Month: December 2008

Website gathering petitions against Freedom of Choice Act

Americans United for Life is sponsoring an online petition in opposition to the Freedom of Choice Act, which right-to-life activists fear will become law under the Obama administration.

As of Dec. 17, the petition at had gathered more than 337,850 signatures.

The website has downloadable copies of the United States Senate and House versions of FOCA, and a video of President-elect Barack Obama telling a Planned Parenthood gathering, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing I’d do.”

Denise Burke, vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life (AUL), wrote in an analysis of FOCA: “Notably, pro-abortion groups do not deny FOCA’s draconian impact. For example, Planned Parenthood has explained, ‘FOCA will supercede anti-choice laws that restrict the right to choose, including laws that prohibit the public funding of abortions for poor women or counseling and referrals for abortions. Additionally, FOCA will prohibit onerous restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, such as mandated delays and targeted and medically unnecessary regulations.'”

Among the laws FOCA would nullify would be the Hyde Amendment preventing taxpayer-funded abortions, the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, notification laws, and legal protections for healthcare providers who don’t provide abortion services, according to AUL’s analysis of the proposed versions of the bill.

Three U.S. House members from Texas, all Democrats?Rep Al Green of the ninth congressional district; Rep. Gene Green, 29th congressional district; and

Rep Sheila Jackson-Lee, 18th congressional district?are co-sponsors of FOCA.

Neither of the Texas senators support the bill, but two prominent Democrats, former presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Kerry, along with independent Joe Lieberman, co-sponsored the bill while in the Senate.

AUL is urging state legislatures to adopt a model resolution it has written opposing FOCA when they convene their 2009 sessions. The model resolution is accessible at

Texas Life Connections aims to connect churches with area pro-life ministries

Texas Life Connections (TLC) is a partnering ministry of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the North American Mission Board that works to connect the local church to a statewide network of Christian life-affirming ministries. These include pregnancy resource centers, post-abortion recovery groups, adoption agencies, maternity homes, abstinence groups and foster-care providers.

TLC members are ministry partners linked by each affirming a statement of faith and shared ministry goals. Members are committed to evangelism while carrying out the life-affirming mission of their own ministry.
TLC is a ministry resource for Southern Baptists, other evangelical churches, and other parachurch ministries across Texas. It is also a resource for its members to connect the spiritually needy to the ministry of the local church.

Members of the TLC Board of Directors include Keet Lewis of Dallas, Jim Bolton of Dallas, Angie Hammond of Duncanville, Paula Odom of North Richland Hills, Allan Parker of San Antonio and Julie A. Parton of Garland.

For more information on TLC go to

First person: Tyler Baptists meet challenges in impoverished Malawi

Going to what the CIA states as the “poorest country in the world” was both a challenging and a rewarding experience. But more than anything else, this mission trip was a learning experience.

On Oct. 1, nine members of Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler left for Malawi, Africa, on a 12-day trip in which the round-trip travel time alone would take 74 hours. The team was led by Tyler businessman and church member Bill Langley, who had been to the country on two previous mission trips.

The goal was to have teams go to more than 100 locations in and around Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, distributing Bibles and soccer balls to schools by day and showing the Jesus film in villages by night.

The country, most famous recently due to rock star Madonna’s frequent visits and documentary film, is located just east of Zambia and was one of the countries visited by famed Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingstone in the mid 1800s. Slightly smaller than Pennsylvania, this land-locked country has over 14 million people, more than half of whom are younger than 16 years of age. The life expectancy at birth is only 43 years.

Public schools were just as inviting and open as the private Christian schools to hear Americans share the gospel and give AIDS awareness presentations. In all, the teams distributed approximately 3,500 Bibles and 180 soccer balls at 60 schools.

At night, the Jesus film was shown at 33 locations with a peak attendance of more
than 4,000 people at one location. That site was where a new church was formed the following Sunday. A conservative estimate was that more than 25,000 indicated they had prayed to receive Christ during the week’s worth of evangelistic efforts.

Local pastor Emmanuel Chinkwita-Phiri and his wife Lydia helped coordinate the mission trip including getting translators who were mostly seminary students from the Baptist Seminary of Malawi. The seminary is staffed in part with missionaries from the International Mission Board, which also assists with a portion of the administration of the school. Local pastors went with the Americans, allowing the people who came to make immediate connections with local churches.

“Abusa Emmanuel” also made arrangements for schools, contracting the Jesus film and equipment, and purchased the Bibles with funds provided prior to the team’s arrival. The men of the team also preached Sunday morning worship services and the women gave presentations during the week at schools.

Many of the seminary students who are seeking to become pastors do so at great financial peril. The average income per person in Malawi is just over $600 a year.
AIDS prevalence among the adults is moderate compared with other African countries, but still is a staggering 14 percent of the population. Newspaper obituaries are predominated by those in their 20s and early 30s and also children, while rarely do the obituaries describe someone over 50.

Until recently, Malawi had severe food shortages due to prolonged droughts, interspersed with mammoth amounts of rains, which would be almost as devastating to the crops as the lack of rain. A recent program by the government to distribute fertilizer to the people, along with more cooperative weather, has reversed the food shortage and actually allowed Malawi to be an exporter of grain last year.

With such dismal news, the people are amazingly joyful, especially the children. The people generally have a high regard for Americans. One interpreter credited Christian missionaries, who have helped the struggling country over the past decades, for forming a positive attitude towards Americans. And as the results indicate, they are extremely receptive to the gospel.

The trip did not come without a major setback. Team leader Bill Langley tripped and fell early on a Sunday morning, breaking his hip. He and his wife and another team member had to be air-flighted to South Africa, where he had a full hip replacement before he could return to the United States, nearly two weeks later.

Because the trip was not officially coordinated with the International Mission Board, the team did not get travel insurance, which is required in all IMB-related mission trips. That lesson learned the hard way is a very important one for all short-term mission groups to know, Langley said.

The insurance offered by the official carrier for the IMB provides medical, accidental death, medical evacuation, disability and many other benefits. The cost is only dollars per day, but is absolutely vital should the need arise.

Pondering Christmas

There’s that vase again. Linda gets it out every Christmas and displays it. What sweet memories. You see, in late December 1970, I had just finished my tour of duty as a marine in Vietnam. Military service had prevented us from spending our first Christmas together. Now we had a beautiful little nine-month old son and I was determined to make this Christmas a wonderful family experience.

I rented a small, furnished apartment in Fallbrook, California, near Camp Pendleton, where I was stationed and then headed back to Texas to retrieve my little family. I packed Linda and the baby and everything we owned into a 1968 Camaro and a small U-Haul trailer and headed west. My plan was to arrive in Fallbrook on December 22, have the utilities turned on and then enjoy our first Christmas together in our cozy little apartment. A good plan, but you know how “the best laid plans” often go.

I cracked the Camaro’s crank shaft coming over the mountains, and had to stop in a small town just inside California named Borrego Springs. The local mechanic didn’t have the replacement crank shaft and had to order it. It wasn’t going to take long to install it, but it was going to take a couple of days to get the part. A couple of days!

Well, it was off-season for tourists and the cheapest motel in town gave us a great rate for two nights. The afternoon of the second day, the motel owners felt so sorry for us they took us on a guided tour of the area and then bought us some hamburgers for supper. The mechanic finished his repairs on time and we were on our way. But it was already Christmas Eve! By the time we arrived in Fallbrook, it was too late to have the utilities turned on. So we sat in the cold parking lot of the apartment complex and I excitedly told Linda all about our apartment. But faced with no heat and no water, Linda said “No way!”

Reluctantly, I checked us into another cheap motel and got Linda and the baby unpacked and situated. Linda was great about the whole thing. There she was a thousand miles from home in a questionable motel with our precious baby on Christmas Eve. I was a broken man, so ashamed of how terribly I had provided for them. Fortunately, I found a store open and was able to get some supplies to make sandwiches. On the way back to the motel, I found a florist about to close up shop for the holidays. He was in the Christmas spirit and sold me two dozen long-stem roses for almost nothing. “Do you have anything to put them in?” he asked. “No sir” I replied. Taking a plain vase from under his counter, he said, “Here put them in this. It’s on the house.” I thanked him, put the roses in the vase and headed back to the motel. When I opened the door, I held them out to Linda and said, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am about all this. I sure love you.” Our little motel room was toasty warm and she had decorated it for Christmas. The baby had been bathed and dressed in his pajamas and was playing on the bed. As she took the vase full of roses, her eyes filled with tears. She kissed me and said, “I love you too, Steve. Don’t worry about me. I’m just fine. Now, take off your coat and let’s eat supper and have a Merry Christmas with our little boy.” At the time, it seemed like an awful experience. But now as I look back, it may be the most precious Christmas of our lives.

Ever since that night, when Christmas rolls around, Linda gets out that old vase I gave her, puts a cheerful Christmas arrangement in it and proudly displays it. Every time I see it, I’m transported back in time and ponder the treasured memories of our first “wonderful” Christmas together all over again.

I hope you have treasured Christmas memories of your own to reflect back on during this holiday season. Wonderful times. Joyful times. Family times. If so, take this opportunity to ponder them in your heart. Talk about them. Laugh about them. Perhaps even shed a tear over them. And above all, thank God for them.

Association’s churches had to ‘buy in’ before planting success took off

NEW BRAUNFELS? It took J.K. Minton two years to convince existing churches in his association to plant new ones. Not only were upstart churches seen as competition, established church leaders “didn’t even believe the demographics showing our region as 70 percent unchurched,” Minton, director of missions in Bluebonnet Baptist Association, recalled.

The BBA, based in New Braunfels, now has a mentality among its member churches that helps the association’s church planting efforts succeed beyond the national average, Minton said.

Serving the eight counties along the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, the BBA has planted 23 churches in the past eight years; 18 of those still meet and 13 are self-supporting. The national survival rate of church plants is 50 percent.

“Our new churches are baptizing people at a much higher rate than the national average,” said Robby Partain, BBA associate director of missions, noting that in 2006 the rate among all Southern Baptist churches was 2.5 baptisms per 100 resident members as compared to 12 per 100 attendees in BBA church plants.

Ranging in age from 18 months to eight years, the BBA’s new churches baptized 328 people last year, representing more than half the baptisms among all 70 BBA churches.

“Our process works,” Minton said. “A major reason is the level of buy-in we have from all our churches. Martindale Baptist Church is 150 years old, and has assisted in several new church starts.”

But before that “buy-in” mentality existed, the prevailing attitude was to fill current churches that had been half-full for years.

“I managed to convince those leaders that if we didn’t start new churches, then we would fail regarding the Great Commission in Acts 1:8 as people in our area would become increasingly lost,” Minton said.

Parsing the Process

“The Bluebonnet Association’s church planting process is one of the most effective I know of anywhere,” said Terry Coy, missions director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “And that is for several reasons. Church planting is the passion of Drs. Minton and Partain, and of the pastors and churches partnering with them.

Also, the process is well organized and implemented, fostering consistency, accountability, and quality control.

“It’s not a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach in that it allows for contextualization, and thereby works well for a variety of models and styles of church planting. And it includes numerous pastors and churches in the process, which keeps it from becoming ingrown and encourages its acceptance.”

Both Minton and Partain said established BBA churches not only support church planting philosophically and theologically, but financially too. Of the quarter-million church planting dollars the BBA receives, 54 percent comes from its own sources. Also, four of every $10 comes from BBA partner churches and new church plants.

Built into every BBA-funded church plant budget is a non-negotiable requirement that 10 percent of undesignated receipts support missions. Fashioned after the “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world” mandate of Acts 1:8, the 10 percent is divided among local church planting, the association, the state convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention.

With a rigorous qualifying process for planters, the BBA maintains a balance between support and accountability through teams of churches overseeing the planter and the plant.

“We broke the old ‘mother-daughter’ church paradigm,” Minton said, noting it fostered “too much parental control” and could stifle or kill the new church.

Accordingly, Minton developed church plant oversight teams consisting of leaders from three other BBA churches, which dilutes the potential for imposing a set ministry model. BBA planters, however, must follow doctrinal, financial and personal accountability parameters as monitored by the oversight team, Minton noted.

At the edge of darkness

Sweat dripped from Dut’s short, slender body as she hollowed out a grave in the floor of the Colombian rain forest.

Only minutes earlier the “Nu” Indian woman had given birth to her ninth child, a boy, but didn’t like what she saw. The baby’s head was misshapen, pointed?a temporary defect doctors would recognize as the result of an intense labor.

But there were no doctors here. Dut was ignorant and alone, save for several of her children who had tagged along with their mother as she ventured into the bush that day.

They watched as Dut laid their brother’s tiny body in a shallow hole and began to cover him with dirt. The newborn shrieked in protest, his arms and legs struggling against the handfuls of cool, damp soil that pressed against his skin.

His cries weakened as a wave of earth washed across his face, followed by another and another. Abruptly, the jungle fell silent. Without pause Dut stood, brushed the caked blood and grime from her hands and turned toward home.


Suprising aftermath to a chilling confession

“Lee Rojas” felt sick to her stomach. Watching her own 2-year-old daughter playing with friends in the Nu village, the Colombian missionary struggled to comprehend the cruelty described in Dut’s macabre confession. Even worse, she learned that Dut had also buried four other children alive?one simply because it was a twin (the Nu believe the smaller twin is possessed by evil spirits).

What Lee didn’t know was that the Lord would transform Dut’s life. Through Lee’s witness, Dut would soon be one of the first Nu to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s a glimpse of the way God is making his Son’s name known among Colombia’s indigenous, more than 100 native tribes scattered across a nation nearly twice the size of Texas.

Spearheading that effort are Southern Baptist missionaries Fernando and Brenda Larzabal. Born in Argentina, Fernando b1egan his ministry career as a missionary pilot. He met Brenda, a teacher from Saranac, Mich., on a mission trip to Belize. Four boys and 22 years of marriage later, the Larzabals now serve with the International Mission Board, charged with mobilizing the Colombian church for the sake of bringing the gospel to every indigenous tribe.

Lee and her husband, “John,” are among a growing number of Colombian missionaries who’ve accepted that call. It’s a big job, and there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. Whether “Buntere, ” “Tatitu” or “Yuspaga, ” each tribe is as unique as its name, with a distinct language, culture and worldview.


60-plus people groups, no witness

What they have in common is their need for Christ. Of the 100-plus indigenous tribes, only nine are considered “evangelized.” More than 60 others are without any gospel witness. That means no known believers and no evangelical churches.

Instead, most tribes are animists?spirit-worshippers who live in fear of failing to appease gods they neither know nor love.

“This is the very edge of darkness,” Fernando said. “The overwhelming need of these people is to be delivered from the fear of Satan. ? Without God there is slavery. Without Christ there is fear and that’s what they breathe day in and day out.”

The Rojases know firsthand what that kind of fear can do. They’ve lived among the Nu for nearly 10 years and have often watched Nu families go hungry, sometimes for days, because they were too afraid of evil spirits to go hunting in the jungle.

“It’s like a different world,” Lee said. “The Nu live very primitively.”

There’s no electricity or running water in Nu villages. Until recently, the Nu didn’t wear clothes. They sleep in hammocks hung from open huts topped with palm fronds. The jungle is their only source of food. Poison-tipped darts fired from blow guns snare birds or monkeys; wild plantains, insects and honey are gathered by hand.

This primal existence is due, in part, to the Nu’s limited contact with the outside world. Hidden deep within the Colombian rain forest, there are no roads that lead to their villages. To reach them, the Rojases must hop a two-hour flight aboard a small plane to an unmarked landing strip carved into the jungle. From there it’s a four-hour walk with their two young girls in tow.

Insurgents vs. the gospel

But distance isn’t the only barrier between the indigenous and the gospel?there’s also the threat posed by anti-government insurgents and illegal paramilitary outfits. Clashes with the Colombian army have forced these groups into remote areas of the countryside, the same areas where indigenous tribes make their homes. The insurgent problem is so widespread that nearly every unevangelized tribe, including the Nu, falls within their territory. Ransom kidnappings are practically guaranteed for foreigners who try to reach them.

While Americans would be conspicuous in these areas, Colombians blend in?which makes them ideal missionaries to indigenous communities. There’s still some risk; but for the sake of the gospel, it’s a risk missionaries like the Rojases are willing to take.

“It’s true where we live is a bit dangerous and sometimes isn’t very comfortable,” Lee says. “But God tells us that the day of salvation is today. Christ died for the Nu and he sent us to tell them. We know our lives are in his hands. If we die, so be it, because Jesus will be there waiting for us.”

That sense of urgency was burned into the Rojases’ hearts the day Cho died. Counted among the family’s dearest Nu friends, he was there from the very beginning of their ministry. Cho had helped John and Lee on countless occasions, spending hours pati

Chainsaw crews bring down more than trees, new volunteer says

When chainsaws cut a tree, lumber is not the only thing to fall sometimes. Bill Johnson’s eight months of work in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is proof of that. The testimonies of dozens of others like him are proof, too.

Johnson, a member of Sandy Lake Road Baptist Church in Coppell, was part of a small team of SBTC DR volunteers trained in chainsaw ministry who went to Malta, N.Y., last month to train a church there on how to begin a chainsaw ministry.

The work at Cornerstone Community Church, part of the Hudson Baptist Association with which the SBTC has a missions partnership, was partly routine?four hours of abbreviated classroom training on a Friday night and Saturday field training on the properties of church members?and partly providence, it seems.

Johnson’s testimony is one of God using willing hands to touch hearts, with the Christian of four years sharing his faith with enthusiasm following hurricanes Dolly and Ike this summer and fall and seeing seven people come to faith in Christ?two directly from his verbal witness and the other five with fellow team members. Disaster relief ministry, he said, opens doors for the gospel.

In New York, Johnson was presiding over the felling of a pine tree on a church member’s land near the property line of a neighbor. The group believed they had clearance to drop the tree on either side of the property line. The tall pine landed on the neighbor’s side, causing a loud commotion and, unexpectedly, an angry neighbor who had been awakened by his wife wondering what the racket was.

After apologies, a lengthy discussion about the downed tree, the pastor showing up, and an offer from the DR team to do whatever could be done to rectify the problem, Johnson asked the man if the team could pray with him. He sheepishly agreed, then replied afterwards, “It’s kind of hard to be really mad when everybody’s trying to be nice to you.”

Cornerstone’s pastor, Terry Stockman, said he has visited with the man since then and is trying to build a friendship.

“Actually, it’s really turning out to be a good situation,” said Stockman, who was associate director of missions in Sabine-Neches Baptist Area before answering a call to pastor in heavily Catholic upstate New York. “He’s a work in progress. Eventually, one of these days, I think we’re going to see some fruit there.”

At another location that day, Stockman said a divorced woman saw the men working and asked if they could help her move some furniture. She wished to compensate them for their work, but Stockman told her, “the only thing you could do would be to come to worship in the morning at 10:30. She came and really liked it. She was another contact that was a direct result of what we were doing.”

A Louisiana native, Stockman said the 12 men from his church would now be ready to minister after ice storms; they are only the second chainsaw unit he knows of among New York’s Southern Baptist churches.

Johnson said he and his wife, Donna, came to Texas from Kentucky to be near their son and his family, but disaster relief ministry is the more significant reason God led him to Texas, he said. Johnson has progressed to train others in chainsaw rigging and has deployed three times since last March.

Working in the aftermath of hurricanes this year, Johnson said he felt strongly that he needed to witness to the family in whose home they were working. He told a fellow DR team member who used the Roman Road of evangelistic scripture verses to witness, “I don’t know the Scripture like that, but I really want to talk to these people.”

Having recently completed a study through Ray Comfort’s “The Way of the Master” ministry, Johnson simply asked the couple, “Do you want to go to Heaven when you die?”

Sure, they responded, everybody wants to go to Heaven. Johnson explained to the Catholic couple that Jesus had made a way for us to get there that didn’t involve their own work, or the mediation of a priest. After some discussion, the man and his wife both stated a desire to receive Christ, and did so with Johnson there.

“Man, from then on I couldn’t wait to tell people at church or tell my wife [about the salvation decisions]. What a feeling. It’s just an awesome feeling to know that God is working through you.”

That kind of enthusiasm comes from a guy who wasn’t a Southern Baptist until recently and had never heard of disaster relief ministry until last spring.

“The people we serve know we are do

Veteran joins ‘special ops’ at Southwestern

FORT WORTH?Jared Vineyard cannot remember a time when he did not have a sincere interest in the military.

While he accepted Christ at a young age during Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church of Mount Zion, Ill., the thought of being an officer in the “Lord’s Army,” which he sang about in those days, rather than the United States Army, was far from his mind.

Appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he worked hard academically and graduated in 2002. He was then commissioned as a field artillery officer, married his wife, Amanda, and moved to his first duty station in Germany by January 2003. After four months, Vineyard was deployed to Iraq.

With “the frills of Western civilization” such as television gone, Vineyard’s time in Iraq was one his greatest times of spiritual growth, he said.

His first assignment in Iraq was a support role, allowing him to dive into Scripture more often. He began sensing his life needed to change vocationally, but he was not sure how that was possible. He had a five-year commitment to the Army.

A week before he was scheduled to go home, Vineyard’s unit received news that their contracts were extended indefinitely. His platoon moved to Fallujah where his role changed from a support role to a combat role. On April 29, 2004, Vineyard and his men went out on patrol as part of a routine operation, making safety checks on vehicles in areas where engineers were rebuilding.

About 10 a.m., they were working so far ahead of the engineers that Vineyard told his group to halt. He split the platoon in half, sending half of the men to a wheat field, and the other half went with him to a country road. They discovered a ditch, where they lined up, waiting for the engineers to catch up. It wasn’t long before he heard a car coming. As the vehicle turned towards them, Vineyard had an unsettled feeling, especially when he noticed the car had stolen tags. He and his men began to get up.

The next thing he knew, Vineyard was “in the middle of a fireball.” The blast picked him off the ground, and he felt like he was hit with a baseball bat. After landing on his hands and knees, he felt something dripping on his face and realized he was bleeding.

The next few moments of his life were nothing short of a nightmare, he recalled. As the smoke began to lift, he could see that most of the men he had just been with were gone.

He began looking for his medic, but all he found was the medic’s bag, still on fire from the blast. The radio was destroyed, so he shot a flare to get help. Eight of his men were killed, and the other four were injured. As help arrived and the details began to unravel, Vineyard learned that the car he saw briefly was carrying 500 pounds of artillery shells, TNT, and dynamite.

The “baseball bat” he felt was actually a piece of metal, but his helmet took the worst of the blow. With a gash on his head and a busted eardrum, Vineyard knew it was a miracle that God had spared his life. When the explosion occurred, Vineyard was only about 15 feet away from the car, inside the area known as the “kill radius.”

While waiting to go home to have surgery on his right ear, Vineyard began having horrible flashbacks and nightmares. He got down on the floor of the hospital and uttered: “My prayer is that you would take what was bad and that you would turn it for good. I pray that I wouldn’t experience this, and that I can use it for your glory.”

He has not had a flashback since. Also, when he returned to Germany, the doctors performed a preliminary examination before surgery. They discovered he no longer needed the procedure, and Vineyard went home with his wife, praising God for healing his mind and his body.

During the next year, Vineyard pondered how he would remember each year the tragic events of April 29. He was certain it would be a solemn day to honor the men with whom he served. God had other plans, he said.

On April 29, 2005, his wife went in for a routine check-up with her doctor. She was pregnant but not due for several weeks. Vineyard was on his way to a day of training with his unit when he received a phone call that his wife was in labor. His son, Jacob, was born a few hours later.

Vineyard said that on a day he thought he would mourn, “God said, ‘You’re not to be sad on this day. This day is to be a day of happiness for you.”

Later, Vineyard began applying to the Army’s chaplaincy program. This would allow him to end his contract with the Army three years early and begin answering God’s call on his life to ministry by attending seminary. What should have been a long shot was approved in three months.

Vineyard did not know much about seminaries, but he knew he was Southern Baptist. Paige Patterson, Southwestern’s president, had talked about setting Southwestern Seminary apart for training proverbial “special operations forces” for the G

Respect the president, respect God

Afterwards, David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “I swear before the LORD: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed. [I will never] lift my hand against him, since he is the LORD’s anointed.” With these words David persuaded his men, and he did not let them rise up against Saul. Then Saul left the cave and went on his way. After that, David got up, went out of the cave, and called to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed to the ground in homage.

?1 Samuel 24:5-8

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking up the path, some small boys came out of the city and harassed him, chanting, “Go up, baldy! Go up, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the youths.

?2 Kings 2:23-24

Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! You are sitting there judging me according to the law, and in violation of the law are you ordering me to be struck?” And those standing nearby said, “Do you dare revile God’s high priest?”

“I did not know, brothers,” Paul said, “that it was the high priest. For it is written, ‘You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'”

?Acts 23:3-5

There it is. The repeated and clear teaching of Scripture is that we should respect our leaders in word and deed. This holds true whether or not we voted for the winner, if he is false and murderous (Saul), or even in violation of the law (Ananias the high priest). It is true if the leader is funny looking or if he is awkward in his public speaking. It is merely true.

I’ve heard brethren and neighbors of all political perspectives violate this principle of respect with little thought. I’ve done it myself. It is easy, maybe amusing, certainly politically correct, the current version of political dialogue. An example comes from Internet forwards. I get a weekly message from that highlights the rumors and urban legends of the week. Rumors about the president and president-elect have each required a section of their own. The favorite rumor about Mr. Bush is that he is a moron?literally having substandard intelligence. A persistent rumor about Barack Obama is that he is a Moslem. Both are false and require almost no effort to refute but they travel the world on the wings of electrons, fueling the particular biases of the recipients.

I remember the easy and coarse jokes about Bill Clinton’s wife, and a few about various cabinet members of that administration. Conservatives did that, sometimes from a pulpit. Did anyone imagine that God would bless it?

The shoe is on the other foot as the Bush administration winds down. I’ve been shocked at the fury a liberal victory has unleashed on a man who will never again hold elective office. Charges of stupidity, incompetence, carelessness, and malice season the conventional wisdom of blogs, newspapers, magazines, and talk shows. A recent column condemns him for decisions he’s not yet made and compares him with Richard Nixon for dishonesty and corruption. Joe Klein of Time magazine can only think of three or four virtues of any kind that Mr. Bush exhibited over the past eight years, concluding that America has less than “one president at a time” so long as George Bush occupies the Oval Office. Mr. Bush is not up to the challenge of even a lame duck, six-week presidency because of his “stupefying ineptitude.”

Really? This kind of smackdown seems way beyond principled disagreement. Or is it even possible for someone to sincerely and rationally disagree with another person without being literally stupid? The George Bush that some liberal spokesmen rail about is not qualified to drive a car or maybe even to be left by himself. The Barack Obama some conservatives describe should be exiled or imprisoned. There seems to be no place between off and 11 on some people’s volume knobs.

Those of us (and that’s most of us in Texas) who didn’t vote for Mr. Obama need to fear God enough to keep civil tongues in our heads. And if you don’t fear God, watch for she-bears. As of Jan. 20, Mr. Obama will become Mr. President Obama. In the meantime, he has been legally elected to become the 44th president of the United States. That’s big stuff and a place of honor. All of us have a stake in the success and well-being of our president. A sane and reasonable, democratically mandated, transition every four to eight years is an amazing thing in the history of the world.

For us to disrespect the man is to disrespect the office and the process that maintains it. We’d be crazy to do that. I hope by this time next year, I’ll be able to specifically give thanks for things with which President Obama has blessed us. If I struggle with those specifics, hold me accountable for any hateful slander.

For now, we have a president. He’s a whole president whose legacy will be larger and better than a casualty count or sto

50 years of service FBC Bells

BELLS?In the modern world where people move frequently, very few churches have the opportunity to do what the First Baptist Church of Bells recently did, honoring three of their deacons for more than 50 years of service.

In November, FBC Bells recognized James “Hoyt” Layman, Glendon “Jimmie” Reamer and J.T. McBroom for dedicated service to their church over more than 50 years.

“These three men are some of the greatest Christian men that I have been in contact with,” June Ballard, FBC Bells’ church clerk, said. “They are just ‘love the Lord’ men.”

Layman and Reamer marked 50 years this year, while McBroom was the veteran; he was recognized for 61 years of service as a deacon.

“FBC Bells is 129 years old,” Billy Neal Jr., pastor of FBC Bells, said. “These men grew up in this church and have been involved for most of their lives.”

“These men remember the building being new [in 1954],” Neal said. “They have dedicated their lives to this church and serving the people in it. God is being faithful to these men’s prayers.”

McBroom, 96, teaches the senior couples Sunday School class.

“We saw the need for a new Sunday School class and he [McBroom] volunteered to teach it with another gentleman.” Neal said. “He is co-teaching every other week along with another gentleman.”

Ballard said McBroom’s secret to longevity in serving is “his love for Jesus. He praises the Lord everyday with all his heart. He just loves the Lord.”

“I thank the Lord every day that he has provided such faithful men for us,” Neal said. “First Baptist Church, Bells, is blessed to have such men.”

As FBC Bells prepares to celebrate 130 years of existence, Neal said God would continue to bless the church’s ministry. “God is being faithful to these men’s prayers.”