Month: March 2009

Stem-cell hypocrites?

A recent online discussion of President Obama’s rescinding of his predecessor’s ban on government funding of embryonic stem cell research prompted an arresting question. If pro-lifers are so het up about embryo-destructive research, will we reject treatments that grow as fruit on that poisonous tree?

My head says a quick “yes,” my heart cautions some humility in the answer. If I live long enough (if any of us do) to actually see beneficial treatments derived from the destruction of human life, I’ll be old enough so that the need for treatment will be dire and emotionally compelling. That will be a difficult choice for those loved ones who will help make decisions regarding treatment?maybe not a difficult choice but certainly one fraught with controversy and self doubt.

Still, I say that I will refuse such treatment, and will refuse the results of such tainted research on behalf of any whose power of attorney I possess. If I do not do so, I say now, when less burdened by the emotion and grief of a specific choice, that I should refuse treatment of this kind. What’s the choice?

I came across a verse in Isaiah last week that got under my skin regarding this subject. In chapter 33:15, God describes a righteous person as one who “despises the gains of oppressions.” That could be a pretty broad variety of things. It could speak to spoils of an unjust war, or profit made dishonestly or at the expense of the weak.

There are many who profit from the terrible oppression of children, born and unborn. Some are elected to office by promising to support the continuation of such oppression through abortion. They, like clinic investors, are exalting the gains of oppressions.

Embryonic stem cell research will provide gains to many people and institutions decades before any effective treatment is even possible. Research hospitals, universities, private researchers, bio tech companies, communities, and community leaders all stand to gain from the distribution of billions of state and federal dollars allocated for research based on the destruction of human life. God calls this unrighteous.

Some of this allocation is the responsibility of citizens?we empower it and support it by the people we elect. A heavier guilt rests on the shoulders of presidents and governors and research directors and deans who lobby for and order and enable the gains of oppression. On the individual level, we absolutely have a responsibility to manage our health according to what we know to be right and wrong.

In Texas, our Senate Finance Committee has placed language in the proposed budget forbidding state funding of any research that destroys human embryos. Senate Democrats have vowed to fight the language, even if they must defeat the budget to do so. Interesting that the headline I saw about the debate referred to the pro-life language potentially “derailing” the budget process. It sounds to me like the Democrats are threatening to do so.

Without a doubt, we will have multiplied opportunities to consider questions of moral stewardship in the future. The difference between a bribe and the proceeds of oppression is not significant morally?both silence our convictions because of our participation in evil. We must be attentive to the sources of our income, profit, winnings, entertainment, and so on. The more we have, the more attention stewardship requires.

As with most things, this can be taken to an absurd level. The intertwining of corporations makes difficult an effort to have no indirect contact with immoral causes. I eat at restaurants and shop at stores that also sell alcohol and lottery tickets, for example. One could make a case that I benefit from the presence of a business that depends on the sale of destructive products. This would be a strained case but some will doubtless make it. I guess if a young brother says, “Let’s eat at Chili’s, they serve beer,” I might suggest something else for his sake. I Corinthians 10:23-31 speaks a word of sanity for all ages.

I think this is quibbling, an effort to weaken the point by making an absurd application. We live in the world and know the difference between consumer approval of evil and consumer innocence. I’m asking that we set an example of righteousness in a culture that worships anything that works, especially when we have an opportunity to gain from injustice. I agree with our critics that pro-lifers that benefit, or are willing to benefit, from anti-life research undermine important points of a crucial argument in our nation.

A short-cut to nowhere

Watch the news. The proposal in Delaware to start a state-run sports lottery is just another barrage from the “whatever works” philosophers of government revenue enhancement. A state might raise some money in this way but historically, a small percentage makes it to the good works touted to justify the initiative. In return, the institution that is tasked with protecting the innocent (and the foolish?) becomes their adversary in monetary responsibility.

The state can’t live within its means the way the rest of us should so they raise taxes and disguise some of them as entertainment. Legalized and state-run sports gambling will be especially appealing to younger men. Maybe it will be a “gateway drug” for future casino losers and off track betting derelicts. Isn’t government leadership inspiring!

While I disagree with legalized gambling, especially as a revenue stream, I am infuriated by state-sponsored gambling?lotteries, sports gambling, or whatever. It is malfeasance on a grand scale. For most states, the idea being considered in Delaware is just more of the same, since they already have a lottery. It is contrary to the good purposes of government at any level.

We Texans need to watch the news because our legislature has passed through half their 2009 session without passing any bills. This compresses the important work of the lawmakers into a fairly short time. The budget will come first and some legislators will cast desperately around for a bright, shiny revenue stream. “Tada! Here’s a selection of gambling solutions designed and guar-an-teed to raise boodles of money. There’s no downside and it’s worked perfectly up to now!”

Maybe a lot of unfortunate, even stupid ideas will look better as our leaders get tired, and frantic. Watch the news.

By the way, one of our former shiny solutions has failed and the local community may have to do without some of the promised benefits of its neighbor. The company that runs Lone Star Park of Grand Prairie filed bankruptcy in Delaware the first week of March. A week later, the company announced that its lease to operate the track will be auctioned in July. Press releases that say that the community will bear no negative impact are spinning so fast as to lack any credibility. I doubt Lone Star Park will close in the near future. Too many people have investments in its success, including its home town. That doesn’t mean that any of its promises from a decade ago will come to pass.

A lesson is that when our state opens a new door to questionable activity in hopes of finding free money, it just doesn’t turn out as well as we hoped. It’s as though we bought a car based on the salesman’s word without a warranty, test drive, or independent review.

You may recall that past efforts to introduce electronic gambling machines to Texas were promoted as an effort to keep the horse track from going bankrupt. Hear this: we need more, even more destructive, gambling formats to prop up the declining revenue stream from the past. If that doesn’t make you laugh, it should at least make you mad at the absurdity of what’s done in our names. By the way, I live in Grand Prairie and paid sales taxes to pay off the

LSP bonds so we could have such a “lucrative” revenue stream for all Texas. You’re welcome.

This is what you get, promises, failures, problems, and a foolish effort to throw good money after bad so the original promises might be fulfilled. Wow, we are so gullible. The last half of the 2009 session will be a big temptation for the gullible. The SBTC will be on hand and we will continue to resist efforts to expand gambling in Texas.

Texas church revamps for family integration

PORT ARTHUR  “Gone are the days when Christians understood that the home–and not the Christian church or school–is principally and primarily responsible for the education, evangelism, and discipleship of children and that our ecclesiology should reflect that reality.”

These words, taken from the foreword of a new book, “Turning the Ship,” pinpoint the problem that troubled Dustin Guidry, pastor of Ridgewood Baptist Church in Port Arthur.

Written by Guidry, the book chronicles how he and staff came to grips with, and solved their unwillingness to place their children in age-segregated, church discipleship programs–be they Sunday school, children’s church, youth department and camps, even the nursery, all of which were the traditional methodology at Ridgewood.

Following a long season of soul-searching and scriptural study, Guidry and staff have returned to what they say is a biblical model of discipleship and to those long- gone days lauded in the foreword of Guidry’s book by Voddie Baucham, pastor of Houston-area Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring.

Baucham wrote that Guidry has “done what many thought was impossible. He has taken a neo-traditional church and moved it toward family integration. In ‘Turning the Ship,’ he offers an honest, hard-hitting, no-holds-barred look at the origins, the path, obstacles, and the tremendous rewards of his church’s journey. This is not a panacea. Nor is it a program-oriented marketing scheme designed to get every church on the same path in forty days. This is one man’s story of triumph, tragedy, heartache, and joy as he pursued biblical ecclesiology with tenacity that at times resembled Jacob wrestling with the angel.”

Taking the cue from Titus 2, Guidry and staff fashioned a mid-week discipleship approach for the entire church where the older men teach the younger men, and the older women teach the younger women.

“The whole premise of the book is basically rejecting the secularization of the church, and relying on the sufficiency of Scripture for all matters of faith and practice,” Guidry told the TEXAN.

This includes promoting biblical manhood and womanhood, he said.

“This is a genuine move of God that’s happening,” Guidry said. “And it’s defying the norms of the culture of rebellious teens and the disconnect between children and parents.”

Guidry cited Malachi 4.6 to make his point, which states: “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

Guidry paraphrased the essence of what church leaders told him about what’s happened at Ridgewood: “This is the purest our church has ever been. I actually feel like I’m at a real biblical church.”

Among other things, Guidry attributes such perceptions to male church members assuming their biblical role of spiritual headship in the home. Ridgewood’s families also memorize Scripture, study the great hymns of the faith, and systematically learn biblical doctrine.

“Psalm 11.3 asks that when the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? We can have good intentions all day long, but the heart of the matter is if the foundation is wrong, then it doesn’t matter what we do,” Guidry noted. “So, we’ve gone back to reclaim our foundation.”

Guidry notes that the change holds an evangelistic appeal: “The people who are lost and hurting see the realness, the genuiness here. There’s something in them that says, ‘That’s right.’

“We don’t claim perfection, but we try to follow the one who is,” he explained. “It’s such unity that gives us a platform for the gospel. We have untold witnessing opportunities with neighbors and co-workers. People see a difference, and they want what they see.”

Baucham–whose church practices family-integrated discipleship–notes in the foreword that Turning the Ship isn’t “for the faint of heart.”

Ridgewood deacon James Roberts, who is also a senior petro-chemist, agrees with Baucham. Roberts read the book and sent the following e-mail to Guidry:
“It was not easy reading some parts because it was true. It was not easy staying in the boat while it was turning. It was not easy having my mask removed. It’s always going to hurt when you must face correction. Praise the Father, Sone, and the Holy Spirit for the heart and the strength to get through it. ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ I have a lot of regret for wasted years, but now I have seen the truth.

“I’m learning and growing more than ever. I’m excited about finally being on the right path and going in the right direction. I can only pray that others will face the correction and allow God to complete His work. ‘For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.’ I thank God for how He is using you. continue to stand for Him!”

Guidry is as humbled by that e-mail as he is about the progress and future of Ridgewood: “We haven’t arrived yet, and we have a long way to go.”
The current issue of Texas Baptist Crossroads, a publication of the SBTC, addresses various initiatives that integrate student ministry with the overall local church ministry. You’ll find the magazine online at sbtexas.com/news.

To get a copy of “Turning the Ship,” visit turningtheship.net.

In near reversal, state school board approves ‘examining all sides’ of science theories

AUSTIN?One day after failing to uphold a 20-year-old requirement that Texas public high school students evaluate the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, including evolution, the State Board of Education on March 27 ratified new standards requiring biology students to “analyze, evaluate and critique” scientific theories.

Additionally, the language, approved by a 13-2 vote, requires “examining all sides of scientific evidence” and encourages “critical thinking.”

Jonathan Saenz, legislative affairs director for the Plano, Texas-based Free Market Foundation, said the board action was “a huge victory for school students and validation that the people of Texas and the State Board of Education reject censorship in the classroom and embrace open and critical discussion in the science classroom.”

Saenz wrote on his blog that he believed the mounting pressure from the public on the elected board was evident in the vote.

Meanwhile, Texas Citizens for Science’s Steven Schafersman stated that while the new language is preferred to the “strengths and weaknesses” requirement, he wrote on a blog for the Houston Chronicle: “Of course, the new language can be read (“all sides of scientific evidence”) that will permit anti-evolution Creationists to attack Biology textbooks, and they most certainly will ?”

Following several amendments and counter amendments to wording the board initially approved in January, the board adopted the following language: “In all fields of Science; analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations of science by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

Democrats Rene Nunez and Mary Helen Berlanga were the lone dissent.

Texas science standards are revised every 10 years, which makes the Texas decision important for textbook publishers, who are reluctant to publish multiple editions for different states, and for smaller states that must buy available textbooks.

The education board was bombarded with e-mails, letters, phone calls and editorials from evolution-only proponents and critics in the weeks leading up to the meeting March 25-27 in Austin.

On Friday afternoon, the board was debating final approval of amendments dealing with the analysis and evaluation of the key evolution tenets of common descent and natural selection, which were also initially approved in January and the source of angst for evolution-only proponents.

The effort to retain the “strengths and weaknesses” requirement failed March 26 in a 7-7 vote with Berlanga absent.

Supporters of evolution had assailed the 20-year-old “strengths and weaknesses” clause as a back door to teaching biblical creationism, while evolution-only critics spoke of weaknesses in Darwinian theory.

Those who testified March 25 before the board included Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education and a vocal critic of the intelligent design movement, and Pierre Velasquez of San Antonio, a 31-year veteran science teacher who said preventing teachers from discussing strengths and weaknesses in scientific theories would stifle classroom discussion.

The Texas Republican Party entered the fray on March 7, adopting a resolution titled “Supporting Rigorous Educational Standards for Science in Texas” that opposed abandoning the strengths and weaknesses requirement.

Campaigning for evolution-only instruction was the Texas Freedom Network, founde

Europe tour reminder that remnant remains

Last month June and I did something she claims we have not done in 35 years; take a real vacation. On the trip she was waiting for me to preach somewhere, make a meeting or go to a convention session. It seems that as far back as we can remember our family outings and get-a-ways were always tied to some ministry activity. This time we traveled out of the country with no agenda other than sightseeing and personal enjoyment.

We traveled to England and France. There were the usual obligatory tourist stops to make. We saw Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Winston Churchill’s World War II bunker, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and scores of other interesting historic spots. While in Scotland we visited Edinburgh Castle, the William Wallace Monument and Sterling Bridge. We had two full days in France. There were many experiences we had in the 12-day vacation but those with spiritual significance strongly touched me.

Our first Sunday was at Metropolitan Tabernacle Baptist Church (Spurgeon’s church) in London. Only the faæade remains of the 19th-century building because the rest was destroyed during the Nazi bombings of WWII. However, the columned front was enough to bring to mind my reading of Spurgeon’s sermons and my Bible college textbook, “Lectures to My Students.”

Once inside I was not disappointed with the spiritual atmosphere. The greeters were gracious and friendly. Actually, some workers were on the street compelling people to come into the worship service. We were ushered to the third row from the front. The singing was out of a Psalter-Hymnal. No musical score was in the book. The congregation stood and sat without instruction between songs, prayers and the offering. There was no “special” music. The associate pastor preached this particular Sunday. He prayed for about 15 minutes and then preached for another 40. He was engaging. He used some illustrations but basically brought a strong exposition out of Isaiah 54. Although there was no public invitation, there was enough gospel dispensed to save everyone present. A time was allotted for private reflection before leaving the building. Both in the printed program and by announcement it was made known that the evangelistic service was held in the evening. The building was packed with almost a thousand in attendance. We were told that 700 children attend Sunday school in the afternoon. When the preaching concluded we were given the option to dismiss or remain for observance of the Lord’s Supper. Since I practice closed communion we excused ourselves.

The next worship experience was entirely different but surprisingly good. Westminster Abbey holds an Evensong service at 3 p.m. on the weekend. June and I wanted to participate. We had to convince the “gatekeepers” standing at the door that we were not just tourists wanting to see inside but genuine worshippers who wanted to participate. Finally we convinced them to let us in and we proceeded through the ancient building. About 150 were assembled for the afternoon worship. Another 100 were in the choir. Lengthy passages of Scripture were read from the Old and New Testaments. The “preacher” sort of sang his message and prayer; both were quite short. Prayers were recited as well as the Apostles’ Creed. The music was amazing.

Again there was no invitation but from the Scripture selection there was enough gospel that someone could have gotten saved. Actually there was a closing written prayer in the worship guide urging the worshipper to call upon God for mercy and forgiveness of sin, trusting in Jesus Christ. Now I am under no illusion that the Anglican Church is evangelical. I do believe that the power of God is in the Word of God and the Spirit of God. He can use anything to draw people unto himself.

Our brief time in France allowed us to go to Notre Dame Cathedral and Sacre Coeur Church at Montmartre. They were nothing more than another building to be seen on the tour schedule. Non-Catholic churches were small and out of the way. Their influence had been minimal in France’s history. They were not revered as Westminster Abbey or vibrant like Metropolitan Tabernacle. When the French Revolution took place the emphasis was on equality, justice, and fraternity. These three themes were based upon the supremacy of humankind. Almost anything of religion was wiped away during the Reign of Terror and the immediate years following. Today it is a tragedy to see the spiritual vacuum of France’s secular humanism being filled with Islam.

Expository preaching preferred in over half of churches reaching young adults

More than half the churches effectively reaching young adults use a more expository teaching style, according to a study by LifeWay Research that formed the basis of the newly released book “Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them.”

Written by missiologist Ed Stetzer with co-authors Jason Hayes and Richie Stanley, the book addresses why most young adults?those in the 20- to 29-year-old age range?are avoiding church and what churches are doing (or could do) to reach them. Surveys of 149 churches provide a platform for many of the recommendations of the authors.

San Antonio’s Community Bible Church?while not Southern Baptist?is among the churches examined for their success in reaching young adults and defines itself as a conservative, evangelical congregation that holds to the inerrancy of Scripture. Pastor Scott Austin described for the authors a gradual shift in focus by churches back to expository preaching.

“Even the younger groups of Christians are falling back to a more exegetical preaching and wanting more [of a] straight up, just open up the Bible and go through John or go through Ephesians,” approach. Another pastor in Colorado said the craving for deeper teaching isn’t limited to the 50-plus crowd, and more recently is echoed by those in their 20s and 30s.

The authors are quick to point out that churches known for an expositional style are not necessarily those that “systematically walk through the Scriptures cover to cover, but they do identify more with an expository approach than anything else.” They point to Mat Fry, pastor of C3Church in a suburb of Raleigh, N.C., who graduated from Liberty University and took graduate level studies there and at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Fry develops a series through a certain book, taking a passage of Scripture and developing his outline from it. He calls that “letting the Scripture kind of drive the outline.”

That approach doesn’t have to be lifeless and distanced from real life, Fry said. If done right, an expository message can indeed connect with the world of the unbelieving or unchurched, he told researchers.

The authors draw the conclusion “that survey results indicate people are not so much interested in the method of delivery as they are in the delivery of truth that is relevant to their lives.” They explain, “Authentic preaching that presents God’s Word as the answer will draw many people.”

Other examples are offered of pastors who vary their style, moving between expository and topical sermons while some blend the two, preaching through a book of the Bible, chapter by chapter, preaching on major themes within the text.

Some defenders of topical preaching questioned an often-cited argument that maturing or mature Christians need expository teaching. A Missouri pastor called that “a perceived need and not a real need,” finding no evidence that Jesus preached expositionally. Instead, he said, Jesus preferred a topical pattern exclusively while also using illustrations and stories.

The authors follow-up on that comment by stating, “This chapter isn’t designed to argue for or against any one type of preaching. We are simply giving you input into what churches are doing when they are effective at reaching young adults.”

They did, however, take note of the self-assessment by leaders of Willow Creek in Illinois that they had not seen the returns they had expected at a church known for topical, seeker-sensitive preaching.

“All in all, the new understanding from Willow Creek’s own self-assessment is that the leaders of the church need to regularly communicate to the people the personal responsibility each person has to get in God’s Word for deeper study,” the authors of Lost and Found shared.

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3,000 students, adults hit Gulf Coast for ongoing Ike relief

BOLIVAR PENINSULA?As many as 3,000 students and adults, about one third from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches, gave up their spring break vacations?camping, visiting theme parks, relaxing from school work, or sunning on the beach?to work at the beach, or, at least, what’s left of it on Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County.

Homes in the communities along this barrier island are still in desperate need of repair from the ravages of Hurricane Ike last fall, with many homeowners feeling forgotten.

The remainder of volunteers traveled with churches and organizations from across the country, with one couple traveling from Alaska to help with the rebuild efforts coordinated by the SBTC and Nehemiah’s Vision.

Volunteers from the SBTC Disaster Relief (DR) teams and Nehemiah’s Vision were among the first crews to arrive in southeast Texas in the wake of the category 2 hurricane that brought wind and flood damage to a large swath of the region last Sept. 13. Hardest hit was the 27-mile stretch of land on Bolivar Peninsula with the tidal surge reaching its apex at 27 feet, wiping away entire communities.

Of the homes that remained, some were built according to new storm codes and withstood the wind and water. Others, not completely submerged, were damaged beyond repair while still others were salvageable but their owners needed more help than an insurance check or government relief funds could provide.

That, said Gordon Knight, is where the SBTC and Nehemiah’s Vision partnership can help. Knight, SBTC rebuild director and convention liaison for the Nehemiah’s Vision ministry based in Vidor, said the convention’s DR crews worked into November of last year. By partnering with Nehemiah’s Vision?a ministry that repaired about 630 homes and 38 churches and built 10 new homes in the months after Hurricane Rita in 2005?Knight said the convention is able to prolong its ministry to the community long after the DR teams move on.

Today the ministry works to rebuild homes and churches, stepping into action when the clean-up crews have completed their jobs.

STUDENTS UNLEASHED

First Baptist Church of Crystal Beach was the command site for the spring break work crews. Built up on a 25-foot manmade knoll, the church still took on about two feet of water during the storm. Repairs are being made to the building but enough has been completed for the church to play host to the students.

SBTC feeding units were set up at the Crystal Beach site and First Baptist Church of Galveston and churches as far away as Texas City housed the students each night. Shower and laundry units were also made available at the varying locations.

Knight said the volunteers come to the project with varying degrees of abilities, expectations, and spiritual maturity. One student, Jordan Vaught, a high school senior from Glenview Baptist Church in Haltom City, had spent last year’s spring break doing relief work in New Orleans.

“I just loved that so much,” he said, noting that being able to meet the people whose homes he had been working on and see the expressions of gratitude on their faces made all of his work worth the sacrifice. For Vaught ministry work won’t end after spring break. He said he wants to major in nursing so he can continue to help people in need.

Also considering work in the mission field is Chris Morrill, another high school senior. He took a break from hanging drywall at a home to tell about how his experiences with disaster relief and the rebuild efforts are leading him to a lifetime of service.

“I feel like God’s calling me into the mission field,” he said.

Working in dis

Ridgewood, Port Arthur, revamps to retain teens and disciple parents






What is Age-Integrated Discipleship?

Come see it in action!

Four times a year (Jan. April, July and Oct.) Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, holds an open house for visitors to get a first-hand look at family-oriented discipleship and how it impacts church life. Visitors will:

1. Stay a Saturday night in the home of a GFBC family (based on availability)

2. Attend a GFBC Sunday service

3. Enjoy a fellowship meal after the service

4. Participate in a Q&A session with GFBC elders If this interests you, send an email to info@gracefamilybaptist.net


“Gone are the days when Christians understood that the home — and not the Christian church or school — is principally and primarily responsible for the education, evangelism, and discipleship of children and that our ecclesiology should reflect that reality.”

These words, taken from the foreword of a new book, Turning the Ship, pinpoint the problem that troubled Dustin Guidry, pastor of Ridgewood Baptist Church in Port Arthur.

Written by Guidry, the book chronicles how he and staff members came to grips with, and solved their unwillingness to place their children in age-segregated, church discipleship programs, be they Sunday school, children’s church, youth department and camps, even the nursery, all of which were the traditional methodology at Ridgewood.

Following a long season of soul-searching and scriptural study, Guidry and staff have returned to a biblical model of discipleship and to those days long gone cited in the opening sentence above, cited from the foreword of Guidry’s book, and written by Voddie Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.

According to Baucham, Guidry has “done what many thought was impossible. He has taken a

neo-traditional church and moved it toward family integration. In Turning the Ship, he offers an honest, hard-hitting, no-holds-barred look at the origins, the path, obstacles, and the tremendous rewards of his church’s journey. This is not a panacea. Nor is it a program-oriented marketing scheme designed to get every church on the same path in forty days. This is one man’s story of triumph, tragedy, heartache, and joy as he pursued biblical ecclesiology with tenacity that at

times resembled Jacob wrestling with the angel.”

Taking the cue from Titus 2, Guidry and staff fashioned a mid-week discipleship approach for the entire church where the older men teach the younger men, and the older women teach the younger women.

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First Person: How understanding covenant restored our marriage commitment

Riddle me this: A divorced man and a divorced woman, Christians, get married while understanding for the first time the biblical definition of covenant marriage. It’s a second marriage for each of them, but neither has been married to anyone else. Who did they marry the second time? Well, the same person they married the first time — each other.

In a nutshell, this is the story of my marriage. After nearly eight years of separation and then divorce, God renewed our marriage. During that time and before, I was running from God’s call upon my life to full-time Christian vocation. My marriage became one of the many victims in the rearview mirror of my life. But God got my attention one day as I was looking out the windshield of the oilfield truck I was driving alone down Wolf Creek Pass on the Denver side of the Rocky Mountains.

The engine quit. No reason. Just quit. This is dangerous as big rigs require their engines to supply power to their air brakes. Without power, no brakes?at least to a point. Actually, the emergency brake will set when a big rig loses air pressure, and I was losing pressure at every hairpin turn down the steep grades, and wasn’t looking forward to the brakes locking up.

I tried all I knew to restart the truck — even pushed the start button. Dead. Slowing enough to stop, I turned onto a shoulder area and began sliding straight off the mountain in about a foot of slick mud as it was spring melt-off time.

Ready to bail out at the last second, the truck turned back onto the highway. I have no other explanation for this than God’s hand came from heaven and steered the truck aright much as a boy in a sandbox does with his Tonkas.

Again, I reached for the start button. Ignition!

As soon as the truck restarted, I heard a voice so startlingly real that I turned to see who was in the passenger seat. I liken this to the late Adrian Rogers quip about the voice of God: “It wasn’t an audible voice; it was louder than that.” However, it was audible to me. The voice said, “Norman, go home.” I knew exactly what that meant.

That fall I enrolled in Criswell College, and in the months preceding had re-established only a slightly more friendly relationship with Cynthia, the woman I divorced, mother of our two children. By running off to Bible college, however, I was sacrificing, not obeying. This I realized in Old Testament survey class when I came across the prophet Samuel’s confrontation with King Saul, who had kept forbidden spoils from a battle with the Amalekites. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” Samuel said. Ouch!

The more I sat under the tutelage of Criswell College professors, and the more I learned about the God who saved me, spared me, and whom I purported to love, the more I realized that the marital covenant is no less binding than the covenants God made with all the Old Testament luminaries. That, coupled with the fellowship of godly professors and fellow students at the school made me face the truth of how God truly feels about divorce. He hates it, says the Bible.

I wanted to come back to God on my own terms. But the One who put my truck back on the road also had a life map for me to follow, and he wasn’t allowing me much comfort in my detours. God let me drive in misery to a fork in my spiritual road: complain or comply.

I called my father, the late Eldridge Miller, who was pastor of First Baptist Church, Sallisaw, Okla., to see if he planned to attend the annual “School of the Prophets” in Dallas. Having been numerous times before, he said no?that is until I told him I had plans to propose (again) to Cynthia if he and Mom would bring her. “What were those dates again?” he asked.

Anybody for a lesson in how not to propose? After explaining how God was working in my life, I said to Cynthia: “The only love I have for you is as a sister in Christ. But I’m willing to try again if you are.” As romantic as it is convincing, eh? Well, it must’ve been the half-carat solitaire and not my half-baked soliloquy because she said: “I still love you, and I’m willing to try.”

In Austin, 230 renew vows at Baptist church

AUSTIN?While Texas lawmakers wrangle over the appropriate direction for family law reform in the legislature, one church is already hard at work building a foundation to strengthen marriages in the heart of the state’s capital.

At Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, the covenant nature of marital and family relationships was the subject of a fall emphasis. Pastor Michael Lewis led the congregation through a sermon series focusing on the subject, a 40-day love dare in which church members lived out the covenant love of Christ with friends and family, and a vow renewal service.

After previewing a screening of the “Fireproof” movie starring Kirk Cameron and produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., Lewis said he felt convicted to provide his church with practical and biblical teaching on the covenant nature of God and its implications in the lives of believers.

“We’ve seen marriage and family disintegrate in today’s culture with no values and no stability,” Lewis said. “We sensed a great desire to convey to believers and to our church today the stability found in a covenant relationship?found with God first of all and then found in covenant marriage relationships and even in covenant relationships with family.”

Although Lewis believes covenant marriage legislation can only strengthen families, he said it is the church’s responsibility to provide real remedies for the spiritual problem of failing marriages.

As a kick-off to the marriage emphasis GHBC rented five theaters on “Fireproof’s” opening weekend, and over 1,000 church members viewed the movie with family and friends. Additionally, 1,200 members of GHBC participated in a 40-day love dare intended to strengthen all forms of relationships. As seen in the “Fireproof” movie, the “40-Day Love Dare” is a devotional guide produced by Sherwood pastors and “Fireproof” creators Alex and Stephen Kendrick. The book provides daily challenges or “dares” to demonstrate love to a spouse.

“It was a challenge each day to exhibit Christ-like love in those covenant relationships,” Lewis said. “We had our members demonstrate practical ways of being patient and kind with each other on a daily basis. Each love dare gave them a biblical teaching and then gave them a life application of how to experience that love.

Lewis said the church saw families and marriages greatly influenced by the love of Christ.

“We saw growing marriages strengthened. We have experienced several marriages that had no hope experience new hope in Christ,” Lewis said, adding that one couple was reconciled after being divorced for two years. “The husband had recently accepted Christ in our congregation and the wife wasn’t going to church anywhere, but she began to see life change in his heart and life. She began to watch us on TV while I was teaching about covenant marriage, and she came to church and now they are remarried and going through biblical counseling.”

Other examples that highlight the eternal impact of the 40-day love dare included increased communication between spouses.

“Couples that have never prayed together now pray together,” Lewis added. “Some couples that had faint hearts about their marriage?one considering divorce?when they understood their marriage was a covenant and not just a contract to be broken, they re-affirmed their vows to each other.”

The marriage emphasis culminated in a vow renewal service for 230 couples on Oct. 26. The candlelight service gave members an opportunity to remind themselves of the covenant nature of marriage. After the ceremony, a church-wide celebration included a reception and wedding pictures.

But it was Lewis’ introductory sermon on covenant marriage that provided a springboard for the Great Hills marriage emphasis. The Sept. 7 sermon identified three key principles regarding covenants and their modern-day implications for daily life.

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