Month: November 2007

New Texas cancer research funding being watched by Christian ethicists, lawyers

AUSTIN?Issues of when life begins came to the forefront after Texas voters passed Proposition 15 during the Nov. 6 elections. Proposition 15 enacted a state constitutional amendment authorizing the Texas Public Finance Authority to issue up to $3 billion in general obligation bonds? but not exceeding $300 million per year?on behalf of the newly-created Cancer Research and Prevention Institute.

A House Research Office digest summary of Proposition 15 stated: “The Institute would support researchers in finding the causes of and cures for all types of cancer in humans, provide grants for cancer research and research facilities, and establish the appropriate standards and oversight bodies to ensure the proper use of funds.”

Although Proposition 15 contained no direct references to embryonic stem cell research, cancer researchers in Texas are looking to embryonic stem cells as a source for seeking cures for cancer. In September, for example, the Baylor College of Medicine announced receipt of an $8.7 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences intended to “kick-start research with human embryonic stem cells in Texas.”

On the federal level, President George Bush has resisted federally funding the harvesting of embryos for their stem cells, and he has limited federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to certain already established “lines” of stem cells. In connection with Proposition 15, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has stated his opposition to using the $3 billion for cancer research for human embryonic stem cell research.

The problem with Proposition 15, said Kelly Shackelford, president and general counsel of the Free
Market Foundation, is that in Texas there is no legislation, written policies or guidelines in effect to regulate how this cancer research money may be disbursed.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s stem cell information website, stem cells are cells that can divide in a culture for indefinite periods of time.

Totipotent stem cells have the potential, under the right conditions, to develop into any cell type that makes up the human body. Multipotent stem cells can develop into a limited number of cells.
Pluripotent stem cells “give rise to any type of cell in the body except those needed to develop a fetus.” Totipotent and pluripotent stem cells attract the most attention.

Embryonic stem cells come from human embryos?fertilized human eggs that contain DNA from the father and mother and a complete genetic blueprint for a unique human being?that are a few days old. This is why some Baptist ethicists and public policy advocates in Texas believe embryonic stem cell research is wrong.

“If you believe that life begins at conception, what happens with embryonic stem cell research is you wind up cloning and killing human embryos,” said Craig Mitchell, assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “What they are doing is playing with human life.”

The Free Market Foundation’s Shackelford said: “Because of President Bush’s restriction on using federal taxpayer money for cloning an embryo to grab its stem cells, most people assume it is that way in Texas. In fact, we don’t currently have anything in Texas that prohibits state money from being used that way.”

But proponents of embryonic stem cell research do not think there should be any restrictions on state funding, regardless of whether the authorizing legislation comes through Proposition 15 or somewhere else. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, criticized public policy groups that spoke against Proposition 15 funds being used for embryonic stem cell research.

“These cynical attacks on funding for cancer research are an example of political extremism at its worst,” Miller said in a press release two days after the election. “Once again we see pressure groups pushing political obstacles in the way of sound science and hope for so many patients fighting for their lives.”

Dan Quinn, Texas Freedom Network’s director of communications, told the TEXAN there is a fundamental disagreement between proponents and opponents of embryonic stem cell research centering on the basic issue of when human life begins.

“Those that support it do not believe they are terminating a life,” Quinn said. “We are talking about a small number of cells that are allowed to grow in a dish. There is no intention of implanting them into a womb; they are never implanted into a womb.”

Mitchell and Shackelford both said research arising from adult stem cells has netted many cures and medical benefits. Mitchell said there are no such ethical issues with regard to use of adult stem cells. Shackelford said adult stem cell research is where Texas should concentrate its efforts.

“Since we have all this money for cancer research, we could make Texas the national leader in adult stem cell research,” he said. “The money could be funneled into something that is good and is really working.”

Mitchell said he hopes tax-paying Texas Baptists carefully consider how their cancer research money is spent.

“We should not give the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute a blank check to spend that money any way they want,” Mitchell said. “We should instead place some boundaries regarding how they can use this money and on what sort of research they can do ? Not only is it a concern for morality and human life, it is also about the morality of wasting tax dollars.”

Convention business sessions draw little dissent from floor

ARLINGTON–Offering fellowship but not affiliation to churches in surrounding states, messengers meeting at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Nov. 12-13 in Arlington rejected a constitutional change that would have allowed affiliation by non-Texas churches.

Messengers quickly decided on that and one other bylaw proposal that passed, then approved eight resolutions with no more than a handful of dissenters.

Messengers approved a bylaw change to replace the word “drunkenness” as it appears in several instances to “the use of alcohol as a beverage,” stipulating that such practice is unacceptable for employees and members elected to the executive board, committees and offices of the SBTC.

A motion offered last year that sought to permit affiliation by Southern Baptist churches outside Texas was rejected, following the advice of the Executive Committee. Non-Texas churches wishing to train and fellowship in Texas were welcomed to do so.

“Our rationale in thinking through this is that we want to be co-laborers and good partners with the SBC and other state conventions, but to accept churches outside of Texas would endanger that goodwill relationship,” explained SBTC Executive Board Chairman Joe Stewart of Littlefield. He offered several reasons why out-of-state churches along Texas borders might want to affiliate, calling SBTC’s generosity in sending 54 percent of receipts to the SBC unprecedented.

Furthermore, the core values that provide a minimal bureaucracy, theological integrity and missions focus are practices to be applauded, he said.

However, Stewart said the board preferred to remain in cooperation with other state conventions rather than becoming competitive.

“We are the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and must draw the line somewhere. We believe the state border is a good place to do that.”

During consideration of the budget, Mike Nelson of Northrich Baptist Church in Richardson asked where he might find “results of the money being spent” as evidenced by “baptisms, church plants or Bibles produced,” adding that he did not find what he was looking for in committee reports.

SBTC Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis referred him to staff reports in material distributed to messengers and recalled that the earlier missions report noted 108 church plants. SBTC Evangelism Director Don Cass said a report based on 2007 figures would be ready at the Feb. 4-6 evangelism conference along with “a reflection of where we’ve come in the last five years.”

Unanimous approval was given without discussion to the six resolutions that addressed regenerate church membership, the importance of sound doctrine for true unity, Christian civility, support for covenant marriage, biblical literacy and appreciation for SBTC President Steve Swofford.

The other two resolutions, one on evangelistic outreach and pioneer missions, and the other on the role of the Baptist Faith & Message, were approved by all but a handful of messengers.

Resolutions Committee Chairman Bart Barber of Farmersville introduced the first resolution which urged churches “to renew their commitment to regenerate church membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ’s lordship for all members of local churches,” with the aim of glorifying God, edifying his people and more effectively evangelizing the lost.

The statement also affirmed baptism only of believers by immersion, renewal of the practice of redemptive church discipline, review of membership rolls and accountability among members, celebration of the Lord’s Supper as a meaningful memorial, and development of congregants capable of responsible self-governance.

John Mann of Springtown presented the resolution on sound doctrine, stating that it cannot be compromised when establishing a New Testament church and a unified convention. The resolution affirmed “ongoing doctrinal conversation within Baptist life for the purpose of further defining ourselves, evangelizing this world, and growing in relationship and obedience to God.”

Lynn Cunningham of Grapevine introduced the resolution describing the role of the Baptist Faith & Message as the “instrument of doctrinal accountability,” considering it appropriate for all Southern Baptist entities to employ as the minimal theological standard by which they operate.

The appropriateness of entities adopting and enforcing “additional theological standards” as part of the unique responsibility of trustee boards was upheld, with the stipulation of “conscientious accountability to the convention” in its governance.

The resolution upheld the liberty of any individual not in a fiduciary or employee relationship with the SBC or its entities “to accept or reject, in part or in total” the tenets expressed in BF&M.

Messenger Mike Nelson asked for clarification as to whether the resolution referred to the most recent revision in 2000 or an earlier version from 1963 or 1925.

“I believe that any doctrinal statement that someone’s going to take ought to be brought back before this convention and voted upon,” Nelson said.

Barber said the committee regarded the current BF&M as the one addressed while agreeing with Nelson’s call for accountability.

“The convention always has the opportunity to express an opinion on any action we take,” he said, noting the language in the resolution calling on trustees to operate in “conscientious accountability.”
The resolution was approved overwhelmingly with three votes in opposition to it.

Jerry Stelter of Lubbock presented the resolution on Christian civility which stated the “application of Christian decorum and decency often lags behind the development of new forms of technology and communication.”

In approving the statement, messengers committed to follow biblical mandates and Christian convictions while treating others with Christian civility and kindness.

Damon Simpson of Porter offered the resolution supporting covenant marriage, citing the dramatic rise in divorce rates in Texas because of no-fault divorce laws and government policies that fail to protect the institution of marriage. The statement passed by messengers encouraged the introduction and passage of laws that will encourage marriage and discourage divorce.

Following Cunningham’s presentation of the resolution on evangelistic outreach and pioneer missions, messenger Jack Broadwater of Burton sought clarification on the call for greater mission efforts and resources in reaching the unreached areas of the U.S.

“Is that going to come out of our Cooperative Program giving–the 54 percent we give to the SBC or will that be coming out of the 46 percent we are retaining in Texas in lieu of the statement this morning that this is a Texas convention?”

Barber clarified the difference in a resolution as an expression of opinion and a motion that calls for a course of action.

“My opinion is everyone ought to give more faithfully to the Cooperative Program so that we have more resources to apply into areas like this,” referring to the stated concern for “significant cities and states within the U.S. that remain under-engaged by Southern Baptist mission efforts.”

The resolution passed with only one objection.

B.B. Alvarez of Dallas addressed biblical literacy as messengers resolved to give a higher priority to biblical knowledge and its importance to the development of a Christian worldview.

“The full counsel of Scripture is a heritage that should be taught to future generations in fulfillment of Christ’s command to make disciples,” the resolution stated, commending to churches’ cooperative efforts of the SBTC with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Criswell College, and Jacksonville College “for the promotion of further instruction of biblical knowledge and practice.”

A final resolution approved by messengers commended Swofford for leading the convention “in a winsome and pastoral manner, serving our convention unselfishly and in the spirit of Christian grace,” with appreciation expressed to First Baptist Church of Rockwell in sharing their pastor’s time.

Committee on Order of Business Chairman Michael Lewis praised “the wonderful spirit of cooperation by messengers.

“What a blessing it is to dwell together in unity and have a likemindedness of the gospel,” Lewis said.

SBTC Executive Board funds ministry projects with budget surplus funds

ARLINGTON?The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Executive Board on Nov. 14 elected a new slate of officers and voted to disburse $1.33 million in surplus funds for non-budgeted ministry projects, ranging from church planting initiatives in New York state to church revitalization projects in Texas.

The board elected by acclamation new board officers Dale Perry, pastor of Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler, chairman; John Brunson, a member of Houston’s First Baptist Church, vice chairman; and Carmel Melton, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Andrews, secretary.

The board’s surplus funding includes:
?$200,000 for the printing of Chinese Bibles through LifeWay Christian Resources’ “A Defining Moment” ministry campaign.
?$200,000 for an indoor fountain area and baptistery inside the planned chapel at Southwestern Seminary.
?$150,000 for church planting and missions partnerships in the Hudson Valley Association of New York state.
?$25,000 for a ministry tent to be used at various SBTC and church events.
?$300,000 in funding toward the SBTC Foundation.
?$25,000 as a VBS associational supplement.
?$55,000 for the 360 Sunday School emphasis and training;
?$50,000 for special projects;
?$105,000 for future computer technology personnel;
?$100,000 for the 2009 Evangelism Conference;
?$50,000 for the SBTC Hispanic Initiative;
?$15,000 for Asian ministry;
?$55,000 for the Ezekiel Project for church revitalization.

At the end of 2006, the SBTC held surplus funds of $4,1 million and surplus is expected to be $6.25 million at year’s end.

Former LifeWay President Jimmy Draper, who is leading the “Defining Moment” campaign, told the board that a Chinese-language New Testament for the first time has been translated from the original
biblical languages into native languages by Chinese scholars.

“They believe they can distribute 500,000 Bibles this year” if the funds are available, Draper said.
Also at the meeting was Southwestern Seminary’s Mike Hughes, vice president for development, who thanked the board for its generosity toward the school.

The board also heard from Nevada church planter David Pretlove, a native Texan with whom several SBTC churches have partnered in planting Life Church in Reno.

Pretlove opened the meeting with a devotional, sharing how he and his wife and daughters are ministering in what he said is one of the most unchurched cities of the country. He remarked that when he tells people he is a pastor, they remark, “Wow, I’ve seen some of you guys on TV, but now I am seeing one in real life.”

Pretlove said God has blessed the church by bringing about 200 people into worship services each week and allowing them to baptize more than 20 people this year.

“God is changing lives. It’s very exciting as we’re seeing people who had no frame of reference, never
been to church in their whole lives. ? being transformed.”

The church is also working to plant other churches in the area, he said.

Pretlove told of a couple named Lawrence and Michelle who came to Christ, as well as a UPS driver and some women who work in a local salon.

“Every person who comes in that salon they invite to Life Church,” Pretlove said.

When Pretlove finished, SBTC Missions Director Robby Partain presented him with a $10,000 check from the SBTC to help further the ministry there.

Sean Pierce, director of missions in the Hudson Valley Association of New York, also attended the meeting, telling the board that of the 28 Baptist churches in the association, which includes several counties, 15 were planted in the last five years.

Baptisms are up 22 percent this year in area Baptist churches, Pierce said, and the statistics show one baptism for every seven members there?a much higher than average ratio among Southern Baptist churches.

The board formally approved affiliation requests from 48 churches, raising the number of SBTC affiliated churches to 1,961.

SBTC Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis told the board that through September, the convention was $1,541,897 ahead of Cooperative Program budget receipts and had a net operating income of $1,799,218.

Mission offering gifts through September included $6.53 million for international missions through the Lottie Moon Offering, $2.04 million for North American missions through the Annie Armstrong Offering, and $327,147 for state missions through the Reach Texas Offering.

Davis reported that the SBTC Foundation continues to seek an executive director, and he called on board members to pray for God’s man and to elicit candidates for the job.

Fort Worth church disagrees on ‘gay’ couples

FORT WORTH?Photo shoots for a pictorial directory have brought to light a dilemma over the acceptance of homosexual couples in a large Baptist church in Fort Worth.

Members of Broadway Baptist Church, affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Tarrant Baptist Association, are divided on whether or not homosexual couples should be pictured together in the same way as photos of other couples within the church.

“For decades Broadway has had gay members as part of our membership, but no couple had been pictured as a couple in a church directory,” pastor Brett Younger said in a statement to the membership of the church. The possibility of including homosexual couples in the directory “was troubling to many,” Younger acknowledged, “as they saw it as a change of direction and it is understandable that they would feel that way.”

For now, Younger said the pictorial directory is on hold and the material that was to be used in it will be considered for inclusion in publications celebrating the church’s 125th anniversary next year.

Several church members were hesitant to speak to Baptist Press on the record, but confirmed that several people serving on and leading committees within the church are living as open homosexuals.

For his part, Younger said he wants to avoid drawing attention to the controversy because it may inflame the debate on both sides within the church.

“There are a lot of people who want to take this and make it a statement one way and a lot of people who want to take this and make a statement the other way,” he said. “But there are a lot more of us who just want to go on learning how to serve Christ and one another better.”

In his statement to the church, Younger praised how Broadway has handled the issue of homosexuality among church members in the past.

“Broadway has for years had an amazing policy on including gay people. It’s not a policy that a committee came up with, or the staff or the deacons. It’s an unwritten policy that came out of the shared life of this congregation, a policy I believe was inspired by the Spirit,” he said. “This church has for a long time included both gay people who are committed to Christ and members who aren’t affirming and who have serious questions, but who are willing to share the church. This has allowed us to be a congregation where the conversation can take place about being gay and being Christians.”

Broadway has been a significant part of Baptist life in Tarrant County since 1883. One of Broadway’s pastors was involved in the effort to locate Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and various others have been professors at the seminary. However, the church has maintained a certain level of disagreement with the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979 when the Conservative Resurgence began to turn the SBC toward biblical inerrancy. Cecil Sherman, the first executive director of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, came to that post after being senior pastor of Broadway from 1985-92. The church is listed as a CBF church on the CBF website.

Texans see some victories in liquor elections

On Nov. 7, more than 80 Texas counties and cities decided on propositions to alter beverage alcohol sales in their communities, with some alcohol foes losing in cities such as Rockwall and winning in places like Sunnyvale.

Most of the communities had two propositions introduced. The first proposition would allow for liquor to be sold or change the percentage of alcohol content of drinks sold in restaurants.

The second proposition allowed for alcohol to be sold off premises or would allow for alcohol to be sold in stores. While these battles raged across Texas, some Southern Baptist churches engaged their communities on the issue with church members, churches and associations taking part.

The liquor option battles in Sunnyvale and Mesquite are two instances of Baptist involvement in the beverage alcohol issue.

Save Our Communities, a political action committee, was established through the concern of three members of First Baptist Church in Sunnyvale and also involved members from Galloway Park Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church, both in Mesquite, plus other concerned citizens.

“We formed Save Our Community when we first heard about the propositions. Save Our Community (SOC) was formed to gather signatures to keep these propositions off the ballot,” said Sue Ann Mackey of Save our Community. “We gathered enough signatures in Sunnyvale, but not in Mesquite.”
Mesquite was a partial victory. Voters kept alcohol sales out of stores by rejecting a question titled Proposition 2, but saw restaurants gain leeway in their alcohol service.

A pro-alcohol expansion political action committee called Save Our Stores campaigned hard for the propositions.

“Proposition 2 removed the restriction on how far away from a church, school or daycare an establishment that sold liquor had to be.” Mackey of Save our Community said. “What made this intense for us is that all of our schools are on one of the main thoroughfares. If they removed this restriction there would be over 200 establishments that could apply for a liquor license.”

The state of Texas’ only requirement to obtain a liquor license is that an establishment must sell at least $10,000 worth of food items a year.

“Any store that sells at least $10,000 in ice could apply for a license.” Mackey said.

The political battle intensified. The proponents of Proposition 2 began an advertising campaign. Save our Stores was supported by outside organizations hoping to repeal the liquor laws in Mesquite.

“If Proposition 2 passed,” Mackey said, “it would take local control away from the cities and give it to the state.”

In contrast, Save Our Communities raised about $10,000 dollars to fight against Proposition 2.
“It really was a grassroots effort to overturn this proposition,” Mackey said.

The opposition spent almost $121,000 trying to convince the communities of Mesquite and Sunnyvale that repealing the liquor law would benefit both communities.

Because several grocery stores shut their doors recently in Mesquite and in Sunnyvale, proponents of Proposition 2 claimed that these stores were closing due to the loss of money the stores were not making in liquor sales.

“We found that the stores were closing not because they could not sell liquor, but because of poor financial decisions by their corporate offices.” Mackey said.

Save Our Stores also proposed that the communities of Mesquite and Sunnyvale would lose at least $6 million in tax money annually by rejecting these numbers.

“We crunched the numbers at Save Our Community and found that in order to make $6 million dollars in tax money there would have to be over $300 million dollars in liquor sales,” Mackey said. “The local community only gets 2.5 percent of the 8 percent of the liquor tax.”

“But ultimately it was a moral issue for us. Alcohol is a drug and we really saw it as preventing drug use in our schools,” Mackey said. “Alcohol has never proved to do anyone any good, except for the seller.”

The people of Mesquite voted on Proposition 2 and defeated it. Save Our Community helped raise awareness about how the passing of Proposition 2 would change their community.

The battle did not go as well in Houston County, but it was the churches there that helped raise awareness about upcoming elections.

Bill Jones of the Neches River Baptist Association helped the churches there battle the two propositions.

“Most of the major grocery stores had people out front collecting signatures to put these two propositions on the ballot,” Jones said. “Nothing really happened after the signatures were gathered until our associational meeting. There all the churches in Houston and in Trinity counties went on the record as saying, ‘We are opposed to these two propositions.'”

The association found a company that would sell them yard signs at cost.

“We were able to buy 300 signs at $17 to hand out for people to put in their yard,” Jones said.
The yellow signs had “Vote No for Alcohol” written in red.

“First Baptist Church, Crockett, was really helpful. A member of their church purchased 200 of these signs for people to take home and put in their yards.”

“Vote No for Alcohol” launched on a Sunday. The pastor of FBC Crockett, Keeney Dickenson, allowed for all of the signs to be placed around his church that Sunday.

“It was pretty impressive,” Jones said. “If you drove past the church you could not miss it.” Dickenson encouraged the members of FBC Crockett to take home a sign to place in their yards. “Vote No for Alcohol” also ran radio advertisements every hour for the two weeks before the election.

“We spent about $8,000 getting our message out,” Jones said.

Despite all of the hard work, the Houston County liquor propositions passed.

“The final total was something like 2,500 for and 2,000 against.” Jones said. “There were several positives things to take away from this even though we lost.”

The treasurer of the opposition called Dickenson to apologize for the tone of a radio ad that ran.

“We let people know where we stood politically but in a very Christian way,” Jones said. “A Christian attitude was very evident throughout the process.”

Former actress Lisa Whelchel gives audience the facts for the Spirit-led life

ARLINGTON?There wasn’t a dramatic conversion experience for Lisa Whelchel?just the realization in the heart of a 10-year-old child that she wanted to hold on forever to the feeling she got when she entered the little Baptist church down the road from her house.

Anyone older than 35 remembers Whelchel as the preppy and perky Blair Warner of the television series “Facts of Life,” which ended its nine-year run in 1988. Those younger than 35, mothers in particular, perhaps know her best for the advice and encouragement she dispenses as an author and popular speaker.

Whelchel, now 44, a mother of three and married to a pastor, spoke to the annual Women’s Luncheon during the SBTC meeting.

Although she was immersed in Hollywood and lived for weeks at a time away from the influences of home and church, Whelchel did not go the way of many child actors. She would later credit her stable life to the contentment she had in her faith.

Drawing from experiences in her own life, Whelchel told those gathered for the luncheon to fill any perceived void in their lives with God alone. When an individual becomes a Christian they are filled with the Holy Spirit. But, she added, we must, each day, continue to be filled in order to be led by Jesus and be content.

Her salvation came in a Sunday School room. Whelchel said she and a friend had attended because they “wanted to dress up and go somewhere.” She kept attending?first because of the donuts and orange juice but eventually because of the spiritual food she was being fed.

“Every time I walked through those church doors, I felt like my heart was home,” she recalled.

Her Sunday School teacher told Whelchel that feeling was the love of Jesus and she could have that feeling at home as well and led her in the prayer for salvation. It wasn’t until years later that Whelchel understood the concepts of sin and grace.

By the time she was a teenager, Whelchel, a native Texan now living in the Dallas area, was an active member of her church youth group and a main character on a popular TV show. Going through the trials and travails of adolescence is hard enough, she said, without having to do it on television.

During a two-year stint on the show, Whelchel had a very noticeable weight gain. Producers of the show strongly urged her to lose the weight or lose her role. They brought healthy food to the set, hired an exercise coach, and even resorted to humiliation. Each morning a scale was brought to the offices and, in front of staff members, Whelchel had to step on the scale to show any progress in her weight loss.

She was devastated and wanted to quit. Back at her youth group in Texas, Whelchel shared her feelings with a friend who told her God would be disappointed if she gave up. Then he asked her something she had never considered. Whelchel was asked how much time she spent with the Lord.
Having read her Bible and prayed daily since she was 10, the answer was obvious, she said.

But daily devotionals were not what God was seeking. Whelchel was told to go back to Los Angeles and eat whatever she wanted and get up 30 minutes earlier than usual and spend time with God.

Living in a one-room apartment with her grandmother, the only place Whelchel could be alone with God was the bathroom. So sitting on the toilet (“With the lid down!” she said), she opened her Bible and began to wonder what she was supposed to do that she had not already done in her time with God. But over time she began to “get it.”

“I could just feel the presence of the Lord right there. I was feeding on the Word of God. There was something about it that was filling me up. Those empty places I was trying to fill up with food.”

Her time alone with God became more than Scripture reading and prayer. It became a conversation with the Lord and the “time with God” her friend had inquired about had been transformed, as was her life. No longer did food fill the spaces left empty. She was filled with God and found contentment.

The pounds did not melt away with this newfound relationship but over the years, it guided her life and gave Whelchel a greater sense of God’s will in her life, she said.

When “The Facts of Life” went off the air, Whelchel assumed she would keep acting?for the glory of God. Being a popular actress and a Christian gave her a venue for reaching out to teenagers and she hoped to continue that ministry.

But God had other plans, she said. The acting jobs did not come. And the one reading she did get?a shoo-in for the part, according to her manager?she bombed. Sitting in her van outside the producer’s office Whelchel asked God why. The response was not audible but clearly understood.

Anyone, she recalled God saying, can share the gospel.

“I can only use you to be a wife and mother.”

From that point on, Whelchel threw herself into her new role. She read every book and applied all of the tenets with no results. When she cried out to God for help, she learned, again, that she had to let God fill her. What was even more difficult, Whelchel admitted, she had to learn to let go of her children and let God take control.

Hanging on to her children, keeping them tightly reined in, was a response to her love and care for her kids. Trying to control something or someone, she said, is a response of love, albeit misguided. When she gave her children over to God, it was his wisdom and his guidance that began to influence her parenting.

“My answer was not to hold on tighter but to give control over to him.”

Addressing the audience directly, Whelchel said, “There is something you’re holding onto so tightly because you care so much. We can care best by letting go.”

SBTC Bible Conference speakers urge diligence while walking through fire

ARLINGTON–“Give Me This Mountain!” was the theme for the 2007 SBTC Bible Conference Nov. 11-12, and conference speakers addressed the hardships and victories associated with three sub-theme: “Striving Through the Fire,” “Staying with Faithfulness,” and “Seeing by Faith.”

Those attending the Bible Conference, formally called the Pastors’ Conference, concluded by electing officers for the 2007-’08 Bible Conference.

The new Bible Conference officers are: Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, president; Franklin Callaway, pastor of Truevine Missionary Baptist Church, Spring, vice president; C.C. Phillips, pastor of Unity Spirit Baptist Church, Houston, secretary-treasurer.

The outgoing officers–President Don Wills, Vice President Billy Norris and Secretary-Treasurer Lyn Holley–were recognized for their service.

The conference voted to approve the formation of a committee to study formally changing the name of the conference from “Pastors’ Conference” to “Bible Conference.” The recommendation will be made at the 2008 conference, although the name Bible Conference is being used.

Striving Through The Fire
Addressing the themes for the conference, pastors pulled from a variety of biblical sources as they warned pastors to expect conflict and struggles within their churches and their personal lives as they strive through the fire.

But being prepared for those times, as guest preacher Ernest Easley said, will enable Christians to stroll through the furnace instead of struggling there, referencing the account of the three Hebrew children in Daniel 4.

“The time and place to decide is long before you find yourself striving through the fire,” Easley said. Referring to the commitment of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Easely noted, “They didn’t bow because they had devotion. They didn’t bend because they had conviction. They didn’t burn because they had protection.”

Easley, pastor of Roswell Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. said pastors can expect to experience adversity but they will, as their predecessors did, be able to endure.

“Not,” Easley said, “because you are able, but [God] is able.”

Dennis Baw, pastor of Glenview Baptist Church, Fort Worth, said Paul in writing to Timothy to come to Rome quickly as he was held prisoner there and to bring Mark with him recognized his need for good friends.

“Who is standing with you?” he asked.

Recalling Isaiah 43:1-3, Baw reminded the congregation that God promised to see his people through the water and fire. By believing God’s promises and remembering what God has done for them in the past, Baw exhorted those gathered to look to the future.

Director of evangelism for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, Joe Lightner quipped that the global warming threat espoused by former vice president Al Gore is not an original warning.

“It’s ironic that the Bible warns of a global warming.” Quoting 2 Peter 3:10, Lightner recounted the prediction that one day “the elements will be destroyed by fire.”

Knowing that the fire is coming, Lightner said Christians should be all the more diligent in preaching
Jesus. Christians should stop being “Christian enough” and live holy and righteous lives so not to be ashamed when Jesus returns. Pastors, he said, must boldly preach the “inconvenient truth” without apology.

Staying With Faithfulness
During Monday’s session, pastors tackled the issue of “Staying with Faithfulness.” Speaking directly from the Bible Conference theme passage, Joshua 14:12, Callaway, the pastor from Spring, noted that Caleb claimed the mountain that had been promised to him by God and the fact that the man had been faithful to his Lord. Callaway warned Christians to not lay claim to something that has not been promised.

“Today people are preserving in areas in which God did not call them,” Callaway said. Jesus himself, Callaway said, could have claimed many things for himself. When confronted by Satan, Herod, or Pilate, Jesus could have claimed all that they had but he only wanted the job of one man–Caiaphas.

Callaway envisioned Jesus pointing to Caiaphas and stating, “Bingo! Your job is the one I’m after. I’m
going to set myself up as High Priest.”

Jesus, the pastor said, claimed the mountain he was sent to take so “we could know the good and perfect will of God–which mountains we are supposed to claim.”

If the church works hard for the mountain, they will leave this world as “weary warriors,” just like King David, claimed Ted Traylor, pastor Olive Baptist Church, Pensacola, Fla. Recounting the final days of David in 2 Samuel 23:13, Traylor said David came to the end weary from working for the Lord, but he had not labored alone.

Surrounding David was a band of 30 leaders, three of whom were particularly faithful, risking their lives to draw water from a well in Bethlehem, a town surrounded by their long-time enemy the Philistines. Having such people around themselves is essential for pastors.

“We dare not walk this road alone.”

Traylor asked the audience, “Have you ever risked your life for another. Have you ever been a water fetcher for a hurting brother or sister?”

As fundamental as it sounded, Pastor Tommy Oglesby, South Jefferson Baptist Church, Fort Worth, simply told the congregation to “find some good footsteps to follow.” He asked, “Is it too simple to say we should model our ministries after the Lord Jesus?”

Oglesby, citing Luke 4:16-20, noted Jesus set the example of being faithful to participating in the synagogue and reading the word of God. The proclamations of Jesus Christ are the only truths to be taught. “Keep preaching Jesus,” Oglesby concluded.

Seeing By Faith
Closing out the Bible Conference portion of the convention were Gregg Matte, the newly elected conference president, and Fred Lowery, pastor of First Baptist Church, Bossier City, La.

Matte said individuals and churches must wait on God and discern his call, taking time to pray, fast, and meditate on the Word before sharing that call or vision with others. Citing Nehemiah 2:1-5, Matte noted four months passed between the time the prophet heard news of his beloved Jerusalem and the time he was given the opportunity to make his concerns known to King Xerxes.

Matte said timing is essential to discerning and implementing the will of God. Believers must be patient to move in God’s time and in God’s place. But churches to need to act, Matte urged. Too many Texas churches, he said, have become complacent and comfortable and no longer reach out to the community around them.

“In Texas, if we do not reach the next generation and Hispanics in 20 years, you’ll be out of business.”

The king, Matte noted, asked Nehemiah what he wanted. When given that question from the King of Kings, Matte said Christians should ask for vision to reach Texas for Christ. Don’t get stuck doing the same old, same old. Move forward.”

To claim a mountain, Lowery said believers must see the world the way Jesus does and never compromise the gospel. When that happens, Lowery said, “We’ll cry like girls, men. When was the last time you cried over your community? Or have you gotten satisfied?”

Once a believer or a church becomes convicted to actively seek and save the lost, they should be prepared for attacks from Satan. “Be prepared to be hated,” Lowery said.

The Apostle Paul endured such hardships but was encouraged to forge on by the words of God in Acts 18:9. Do not be intimidated and silenced, even though Satan will use all kinds of tactics to quiet the voices of the saints, Lowery urged.

Success, too, can squelch the witness of a church. “Once a [SBC] church builds a new church it never grows again.”

So many churches, he added, have “settled down and become social, turned inward” and in so doing have forgotten about the Great Commission. “Are we telling our neighbors? Do we know our neighbors?”

Dry bones can live again, Lewis says

ARLINGTON?Michael Lewis, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, offered hope for plateaued and declining churches, rooted in the experience of Ezekiel as described in Ezekiel 37’s valley of dry bones.

While studies show that only 1 percent of churches will reverse their congregational decline, Lewis reminded the SBTC audience that even the prophetic books of Scripture have practical application, as promised in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is inspired and useful for all facets of a godly life.

“Many times we need to get a glimpse of God and put aside the church growth books and magazines that don’t have enough spiritual power to blow dust off a coffee table and get a fresh vision of what God sees about a church,” he stated, describing the “life-devastating mess” that Ezekiel observed in what Lewis called the dead, dry, depressed, and disjointed bones.

“Why would God take Ezekiel to this bone yard?” Lewis asked. “Before we’ll ever experience revival, see a movement of the spirit of God in our churches, we have to see it the way God sees it, with the hand of the Lord going there,” urged Lewis, encouraging those pastors who have thought of resigning to instead see the need for revitalization.

Ezekiel also offers a life-giving message, Lewis said.

“God’s message was a message of life and not death, hope and not hopelessness, restoration and not ruination. The key to revitalizing our churches is the resurrection message of the living Word of God,” he added, insisting it must be proclaimed with urgency to prevent more people from dying in their sin and going to Hell.

Lewis further warned that the urgent presentation of God’s Word without the prayerful anticipation of his Spirit would not bring revival.

“Before ever preaching the message, he had to answer the question, ‘Can these bones live?'” he said of Elijah. He went on to describe the life-transforming miracles whereby the bones were regenerated and mobilized.

Testing those in the audience whether they believed dead bones can live, he asked, “Deep down in your heart, as you’re going back to that church, do you really believe a plateaued, declining church?the dead bones?can live?”

Land endorses a well-informed electorate

ARLINGTON?”I do not endorse candidates,” Richard Land told messengers to the 2007 SBTC annual meeting. “I don’t. I won’t.” But, what the SBC leader does endorse, he said, is a registered, well-informed electorate.

Land, reporting to the SBTC as president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, admonished Southern Baptists to be actively involved in the political process this coming election year.
Land spoke of a crisis in the American culture.

“We will not have the change we need in this country until we have revival,” he told the crowd to shouts of “Amen.” At the close of his report, the program was running ahead of time and presiding SBTC President Steve Swofford invited Land to linger at the podium to address the 2008 presidential elections.

Land said it is not the policy of the ERLC to pick a horse in any race but instead to encourage civic responsibility through voting.

“Then,” he added, “you need to vote your values, beliefs, and convictions.”

Those convictions need to be on display each day, Land told the messengers. Invoking the charge God gave Israel in 2 Chronicles 7:14-15, Land said there is no great secret to revival. It will happen, he said, “when God’s people get right with God. When God’s Holy Spirit does a work in their souls.”

Land said he is grateful for the heritage he has as a life-long Southern Baptist, having been on the “cradle roll” of a Houston church; surviving “every mosquito-infested encampment on the Gulf Coast”; and accepting Jesus as Lord in a backyard Good News Club sponsored by his church.

Within the denomination, Land admitted there were disagreements through the years concerning “what was in the Bible but not what the Bible was.”

Even so, there was always a contingent of people who claimed SBC church members should only share the gospel and steer clear of controversy.

“The gospel, by its nature, is controversial. Sooner or later we’re going to make somebody mad ? [They will] be offended from time to time.”

But the vexing problems facing America today demand Christians stand more steadfast on Scripture and live out its mandates in view of all the world. Now is not the time to stand down, Land said.

He recounted the words of President Franklin Roosevelt on the night of the Normandy invasion, June 6, 1944. Just one night earlier the president had taken to the airwaves to report the fall of Rome to Allied Forces. The next day, June 6, would see more success but with a devastatingly high casualty count. With that knowledge on his heart (the public did not yet know, Land explained), Roosevelt called on the nation to join him in prayer.

Land read the prayer, a moving plea for God’s providence and provision for the armed forces, their families back home, and the nations who shared in the battle and the loss of life.

“We need a similar crisis as a nation and we need to renew our faith in him,” Land said.

He noted Roosevelt had taken office during the Great Depression, an economic problem from which Roosevelt contended the country would eventually recover.

“Would to God that an American president could say that today.”

The ills infecting the nation, he lamented, are of the heart, spirit, and soul. Only when Christians begin living like Christians instead of like everyone else, the country will notice.

To that end, Land said, the ERLC created a vision statement and a mission statement, tantamount to a goal charged to each Southern Baptist. The vision statement reads: “An American society that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority.”

The ERLC mission statement, Land explained, is a means to that end: “To awaken, inform, energize, equip, and mobilize Christians to be the catalysts for the biblically-based transformation of their families, churches, communities, and the nation.”

“It’s up to us to be the vision and let them see Jesus in us,” Land said.

With regard to the political nature of the country, Land stressed that it is not the government that changes society.

“[Politicians] do what you inspect, not what you expect,” Land said.

Borrowing from a phrase used by the late Ronald Reagan, Land said Southern Baptists need to be looking for candidates who endorse the Baptist’s individual beliefs, not the other way around.

For example, Land said, “I know God has a side when it comes to the sanctity of human life from conception to death and everywhere in between.”

Land urged voters not to wait until November 2008 to vote, thereby voting for the candidate they dislike the least. He noted that in 120 days, half of the population in half the states will decide who the candidates in the general election will be.

Now is the time, he emphasized. People need to register to vote, get informed, and make sure the people around them know the truth about the issues.

“You have a circle of friends. Use it.”

Voting is a privilege and responsibility. Land believes Christians will be held to an account with regard to how they used or abused the privilege. Land concluded his message with one final admonition to be involved.

“Vote your values, beliefs, convictions and pray God will give us godly leadership in this hour of crisis.”

Rainer: Simply love God, love others

ARLINGTON?Preaching from the book of Philemon, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer illustrated a model of a simple church based on Paul’s instruction to Philemon concerning his slave Onesimus.

Rainer, author of the book “Simple Church,” said there are reasons that can only be put in the hands of a sovereign God to explain why nine out of 10 of the 400,000 evangelical congregations in the United States are declining or growing at a rate slower than that of their cities. But he said he found some guidance from Philemon to describe a simple church as one that loves people, loves the lost and loves God.

“Paul was writing to a simple church, a group of believers who had not gotten so much clutter or diversion that they were not doing the main thing,” Rainer said.

Referring to verse 8, Rainer spoke of Paul’s appeal Philemon to go beyond the law’s requirement and do what is right based on love concerning his bond-slave Onesimus.

Based on extensive research in studying church effectiveness, Rainer found correlation between the degree to which a congregation is evangelistic and whether their pastor is personally evangelistic.

“One of the reasons they’re not out there sharing the gospel is because we’re keeping them so busy doing busy work that they don’t have time to do the main thing,” he added. “Give your pastor one of the greatest gifts you can?the gift of time.”

A simple church’s testimony of loving God is demonstrated through Christlike sacrifice, Rainer said.

He compared Paul’s willingness to send Onesimus back to Philemon so that he might be of further usefulness to God’s sacrifice of his own Son, “that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

He encouraged pastors to question whether they are doing what really matters.

“The gospel must be told to lost people because people without Jesus are bound for Hell and we are the messengers. May it be so that we will have simple churches.”