Month: March 2012

East Texas church ‘flabbergasts’ atheist with their love, compassion

ATHENS, Texas—The man who threatened to sue Henderson County for placing a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn in Athens, Texas has had a shift in perspective, dropped the lawsuit and now plans to move to Athens with his wife and cat.

Patrick Greene, an atheist cab driver from San Antonio, said he found the placement of the nativity unconstitutional and intended to use the legal system to force a judge to order its removal—that is until he began losing his vision because of a detaching retina.

With surgery on the horizon, no health insurance and a job that he could no longer maintain with his deteriorating eyesight, Greene realized he needed to focus his energies and finances on life's necessities, leading him to withdraw his lawsuit.

When Jessica Crye, a member of Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens found out, she called her pastor, Erick Graham, to see if he had heard the good news.

“I got a call from Jessica Crye,” Graham said. “She said, 'Did you hear that Patrick Green dropped the suit?'”

Crye told Graham about the taxi driver's detaching retina and asked him if their church could help him. Graham's answer was simple.

“Sure we can help him,” Graham told her.

Graham said he didn't need to take time to pray about the matter or to mull it over because Christ had already provided an answer.

“We don't need to pray about it,” Graham said. “We've already been given the command to do it.”

Crye began to organize an effort to send support to the Greenes and Graham explained to the church that they had an opportunity to show Greene the love of Christ.

Greene did not initially accept the offer of the church to pay for his eye surgery, but agreed to let the church help him with bills and rent, which were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain with medical costs stacking up and no job to bring in income.

Greene said when he agreed, he and his wife never thought the church would actually follow through and send money.

“My wife said, 'We'll never see that,'” Greene said. “Two days later, a check for $400 came in the mail. We are totally flabbergasted.”

Donations have not ended there, though.

“The money continues to come in for him as it's been made more public,” Graham said, explaining that Greene then asked them not to send anymore. “But I can't keep the people from giving. The money keeps coming and it's not ours to hold onto.”

In the meantime, Greene has changed his mind about accepting help in funding his eye surgery, saying the Christians from Athens have worn down his resistance to outside help. He even set up a website http://gofundme.com/i5htw) to receive donations, publicly thanking Graham, Crye, and the Sands Springs church family.

Greene said in his entire life, he has never had a Christian treat him the way the Athens Baptists treated him. The so-called Christians that Greene had encountered had refused to pay their fare in his cab because they did not want to give their money to the devil and had also refused to lease him apartments because of his disbelief in God.

But they had never loved him, he said.

“No Christian at all that we've ever met in our lives, had ever been nice to us,” Greene said. “No Christian has ever done anything for us. Our own families have totally forgotten our existence, and strangers—Christians and atheists all around the country—are helping us. One of the things Jesus said to was love your neighbor as yourself. These people are acting like real Christians.”

Green said he and his wife have received enough money to get caught up on rent, bills and taxes and that the surprise of the Christians' generosity and selflessness has not worn off.

“We are literally still in a state of shock,” Greene said. “I feel like we're in the Twilight Zone.”

Shock or not, though, the Greenes are moving forward, with plans to make Athens their permanent home with the help of Sand Springs Baptist Church and others who have heard about Greene's story and wanted to help. In Athens, where the cost of living is lower than in San Antonio, the couple has found an apartment within walking distance to Wal-Mart, where they will not need to drive anywhere to get their groceries.

Greene said when he gets to Athens, he plans to become friends with the very people he once fought against.

“I've already invited [Jessica] and her family to dinner,” Greene said. “I want to get together with everybody. We are not isolated anymore.”

Though Greene has not changed his beliefs, Crye said Greene told her he would come to some of her church's services when he and his wife move to town. Graham, however, said he believes God is working in Greene's life.

“He just really softened when he saw the Christians were helping him,” Graham said. “He asked if I will lead Bible study with him. I think God has gotten his attention.”

So taken by the generosity was Greene and his wife that they purchased and gave a star to Henderson County for the very nativity scene they sought to remove.

They said they expected the Christians to only help them if and when they decided to convert to Christianity but were surprised by their unconditional gifts. Crye said Jesus has called Christians to love their neighbors and their enemies and to love both without condition.

“That's what God called us to do,” Crye said. “It's very against our nature to one, love people, and two, to love them unconditionally. If we're not, the world is not seeing what Jesus is like. They're seeing that view that Patrick has always seen.”

Yet Crye still prays that Greene and his wife will come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

“He may never come to know Christ and I'll be very sad about that, because I know where he'll go,” Crye said. “But I've done everything I could to get [him] the information. It's up to God to do the rest. My conscious is clear because I've done everything I could to help him.”

Crye said for her, it all began with the Holy Spirit gently spurring her to help.

“It was a little nudge sitting at my kitchen table,” Crye said. “I would encourage people to listen to those little nudges, because you never know when that little nudge will lead to something big.”

 

Women’s health care and Logic 101

Maybe a few of us still learn logic in college. If so, you’ll recognize this: If all A is B and all B is C, then all A is C. Of course there were violations of this formula as in: All beagles have floppy ears and all beagles are dogs; therefore all dogs have floppy ears. The conclusion is false because not all dogs are beagles. Like with most things, there are more ways to arrive at the wrong conclusion than there are to arrive at the right conclusion.

Now try this one: Planned Parenthood provides health care for women and conservatives don’t like Planned Parenthood; therefore conservatives don’t favor health care for women. I’ve seen those dots connected this way on three different television news programs and in newspapers and magazines in the past week. The most “objective” of them will admit that Planned Parenthood does a few abortions though not, they quickly add, with public money. At issue is the Perry administration’s refusal to accept federal Medicaid money unless Texas is allowed to exclude Planned Parenthood, the country’s billion-dollar abortion corporation, from the list of eligible health-services vendors. To be clear, it is abortion that social conservatives hate, and not just in the academic way of our moderate friends. Absent the millions they make from abortion, Planned Parenthood would not be as rich, ubiquitous, or controversial. Very few on the wrong side of this fight are really talking about screenings for breast cancer when they say “women’s health care.” They are talking about abortion. Try to touch their funding and you’re accused of waging war on women. For the most part, Americans are letting them get away with it.  

There are two things wrong with the way this debate has been controlled by the pro-abortion media. First, it is unfair to say that the governor cares nothing for women’s health just because he objects to one monstrous non-profit that considers duping women into aborting unborn women an aspect of women’s health care. You don’t have to like Planned Parenthood to have benevolent intent toward their hapless clients and victims. The second problem with the pro-abortion “news-vertisements” I’ve seen is that they disconnect Planned Parenthood from one of their apparent core values. This institution is Big Abortion personified and its news media-provided public relations flacks act as if this part of their work is incidental. But what if it is a small part of their work? Does that really make it a minor thing? I’d venture to guess that few members of the Ku Klux Klan ever burned down a church or attacked a civil-rights worker. A relatively few Nazis had any first-hand role in death camps. I don’t know the percentage of Nazis or Klukkers who actually did terrible things but what if it was only 3 percent? Do the underlying structures and philosophical underpinnings that empower these crimes get a pass? Should they? A person who does breathtaking evil with only one hour of his life each week (less than 1 percent) is still what? Misunderstood?

According to their own 2009 report, Planned Parenthood did about 330,000 abortions that year. This same document states that this number accounts for a mere 3 percent of their client services. Big whoop; so they handed out a lot of contraceptives and referred many women to real medical facilities for breast cancer exams—Planned Parenthood performed more than 20 percent of all legal abortions performed in the United States that year. Perhaps these incidental services also account for more than 3 percent of their annual income. Does any honest person really think Rick Perry is withholding money because he doesn’t want a Planned Parenthood employee to refer someone to a doctor for a mammogram?

Are 330,000 lives an incidental matter? That one-year number is significantly higher than the number of U.S. combat deaths during our four-year involvement in World War II. And the number is clearly not incidental to Big Abortion; try to touch this income stream and you’ll see a response far out of proportion to any paltry 3 percent. Americans are somewhere between foolish and evil to let people convince us it should be incidental to those of us who, through public funding, pay about a third of what it costs Planned Parenthood to build and staff facilities that “also” destroy human life.

Contact Gov. Perry by clicking here to ask him to hold the line on funding for Planned Parenthood in Texas. With millions of dollars on the line, you can be sure that he’s already hearing from Big Abortion.

CP dollars: Reaching the Unreached


HORN OF AFRICA—It used to be a brothel, the sandy house where Mike and Abbey Nettles* are raising their children in the Horn of Africa.

When they arrived, their first act was to make the place a home.

The second was to learn enough local language to tell people how to get there.

“I can’t tell someone how to make bread, but I can tell them how to get to my house, and when they get here, I can tell them about Jesus,” Abbey said. “We didn’t come to be masters of this language—we came to learn as fast as we could how to tell people about Jesus.”

And tell people they have.

Over the past two years, the gospel has swept through the formerly unreached and unengaged people group they live among.

“We don’t have time to waste—the need is urgent,” Mike said. “So we share as much as we can, and we spend our time investing in believers who want to learn how to make more disciples.”

Believers like Berhanu*. Though initially disowned by his family, he was later able to baptize one of his sisters—along with 25 more new believers.

“Since I have believed in Jesus, I know my role is to share my faith with other people,” Berhanu said. “Not everyone wants to hear, but it doesn’t matter—I just need to share.”

So he tells, and when he finds people to believe, they start meeting in groups to study together. He finds that his people are seeking truth—people like Sarah*, whose grandmother was a witch doctor and father was a Muslim sheik.

“In my house, there were always animal sacrifices,” Sarah said. My grandmother would kill the chickens to see what the guts said. Because of the Satanic worship, it was a bad environment to grow up in.”

But one day someone shared Jesus with Sarah, and she started to read what her holy book said about him side by side with what the New Testament said.

“What the Bible said is true—I know this now,” she said. “In the past, I was afraid and had trouble sleeping. Now I have peace in my heart.”

But for a while, the decision didn’t bring peace in her home. Her father beat her, knocking out some of her teeth and breaking her leg.

She fled.

But after years of hearing the gospel, her father—the Muslim sheik—also came to faith in Jesus.

“Most Muslims think the story of Jesus is a lie, but more and more are coming to believe,” Sarah said. “When I tell people the story of Adam and the story of Jesus—that he healed people, died for our sin and was raised again—some say this is bad, that it is a lie.”

Those people, she said, have hard hearts. “But the ones with soft hearts—they listen.”

She has a goal to share Jesus with four people a week—she knows she is to be about sharing him no matter the cost.

“I feel I must tell others,” she said.

Mike and Abbey say they are amazed but not surprised.

“We know God called us here because he was already working in the hearts of these people, so we came expecting that he was going to do something,” Abbey said.

To learn more about how to pray for the people of the Horn and how to reach out to those same people groups living in your area, visit prayforthehorn.com.

*Names changed

2012 CP budget: missions and evangelism top priorities

Missions and evangelism remain priorities in the 2012 budget of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, accounting for about 35 percent of the $12 million distributed for in-state use.

The SBTC Missions Team helps churches plant new churches and mobilize for missions in Texas and beyond. Sixty church plants at various stages of growth are currently supported.

Evangelism ministry encourages and prepares pastors and staff members to equip believers of all ages to do the work of evangelism, offering statewide conferences for adults and students, crusade and harvest events, church and associational ministry, preparation for prayer and spiritual awakening, personal and student evangelism training, student camps and student-led revivals.
The remaining portion of the budget provides:

• church ministries that provide more than 100 workshops, seminars, clinics and consultations to serve ongoing ministries of local churches,

• multiethnic ministries to assist SBTC churches and associations in their fulfillment of the Great Commission in reaching Hispanics and other ethnic people groups in Texas,

• minister-church relations that provide resume services, partnering in retirement benefits, conflict management, counseling referrals, assistance to associations, Cooperative Program education, pastoral supplements and educational scholarships,

• facilitating ministries with Criswell College, Jacksonville College, Texas Baptist Home, East Texas Baptist Family Ministry, Texas Life Connections, Texas Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee, scholarships, ministry to young pastors, and CP promotion,

• communication to help Texas Southern Baptists see the impact of the work the SBTC does together, and

• operational and financial services to account for all income, management and recording of budgeted expenses, CP receipts and designated funds.

FBC DeKalb ever mindful of CP

DEKALB—From the far corner of northeast Texas, First Baptist Church of DeKalb has been ministering to its community for 150 years. The 200-member congregation extends its reach beyond the local population of 1,700 to minister across Texas and around the world by giving through the Cooperative Program.

“The exciting thing to me about the Cooperative Program is that it allows churches—average churches and even smaller churches—to be a part of reaching the world,” said Walter Jackson, pastor of the church since 2001.

For many years the church faithfully gave 9 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program (CP), and then voted last year to increase that amount to 10 percent after Jackson explained the significance of that decision.

“When the 1-percent challenge was issued to increase our giving to the Cooperative Program, I let them know we have the opportunity to join with other churches to add an additional $100 million to CP, send out 300 new missionary families, and support 16,000 seminary students” while supporting new churches across the nation, Jackson recalled. “It’s an opportunity to be a partner right here in the state of Texas where our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention cares so much about the world that we give away more money than we keep here in the state.”  

“We’re able to do so much work for the kingdom of God. When the challenge was given, they upped it 1 percent,” he said, praising the recommendation of the budget and finance committee.

Jackson takes every opportunity to keep CP before the congregation, showing video testimonies provided by the SBTC and distributing CP-related flyers in church bulletins.

Two groups of volunteers traveled from the church to help with recovery following Hurricane Rita, helping the Nehemiah’s Vision ministry funded partly by CP support from SBTC. Eleven members of the church completed Phase 1 disaster relief training last year in order to be available through a ministry made possible by the CP gifts of Southern Baptists.

“We talk about our mission offerings and consistently exceed our goals. We have personal friends serving as Southern Baptist missionaries and I tell our people, ‘If you give, you are helping support these efforts.’”

Among those friends are Ed and Linda Miller, career missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board to serve in Zambia for 31 years. Miller was ordained while serving as associate pastor of the DeKalb church. Their regular visits while home on stateside assignments, and since retiring to Grand Prairie, provided a personal connection when Jackson and earlier pastors encouraged CP giving.

Two students from the church, Calder White and Jade LaVergne, traveled to Suriname last year to serve alongside cousins Charles and Brittany Shirey, who serve with the IMB and are supported by Southern Baptists’ CP funding channel. As Jackson traveled with former SBC president Johnny Hunt on a mission trip to train pastors in Minsk, Belarus, and his wife helped distribute the “Jesus” film to Muslims in Paris, those journeys provided additional connections to the worldwide ministry funded by churches like First Baptist of DeKalb.

“I want our people to understand that we’re not just about this community. If we’re not going, we’re helping someone else go,” he told the TEXAN. “We’re able to multiply our gifts because it’s going through the Cooperative Program.”

Can you imagine?

That’s the question posed in a DVD produced by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention ahead of Cooperative Program (CP) Sunday on April 22. That’s the day SBTC churches are asked to remind their congregations—or perhaps explain for the first time—how the CP makes worldwide ministry possible for the church of 15 members and the megachurch of 15,000 members.

In the feature video on the DVD—accessible at sbtexas.com/cp—viewers are asked to imagine:

• More seminary students training to take the gospel farther and wider,

• More missionaries to engage the remaining 3,800 unengaged and unreached peoples,

• More church planters to evangelize and plant among the 300-plus language groups that make Texas home, and amid an increasingly secular English-speaking population in Texas and across North America,

• More disaster relief volunteers to respond to natural and manmade emergencies with Christian compassion and a gospel witness.

“When you give, your church gives, and that money is gathered with thousands of other church gifts, and that enables the work of the gospel everywhere,” SBTC President Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, said on camera in explaining how the CP is working to engage the world’s 7 billion people.

With every dollar given through the CP, “My church plants churches, sends students to seminary, funds disaster relief and so much more,” Turner said. “Just imagine as you give to your church how the gospel is empowered through that gift.”

Since 1925, the Cooperative Program has been the shared funding mechanism of Southern Baptists, replacing a “societal” method of fund-raising that pitted otherwise kindred institutions against each other. While independently funded missionaries spend considerable time in fund-raising, SBC missionaries are able to focus on the gospel task exclusively.

With a brief narration by Turner and testimonies by church planters, pastors and seminarians, the four-minute video states the benefits of shared giving and funding.

Along with Turner, the video features brief messages from Rowlett church planter Shane Pruitt, Southwestern Seminary student Quincy Jones, SBTC Disaster Relief volunteer Dewey Watson, and pastors Joe Rivera of Grand Prairie, Tony Mathews of Garland, Walter Jackson from DeKalb and Jim Pritchard from Forney.

Jones, explaining that he came from an independent Bible church background, said he was amazed to learn that a seminary education for Southern Baptist students is roughly 50-60 percent lower than comparable schools because much of the cost is underwritten through CP.

In another video on the same DVD, Jones heaped further praise on the CP mechanism.

“And considering church planters and missionaries, that they don’t have to raise their own funding, they can go right to the field and they can go right to the business of reaching people for the sake of Christ, [it] is just awesome,” Jones said.

Pruitt, pastor of Connection Church, a 14-month-old congregation in Rowlett, lauds the SBTC for helping support 59 church plants in Texas last year, aided by CP.

“Imagine more churches being planted in the state of Texas, sufficient to preach the gospel in every community and every language in our state,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt, also featured in a separate video on the DVD, tells how Connection Church began 14 months ago with 31 people and now is averaging 350 attenders and preparing to move to three services. They have baptized 30 people.

“Your giving towards us and the support that we receive on a monthly basis has helped us to do great things here in our community,” Pruitt said. “We’ve been on three mission trips and we also give in to the Cooperative Program—mainly because we believe in it so much.

“So I just wanted to share with you the seed that you’re planting—we are seeing kingdom growth here in Rowlett, so thank you so much.”

Minister-Church Relations Director Tom Campbell added: “Cooperative Program Day gives churches an opportunity to help their members understand how they can literally be a part of reaching the world with the gospel. I encourage each church to take some time on April 22 to share about CP and how by giving through it, we can do so much more together. The SBTC can help with bulletin inserts, videos, and other resources.”

In addition to the DVD, Cooperative Program brochures are also available. To order materials, visit sbtexas.com/cp or contact Stephanie Harmon at sharmon@sbtexas.com or toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC).

Gospel message hung on 108k doors

MCALLEN—Volunteers hung plastics bags with gospel tracts and invitations to Easter services and an evangelistic rally on 108,000 doors in the McAllen area of the Rio Grande Valley March 12-16 during spring break for most Texas schools.

“It was very exciting is all I can say,” said Jack Harris, SBTC associate for personal and event evangelism. “That’s the gospel in English and Spanish going to all those homes.”

Harris said the outreach far exceeded initial expectations. It was preceded by seven informational luncheons over six months. Initially, the SBTC provided 50,000 door hangers to churches. But when churches began asking for more, the total ended up being 108,000—with all distributed by 18 church groups taking to the streets in McAllen and surrounding towns.

Through encounters on the streets and nightly outreach events, dozens of salvation decisions were recorded, Harris said. (No tallies were available at press time.)

The door hangers included tickets to an evangelistic rally that was scheduled for April 1 featuring the strength and power demonstrations of Team Impact.

Harris said this year’s mission was able to reach more homes with the gospel message than last year’s in Laredo, where over several weeks about 50,000 homes received gospel tracts, information on a local Southern Baptist church and tickets to a Team Impact event where more than 700 people registered salvation decisions.

This year, Cornerstone Baptist Church and Baptist Temple in McAllen, and Primera Iglesia Poder De Dios helped lead the outreach among the 12 local churches and teams from six other congregations around the state that traveled to McAllen.

David Galvan, pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Dallas, said he took about 50 people from his church to McAllen, about 40 of whom traveled on a coach bus. The group included several families with children.

The group distributed door hangers and witnessed when possible from about 9 a.m.-1 p.m. daily, broke for lunch, then went back out for about 90 minutes in the afternoon, Galvan said.

They were able to lead several people to Christ, he added.

“The joy to me is that I had a number of people who did their first mission trip. Also, we encourage people to take their children. So I had several families that included a father, mother and the children. Of course the children were on the street as well passing out materials.”

One family brought four children, he said.

As the group shared testimonies on the way home, Galvan said several people mentioned the blessing of getting to know other church members more deeply. Others cited the life-altering experience of a first mission trip.

Galvan said Pastor Armando Vera and the members at Primera Iglesia Poder De Dios, which hosted the Dallas group, couldn’t have been more gracious, and disaster relief shower units were a morale boost for the group each evening.

Poder De Dios held block parties on Thursday and Friday nights, giving away half a dozen bicycles and about a dozen soccer balls to draw a crowd to see clowns and other entertainment. Each night the gospel was presented, with several people making salvation decisions nightly.

One of those was a 7-year-old boy, Andres Diaz, who came with his mother from Galvan’s church.

Galvan said Diaz was at first frightened by the clowns, but after some coaxing from his mother, he warmed up to them. By the end of the night, he was taking pictures with them. Diaz is the adopted son of one of the church members, Galvan said.

One of those clowns used a multi-colored prop to share the gospel, noting that, “‘If you will open your heart to Jesus, you will never be rejected again.’ Our little missionary got saved,” Galvan added.

Galvan said as the clown shared his story of redemption, it was obvious the message resonated with Diaz.

To top it off, a teenager who won one of the bikes decided to give it to Diaz.

Loui Canchola, pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in McAllen and SBTC vice president, said the week was “an amazing time.” His church distributed about one-tenth, or just over 10,000, of the door hangers.

“We are so grateful for mission teams that came down to the Valley from throughout Texas as well as our local churches that teamed together to get the word out,” Canchola said. “It was wonderful to see kingdom teamwork in action and we are looking forward to what God is going to do through Team Impact to reach the Valley for Christ on April 1.”

We still need the Cooperative Program

Ever been in an older building where sections of it were impossible to heat or cool to a comfortable level? Many churches have areas that have been subdivided or added on to so that they irreparably alter the original HVAC scheme. Adding a wall here or a wing there sounds good, maybe easy, but unless it is done deliberately, the Mary-Martha class will be wearing parkas in June and July, and perhaps praying the imprecatory Psalms against the facility manager. Freezing the ladies’ class was never part of the plan and yet many churches have rooms that do just that.    

The structure of organizations can accumulate the same sort of problems. The opportunities of today suggest answers that become the crises of tomorrow, world without end. Look at the discernible layers in church policies or bylaws and you might see an example. In that place where the typeface changes, you’ll often find newer rules spawned by a need from long ago but that don’t exactly jibe with earlier or later regulations. No one intended the confusion, but still…

So we shouldn’t be surprised to see it happen in the SBC. Convention messengers adopted a report in 2010 that was intended to place greater focus on missions. The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report contained suggestions of great import to all levels of our denomination but particularly the state conventions. And all this was done in the hope that more emphasis would be placed on church planting and overseas missions. Of course that would require more money allocated for those purposes. And since teaching stewardship to our church members is a long-term solution, reallocating existing funds has been the primary focus of our discussion since 2010.  

I’m hopeful that some of these changes will bear good fruit. In the midst of them, I’d caution against unintentionally damaging tools or systems that undergird every cooperative thing we do.  Mostly because of the changes being made by NAMB, every single state convention is being affected by the attempt to focus more resources on church planting and overseas missions. A few conventions are cutting staff to facilitate missions work beyond their boundaries. Others are responding to their own task forces by incrementally raising the percentage of CP giving they send out of state. In some cases these increases are more apparent than real but overall our funding emphasis is moving toward the ends of the earth. One state convention has cut its allocation to affiliated institutions within the state so they can designate money to the International Mission Board. As an additional part of their reprioritizing, they asked in February for the SBC Executive Committee to shift money from the SBC seminaries to the IMB. That suggestion was politely and appropriately tabled.

I have some concerns that the urgency of shifting our resources along with the urgency of maintaining some portion of the state conventions’ ministries within their own “Judeas” will result in a version of our Cooperative Program that won’t work anymore. Some state conventions can, for example, exempt part of their undesignated receipts from the amount eligible for sharing with the remainder of the SBC. This exemption makes it appear that they’ve increased their giving when they haven’t actually done so. Money used for the state paper or missions education or CP/stewardship promotion might come off the top so that instead of giving 40 percent of a larger amount, the convention is giving 50 percent of a smaller amount. The idea, which isn’t new, is that some state convention ministries are already of benefit to both the national and state denomination. The point is arguably true and appealing to more conventions as pastors clamor for conventions to approach a 50/50 split with the SBC. The way the story may be understood among the constituent churches is that the convention has increased something it hasn’t. Where that happens, the definition of the Cooperative Program has subtly shifted and its credibility has been degraded.  

A second concern is that we would impulsively defund crucial aspects of our ministry, the seminaries, for example, in favor of quick increases in church planting or overseas missions. This is a shortcut that will only work for a little while. If Jesus tarries for a decade or two after we make such a move, we’ll be faced with a shortage of trained Southern Baptist church planters and missionaries. Maybe we’ll have trained people and maybe we’ll have people who understand Southern Baptists ready to go, but we’ll have fewer who are both. Cut 10 or 20 percent from the money available to the seminaries and you’ll have fewer trained graduates because you’ll have between one and three fewer SBC seminaries. The smaller of these very CP-dependent institutions have very little margin to allow for funding cuts.

Whether it is through increased designations, redirecting funds, or any other action that protects one institution at the expense of our whole missionary enterprise, we’ll regret weakening the Cooperative Program. It’s no comfort to think that we’ll only regret it after it is too late to rebuild it.

The Cooperative Program is nothing special unless it is an undesignated distribution to a unified budget. Efforts to change this definition have been around for 20 years or so, but where that view has prevailed, the result has been something not actually the Cooperative Program and something less Southern Baptist.

We’re Baptists because of what we believe about God and his gospel. We’re Southern Baptist because of how we’ve committed to cooperate for world evangelism. I once saw a sign for a fine and successful Independent Baptist church that included what looked like the SBC logo (globe with a cross superimposed on it and resting on an open Bible) except the globe was deleted. It was the Word and the gospel but without a global vision. For my church, the global vision is addressed somewhat by church members who go and more thoroughly by our support of the Cooperative Program. There aren’t many benefits to being a Southern Baptist unless you address the Great Commission through partnership with other Southern Baptist churches—the Cooperative Program in other words.

This Easter, stay with the gospel

Easter used to be one of the most attended worship days of all the holiday Sundays. In my observation over the last decade, there has been a marked decline in Easter worship attendance. Easter is sort of an inside ballgame event for Christians. Unless you are into bunny rabbits and egg hunting, there is not much of a national appeal to this holiday.

There are a couple of reasons why I think Easter attendance may have fallen on hard times. First of all is the decline of the church culture. When I was a child, it was expected of almost everyone in the community to attend some type of church on Easter. It seemed only the hardened sinners and reprobates stayed at home. Most people had a church identification and usually Easter was the time annual attenders would show up. Reflecting on how times have changed in regard to the unchurched, I remember my pastor deridingly chide the Easter-lily Christians. He would dismiss the service by saying, “Merry Christmas, because some of you I won’t see again until next Easter.” Cultural pressure was on people to attend church whether they had a real relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior or not. You can see there are actually positives about the decline of a church culture. At least people attend more out of a sincere interest rather than an obligation to satisfy societal expectations.

Perhaps as a corollary to the loss of church culture in the de-emphasis on Easter is the uncomfortable presence of the Risen Lord. Jesus lays claim that He is the King of everyone’s life. He demands submission to His will. Jesus is seen as a helpless baby at Christmas. In our current culture Christmas is an opportune time to reach people. Christmas is less threatening to those who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Christmas is now the most church-attended event for those who are unchurched. Let’s take advantage of it by putting forth quality appeal and establishing gracious relationships with those who need our Savior.

Easter is not the premier front door to believers as it once was, but it still provides tremendous opportunities to touch lives. Relationships still bring people inside the walls of the church building. Unbelievers will come if believers will invite them. It works! Events done with excellence continue to draw people. Service evangelism is much needed to show the community that Jesus is alive. Doing acts of mercy or service turns heads. People recognize genuine care when they see it. But all of the “do good” activities like painting a house or providing a food pantry fall short if the gospel is not presented to the recipients of the benefits. Show the love of Jesus during Easter by ministering in a tangible way.

Above everything, proclaim the gospel of the Risen Lord during public worship on Easter. Be sure Jesus is the focus of whatever is done. Jesus bodily, physically resurrected from the dead. The gospel is empty without the resurrection of Jesus. Tell people the Good News that He is alive! A special “thank you” to all the faithful pastors, church staff and church members who stay with the message of the gospel.

Building like a Berean

PAIGE—The Berea Builders of Ridgeway Baptist Church in Paige broke ground on their rebuilding efforts on Jan. 6, and the better part of a new house was up by Feb. 15, plus a foundation for a second home.

Paige is a small community 11 miles outside of Bastrop, the scene last fall of the worst wildfire in Texas history.

“Berea Builders is a vision I had while our church served as a shelter for fire evacuees,” said J.R. Hopson, the pastor of Ridgeway. “Talking to people who had no idea how they were going to start over because they did not have insurance and lost everything broke my heart.”

It is those without insurance that the church is intent on helping, Hopson said.

Sprawling east out of Austin’s backyard, Bastrop County used to be a beautifully wooded area. The Lost Pines forest—a Texas treasure named for its mysterious cluster of pines surrounded by miles of oak—is within its borders and the Colorado River winds through its center. It was a beautiful vacation spot for many and home for more than 74,000 people.

But that was before the September wildfires. Labor Day weekend changed the landscape of Bastrop County. Three major fires burning through the area merged into one massive blaze 16 miles long and six miles wide that devastated nearly 40,000 acres of land. Hopson estimates 60 percent of the pine trees in the area were either burned or had to be cut down.

“I’m still amazed when I drive back out there and I’ve seen it a hundred times,” Hopson said. “When you drive into an area where this fire came through, there’s nothing. There’s absolutely nothing but charred remains and trees that are no longer green, but just sticks in the air. Whereas after a hurricane or a flood or a tornado even, there’s visible debris, there’s stuff still standing. Here there’s nothing. It’s absolutely gone.”

By the time the blaze was officially contained on Oct. 10, two lives and more than 1,600 homes were lost.

“The physical appearance of it is not ever going to be the same,” Hopson explained. “But as people realize that it’s not about trees and houses and material things, I think they will begin to recover. Sure there will be that long-lasting mark, but they’ll begin to regain some normalcy.”

As soon as the fires broke out, Ridgeway Baptist Church sprang into action. Paige Community Center became a shelter for evacuees from the surrounding area, and Ridgeway decided to provide food for them at the church. The community center quickly became overwhelmed and Ridgeway opened its doors and started taking in evacuees just a day or two after the fire started. The church continued sheltering and feeding people for the next two weeks.

Cleanup started immediately after the area was safe to re-enter. Disaster relief teams from the SBTC, Texas Baptist Men and other states—12 conventions in all—began work in the area on Sept. 6, two days after the blaze broke out.

“Southern Baptists were instrumental in providing shower and laundry units and a massive volunteer force to help with cleanup,” Hopson said.

Volunteers converged on Bastrop from as far away as California and Tennessee. By the time the clean-up efforts ceased, over 5,000 volunteer days had been served, 450 homes had been cleaned, the gospel had been presented 256 times and 79 people had made professions of faith. Most important, the wave of help and support by volunteers touched the all people of Bastrop with the love of Christ.

FALLING THROUGH THE GAPS
“Now most of the cleanup has been done,” Hopson said. “It’s moved into the rebuilding phase. For the people who had insurance, you’re immediately seeing their houses going back up. Or they’re moving a trailer in. But the people who didn’t have insurance, who were barely making it in the first place, they’re at a temporary location or in a FEMA trailer because they don’t have the money to rebuild.”

That’s where Berea Builders has decided to step in and make a difference. Their mission is to build houses for those people who were caught without insurance and don’t have any alternatives. They developed an application process where each case is reviewed and the family’s circumstances considered to see if they are eligible.

A month after work began, one house was partially finished and the foundation for another had been laid. In one month nearly 100 volunteers gave their time and efforts to help build more than just the physical foundation of the home they worked on.

The biggest weekend for the building project occurred on Jan. 27, with 50 volunteers from as far as Oklahoma and as close as their neighboring communities converging on the building site. In those two days they were able to nearly finish the first home and begin work on the second.

“We had the first one painted, roofed, plumbed, and began to hang sheetrock before everyone left,” Hopson said. “After all is said and done, it will have taken just a little over five weeks to have completed a 1,500-square-foot house.”

The team intends to continue building as long as it has the funds to do so. Hopson sees the rebuilding as a long-term ministry, one he would like to take wherever there is a need for it.

So far, the plans only extend as far as two houses, but they have also built several storage buildings for other families and hope to be able to help many more in the future.

“It provides a new start for these families,” Hopson said. “They have their dignity back. But they have also gotten to experience the love of Christ through others.”

The biggest challenge facing the builders is funding. The cost of building one of these houses is around $40,000—relatively inexpensive but a hefty cost for one congregation.

“To put it in perspective,” Hopson said, “if 400 people gave $100 that’s a house for a family who is still living out of a FEMA trailer. So churches with 300 or more members could easily build a house by taking up a love offering. It’s that simple.”

The rewards for their efforts are such that people who would never have allowed a ministry team to enter their homes now have a new openness.

“People are making themselves more vulnerable because of their need,” Hopson added.

Inquiries about Berea Builders may be directed to Hopson via email at rebuildbastrop@ridgewaybaptistchurch.org.

To donate to ongoing DR efforts or learn more about the work of SBTC Disaster Relief, visit sbtexas.com/dr.