Month: July 2007

Lessons from two weeks of silence

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio. On May 15 I had a growth removed from my vocal cord. It was benign but the doctor told me I could not say a word for two weeks.

It was on this point that Gary Ledbetter and others said I needed to relay what it was like to not be able to speak a word for two weeks. Confession is good for the soul but bad for the reputation. I did let about a half-dozen words slip out, but they were barely audible. The hardest test during this time was refraining from telling people how awful their jokes were. Many people thought they would make me feel better by levity. The most common jab was that my wife, staff, other family members and the general public must have been enjoying me not talking. I don’t know how this was supposed to make me feel better, but it must have been therapeutic because I did recover.

The doctor said the next two weeks I could only say a few words a day in a “soft” voice. What I found out was that some of the stupid things I was thinking were best not said. I also discovered that most of the time other people would make comments similar to my thoughts.
Another great lesson was that noise doesn’t have to happen. Silence can be golden. My wife did the ordering at restaurants. This was a role reversal. Because I couldn’t talk, people thought I was deaf. They would speak louder than normal. They would act like I was not there on occasions and directed all conversation and eye contact towards my wife. They would say things as if I did not have a memory. I lost my voice, not my mind.

During the convention I was on “soft” voice conversation except for the doctor-authorized five-minute welcome on Tuesday morning. Now this was an extraordinary time to be around 5,000 preachers and not be able to raise my voice. I couldn’t talk over the music, crowd noise or other preachers. I had to nearly put my mouth to the ear of the person I wanted to talk to. This caused numerous intimate moments to arise. I became up close and personal with many people I hardly knew.

Currently, I am in a six-week rehabilitation. The doctor has given me permission to preach, but with certain restrictions. I can preach with a hot mic and only for 20 minutes. Every pastorless church in Texas is interested in me?until they find out that at the end of six weeks the 20-minutes restriction is lifted.

Thank you to all those who are praying for me. Our Lord is healing me. I am not 100 percent, but I am recovering.

Thank you Southern Baptists of Texas Convention! My election as first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention is a personal honor and a collective affirmation of the SBTC. Your prayers and participation impacted our Baptist Zion.

Clarity needed about SBC global warming statement

During an interview in the halls of the SBC, two of our seminary professors agreed that one reason for the aggressive stance of atheists in a couple of recent books has to do with the failure of one of their key doctrines. Both men pointed out that as many as half of our country’s citizens still don’t buy the basic tenets of Darwinism. In response, atheism gets increasingly shrill in pointing out the stupidity of religious people?hoping that volume and vitriol will accomplish what complete ownership of the academic establishment has not.

In demeanor, the Darwinist mafia is related to the global warming cult. Look at a couple of examples. When a state climatologist in the state of Washington disputed sloppy reporting of the thinning of the Cascade Mountains snow pack he was fired for embarrassing his boss, and for breaking with climate change dogma. So much for scientific precision. NASA administrator Michael Griffin angered some scientists when he said in an interview that global warming might not be “a problem we should wrestle with.” Just that. He didn’t deny climate change, just expressed doubt that we could do much about it. He was driven to apologize for stating this opinion, for getting involved in the whole debate really. Does anyone think he would have had to apologize for saying that climate change is the most important issue of our day?

The SBC, meeting in San Antonio, expressed a high degree of agnosticism toward the contemporary doctrine of global climate change. Our explanation of the resolution noted divergence in the scientific evidence and the predictable negative impact on the world’s poor if the world was to devote billions of dollars to maybe lowering the average temperature of the earth by a degree or two over the next hundred years.

True believers consider our viewpoint quaint, the ignorant say that we are abandoning our stewardship of creation as well as the commands of Jesus to be kind to the poor. What we said was very careful, though?perhaps too subtle for our knee-jerk detractors.

The resolution says, for example, that Southern Baptists should “proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research.” The apparent reason for this caution is in the next “resolved,” that actions taken based on maximum temperature goals “could lead to major economic hardships on a worldwide scale.”

All this is surrounded by acknowledgement that global temperature averages are changing and that some communities could be vulnerable to the negative effects of this. The resolution calls for action to help such communities. The resolution notes more than once our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth’s resources.

What’s so strange about that? I think it’s this; we’re exercising measured skepticism related to environmentalist dogma and they’re afraid that some will hear us. Foundations, university chairs, government jobs, and even industries have been built on the certainty that selected scientists know what will happen next, what causes it, and what people other than themselves should do in response. You’d best believe that these folks have a lot to lose if millions of Americans don’t sufficiently agree with them.

Southern Baptists don’t necessarily need to weigh in on every issue that makes the front page of Newsweek. This issue is one on which many religious people and organizations have felt compelled by peer pressure to take sides, though. The Bible says that we should care for God’s earth (not worship it) and this means that we should take seriously the impact of our actions on our environment. It is appropriate that we speak on this subject, however cautiously. The stance of our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, echoed by this year’s resolution, has hit the right note of concern without overreaction.

There is a high degree of probability that many Americans will have to back peddle, re-spin really, their statements on global climate change in a decade or two. That’s what happened when the 1970s prediction of a new ice age became obviously absurd. If Southern Baptists keep the primary things in sight amidst the increasing noise and clutter, as we are currently doing, we will have less to recant than will our neighbors.

Lord of nickels, noses and numbers

Southern Baptists have a love/hate relationship with statistics. On one hand, this is one imperfect way we have of evaluating ourselves. How are we doing as churches, individually and in cooperation? Part of that story is expressed in the measure of people and money. On the other hand, it is an imperfect measure. There is also the real danger that we’ll consider numerical success more thorough than it is. And then there is the real struggle with reporting and interpreting our numbers honestly. We need our numbers even as they vex us.

I think the guy who considers good numbers the whole story is a bit like Bigfoot?he’s probably out there but most of us will hear more of him than we see. A contrary, and also mostly legendary, beast is the sophisticate who “doesn’t do numbers” in order to give the illusion that he cares about people instead. Everyone “does numbers” in at least some informal way. Yet those two legends are invoked quite often when we begin to talk about the need to measure our resources. Each side cites the extreme view to justify their own convictions for or against the reporting of our stats.

God seems to be a pretty committed counter. He tells us the days of creation and assigned special meaning to one of them. He told Noah the how many clean and unclean animals to save from the great worldwide flood. He even gave Noah the dimensions for the ship he was to build. Even the number of days for the flood were specified, as was the span of time before they left the ark.

On we go through genealogies, the counting of tribes, the years of bondage, the number of great kingdoms on the earth (with their horns, heads and wings all counted), the portion we should return to the storehouse, the Lord’s knowledge of the hairs of our head, the number of the disciples, the days Jesus spent in the grave, the thousands saved on Pentecost, the number of the first deacons, the churches in John’s revelation, and hundreds of other examples. There is also a “fullness” of numbers after which God will again send Jesus?a number known only to God but a number nonetheless.

Some of the numbers were given to provide specificity to instructions and to nail down that these things actually occurred (or were/are to occur) in space and time. Other numbers were made up of individual souls, genealogies and tribal censuses. Don’t do numbers? God does.

At the same time, the Bible tells of individual heroes and heroines who were notable for their faith. The Father, the prophets, Jesus, and the disciples paid attention to individuals who needed a personal touch. Jesus seemed to be engaged in mass evangelism and yet took time for specific people who were changed by his touch or attention. The apostles preached in the synagogues and streets and yet also to beggars, centurions, kings, sellers of purple, jailers, and demon-possessed girls. Ministry to the numbered masses is not contrary to the idea of touching lives.

And why this foray into number-ology? Simply this: our customary counting of SBTC (the whole SBC does it, actually) statistics will begin next month. Consider for a minute why a church might not want to tell us the numbers of its members, baptisms, income, missions giving, and so on. Each year, we mail out the material with a letter. Later, we call and remind those who don’t respond. Some information we fill out while on the phone. A few we actually go visit and fill out the statistics face to face with the pastor or clerk. All that effort adds up to about 75 percent of churches reporting, on average.

Here’s why we, as a fellowship of churches working together, need to hear from your church on this. I have numbered points, for your convenience.

1) We strive to be strategic in our cooperative work. We don’t know how that’s working unless we hear from our partners in the field. It’s harder to see the holes in our strategy unless we have detailed reports to examine.

2) It allows us to evaluate how individual churches are doing. SBTC tries to do those things affiliated churches find helpful or needful. We can’t know that if we only have word-of-mouth information.

3) Part of knowing the raw truth about a joint effort is seeing which way the graph is tracking. We might not know that our evangelistic efforts are less effective if we never count up the numbers. We’re baptizing people regularly in my church, but I don’t know how this compares with other years unless we add it up. That process often suggests a need for change or redoubling of effort.

4) An Annual Church Profile report gives churches an occasion to see their own numbers. It encourages them to accurately evaluate their own effectiveness. Usually, some of the report comes as a surprise to most church leaders.

5) Churches are individuals so we can’t know a church until we spend time within it. On the other hand, we can know some things about the church from looking at its trends, changes in direction, times of apparent growth, and participation in various ministries.

The point is this; please fill out your ACP this year. I’ve tried to show that it is useful for your sister churches, even if you have no need for the information. Demonstrably, there is nothing ignoble about looking at our numbers. If things seem to be great, statistically, it needn’t lead you to pride since it is the Lord who brings the increase. Declining or plateaued numbers should be no reason for shame; many churches are in that same state. The first step to looking at answers is to acknowledge the reality of the situation.

It’s worth a few hours of your time. The hardest part is pulling together the numbers to put in the report. Compiling that information is a good idea in the first place. We just ask that you share it with us.

Special thanks to Troy Brooks for the idea for this column. I think he may have preached part of it in a sermon. Talk to me about the column, though. It’s all mine.

SBTC disaster relief volunteers respond to June 18 flooding

HALTOM CITY?Disaster relief volunteers with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention were busy for nearly a week helping residents of a mobile home park near Fort Worth clean up after flash floods on June 18 claimed a life and devastated mobile homes in a low-lying area.

DR volunteers worked amid water-damaged homes in the Skyline Mobile Home Park in Haltom City where one child died when she was carried away by rushing floodwaters during a rescue attempt.

Throughout North Texas June 18, flash floods devastated parts of Tarrant, Denton, Cooke and Grayson counties, with damage most severe in Cooke and Grayson counties, from Interstate 35 near Gainesville east to Sherman, about 90 miles north of Dallas. In all, six people died in North Texas, including a member of First Baptist Church of Sherman.

Damage to the mobile homes in Haltom City sent dozens of families to seek shelter elsewhere.
SBTC disaster relief volunteers assessed several dozen mobile homes in the lowest part of the neighborhood, which sits on a hill.

Nearby, two trailers sat nearly perpendicular to one another, with each 15-20 feet from where they stood before the waters washed them away. Behind the homes in a creek, one of the homeowners’ pickup truck rested partially submerged.

“What always strikes you is these are very poor folks,” said longtime disaster relief volunteer Paul Morrow of LakePointe Church in Rockwall. “Some of them are spending their nights here because they don’t have any other place to go. It breaks your heart. But that’s why we do this. It’s about the people. It’s not about the homes or the trees or whatever.

“We try to pray with all of them. Most of them are receptive. They know we care because they know we are doing this on our own time.”

For Scott Elledge, who said he owned 16 of the mobile homes in the neighborhood including the one he lived in with his wife and two children, the flooding has moved the family to another home elsewhere for good.

The Elledge home was ruined not only by water but by methane gas, which leaked from the water pressure.

Several times, Elledge expressed thankfulness for the work of the Southern Baptist volunteers, acknowledging that God has a reason for everything.

“This was my livelihood,” Elledge said. “Not anymore.”

The dead included 4-year-old Alexandria Collins of Haltom City, whom officials said was whisked away from her mother’s grasp as the two were trying to flee in a neighbor’s boat, and 2-year-old Makalya Marie Mollenhour, whose body was found June 19 about two-and-a-half miles south of the Pecan Grove Mobile Home Park in Gainesville, NBC television affiliate KTEN in Denison reported.

KTEN said the mobile home the family lived in was washed off its base and struck a bridge. The young girl’s grandmother, 60-year-old Billie Mollenhour, and her 5-year-old sister, Teresa Arnett, also died in the flooding.

Also among the dead was 75-year-old Reginald Gattis, a member of First Baptist Church in Sherman. The pastor of the church, Michael Lawson, said Gattis is survived by his wife, Thelma, and had been a member there for nearly eight years.

“In fact, he joined on the very same day we came there in view of a call?Nov. 14, 1999,” Lawson recalled.

Gattis was returning to Sherman in his pickup truck when the vehicle was overcome by water and he was unable to free himself, Lawson said.

Also, the home of another church member who was away in Colorado was overcome by high water, with the family’s car washed up against the back of the garage.

“They pretty much lost everything,” Lawson said.

The other identified victim is Patricia Beshears, a Denison woman killed when her car stalled in floodwaters near Sherman.

HIV/AIDS ministry in S. Africa laboring amid continental pandemic

In the sub-equatorial village of Mmametlhake, South Africa, people are beginning to see promise against the spread of HIV/AIDS that has ravaged so much of the population. The village and surrounding areas are receiving help from the Mmametlhake Family Care Centre, which not only tends to HIV-infected people but also offers the gospel.

“I didn’t know that the center was going to be so important,” said Bethuel Motau, the director of the center, which works closely with Southern Baptists. “We have been able to make a big impact on the people.”

Texas Southern Baptists played a crucial role in the founding of the center. Also, proceeds from the SBTC’s 5K “Race Against Time” last November in Austin went to the ministry in a country with more than 5 million HIV-infected people.

The center began in 2003 as a vision by two men, former Texan Andy Wilkinson and Motau. Offering a variety of services, the center reaches people living as far as 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in any direction from Mmametlhake.

The center provides caregivers, who have been trained to tend to people with HIV, counselors who work with the families of the infected, HIV education programs, which also stress the importance of building strong family ties, and a job creation program. The center is working to incorporate a lab where people will be able to develop computer skills.

Providence crosses paths
Wilkinson’s and Motau’s paths crossed in 2002 and they quickly formed a close relationship when Wilkinson, a former petroleum engineer, went on a mission trip to South Africa to help drill water wells with his church at the time, First Baptist of Grapevine.

“Andy was very passionate about the HIV situation there and what we as Christians can do about it,” said Jack Harris, a senior associate in the SBTC evangelism office who was then the executive pastor at FBC Grapevine.

Wilkinson has had a heart for missions since the age of 10, he said. In 1995, he went on a mission trip to Botswana, at which point he decided that he wanted to be involved in Africa when he retired.

After his visit to South Africa in 2002, he decided to put his oil business and his house in Southlake up for sell. He and his wife, Gay, then applied to the International Mission Board and spent two years in Mmametlhake.

To support the center Wilkinson began the Foundation for HIV/AIDS Relief in South Africa, a non-profit organization. He now resides in Colorado, but is heavily involved in the ministry, usually taking three trips a year to Mmametlhake.

“We want the Lord to raise up men like Andy who see things through the eyes of the Lord,” Motau commented. “He has encouraged me, built me spiritually, and even helped fix my car.”
Laboring for the gospel comes early for Motau. A typical day consists of him and his wife Monica waking up at 4 a.m. He musters just enough strength and motivation for his 60-year-old feet to touch the ground, he said.

“Sometimes in the morning I hurt,” said Motau, who has been a pastor in central South Africa since 1982. “But it is the joy of the Lord that gets me out of bed.”

The two listen to a local Christian radio program as they sit down at the breakfast table to eat. Afterwards, the couple prays for the church and their community.

The phone calls come as early as 5:30 a.m., often requesting the presence of Motau at the bedside of an HIV carrier.

“When somebody is sick, they need someone there next to them ? a shoulder,” Motau said. “I try to be available as much as I can.”

At 8 a.m. he arrives at the Mmametlhake Family Care Centre?unless he is called to visit a local chief or speak to youth in a school about HIV, where he will also share the gospel. He will be at the center until 5 p.m. The day concludes by making another stop to visit an ill person or a grieving family, putting him home at 6:30 p.m.

“The more I see people coming to the Lord, the more it’s my passion,” Motau said. “There is a joy sharing about Christ, even to someone who is about to die.”

HIV rate hasn’t peaked yet
Unfortunately for the ministry and for the population, the rate of infection is still above the death rate for the 20-plus year epidemic.

“In South Africa, 1,800 people are dying a day and still 2,000 a day are becoming positive with HIV. That means the epidemic hasn’t even peaked,” Wilkinson said.

Of the 5 million people diagnosed with HIV, only 50,000 are receiving substantive treatment.
“There is no hope on the horizon that the masses of people will be saved [from HIV/AIDS],” Wilkinson said. “That’s our strong push for evangelism.”

The gospel message is becoming more prominent within the region, Wilkinson said.

The majority of the workers at the center are born-again Christians. Motau is in charge of five other pastors whom he sends out to minister to area residents.

Christians are beginning to be noticed and associated with healthy living, which has caused many people in the area to want the hope Motau and the other workers at the care center demonstrate, Motau observed.

There has been a change in the relationship between the government and culture of South Africa to local Christians too, he said.

“One school system is begging for a pastor to come in to the school and present True Love Waits to the students,” Wilkinson said. “The principal is not a Christian, but he wants them to start a Christian youth movement in the school.”

The South African government has tried to implement contraceptive programs to weaken the rate of infection, but they have only incurred more infections, Wilkinson said. People are now finding that in the areas where family morals and programs such as True Love Waits are presented, the rate of infection has declined, Wilkinson added.

“People are responding well because they are desperate,” said Motau, who was recently invited by an HIV-positive tribal chief to share about HIV and about Christ with his village.
The SBTC’s 5K race in Austin last year raised $13,400 to be used to help pay the salaries of the center’s workers and other monthly needs of the center. The monthly budget for the center is around $3,000, Wilkinson said.

Currently the center is planning to add a computer-training area. Also, they would like to create a hospice-type environment for patients and families suffering from AIDS.