. We have just gotten to be the best of friends. ? We love them and they love us.”

“The goal,” Matte said, “is to make a difference in our community. We don’t expect one person to join our church at the end of this. ? We just want to come in at their invitation and love on them, care for them, and make a difference in their community as well.”

For more than 15 years, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church ministered to the residents of New Orleans. Under the leadership of Pastor Fred Luter, the church grew from 65 to more than 7,000 in membership. But after Hurricane Katrina hit, the church’s members were scattered, with many of them landing in the Houston area.

Franklin Avenue Baptist is still going strong by utilizing Houston’s First Baptist’s worship facilities for its services, even though the church’s leadership and some members will eventual return home.

RADICAL CALL




FORT WORTH?Youth ministry expert Alvin Reid told a packed auditorium of students at Harvest Church that the church has made Christianity common and ordinary when instead it is a “radical calling” to follow Jesus.

Reid, an evangelism professor at Southeastern Seminary, closed out the teaching segment of the SBTC Student Evangelism Conference by telling students that following Christ “is not about how risk free and safe” one can be. Christianity is a movement, not an institution, Reid said.

“God has created you ? to be part of something way bigger than anything we could come up with on our own,” he told the more than 2,000 students in a sermon from the Matthew 4:18 account of Jesus calling Peter and Andrew to follow him.

The SEC theme?”Campus Revolution”?was intended to encourage students to be missionaries on their middle and high school campuses this fall.

“In its heart, in its essence, it’s a movement,” Reid said of Christianity. After asking students what they would do on Sunday, many responded aloud, “Go to church.”

“No you’re not. You are the church,” he said. “When you show up at school and you sit in that class, you are the church.”

Reid said it is easy to live faithfully on Sunday but more difficult during the week when students are surrounded by unbelievers.

He posed a question to the girls in the audience: What if the boy of your dreams came up to your locker and stated, “I want to be your guy. ? I just want you to agree on one thing: Let’s not tell anybody.”

“What would you think about a guy like that?”

Christians who never mention their faith in Christ are similar, Reid said.

Being a Christian “doesn’t mean you have Jesus in your life. It means he is your life.”

“Are you willing to follow a dangerous Jesus?” he asked.

Reid told the students of how he and a buddy started the first Fellowship of Christian Athletes club in his Alabama high school and then a Christian club. Two years later the Christian club was the school’s largest student organization, and FCA was second.

He warned the students, however, against depending on their own strength to win their schools for Christ. “Let God make it happen,” Reid said, through students praying, working and loving their classmates.

There are more teens in the United States than ever before, which creates an unprecedented opportunity, Reid said.

“If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are a missionary,” Reid said.

Students also heard from Brad and Misty Bernall, parents of martyred Columbine student Cassie Bernall; evangelist Clayton King; Scott Grissom of Campus Revolution; and music from Salvador, Starfield, and Shane & Shane.

SPECIAL REPORT: Cyber world offers ministry helps for Texas Southern Baptists

SPECIAL REPORT

Baptist bloggers wielding influence, getting press in watershed year

Blogging: What is it?

After garnering hype in the secular press for innuendo and gossip, Southern Baptists in Texas are discovering that blogs are much more than forums for ax grinding and sarcasm.

A recent Time article titled “The Bloggers’ Favorite Southern Baptist” credited young Baptist leaders with high-speed Internet connections and an abundance of time for influencing the SBC presidential election in Greensboro. A Dallas Morning News article titled “New Time Religion” characterized the bloggers as airing the convention’s dirty laundry.

Nothing created more buzz on the Baptist blogs than the comment made by outgoing SBC President Bobby Welch during his farewell sermon at the annual meeting in Greensboro for bloggers to remain focused on missions and evangelism instead of their computers.

With mainstream media riveted on potential controversies surrounding Baptist blogs, Texas Southern Baptists have discovered blogs can be used for another purpose–an impetus for ministry and church planting.

Spanning the gulf between new technology and traditional Baptist methodology, Texas pastors across the state are utilizing blogs to encourage fellowship and equip their congregations for kingdom service.

The Mosaic, a church plant in Arlington, hosts a blog community on its Web site, mosaicarlington.org, for church members. Mosaic members use the forum as an additional component of Christian fellowship, discussing church events, Scripture, and personal opinions and interests.

“I am trying to make sure that this blog really does help others in moving forward in their lives and service for God and others,” writes Mosaic Pastor Stephen Hammond on his blog, at stephen.voxtropolis.com.

“In the end I would hope that those who read this site hear a little more about my heart/life as a follower of Christ and a leader in God’s kingdom. But I am also looking for a place to share encouragement with others who are on similar journeys, or who might be interested in a journey of faith, love and hope.”

Other pastors and church staff utilize blogs as online prayer diaries sharing ministry concerns or needs. Readers can follow along with the pastor as specific prayer needs are shared throughout a given week. Readers can then post comments to encourage their church leadership or give feedback on sermons.

Jimmy Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church Forney, uses his blog, fbcforney.blogspot.com, to promote an Acts 1:8 spirit in the congregation. In a recent entry, Pritchard posted a photo of church members who recently traveled to Beirut on a mission trip. Pritchard requested prayer for the group and planned to add updates from the field about the mission team’s activities. Shortly after Pritchard asked for prayer partners, church members quickly responded posting short prayers for the team’s safety and success in sharing the gospel.

Jason Bishop, pastor of The Journey church plant in Lubbock, chronicles the setbacks and successes of church planting in his blog “The Bishop’s Jiggy Musings” at thebishopsjiggymusings.blogspot.com. In an entry titles “Moved for the Unreached,” Bishop shares insights and encouragement given to him by a church-planting mentor for other ministers to read.

Roy McClung, pastor of Fellowship of Pearland, documents his journey as a church planter on his blog—www.padawanpastor.typepad.com—titled “Missional Jedi Mind Tricks.”

“The church that we planted four years ago has seen more changes than a Madonna concert,” McClung journals. “We started off purpose-driven, seeker sensitive. We slowly transitioned into more of a port-modern gathering. And now we are morphing into a missional church. The problem is, there is no cookie-cutter, cut-and-paste method for this new expression of church. I say “problem,” it’s actually quite exciting. I feel similar to how Abraham must’ve felt when he was told by God to go to a land that would be shown to him later. Abraham packed up his bags and left for a journey not knowing the final destination. Yet, not knowing the end result of this missional morph is part of the adventure.”

Part of McClung’s journey includes discussions on evangelism and church planting methodology as well as issues plaguing the modern church such as materialism. With blog entries dating back to November of 2005, McClung’s diary chronicles his desire to reach his community for Christ even if he doesn’t have all the answers.

“What does a missional church look like in a suburban context?” McClung asks. “What does it mean to be salt, light, and leaven in Pearland? That remains to be seen. But I do believe the best is yet to come.”

“Many people have no idea what a blog really is and what its purpose is,” said Terry Coy, SBTC senior church planting strategist. “It’s a journal with ongoing conversation which people can join in on at any time. There’s not a whole lot of difference [between a blog] and an editorial or letter to the editor. Blogs are simply tools, which can be both good and bad, but they are here to stay. In my opinion, had they existed 20 years ago, the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence would have used them constantly.”

SPECIAL REPORT: Baptist bloggers wielding influence, getting press in watershed year

The voices of Southern Baptists who journal their opinions via Internet Weblogs have wielded notable influence lately within the world’s largest evangelical denomination and have attracted attention without.

After SBC President Frank Page’s resounding election at the 2006 annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., news of the bloggers’ clout graced the pages of the Washington Post and Time magazine, The Guardian of London and other notable journals. But even prior to Greensboro Baptist bloggers were making noise within the family.

With the 2004 national elections, blogging was cast into the media limelight, with political blogs gaining mention from mainstream media sources. Dictionary producer Merriam-Webster declared “blog” the 2004 word of the year.

Within the SBC, International Mission Board trustee Wade Burleson, an Enid, Okla., pastor, has been restricted from committee assignments until he issues public apologies for allegedly blogging inaccurately about fellow board members on his blog? kerussocharis.blogspot.com. His blogging also prompted an early 2006 board vote to restrict trustees from publicly criticizing board actions.

In late 2005 Burleson began citing his disagreement on his blog about new IMB qualifications for missionary candidates, and to allege that fellow board members violated board rules by misusing pre-meeting social conversations to strategize about board business.

At the SBC annual meeting, messengers asked the IMB to do a thorough internal investigation and to present its findings during the 2007 SBC annual meeting.

Referencing the Burleson matter, fellow IMB trustee Lonnie Wascom told the TEXAN that the newness of Internet communications and blogging are somewhat threatening and strange to the older generation of trustees who think of communication in terms of face to face, telephone or letters.

The newness, the lack of accountability, the ability to post anonymous responses on blogs, and the tendency to forego the “old rules of attribution” are some of the challenges that IMB trustees have experienced in the blogging world, Wascom said.

While Burleson sticks by the accuracy of the information he has posted and has offered to retract anything that can be proved inaccurate, Wascom said Christian bloggers should be held to an even higher standard of not only accuracy but also wise judgment.

The Louisiana trustee cautioned bloggers, “Always honor confidentiality. So many items we deal with at the IMB involve personnel in sensitive areas of the world. Indiscriminate posting of materials can potentially put lives at risk.”

Wascom continued, “It wouldn’t hurt for a blogger to ask someone in administration, for example, about the appropriateness of posting an item involving actual missions personnel before putting it out for anyone with a Google search engine to know about. If I say something and a blogger wishes to quote me, he should make certain it is quoted accurately and follows all rules of attribution. Then, because we are supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ and always looking out for the good of others, go to a higher level and double check with me (or any other trustee or other person) before posting.”

Some benefits of blogging noted by Wascom include the ability to root out confusion and disperse information quickly to large numbers. “Information is power,” he said.

After six months of hosting a blog about IMB issues, California IMB trustee Jerry Corbaley called it quits a few weeks ago, preferring to offer articles and discussion about other issues at www.missionsconnexion.com.

“I still think all SBC organizations must adopt procedures to rapidly address rumors, regardless of what type of media are involved,” Corbaley wrote. “There comes a time when groups polarize to an extent that rationality is a casualty. Our prejudices blind us to the meaning of one another’s words.”

While believing thousands of Christian blogs address relevant issues in positive ways, Corbaley expressed frustration that the reputation of blogging is being formed by what he claims is the most radical element.

“The polarization between this tiny fraction of Southern Baptists and the vast majority of Southern Baptists over IMB issues is too far advanced for me to have any positive effect through participating in the public discussion of issues,” he wrote.

Corbaley cautioned against missionaries sharing concerns in an open online forum, believing such an approach spreads doubt.

“Shouldn’t the blogging of concerns only follow a patient and effective attempt to resolve differences within the ‘system’?” Corbaley asked.

In a press conference following his election to the SBC presidency, Frank Page referenced the role of bloggers, noting that though bloggers are few in number, a growing number of decision makers who do not participate in blogs are reading them.

“Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention do read those blogs to try to get a barometer of what certain subgroups are thinking or saying.”

Uncertain of the role they played in the election of an SBC president, Page said the amount of media attention given to bloggers gave them “perhaps an inordinate amount of influence” that he labeled “a growing force in denominational life.”

Jerry Sutton, who ran against Frank Page and Ronnie Floyd in the three-way SBC presidential election, cited bloggers as one of many factors in the election results. He stated, “Their ability to provide unfiltered interpretation to the SBC world no doubt influenced some,” Sutton said.

Floyd, an Arkansas pastor, used his blog at www.betweensundays.com to relate his vision for the SBC and answer questions raised about his nomination during the months before the election. His communications director offered pre-election reports from Greensboro.

A June 14 article on Time’s Web site that credited bloggers with electing Page describes the writers of Southern Baptist blogs as “a group of younger (under 40) Baptists frustrated at the inaccessibility of the levers of power.”

The subtitle read, “The upset victory of a non-anointed candidate to lead America’s largest Protestant denomination signals the growing power of online activists, even in old-line churches.”

A Religion News Service article posted at WashingtonPost.com thrust bloggers like 27-year-old St. Joseph, Mo., pastor Micah Fries, who blogs at friesville.com, into the limelight.

Perhaps nothing created more buzz on the Baptist blogs than the casual question asked by outgoing SBC President Bobby Welch during his presidential address at the annual meeting in Greensboro. Welch wondered if more souls would be won if bloggers spent more time on gospel sharing and less time blogging. In the same breath, as “amens” wer heard, Welch chided older pastors for treating their cell phones like pacifiers.

Baptist bloggers are also using blogs as a forum for discussion on issues concerning their churches, communities and the SBC.

Jeremy Green, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Waco, said he began blogging to add a voice to younger leaders in the convention.

“I believe that my generation (I’m 29 years old) as a whole is being misrepresented by some who are thought to be speaking for younger pastors in the SBC,” Green noted on his blog at sbcpastor.blogspot.com. “And it appears to me that the vast majority of the blogs that I have read are in large part only representative of a very small group within the SBC. Thus, I think it might be helpful to provide a different perspective—a biblical one.”

Despite beginning his blog only a few months ago, the perspectives Green tackles include infant baptism and regeneration before faith, alcohol abstinence and biblical illiteracy.

Similarly, Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersvile, offers long polemics on the development of the church at his blog, including a look at the biblical basis for church validity.

“It is quie possible to construct a New Testament ideal for what individual Christians and Christian churches are supposed to be. How much deviation from that ideal is possible before a church ceases to be a church?” Barber asks on his blog, praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com.

In an e-mail interview, Barber noted that his purposes in blogging are not primarily to shape SBC culture.

“Sometime in my blog, I’m not the one initiating the conversation; I’m the one responding to someone else’s initiation, either to object or to agree. Either way, I’m setting down my ideas about topics I believe to be important.” The process of articulating his ideas helps him to refine or reinforce them.

But regarding SBC life, Barber stated, “If there ever was an information oligarchy in Southern Baptist life, it is much weaker today as a result of blogs.” He said he sees that as a positive effect of blogs, and believes that blogs are “an extremely democratic form of expression.” He calls it the present-day equivalent of the religious pamphlet in the 1600s.

“Printing technology enabled people with strongly held religious views to distribute their ideas with relatively little expense. Through these pamphlets, Baptists and other Christians allowed competing ideas about God, church, salvation, etc., to slug it out with one another in the marketplace of ideas. These became important tools as Baptists refined the nuances of their theology.”

He also believes that although many of the messengers to the SBC annual meeting do not read blogs, blogs shaped much of the discussion and many of the motions offered at this year’s meeting. “Leaders have always emerged or receded in the SBC based upon their communication with other Southern Baptists. That isn’t likely to change—blogs are just becoming one of the media through which they do that.”

On the downside, Barber lists a concern that many have voiced—the lack of safeguards and accountability.

For example, traditional journalism standards call for rigorous fact checking and objectivity in reporting—fairly representing multiple sides of a story and steering clear of inserting the writer’s opinions on the topic.

Blogs, by definition are “personal journals,” and prone to do just the opposite, to present and defend the blogger’s own views. Bloggers are often accused of not verifying their sources and of misrepresenting facts—an accusation from which traditional journalism is also not exempt.

Also, professional journalists’ articles typically undergo scrutiny from an editor prior to publication, whereas bloggers ar typically their own editors. Barber said that without an editor, he is “much more prone to escalate tone beyond what he would in person,” which he deems a negative.

Despite those weaknesses, blogs have become primary sources for breaking news. Blogs provide news publications with eyewitness testimony and commentary that they might not locate otherwise.

Some Christian news publications, such as Christianity Today and World magazine, maintain blogs. A 2003 article on Christianity Today’s www.ctlibrary.com, “A Theoblogical Revolution,” states, “With our Weblog, we’re able to cover more news from more places than ever before, and to hear from more voices than ever before.”

SBCOutpost.com, the blog of Buford, Ga., pastor Marty Duren, is one such source of alternative Southern Baptist views. Duren attended the SABC annual meeting and blogged immediate updates on convention business.

DallasNews.com the Web site of the Dallas Morning News, interviewed him and quoted from his site in its June 10 article, “New-time religion.”

On his site, Duren provides links to many other Southern Baptist bloggers who have provided influential commentary on SBC activities, as well as linking to Southern Baptist entities, Southern Baptist media sites, and IMB region sites.

A recent entry to the so-called “blogosphere” is available at sbcwitness.com where contributions are often pulled from the blogs of various Southern Baptist seminary professors at Southeastern, Southern and Southwestern.

Dedicated to “encouraging Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness, informing Southern Baptists about God’s great workings in our midst, and commenting on the most pressing issues facing our churches today,” the blog administrator related “a great love, gratefulness, and respect for the Southern Baptists who went before us.”

Writing in a column submitted to the TEXAN, First Baptist Church of Katy pastor Randy White warned of relying too much on bloggers’ opinions to shape SBC work.

“In years past,” White wrote, “Southern Baptists found leadership in men who built great churches through powerful biblical preaching and passionate personal evangelism. A young pastor or layman would have years of work to “prove his stuff” before ever entering the public world of SBC leadership.”

“Now anyone with an Internet connection and a lot of time on his hands can sway the hearts and minds of Southern Baptists,” White said, adding that this could be positive if Southern Baptist “never fail to take the final cue from the great church builders and soul winners of the day.”

Blogging, whether many Baptists know it or not, is proving to be a powerful venue for the new generation of SBC leaders to influence their denomination’s course. Former LifeWay president Jimmy Draper exhorted a group of young pastors in Greensboro during the SBC annual meeting to, “Keep blogging. Be nice. Don’t judge motives, and celebrate the diversity we have.”

Then Draper quipped, “If you’re not careful, you’ll be as narrow-minded as you think some of us are.”

 

Can you be a biblical inerrantist and oppose the use of alcohol as a beverage?

Many of you will think this is a silly question. However, shortly after returning from the Southern Baptist Convention I read in the Dallas Morning News that a fellow Southern Baptist said “blanket opposition to drinking” was a “denial of the inerrant Word of God.” I will try to show that as a biblical inerrantist I am opposed to the use of alcohol as a beverage.

There is no easy way to get our arms around the subject. I hope to present my position in a kind and spiritual manner. I am no linguist, theologian or expert on the subject of alcohol as a beverage. I am simply a born-again believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, seeking to live for Jesus and encouraging other believers to do the same.

CONCESSIONS

It is obvious to the casual reader of the Bible that wine was a common drink of people of faith. From Noah to Paul, Bible heroes used wine. Strong drink is mentioned in the Bible as well. There is little doubt that many godly biblical figures drank alcohol as a beverage. Various Scripture verses indicate the blessing of God on the people of Israel in the Old Testament through wine (Psalm 104:15). Some worship incorporated the use of wine (Exodus 29:40). To deny the use of wine in the Bible is not a defensible position.

There were other practices in Bible times that we do not accept today. Multiple wives, concubines, even slave ownership were acceptable practices, regulated and not directly forbidden in the Scriptures. We understand that a higher standard is set from the Word of God that these practices are, not only not best, but unacceptable.

CONFLICT

A biblical inerrantist sees difficult passages in the Bible, even paradoxes, but no contradictions. To believe in biblical inerrancy one must have a high view of the nature of Scripture. However interpretation within the bounds of inerrancy is very wide.

I have no doubt a Church of Christ minister who believes in baptismal regeneration is a biblical inerrantist, but he does not hold to my interpretation that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

With all of the perceived endorsement of wine in the Bible, some could see a conflict arising in certain texts. There are many places the Scripture warns about the use of wine and strong drink.

Proverbs 23:31 makes perhaps the strongest case for a command to not use alcoholic wine. While some Hebrew scholars point to the difficulty of the translation to English, there is little dispute that the verse gives a prohibition to even look on fermented wine in this context.
Proverbs 20:1 is another verse condemning the use of wine and strong drink. Virtually every mention of wine in the book of Proverbs is a warning about the use of alcoholic beverages. Wisdom says stay away from it.

An interpretation tool known as the “law of first mention” would lead us to believe that the use of wine as a beverage is not a good practice. Genesis 9:20-25 tells of the sad account of Noah drinking wine, becoming intoxicated and bringing a curse upon his own grandson.

Drunkenness is universally condemned in the Scripture (Ephesians 5:18). Those who refrained from the use of alcoholic drink were commended and used in a great way. Numbers 6 tells of the Nazarite vow that even went to the extreme beyond abstinence from alcohol to forbid the use of grapes and raisins. The Rechabites were commended by the Lord for abstaining from wine (Jeremiah 35:14). John the Baptist was great in the sight of the Lord and did not drink wine or strong drink (Luke 1:15).

Civil and spiritual leaders are told to abstain from alcohol as a beverage (Proverbs 31:4; 1 Timothy 3:3). Daniel refused to drink wine and God blessed his conviction (Daniel 1:8).

Evidence abounds that God is pleased when people avoid alcohol as a beverage. His blessing can and will fall upon those who refrain from imbibing.

CONTEXT

Without too much appeal to history or extra-biblical material, I would point out that evidence exists that shows the ancients used a very different beverage than today’s wine coolers.

Several techniques were practiced to prevent or delay the fermentation process. Storage in a cool place extended the life of grape juice. This could have been done in caves and wells. Boiling prevented the fermentation of grape juice.

Wine was diluted for consumption. Scholars say that it varied from 1 part wine/4 parts water, to 1 part wine/20 parts water. The latter was more water purification than cutting the strength of the alcohol.

SPECIAL REPORT: Blogging: What is it?




SPECIAL REPORT

Baptist bloggers wielding influence, getting press in watershed year

Cyber world offers ministry helps for Texas Southern Baptists

They are relatively few in number and relatively young. Until recently few Southern Baptists were aware of their existence.

Yet their rhetoric influenced the mood, discussion and probably some outcomes at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention.

Who are “they?” Bloggers.

What is a “blogger?” Anyone maintains a blog.

Short for weblog, a blog is someone’s personal journal that is entered to a site on the Internet, available for public viewing and sometimes for responses from readers.

Blogs may be used for any purpose the author desires?as a diary, to report breaking news, as a commentary on topics of interest to the author, or a place to get on a soapbox and vent. The only standard formatting rule is that each entry should be dated.

Blogs of various kinds began popping up on the Internet in the late 1990s. The term “blog” was coined in 1997 by online diarest Jorn Barger, according to a blogging timeline at Wikipedia.com.

In the beginning stages, only those who knew how to create Web sites were keeping personal online journals. But software companies soon began to develop Web-based tools to make it easy to build a Weblog.

Online hosting services like blogger.com made setting up your own blog both instant and free.

Technorati.com is a site devoted to monitoring “what’s going on in the world of Weblogs”?the “blogosphere.” The company currently claims to track about 48 million blog sites. Its data indicate that each day about 75,000 new blogs are created and over one million new entries are posted to blogs. They also track the relevance and influence of blog sites based on how many hits (how many visits) a site receives, and how many other sites link to it.

An article on Technorati.com explains the power of blogs:

“They allow millions of people to easily publish their ideas, and millions more to comment on them. Blogs are a fluid, dynamic medium, more akin to a ‘conversation’ than to a library?which is how the Web has often been described in the past. With an increasing number of people reading, writing, and commenting on blogs, the way we use the Web is shifting in a fundamental way. Instead of being passive consumers of information, more and more Internet users are becoming active participants. Weblogs let everyone have a voice.”

The hills of home

The hills of home

Tammi and I like to travel. Since early June, we’ve been in 12 states, other than Texas. We drove and got a good look at the South as well as peek into the Midwest. Driving across Madison County, Arkansas (between Wesley and Tuttle if that helps) I was struck by how my home region looked and felt to me. It’s not a preference I’ve been encouraged to embrace.

As a family, we’ve traveled light for most of our 30 years. We didn’t even buy a house until about five years ago. I think it made us available, maybe too available, for new ministry opportunities.

I also take seriously Peter’s comment about being aliens and strangers on the earth. We are strangers here and embracing a place too tightly seems contrary to that idea. But the Ozarks region just seems special to me. Maybe that’s OK?this might be a godly instinct after all.

Most people treasure the place where they grew up. There are some good reasons for that. First, it’s comforting to go someplace where things are familiar. We’re not startled to find that the barbecue sauce is mostly vinegar or the meat is pork. We know five or six ways to get from one end of town to another. We know where our ancestors used to live. We can unclench a bit when the sights, smells, and memories seem right.

Secondly, we all value a place where we are known and loved. I can plop down in my folks house on the 40 year-old bench Dad made for the breakfast bar and pick up the same conversations we had when they were new. No one there needs me to earn my spurs every week or year. I belong. It’s comforting.

We also love a place that seems perfect. Don’t we idealize places and people no longer part of our “present tense?” It’s harder to remember the dull summer days and wondering how to fill the hours without helping with the yard work. Now I remember only the simplicity and peace of those days. The cranky aunt who baby-sat us is long forgiven and a nice part of the home county now. Yes, it is obviously not perfect but home seems more perfect than anyplace we can go, for now.

Even though part of the ongoing conversation back home has to do with how things are changing, home also seems relatively stable. Familiarity extends to the point that we can get far enough away from new development to find those places that are still the same. Last trip, I found out that I can still find Great Grandma’s house and that it still stands. So does the old barn. At home we can find places that affirm our desire for something unchanging.

Here’s why I’ve decided that this is all OK. These characteristics are true of our heavenly home and give us an analog for what’s still to come. It’s the same way that our earthly fathers should, and mostly do, prepare us to understand our relationship with our heavenly father. The image is not perfect but it whets our appetite for what is to come. That has value. All places should not be the same to us because of the meaning we attach to them?particularly the relationships they represent.

Most places I go, even in our current home town, there is a strangeness to the place in my eyes. Sometimes there is even risk or threat in the strangeness. The thought that this will give way to something more familiar, and I know it because my earthly home town is a snapshot of it, is part of the hope we get from our relationship with God through Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. We know a little of what our perfect home will feel like because we’ve experienced the second-best thing.

On the other hand, the center of God’s will is your sweet spot for now. The fact that another place on earth is special to you should not justify resentment of that different place you currently serve. We should go easy on the “boy, is this place backward” or “boy, is this place crowded” stuff. Remember that you are talking about someone else’s favorite place on the planet. They might miss the good things you say in the midst of the self-indulgent nonsense.

It is a great benefit to our ministries when we explore and value the unique charms of everyplace God plants us. Learning the peculiar history, dialect, and customs of our present tense location is part of submission to God’s will in putting us there. Maybe you’ll be an outsider to some for the next thirty years, but the effort will be winsome to most. It will change your heart as well as your accent.

Northwest Arkansas becomes a little less like home as things change and as people pass on. In a couple of years we’ll have children in three places where Tammi and I don’t live. This will change what I value “back home.” George Carlin used to say that home is where

Church plant aimed at later-generation Hispanics prospering in Houston area

HOUSTON?Four years ago, 15 couples met at Ryan’s restaurant in Houston to launch a new experiment. “I took the biggest gut check in my life,” said Sammy Lopez, Pastor of Fellowship Church of Houston, “and just followed the Lord.”

Hispanic culture is one of the fastest-growing cultures in the United States.

“It is very important that we reach them,” said Mike Gonzales, director of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention’s Hispanic Initiative. “They can be one of the most challenging people groups for Caucasians to reach.”

There are over 9 million Hispanics in Texas, and most are nominally Catholic.

Third- and fourth-generation Hispanics often run into one huge problem?language.

While the first generation speaks fluent Spanish, each generation progressively understands less and less of its cultural language, Gonzales said.

“We tend to lose most of the second- and third-generation Hispanics in our churches to large mega-churches.” Gonzales explained. “They go where the programs are.”

Fellowship Church of Houston exists to evangelize the third-and fourth-generation Hispanics in Houston. “We wanted to develop a church to hold our (Hispanic) culture but to function in English,” Lopez said. “Education has changed our culture. Young Hispanics have masters and doctorates and we are reaching them.”

It is the vision of Fellowship Church to provide a church community that is family oriented and maintains the culture with the appropriate communication.

“We speak English but we still know what a ‘chalupa’ is,” Lopez said.

Already a pastor of a church in Houston, Lopez wasn’t looking for a new calling. It was the discussion at Ryan’s that planted the vision for Fellowship Church in his mind.

“I had to ask myself, ‘Do I stay here and fight for the Spirit of God to work or do I go with the Spirit of God?'” Lopez said, “God told me, ‘Write down what the perfect church would be.’ I did, then God said, ‘Go and do it.'”

Four years later Fellowship Church is still strong.

“God is the builder of Fellowship,” Lopez said. “I don’t mean to sound clichéd but Fellowship Church is completely God’s.”

“Everyone knows that the Hispanic population in Texas is exploding,” said Terry Coy, SBTC senior church planting strategist and a fluent Spanish speaker. “What many people are not aware of is that the young, English speaking, later-generation Hispanic population is the fastest-growing segment of Hispanic-Americans. That is, Texas is not only becoming more and more Hispanic, it is becoming more and more English-speaking Hispanic.

Church finance ministry helps build church facilities and the kingdom




PAMPA?Cornerstone Baptist Church had a choice: let its building project sit unfinished until the church raised additional capital, or obtain a construction loan to complete it.

Located in the West Texas town of Pampa, Cornerstone averaged 85 in worship but was outgrowing the storefront it occupied. After six years, the congregation saved enough to purchase 20 acres of land and began building a new facility. But with rising building costs the funds quickly depleted, leaving an unfinished building frame on Pampa’s main thoroughfare.

Churches across Texas can probably identify with Cornerstone’s dilemma?continue building through financing or wait to raise the additional money. Doug Hixon, pastor of Cornerstone, was caught in a balancing act between good stewardship and expanding the church’s ministry.

“From a pastor-vision standpoint, I looked at all the possibilities. We were limited space-wise and running out of Sunday School rooms and of course with the shell of the building out there, I didn’t see it as good stewardship to let it sit for another six years,” Hixson said. “From a spiritual standpoint it would be advantageous to move out to our new location?to minister to a new group of people. From a business standpoint, it made sense for us to finish it out because of prices going up and uncertainty of what prices might be in another six years.”

At the urging of other pastors, Hixson contacted the Church Finance Ministry of the SBC’s North American Mission Board and was surprised at their competitive rate. After much prayer, the congregation decided a loan was the best route for the growth of its ministry.

NAMB’s Church Finance Ministry (CFM) has operated for more than 100 years and offers a range of services and products to Southern Baptist churches. Beyond mortgage and construction loans, CFM provides free advice and consultations related to all areas of finance.

CFM provides financial help and resources to SBC churches, assisting 600-plus congregations in the U.S. and Canada each year, including church loans totaling more than $130 million. The church lending of CFM began in 1900, and most of its interest income goes back to support missions in North America?primarily for church planting and evangelism.

For Cornerstone, discovering that the interest paid on its loan would support missions made a difference in its decision to finance the rest of the building project.

“When we found out the interest wasn’t going to buy the banker a Lexus, to know you have to pay interest but that it goes toward missions, it was a no-brainer,” Hixson said. “That was a deal-sealer for our people because paying interest was a struggle. You pay so much in interest when you borrow and to know that the interest was going toward missions took the decision out of our hands, and we felt like it was the will of God.”

Shawn Powers, CFM’s senior church finance consultant in Texas, said many of the churches that seek financial consultations with CFM have concerns about borrowing money. When the churches learn loan interest is funneled into missions, many reconsider financing, he said.

“Our goal is to save churches time and money by providing them custom financing options,” said Powers, a member of Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington. “We do that by helping pastors and lay leaders identify the means the Lord had given them. We provide a customized option based on the resources God has provided them and give them a financing recommendation. When they talk to local banks, they can see how each of those relate to the bottom line.”

But CFM recognizes that not all churches believe financing is a means of good stewardship. Karl Dietz, CFM director, says they encourage churches to be debt free.

“The more money that is not being used for debt can be used from ministry. Our primary interest is to help churches take on debt safely so they don’t fall into bondage,” Dietz said.

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