Month: January 2012

Sr. Adult Luncheon Feb. 29

Comedian and musician Aaron Wilburn will headline the annual SBTC Senior Adult Luncheon on Feb. 29 at the Frisco Convention Center. Musical guest will be LaDonna Gatlin, recording artist, award-winning speaker and sister of the Gatlin Brothers.

Wilburn is known for appealing to a wide spectrum of audiences with humor that draws from his Christian faith, Southern roots and experiences in touring with the popular Gaither Homecoming events.

Wilburn has garnered Dove Awards and Grammy nominations and in 2005 was honored by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, joining its hallowed halls with such notables as Gospel greats Vestal Goodman and Jake Hess and country and pop musicians such as Tammy Wynette, Lionel Ritchie and Percy Sledge.

The luncheon is open to any age. Tickets are $10 and are available at or by calling the SBTC evangelism office toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC). 

Ladies Session Feb. 27 at conference hotel

The Ladies’ Session of the Empower Evangelism Conference will be from 1:30-4 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the Embassy Suites Hotel, across the street from the Frisco Convention Center.

As usual, the session is free of charge and will feature Laurie Cole of Priority Ministries in Houston, two wives of pastors—Lois Evans and Donna Gaines—and LaDonna Gatlin, musician, speaker and sister to the Gatlin Brothers of country music fame.

Cole is the founder and president of Priority Ministries, dedicated to encouraging and equipping women to “love God most and seek him first.” Raised in a strong Christian home, Cole became a Christian at an early age. But in her early 20s, God tested and taught her the importance of truly giving him priority in her life.

For over 20 years, Cole has taught and spoken at numerous women’s events and conferences, and published three Bible studies. Her hunger for God and his Word continues to grow. Cole is married to Bill, who is the associate pastor of worship and praise at Sagemont Church.

Evans is wife of Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. She is senior vice president of The Urban Alternative, a ministry born through her husband’s ministry, and is a speaker and vocalist. Evans founded the Pastors’ Wives Ministry and The First Lady Conference with a mission to give help, hope and a safe haven to pastor’s wives experiencing isolation, fear and silent abuse. This ministry provides education, biblical counseling and support and a myriad of other Christian resources.

Evans and her husband combined to write “Our Love Is Here To Stay” (Multnomah, 2004). Also, she wrote “Seasons Of A Woman’s Life” (Moody, 2000), and “Stones of Remembrance: A Rock-Hard Faith from Rock-Hard Places” (Moody, 2006) with Jane Rubietta.

Gaines, wife of Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, is a Bible teacher and discipler of women. She is the author and contributor to several books, including “There’s Gotta Be More: Enjoying the Spirit-Filled Life,” published in 2008 by Broadman & Holman, and “Chronological Bible Discipleship, Women’s Ministry Edition,” with Iva May, which focuses on the “big story” of Scripture.

She has also written Bible book studies on Ephesians, Colossians, James, Romans, 1 and 2 Peter and Exodus.

In 2009 she was appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention to serve on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

Gatlin grew up on stage singing with her brothers—the legendary Gatlin Brothers. In the early 1970s the Gatlins went to Nashville. But a detour appeared on the road to stardom when she got married. So she took a leap of faith, chose to follow her heart, and “sing a different song” apart from her brothers.

Gatlin is also a noted speaker. In July of 2005, she was one of five speakers (and the only woman) inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame (CPAE Council of Peers Award for Excellence), a lifetime award for speaking excellence and professionalism. She’s recorded four solo CDs and is a contributing writer to the best-selling book series “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

Longtime pastor, early SBTC leader Miles Seaborn dies

FORT WORTH—Miles Seaborn Jr., a longtime Texas pastor, former missionary and one of the leading figures in the formation of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, died Jan. 22 at his home in Fort Worth. He was 81.

Seaborn retired from Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth in 1997 after 29 years as pastor there. Prior to that, he and his wife Jeanne served 10 years with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board in the Philippines. He was pastor of Seventh Street Baptist Church in Wewoka, Okla., from 1953-1957 following his graduation from Oklahoma Baptist University.

A Drumright, Okla., native, he attended Oklahoma Baptist University on a track scholarship. Seaborn earned a bachelor of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary before heading to the international mission field in 1958.

He was instrumental in the 1998 formation of the SBTC, serving as president of the convention’s predecessor organization, the Southern Baptists of Texas Inc. Seaborn also served in many denominational and associational roles, including SBC first vice president (1997) and chairman of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee board (1998-2000).

“Miles Seaborn was a man of great courage and conviction,” remarked SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards. “His many contributions to Christ’s Kingdom will only be fully revealed in heaven. One of his many ministries that impacted me personally was that he served as a catalyst for the founding of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. I will miss his prayers and strong support.”

Seaborn was instrumental in devising the convention’s constitutional structure, particularly insisting on a provision that it incur no debt, said Fort Worth attorney J. Shelby Sharpe, who served as legal counsel during the SBTC’s formation.

Bob Pearle, who followed Seaborn as pastor at Birchman and served alongside him on the SBTC Executive Board, said Seaborn’s contributions to ministry would be missed.

“He relocated this church and was way ahead of his time when they had one church in two locations. Later, they unified the church back into a single location. Miles had a great missionary heart. He touched thousands of lives.”

In addition to his time in the Philippines, Seaborn preached in numerous other places such as Indonesia, Argentina, Uruguay, Hong Kong, Japan and throughout southern Africa.

In presenting the H. Paul Pressler Distinguished Service Award to Seaborn at the SBTC annual meeting in 2006, the Houston judge said he initially “threw cold water” on the idea of a new state convention in Texas as Seaborn and others laid the groundwork for it.

“The fact that we’re here today … is due to the vision of Miles Seaborn,” Pressler said at the time. “And Miles, I’m grateful for you. You saw it; you understood it. I didn’t. And thank you for leading. I’m very grateful to you.”

Seaborn is survived by his wife, Jeanne, of the home; children: Miles L. Seaborn III and wife, Sherril; Ina Allmand and husband, David; Neal Seaborn and wife, Jana; and Gay Nystrom and husband, Brian; grandchildren: Michael Allmand and wife, Jill; Melissa Gose and husband, Jimmie; Michelle Tombrella and husband, Joey; Miles Seaborn IV and wife, Adrean; Luella Bullock and husband, Jarob; Lynne Seaborn, Micah Seaborn, Edward Seaborn, Samuel Seaborn, Janae Seaborn, Luke Seaborn, Gaelen Nystrom, Anne Nystrom and Timothy Nystrom; and sister, Connie Snyder. He also leaves 12 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were Jan. 28 at Birchman Baptist Church. In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to the Miles and Jeanne Seaborn Scholarship fund at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary or the Missionary Residence Fund at Birchman Baptist Church.


Lewisville church carving gospel paths in hard-to-reach parts of East Asia

LEWISVILLE—The Great Commission commands believers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” But in many nations that command seems impossible because mission work and Christianity are outlawed.

Lakeland Baptist Church in Lewisville is breaking through those barriers, using conversational English in East Asia to make inroads in places where Christianity is outlawed and mission work is illegal. Ken Abbot, a church leader at Lakeland, is leading teams into schools, building relationships and opening the door to the gospel.

“What we normally consider as ‘mission work’ is not permitted,” Abbot said. “That does not mean that there are not effective and legal ways to share our faith.”

One advantage for Christian workers is that school children are required to learn English in many parts of Asia. “By the time students reach late middle school and high school, their reading and writing skills are fairly good,” Abbot said. But he notes that the students’ conversational skills are poor due to a lack of native English speakers.

That’s where the Lakeland group steps in, working as conversational English teachers in local schools. “Our teams go into public and sometimes private schools to assist them in this area. Our group commits to come back for three consecutive years if we are happy and the school is happy.”

The method is simple.

“We ‘teach’ 3-4 classes each morning for one week,” Abbot said. “In return, we request that we can do daily outings or field trips along with the teachers with whom we have been paired.” The group also requests to have lunch and dinner with the teachers from the English department.

“This gives us a lot of time to meet with and develop friendships with the teachers.  Essentially, we are with them every waking moment of every day for one entire week.”

The goal is singular.

“Our purpose in this is to win teachers and administrators to the Lord. We are very intentional in our prayers and train our people how to take advantage of conversations and opportunities that arise during our time together,” Abbot said. He notes that teachers are fascinated with western culture and eager to ask questions.

“While we are very evangelistic and intentional in our efforts to win teachers to Christ, we also recognize that many of our initial trips are relationship and trust building,” Abbot said. “Over the past few years, I have seen several of our people who like to return to certain cities because of relationships they have established.

This makes our return much more meaningful to the teachers. They generally remember all our names.”

In addition to using English as an inroad to the gospel, Abbot also tries to continue to foster relationships with missions personnel and nationals to whom he’s previously ministered.

Lakeland keeps an eye out for International Mission Board personnel while there, but they rarely have an opportunity to work with them, Abbot said. “We are very evangelistic. Our missionaries have to be a bit more discreet due to the nature of their work. We have, however, worked very closely with some.”

One IMB couple was new to the mission field and due to his ongoing relationships in the area, Abbot was able open doors for them.

“The people are very slow to warm up to new people—especially foreigners,” Abbot said. “My recommendation of this couple broke through a lot of barriers that would have taken months to accomplish.”

Abbot also makes it a point to arrive early and stay late while on the field.

“My purpose is to travel back to cities where we have worked in the past and schedule time to meet with believers in the areas.”

On a recent trip, Abbot was booked in meetings from morning until night, making the most of opportunities to share the gospel.

“I met with some pre-med and law students for four hours one afternoon. None were believers. We spoke for about an hour just getting to know one another. I then began asking them what was important to them as young adults. This gave me the opportunity to tell them about what is more important in my life as well.”

The importance of the gospel continues to drive Abbot and the people of Lakeland to reach out to Asia through the English language, promoting not only cultural exchange, but also fulfilling the Great Commission along the way.


16th-century Radical Reformation celebrated at Southwestern Seminary

FORT WORTH—Much like evangelical believers everywhere, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary recognizes a great debt to the Reformation. Unlike some Southern Baptist churches and seminaries, SWBTS prefers to celebrate Radical Reformation Day on Jan. 21 instead of highlighting Reformation Day on Oct. 31.

The former event calls attention to the first Anabaptist baptism performed in the home of Felix Manz on Jan. 21, 1525, when George Blaurock asked his good friend Conrad Grebel to “baptize him with the true Christian baptism upon his faith and knowledge,” according to Southwestern professor William Estep, author of “The Anabaptist Story.”

“It was that day the Free Church took flight,” explained SWBTS President Paige Patterson when he launched the celebration in 2010, noting that all of the newly baptized men were martyred within five years.

The latter observance preferred by Lutheran and Reformed groups honors Martin Luther’s protest on Oct. 31, 1517, against clerical abuses by the Catholic Church. He nailed his letter which came to be known as “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church which housed a large collection of holy relics said to provide the viewer relief from punishment in purgatory for the right price.

Though appreciative of the significance of Martin Luther’s stance, Patterson told the TEXAN, “Baptists are indebted more to the radical reformers than to the magisterial reformers. Like the former, we insist on real conversion before baptism, do not baptize infants, advocate a free church in a free state, and place evangelism at the heart of all that we do,” he explained.

“Magisterial reformers often persecuted the Anabaptists—even to the death just as did the Catholics. So why honor the people who persecuted and misrepresented you and leave unrecognized the ones you are most like?” he asked. “Since that made no sense, we established Radical Reformation Day on the chapel day closest to the first baptisms in Zurich. That way we honor those who paid with their blood to defend a robust form of real New Testament Christianity.”

Recalling that the Reformation in Zurich, Switzerland, was instigated with the eating of sausages in defiance of church law concerning Lent, Patterson inaugurated the school’s first celebration of Radical Reformation Day on Jan. 21, 2010, by offering deer sausage and biscuits for the evening meal on campus.

The chapel message set the stage for the annual observance as Patterson made a case for “The Connection of Continental Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists,” arguing a “theological and spiritual kinship” between English and American Baptists with 16th-century Anabaptists.”

Patterson said Anabaptists paid the price to go against the culture of Rome and go against the culture of even the magisterial reformers and say, “’We must obey the Holy Spirit of God.’”

“In the 16th-century Reformation, there is one and only one group that had the theological fidelity to follow the Great Commission in its entirety, and that was the Anabaptists,” added Emir Caner, former dean of the College at Southwestern and current president of Truett-McConnell College in Georgia.

Both Patterson and Caner will speak again at this year’s Anabaptists & Contemporary Baptists Conference, Jan. 30-31, joining other keynote speakers Rick Warren of Saddleback Church of Lake Forest, Calif., Reformation and Anabaptist expert Abraham Friesen of Santa Barbara, Calif., and SWBTS systematic theology professor Malcolm Yarnell. (See related article on page 1.)

“My plea is for contemporary Baptists to recognize indebtedness to all orthodox Christians, but to reject any form of ecumenism that compromises the witness of either the evangelical Anabaptists or the early English and American Baptists,” Patterson argued in his inaugural paper, originally presented to the Evangelical Theological Society.

This year’s conference will go from 3:30-9 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30, resuming at 8:45 a.m. on Jan. 31 and concluding that afternoon as Patterson addresses the legacy of Anabaptists.

A more in-depth experience relating Anabaptist history is planned for May 14-24 as Southwestern hosts an overseas tour of historic sites led by Yarnell and Patterson. Also being offered is a class on Women of the Radical Reformation led by Dorothy Patterson, professor of theology in women’s studies and Candi Finch, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies.

“In the 16th century, the group known as the Anabaptists (literally rebaptizers) believed their ultimate loyalty was to God and what he had revealed in Scripture. They were viewed as a danger to society because at the time the church and state were inseparable, and a person belonged to both by reason of infant baptism,” Finch explained. “Since Anabaptists rejected the idea of infant baptism and taught that people should be baptized after they became believers, they threatened the very structure of society, and both Catholics and Protestants persecuted Anabaptists.”

She acknowledged that little is known about Anabaptist women during this time, although over one-third of recorded Anabaptist martyrs were women. “In fact, much of what is known has come to us through court testimonies and letters and hymns composed by them while imprisoned,” she said. “The ‘Martyrs’ Mirror’ is the source of many of these women’s testimonies as it records the trials of Anabaptist martyrs from 1524 to 1660.”

Looking ahead to the instruction she and Patterson will provide on the tour, Finch said, “Anabaptist women showed maturity of their faith during trials and a deep understanding of Scripture and they displayed remarkable courage and a steely resolve not to abandon their faith, knowing that a conversion to Anabaptism almost guaranteed a death by execution.”

Pastor Steve Swofford of First Baptist Church of Rockwall recalled the impact of participating in an earlier Southwestern tour in Europe. “Who we are as Baptists and the price that others have paid to help bring that about should never be forgotten,” he said.

Although Swofford learned about Baptist roots while completing his master of divinity degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, when the opportunity arose to travel with faculty members to the actual sites he had studied, he was on board.

“Hearing those stories in the places where they actually took place drives them deep into your heart and mind—which is where they ought to be,” Swofford told the TEXAN. “These two professors make history come alive and you will return home with a renewed appreciation and passion about our past and how you should approach your present,” he said, referring to Patterson and Yarnell, both of whom will be teaching the group traveling to Europe for the study of the radical reformers.

Departing Dallas-Fort Worth on May 14, the Anabaptist Study Tour features sites in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic and England.

“The Anabaptists were those individuals who stood for the Free Church tradition and dissented from the established church baptism,” explained Madison Grace, editorial assistant for Southwestern’s Journal of Theology. “The roots of these people, from which most modern evangelical movements trace their heritage, are found in these countries.”

Stops will give attention to Martin Luther, John Huss, Jerome Savonarola, John Wycliffe, Peter Waldo, Pilgram Marpeck, and Ulrich Zwingli. After Worms, Strasbourg, and Basel, a visit to Bern will recall efforts to exterminate Anabaptists, viewing the Martyrs’ Mirror listing 40 such executions.

Additional stops include the Emmental Valley, Lucerne, Schwyz, Zollikon, and eventually Zurich, the cradle of Swiss-South German Anabaptism.

Outside of Zurich, the tour takes in Balthasar Hubmaier’s church site in Waldshut, the site where the first Anabaptist confession was made in Schaffhausen, and the resort town of Konstanz bordering Germany and Switzerland where the Reformation got underway in 1415 with the execution of John Huss. The group also travels to Vienna and Prague to see significant sites related to the lives of Hubmaier and Huss before returning to the U.S. on May 24.

Yarnell expects the tour to be restorative and inspirational for pastors and other church leaders, in addition to students seeking academic credit. “They will be able to experience more deeply things they may remember from a lecture or book, or perhaps events and people they have forgotten or never even known.”

While many pastors and laymen dream of going to Israel in order to walk in the steps of Jesus, Yarnell said the tours of historic Baptist sites are equally valuable.

“We don’t worship a place,” he reminded. “We worship a God who inhabits every place.” He said much can be learned of the context by experiencing the culture of “those who walked before us—especially where they had to pay a price,” referring to the Anabaptist martyrs “that were burned at the stake for doctrines we take for granted.”

Bob Pearle, pastor of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, expects the upcoming Anabaptist Tour to be helpful to the present day Baptist pastors because it gives them a fuller sense of history. Having participated in an earlier historic tour, Pearle said, “Too often we lose touch with the past, thinking those ways and ideas are no longer relevant to modern society. The tour helps a pastor realize that he is enjoying the benefits of the sacrifices of our forefathers,” he added.

“It also reminds us that we are to be the gatekeepers of the truth that our forefathers died for,” Pearle said. “We should never abandon that truth on the altar of inclusion.”

Pastors in the spotlight

There’s a tension between James’ warning in chapter 3, verse 1 of his epistle that not many of us should aspire to be teachers, and Peter’s encouragement (1 Peter 3:15) that we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope within us. Maybe we could see the middle way as a discouragement to “pick a fight for Jesus” but also acknowledgement that sometimes we must stick out our necks and thoughtfully speak for God’s people.

We could all give examples of those who missed the middle way. Some seek the office of gospel provocateur and others are unprepared when plainly asked to explain the good news. I can think of times when I have run afoul of both scriptural admonitions. Rather than dwell on occasions when someone has done it wrong, I’d like to highlight those who’ve been exemplars of godly and articulate humility when called into the spotlight.

Some national figures have a reputation for doing it right. I was always impressed by the way Jerry Falwell handled the spotlight. He never seemed all that impressed or fearful to be on camera. That allowed him to be winsome and clearheaded when asked about one thing or another. There was an aspect of natural poise at work here—not all of us have that—but also a perspective that helped him focus on the person asking questions. In a different way, Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary does an excellent job of answering every interviewer with the gospel message. Ask him about the decline of marriage and he’ll answer with something pertinent and clear, but he’ll also bring the discussion back to the gospel. Clearly, sharing the gospel is why he’s on TV; the other subject is often a mere entrée. Richard Land is also notable as an effective spokesman for biblical truth, including the main message of biblical revelation. Being smart doesn’t hurt, but intentionally focusing on the main thing seems to be what separates those who should be on camera from those who shouldn’t.

Right before Christmas, a group of East Texas pastors had a chance to give an answer for the hope within them. This was occasioned when a media-hungry group of radicals from the North decided to mess with Texas—particularly the nativity scene on the lawn of the Henderson County courthouse. In response, the Henderson County judge, the Texas attorney general, and 5,000 residents who attended a rally on Dec. 17 politely disagreed with the atheist agitators. A political rally or an angry response to outside meddlers is too easy, though. Pastor Robert Welch of Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro led rally attenders to understand that the baby in the manger was also the Lamb of God then and the Lamb of God now. He shared the gospel with the crowd while he had their attention. So did Pastor Erick Graham of Sand Springs Baptist in Athens. After decrying various significant problems faced by county residents, Pastor Graham pointed to Jesus as the answer to the needs of all men and women. Pastor Nathan Lorick of First Baptist Malakoff had multiple opportunities to share with the media. In the interview I heard, he approached the situation with humility and confidence, never forgetting that his call is to the lift up the Lord.

Perhaps you saw a startling photo of Pastor Robert Jeffress on the cover of D Magazine recently. I’ll admit that I dreaded reading the article because I assumed the magazine that once referred to W.A. Criswell as Dallas’ “best 19th century man” (in a bad way) would attempt a hatchet job on the current pastor of the famous First Baptist Dallas. And perhaps the writer meant to do a hatchet job when he began a few days of shadowing Pastor Jeffress. The result, however, was an article the church could hand out as a promotional piece. The article was very positive. In the author’s own testimony, the fact that Pastor Jeffress was kind and caring and genuine won him over on a personal level. Clearly the writer and the pastor did not change one another’s minds regarding hot button issues of the day but the article portrayed a pastor who believed God’s Word and cared very much about the eternal destinies of people, including the magazine writer. Robert Jeffress has on several occasions found himself at the center of media attention and he has acquitted himself well. I’m most impressed, though, that a writer who may have begun with some negative assumptions about the subject of his article came away days later convinced that the pastor is the real deal. There aren’t many finer things we might have said about us.  

From the example of these men, I offer a couple of suggestions that you should have in the back of your mind if the unexpected should happen.

First, remember your message. Pundits are everywhere. People who know a little about a lot of things are useful but not crucial at most points. Men who spend their days and nights listening to God and preaching his Word are irreplaceable. Regardless of what has attracted a reporter to your message, direct his attention to your main point. I pray that this point is always the gospel.

Second, remember your calling. This is a little different from the first point. It is very tempting to make your time on camera or in print about how people perceive you. It’s natural to want to avoid embarrassing ourselves just as it is natural to want people to like us. Put those away. Vanity is a common way that good interviewers get people to say more than they intend. Your calling is always higher and more important than your reviews. That perspective will set you free.

Finally, remember your audience. You’re talking to people—reporters, photographers, technicians, any number of people in the room with you who will edit the footage or copy later. Genuine concern for them will likely be refreshing and rare in their experience. Sometimes God gives you a few minutes of fame for the sake of one or two people you wouldn’t have otherwise met.

So listen to Peter; gentleness and respect will win your message a hearing. Listen to James; don’t be overly eager to take on added accountability. But also listen to those who’ve been good examples as they had a few moments on the public stage. When your moment comes, you’ll understand how challenging and significant those few moments can be.

God leads Watauga church to consider needs of South Asia

WATAUGA—South Asia was never really on the radar of First Baptist Church of Watauga in years past, although the congregation of about 300 members had made a successful transition to becoming an Acts 1:8-focused church. In the oft-cited Bible passage, the resurrected Jesus tells his disciples they would become Holy Spirit-led witnesses in “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

As a long-term partnership with International Mission Board missionaries in Peru is winding down in 2012, Pastor Dennis Hester was eager to see where God would lead them next, but he’d be the first to admit he did not see South Asia as a future ministry focus.

After two women of the church returned from attending the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, where they heard the focus on the Great Commission, Hester was intrigued by an appeal from IMB President Tom Elliff and SBC President Bryant Wright to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG).

“Let’s just begin to pray about this,” Hester told the staff. “My assumption was that it was going to be something in South America since we had connections down there. We prayed about it as a staff and asked our Wednesday night prayer meeting to do so for several months.”

The pastor and two other members learned more about the Embrace strategy while attending a training event in Cedar Hill last fall. “The Lord began to confirm that we are supposed to do this,” Hester said, while adding that he realized not every church is ready to embrace a UUPG. “We’re not the largest church, but the Lord began to show me that we’re healthy and we have a strong missions emphasis,” he said.

So the next step of commitment seemed reasonable.

“The question was, ‘Where are you going to lead us?’ There are nine affinity groups and it could be anywhere.”

Watauga’s population of over 25,000 is very homogenous with a racial makeup that is 87 percent white—about 10 percent of the city being Hispanic or Latino, fewer than 3 percent African American, and the remainder drawn from other groups. So when a young mother walked in unannounced to inquire about job opportunities and said her family had just relocated from one of the largest countries in South Asia, the staff was quick to help the new resident who seemed an unusual match for the area north of Fort Worth.

That was just the first of more than a dozen hints that Hester and the congregation began to notice as God directed their attention to South Asia.

The group that went through the Embrace training scattered out to each of the affinity group sessions to make sure they were exposed to all regions, while agreeing all of them would go to the South America session since that’s where God had used them in the past. They were surprised to find their attention being re-directed.

“During that day we believed the Lord just drew our hearts to South Asia,” Hester said, reflecting on several insights that pointed them toward an unfamiliar territory. In addition to the visit by the newcomer whom they never saw again, one member shared about meeting a new family at the school where he teaches that had relocated from South Asia. A college student told the pastor that he found himself weeping over the lostness of that same region every time he heard the country mentioned. The associate pastor, a seminary student, introduced the church to a church planter attempting to reach the 40,000 first-generation residents from the very same region who live in Plano.

“Stuff like that happened in rapid succession as the Lord was giving us direction,” Hester said, adding that he had accepted an invitation from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention missions director Terry Coy to participate in a vision trip to South Asia in late January.

When Hester asked one of his prayer warriors—a woman he described as having “a heart for missions”—to pray intently about the Embrace vision, she asked whether Asia might be the place to which God was directing them. “I asked her where she got that idea and she told of spending time in the prayer room that Sunday morning. She felt like the Lord was pointing us in that direction.”

Meanwhile, the pastor began making a 45-minute presentation to different groups about the Embrace strategy, seeking their support and prayer. He started with the five-member staff, wanting everyone to be on board with the concept. Then he met with the deacons and later the missions committee.

“Through our prayer time last year we felt the vision for the next year was to focus on prayer and missions, but I wasn’t sure how that would flesh itself out.” After becoming convinced First Baptist Church of Watauga was to embrace a UUPG, Hester said the congregation was driven to its knees even more, setting the framework for discovering which group to embrace.

Over a six-week period the congregation utilized inserts provided by the IMB at, praying each Sunday morning and during a one-hour, mid-week prayer meeting Jan. 4, seeking to discern which group to embrace.

Hester will travel to South Asia with a former IMB missionary who is studying at Southwestern while teaching Spanish at a local Christian school. During the two-week period they are gone, other members of the church will gather each night to continue praying for discernment.  

Ten members from the church are being enlisted to participate in a March 27-28 focus on the IMB’s work in South Asia that is scheduled at Gregg Baptist Association in Longview.

“We’re asking God specifically to open our eyes to the unengaged, unreached people group we are to embrace,” Hester said, hoping the trip will give him greater exposure to the culture of South Asia and clarity as to whether their UUPG will be in on of those countrys.

Coy wants to see the SBTC vision trip provide that clarity for the Watauga church. “Pastor Dennis has already expressed a passion for this region and for adopting a UUPG in or near the area we will be visiting. I know that he and the church have been intensely and intentionally praying for God’s direction and for open doors,” Coy said. “I pray that God will speak clearly to Dennis and others during this trip.”

SBTC launched a series of Embrace SENT labs, which started with First Baptist Church of Euless on Jan. 14, then moving to Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston on Feb. 11, Castle Hills Baptist Church in San Antonio on Feb. 18, and Redbud Baptist Church in Lubbock on March 10.

The IMB is also offering Embrace equipping conferences at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif., on March 24, First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., on March 29, and at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Oct. 25.

For more information on being a part of the SBTC challenge for 1,000 Southern Baptist churches in Texas to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group, call the convention office toll-free at 877-953-SBTC or visit

Don”t be ashamed of the gospel

The 2012 SBTC Evangelism Conference theme is “I Am Not Ashamed,” taken from Romans 1:14-17. The passage challenges us to be courageous witnesses for Christ. In an increasingly hostile culture we cannot allow ourselves to be marginalized as followers of Jesus. A more timely title could not have been chosen for the conference. Every believer is to be unashamed of the gospel.

A major news story going beyond the sports world has been the public prayer and praise by Tim Tebow. Tebow, the Denver Broncos’ quarterback, wears his faith on the outside. He is unashamed to give testimony before a very cynical and critical world. I should not be but I am still amazed that so many people miss what is happening. Although I can’t speak for Tebow, I believe he has made his intentions clear. He is not praying for a completed pass. He is not asking God to help him win the game. Tebow is simply living out a testimony that he wants Jesus Christ to receive all the glory for every accomplishment.

Is God concerned about who wins or loses a football game? While some events of life seem from a human perspective to have higher value, God is sovereign over every aspect of our existence. He is not working in our lives for our happiness but our holiness in order to bring more glory to His name. Submission to the sovereign will of God is a supreme calling all believers have. Our ultimate purpose is to give glory to God.

Tebow works harder in the weight room than most athletes. He studies film to prepare for a game. He follows direction from his coaches. He may or may not become the type of player who makes it to the Hall of Fame. Tebow is doing his part and leaving the rest to God. God does not have to make us successful to bring glory to His name. Repeatedly, Tebow has said that football is a platform that God has given him to proclaim the gospel. As long as he has a gridiron pulpit he is going to use it.

We may never have the type of platform Tim Tebow has, but God has given every one of us a platform. Someone will listen if we will only speak up. Sadly, I confess that I have lost opportunities to be a witness when God has given them to me. I want to make the most of every platform to present the gospel.

Every year the Evangelism Conference refreshes me. This year will be no different. Don Cass has put together a tremendous schedule for the Evangelism Conference. Preachers from across America and right here in Texas will encourage us. There is no better music this side of Heaven. Fellowship will be sweet among the attendees.

Several luncheons will offer spiritual food as well. Tuesday the Cooperative Program Luncheon features recognition of churches that gave to advance the cause of Christ. Some churches gave large amounts. Other churches gave large for their size. It is not equal gifts but equal sacrifice. Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, will bring the message. The Senior Adult Luncheon will be on Wednesday at noon. Everyone, and especially seniors, is invited to enjoy the downtime with music and laughter.

Attending the SBTC Evangelism Conference helps us keep in mind that God has given us a platform for the proclamation of the gospel. I encourage you to make every effort to be with us this year.

Appeals court upholds “Texas Sonogram Law”

AUSTIN—A Texas law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo a sonogram, and physicians to provide an audible heartbeat and physical description of the baby, is constitutional and may be enforced, a federal appeals court ruled on Jan. 10.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a temporary injunction issued last summer against Texas House Bill 15, known as the Texas Sonogram Law. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin had argued the law placed the state in a position of advancing an “ideological agenda,” was “unconstitutionally vague” and violated the free speech rights of physicians and women.

“This is one of the most important victories in the past 10 years for informed consent for women seeking an abortion,” said Jonathan Saenz, an attorney with the conservative Liberty Institute, based in Plano. “Women and unborn children in Texas are safer today because of this decision and no longer subject to the abuse of abortion doctors who deny women critical medical information.” The Liberty Institute championed the bill before the Texas Legislature last year.

Meanwhile, the New York City-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which filed a class action lawsuit against HB 15 on behalf of Texas abortion providers last June, vowed to fight the latest decision.

Calling the ruling “extreme,” Nancy Northup, CRR’s president and chief executive officer, said in a news release: “This clears the way for the enforcement of an insulting and intrusive law whose sole purpose is to harass women and dissuade them from exercising their constitutionally protected reproductive rights. Until today, every court that has reviewed similarly intrusive laws has ruled the laws unconstitutional.”

But Chief Judge Edith H. Jones of the U.S. 5th Circuit wrote that the lower court “cannot provide a substantial likelihood of success on each of their First Amendment and vagueness claims,” adding that “required disclosures of a sonogram, the fetal heartbeat, and their medical descriptions are the epitome of truthful, non-misleading information” and are “‘relevant’ to a woman’s decision-making.”

Throughout the court’s ruling, Jones cited the 1992 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey decision, which upheld similar provisions for informed consent prior to an abortion.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate who signed the Texas Sonogram Law last May as a stronger version of the 2003 Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act, applauded the ruling shortly after it was announced.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for all who stand in defense of life,” Perry prepared in a statement. “Every life lost to abortion is a tragedy, and this important sonogram legislation ensures that every Texas woman seeking an abortion has all the facts about the life she is carrying, and understands the devastating impact of such a life-ending decision. We will continue to fight any attempt to limit our state’s laws that value and protect the unborn.”

The plaintiffs had argued that the sonogram requirements, including the audible heartbeat, the baby’s sonogram description and a verbal explanation of the procedure, constituted an “ideological message” to discourage the abortion and served no medical purpose.

Jones, the appeals court chief judge, countered by citing the Casey ruling, noting “such information ‘furthers the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.’” Also, Jones wrote, “States may further the ‘legitimate goal of protecting the life of the unborn’ through ‘legislation aimed at ensuring a decision that is mature and informed, even when in doing so the State expresses a preference for childbirth over abortion.’”

“For the sake of judicial efficiency, any further appeals in this matter will be heard by this panel,” the court wrote.

Under the Texas law, a woman must be aware of the option to see her unborn baby via sonogram. It requires the person performing the sonogram—a physician or certified sonographer—to describe the dimensions of the baby and the existence of the baby’s arms, legs and internal organs, including a heartbeat.

Women living in Texas counties of fewer than 60,000 people or beyond 100 miles of an abortion facility and those in a life-threatening medical emergency are exempted from the 24-hour waiting period. Rural women would instead have to wait only two hours. Also, in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality, women could refuse hearing the verbal description from the sonogram.

Signature Sounds to be heard at Empower Evangelism Conference

The Grammy-nominated Ernie Haase & Signature Sound has broken the traditional mold of gospel quartets. Their unconventional approach will be heard during the SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference, Feb. 27-29, at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco.

The group’s founder and leader, Haase, was a long-time member of the famous Cathedral Quartet, headed by the late George Younce.  

In 2003, he gathered a group of like-minded men who share his love for God, great harmonies, time-honored songs and energetic performances and Signature Sound was born. Haase (tenor), Devin McGlamery (lead), Doug Anderson (baritone) and Ian Owens (bass) perform more than 100 solo shows yearly in North America and abroad.

The group’s first DVD release soared to the top of Billboard Magazine’s Music Video Chart and simultaneously topped the Contemporary Christian Music Video Chart. That same DVD achieved Gold sales status, and the project’s accompanying audio release topped both the CCM and Southern Gospel Audio Charts simultaneously at No. 1.

In 2008, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound won Gospel Music Association Dove Awards for Southern Gospel Recorded Song of the Year and Southern Gospel Album of the Year for “Get Away Jordan.” The “Jordan” album has also been certified Gold. In 2009, they won another Southern Gospel Recorded Song of the Year Dove Award for “Reason Enough” from their “Dream On” album.

The annual Empower Evangelism Conference will also feature a slate of well-known preachers, such as pastors Ronnie Floyd and Ted Traylor and evangelists such as Junior Hill and Jay Lowder.

Other musicians include Grammy-winning singer Larnelle Harris, best-selling recording artist Charles Billingsley of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., vocalist and songwriter Luke Garrett, and music ministers Curtis Brewer of Odessa and Phillip Griffin of Fort Worth.