Month: January 2013

Immigration proposal gets evangelical support

WASHINGTON—Evangelical Christian advocates for broad immigration reform have warmly welcomed a proposal offered by a bipartisan group of United States senators.

Four Republicans and four Democrats outlined Monday (Jan. 28) their plan for addressing what has been a hotly debated issue for years as an estimated 11 million illegal, or undocumented, immigrants have made their homes in this country. Congress has not made a serious attempt since 2007 to repair what seemingly everyone acknowledges as a broken immigration system.

In their written framework, the senators — who include Democrat Charles Schumer of New York and Republican Marco Rubio of Florida — said they intend to pass a permanent solution that commits the “resources needed to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current legal immigration system, while creating a tough but fair legalization program for individuals who are currently here.”

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said he was “very encouraged” by the bipartisan framework.

“Congress does not often exceed my expectations,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “But these principles, and this demonstration of bipartisanship by our leaders, certainly have.”

President Obama, in a Tuesday (Jan. 29) speech from immigrant-rich Las Vegas, applauded the bipartisan effort, but said he will work to ensure comprehensive reform occurs without delay.

The senators’ proposal outlines four legislative keystones:

— “Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;

— “Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;

— “Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,

— “Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.”

Land told Baptist Press the framework is “gratifyingly and remarkably similar to what I and the Evangelical Immigration Table and others have been calling for.”

“This provides the parameters that many of us have been working for for some time and shows that there is a critical mass of Republicans and Democrats who are ready to make the compromises necessary to provide a comprehensive immigration reform policy that the American people will support,” Land said.

Other members of the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of Christian leaders, also applauded the senators’ proposal.

Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, called it “an honest compromise that can move the nation forward in healthy ways.”

Robert Gittelson, president of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, acknowledged the “devil is in the details” but said his coalition partners and he are hopeful the senators’ proposal “will serve as a fair and broad outline that should hopefully lead to solutions that will once and for all solve the very intractable problems inherent in our broken and antiquated immigration system.”

The senators offered only an outline, not legislation. Undoubtedly, the specifics regarding a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants will be a focus of debate.

Their bill, the coalition of senators said, would require undocumented immigrants to register with the government — as well as pass a background check and pay back taxes and a fine — to gain “probationary legal status.” All enforcement provisions must be final before an immigrant on probation can earn a green card. A commission, which includes governors and attorneys general from Southwestern border states, must make a recommendation about when the security prerequisites are met.

Immigrants on probation will not be able to receive federal benefits and must go to the back of the line for all immigrants, undergo another background check, learn English and civics, and prove they have a history of employment and a current job to seek permanent residency.

Obama said in Las Vegas, “Yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years. At this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon. And that’s very encouraging.

“But, this time, action must follow. We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in endless debate,” he said. “If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.”

Comprehensive immigration reform is essential to growing the economy, as it would utilize the strengths of all willing to invest energies here and ensure companies compete fairly, Obama said.

“If we’re truly committed to strengthening our middle class and providing more ladders of opportunity to those who are willing to work hard to make it into the middle class, we’ve got to fix the system. We have to make sure that every business and every worker in America is playing by the same set of rules,” he said. “We have to bring the shadow economy into the light so that everybody’s held accountable — businesses for who they hire and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law. That’s common sense.”

The audience met his comments with applause on several points aimed at creating a path of citizenship to undocumented immigrants, including children brought here illegally.

Obama encouraged reform that would provide a clear, achievable path to citizenship. For those already here illegally, he said, the process would include paying overdue taxes, passing criminal background checks, learning English and giving precedence to those already playing by the rules.

Strengthening border security, imposing stiff penalties for companies employing undocumented workers and streamlining legal immigration must also be part of the solution, Obama said.

Some Republican senators expressed reservations about their colleagues’ framework.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who was part of discussions on the proposal, said he was encouraged by the process but could not sign onto it.

“These guidelines contemplate a policy that will grant special benefits to illegal immigrants based on their unlawful presence in the country,” Lee said. “Reforms to our complex and dysfunctional immigration system should not in any way favor those who came here illegally over the millions of applicants who seek to come here lawfully.”

At the news conference unveiling the framework, Rubio said, “[W]e clearly want to make sure that the enforcement mechanisms happen. And one of the things that we all hear from people is, ‘Well, you’re going to do the legalization part, but you won’t do the enforcement part.'”

In order to prove a comfort level, Rubio said, the senators will put in place “an understanding that, in fact, the visa entry and exit system — which is something everyone recognizes needs to be done — and real progress in terms of having real improvement at the border are two things that are critical and that people need to see certified before we move to the final stage in the process — not the legalization stage but the green card process.”

In addition to Schumer and Rubio, the other senators offering the proposal were Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain, both of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

For several years, the ERLC’s Land has called for comprehensive reform that includes a pathway to citizenship that would consist of such requirements as paying fines, undergoing a criminal background check, learning English, pledging allegiance to the American government, accepting a probationary period and going to the back of the line behind those seeking to enter the country legally.

Messengers to the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.

Physician to give crucifixion presentation

IRVING—All believers know that Jesus died on the cross, but most don’t know the actual medical causes of his death. David Ball, a medical doctor, and bi-vocational member of the Conference of Southern Baptists Evangelists, will offer his presentation of the crucifixion from a medical standpoint at the afternoon session of the SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference on Monday, March 4 at 1:30 p.m.

“Since Dr. Ball is a practicing M.D. who does the work of an evangelist, I felt he would be a wonderful example of the theme ‘Do the Work of an Evangelist,’ not just because he is a medical doctor, but because of his medical study of the crucifixion,” explained Charles Massegee, president of the Conference of Texas Baptist Evangelists. “He will be sharing medical facts relative to the suffering of Christ that many of us have never thought of before.”

For Ball, the seeds of his ministry were planted years ago during his service in 1969-1970 as a flight surgeon with the Air Force in Vietnam. While there he read “A Doctor at Calvary” by Pierre Barbet, M.D., but at the time the book had little impact on him. Upon reading a 1986 landmark article by Edwards, Gabel, and Hosmer on the crucifixion in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the seeds planted by Barbet’s book began to grow.

Although the article concluded that Jesus died of suffocation and the complications thereof, Ball believed that Jesus died of a ruptured heart. This disagreement led him to publish a rebuttal article with his explanation of the cause of Jesus’ death in 1989 in The Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association.

Ball’s rebuttal article was the beginning of his evangelism ministry. He began receiving invitations to speak in churches about the crucifixion, usually during the Easter season. Eventually Ball and his wife developed a multimedia presentation with music, slides, video and theatrical lighting, as well as a resurrection scene with Jesus appearing in the clouds. This production has been presented in about 150 churches in 17 states.

Since beginning his crucifixion presentations, Ball has further documented his conclusions, authoring a scientific study of the medical aspects of the crucifixion which was published in the 2008 edition of The Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association. In 2009, he published a book entitled, “The Crucifixion and Death of a Man Called Jesus.” He has also participated in a documentary about the crucifixion for The History Channel and recently finished filming another TV documentary on the crucifixion produced by The Discovery Channel which will air during the 2013 Easter season.

For more information on this year’s Empower Evangelism Conference go to

Lance Armstrong’s 10-mile brush with faith

NASHVILLE—Riding alongside Lance Armstrong for 10 miles, brothers Jedidiah and Caleb Coppenger sought to share their faith in 2006 with the now-disgraced cycling legend. Armstrong, who was cycling in the annual 450-mile ride across Iowa known as RAGRAI, was in a pack of enthusiasts until a serendipitous crash left the brothers beside the cycling legend.

“On a turn in one of the pass-through towns, a cyclist lost control and wiped out most of the bunch,” their father, Mark Coppenger, who also was a RAGRAI participant that year, recounted. “Caleb and Jed managed to weave through the wreckage and then find themselves riding right beside Armstrong for almost 10 miles.”

The brothers decided to make the most of the opportunity to speak with Armstrong, who had just retired from professional cycling after winning seven straight Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2005.

After some brief small talk and thanking him for his work on behalf of cancer research, the brothers brought up their faith.

“We asked him if he was a Christian and he told us no,” Jedidiah Coppenger, now a church planter in Nashville, recalled.

“We told him that we’re not just against certain manifestations of death [such as cancer, which Armstrong had battled], but the whole thing. Since Jesus has overcome death in all its ugly wholeness, we’re all about taking on death itself.”

Jedidiah Coppenger, who also is an acquisitions editor for B&H Publishing with LifeWay Christian Resources, said Armstrong “graciously dismissed” their conversation and then moved on.

As Mark Coppenger, now on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s faculty, ponders, “You can’t help but ask, ‘What if?’ when you think of his opportunity to respond to Christ that day.”

Armstrong, now in the media glare, has admitted to using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to win the most coveted prize in professional cycling. Even after being stripped of his titles last year, he had continued to deny using banned substances.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong said he had taken “a ruthless win-at-all-costs attitude” in his renewed training in 1998 after battling cancer to compete for cycling’s top prize.

For Jedidiah Coppenger, Armstrong’s answer was not surprising.

A former college athlete himself, Coppenger noted, “Our culture is obsessed with glory and fame.”

“Outside of Eden, every culture has been driven to make a name for themselves apart from God.

“With modern technology providing greater platforms for recognition and modern science providing the ability to enhance performance, our fallen hearts will do whatever it takes to be ‘great.'”

Georgia pastor Tim Dowdy, who has competed in triathlons, the same sport in which Armstrong began, agreed with Coppenger.

“In sport there is always the challenge of being competitive,” Dowdy said.

“‘I have to be the winner’ mentality has permeated our culture, mainly because those who come in second are forgotten before the ink dries on the story,” said Dowdy, pastor of Eagles Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., and a former chairman of the North American Mission Board’s trustees.

Armstrong, in his interview with Winfrey, took responsibility for his actions but said a new culture was pervasive in his sport and his life after he overcame cancer prior to his unprecedented Tour de France championships.

“Before my diagnosis, I was a competitor, but not a fierce competitor,” Armstrong told Winfrey. “When I was diagnosed, that turned me into a fighter. That was good. I took that ruthless win-at-all costs attitude into cycling, which was bad.”

After he was banned from cycling last year, Armstrong saw his oldest son publicly defend him and decided he had to confess to his son.

“He’d never said, ‘Dad, is this true?’ He trusted me,” Armstrong lamented. Armstrong also acknowledged to Winfrey that he lost $75 million in income in two days as sponsors dropped him.

As the interview closed, Armstrong reflected on a moral to the story of his professional and personal demise.

“For me, I think it was about that ride and about losing myself and getting caught up in that and doing all those things along the way,” Armstrong said about his cheating, lying and bullying those who spoke out against his doping.

The “ultimate crime,” he said, is “the betrayal of these people who support me and believed in me — and they got lied to.”

Jedidiah Coppenger noted that the outcry over Armstrong’s deceptions gives glimpses of hope.

“Even in our relativistic culture, events like these reveal that we as a culture still have a conscience,” Coppenger said.

“The image of God may be marred, but it is still present.”

Dowdy took note of the reality of redemption.

“It is easy, at this point, to pile on the deluge of condemnation for Lance Armstrong,” Dowdy said, “but if we stop and think about it, his very public downfall is a reminder of how much we all need forgiveness and how powerful the grace of God really is.”

Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, reminded readers of his blog that the patterns evident in Armstrong’s story are not new.

“As a matter of fact, Scripture points to the fall of great people and calls us to learn humbly in such moments,” Stetzer wrote, “not rejoicing in their downfall, but learning to guard our own hearts.”

5 lessons to glean from Armstrong’s fall

1. Internal desires are the root of external sins. “While the desire to excel is not wrong,” Stetzer wrote, “if it becomes the focus of our lives it can lead to external behaviors that do not honor God.”

2. When someone steps into sin, control is only a dream. “The downward spiral of one compromise, one sinful act leads to another and another,” Dowdy said.

3. To fulfill selfish desires, people often look for shortcuts. “When a desire becomes all-consuming, shortcutting the rules or laws becomes the norm,” Stetzer noted.

4. People have an idolatrous nature. “Although most won’t soar as high as Armstrong,” Jedidiah Coppenger said, “we must all be careful of the tendency to make an idol out of morally neutral things like bike-riding.”

5. Exposure is inevitable – now or in eternity. “It has been said that what we cover, God will uncover,” Stetzer wrote at his www.ed.stetzer blog. “Our sins will -– and do — find us out.”


Of wimps and warriors

Sitting here wondering if Forrest Gump’s friend Jenny could have carried Bubba and Lt. Dan across the battlefield in the fog of war. Hmm.

The idea of women in infantry combat roles is the latest in a series of absurdities rolled out by our Defense Department. First, open homosexuality was declared acceptable in the ranks along with its unintended consequences. Now this.

Seems as though our political leaders are determined to appease some liberal interest groups regardless of how it affects the military’s mission. We’ve become so open-minded that our brains have fallen out. A military brass largely irreligious—or gutless—seems to be falling in lockstep with the cadence called by our Commander in Chief.

A column in the Wall Street Journal by a Marine combat veteran described 2003’s Iraq invasion and the hellish conditions as leathernecks endured hours of movement crammed like sardines in assault vehicles, not stopping for anyone’s bathroom needs. You can imagine the potty innovations, or read his account yourself. No woman should endure it, and no man should have to endure her being there (or vice versa).

The question, ultimately, isn’t whether women can serve honorably and courageously (many have and still do) but whether or not a nation with any lick of sense would dare send its women into the demands of leading-edge combat when it didn’t absolutely need to for survival.

Anyone who served in the Reagan era or earlier knows the crudeness of male-only or even male-dominated military units. I understand that the Tailhook Scandal of the early ‘90s as well as the hazing controversies later that decade have tamed the atmosphere a bit, but the demands of warriors—the mindset involved—necessitates a certain level of detachment from the niceties of the real world. There must be a better way, but the PC movement hasn’t helped us find it.

The men and women in suits who are pushing this agenda (and the gutless, shameless generals and admirals who know better but wish to keep their high positions) have forgotten that girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, boys of rocks and snails and puppy dog tails.

The potential problems with this direction are too numerous to mention here. But a leading concern is the rise in sexual assaults and in deployment-related pregnancies as women have increasingly been placed alongside men in other roles previously not open to them, as reported by the Center for Military Readiness.

The language of Solomon in his Songs seems a good place to discover the unspeakable differences between men and women. God made us equal in essence and value but wonderfully unequal in physicality and function. The Lord liked it so much he described the church as his Bride.

John Piper’s 2007 World Magazine article has been making the rounds, and justifiably so. Here’s a nugget:

“If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed.”

OoRah, John Piper!

New year reflection provides opportunity to honor our teachers

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:14-17

The beginning and ending of each year brings a time of reflection and remembering. It also allows us the opportunity to be thankful for people and situations of life that have drawn us closer to God over the years. Please allow me to introduce to you Thomas Decosta Calendar—a man that will never know how much I appreciate the time and wisdom he poured into me as a young preacher. He was affectionately known as Dean, the founder, sole teacher, and administrator of The King Is Coming Bible Institute, a small premillennial, dispensational theological institute in Oklahoma City. It was there I started my theological studies in the fall of 1982, sitting at the feet of this small, salt and pepper, balding man in his early 60s. He was a transplant from the Caribbean country of Haiti and spoke with a heavy Haitian accent. His thirst for the Word of God and answering his call for ministry compelled him to leave his home in Haiti as a young man to pursue his theological training at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. He became one of the finest systematic theologians of his time. In this article I would like to give him tribute and share with you one of his many short writings that I have been blessed to compile. It is my desire to publish these writings on eschatology in the near future.

by Thomas Decosta Calendar
As we enter the portal of the New Year, we should keep in mind that time is marching on, and great prophecies concerning the future are being fulfilled before our eyes. The proof of prophecy is its fulfillment. As I have said a number of times, a prophet is one who has the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. Now, that is why I encourage all who are interested in prophecy to study the Bible and read the newspaper. If you are not in the habit of having daily Bible reading and daily paper reading you should develop that habit. Fifteen minutes a day of studying the Bible and reading the paper will change your life. Date-setting is the unpardonable sin of the prophetic preacher, teacher or student. Date-setting is the sin of the prophetic preacher, teacher or student that can never be forgiven. This is an exaggeration, but it gets across the point I want to make. All you say or do can be ruined when you attempt to set dates and ignore the fact that the Savior says that no man knows the hour when He will return (Matt. 25:13 ). Many people go after a man who gives the year, the month, and the day when a thing will occur. If he makes a good guess and the event occurs, they will put him on the throne with Jesus. But I want you to know that only God can set dates and cause them to be fulfilled. If we knew as much as God, we would be God. The person who claims to know the mind of God completely is attempting to get a place in the Trinity. We have to let God be God and quit trying to play God. Now when Jesus says that no man knows the hour, not even the angels or the Son, He is saying that the Son doesn’t know the hour in His human nature, but the Son knows the hour in His divine nature. Gabriel doesn’t know when Jesus is coming. Michael doesn’t know when Jesus is coming. The Devil doesn’t know when Jesus is coming. (He is the one who tries to get us to set dates to undermine our gospel message). The millions, billions, trillions and zillions of angels don’t know when Jesus is coming. Moses, Joshua, Elijah, the major and minor prophets, the historians, the inspired poets of the word, the Gospel writers, the epistle writers, the master historian Luke, and the apostle John don’t know when Jesus is coming. Only the triune God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit knows when Jesus is coming. In other words, the hour of the rapture is a secret that is only known to God (I Thes. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:50-58).

I hope you were blessed by this article as we face a new year and find ourselves confronted with an onslaught of world-ending prophecies that seem to fall short of their predictions. In closing this column I would like to honor and thank God for the memory of my friend, mentor and spiritual advisor Dean Thomas Decosta Calendar who parted this life in 1990. If it were not for his advice and guidance, I might have never have left the red dirt and open plains of Oklahoma in pursuit of a seminary education in Dallas. Along with my wife and children we left our home and families. We had no jobs awaiting us, only a dream that I would study systematic theology and return to the King Is Coming to help my friend teach at the Institute. Man can set dates, but God must fulfill the date. A year into my seminary training God called Dean to his eternal reward. Twenty-four years later I am blessed to still be in Texas, pastoring one of God’s best congregations and serving the greatest state and national conventions of our modern era. To God be the glory for the great things he has done. Happy New Year!

Let”s talk about guns

Now it is a debate. When professors Thor Madsen and Rodney Harrison of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote their bold column for Baptist Press on Jan. 22, they broke the near silence of conservative Baptists on the subject of gun control, gun ownership, and the Second Amendment. Read the column here. Perhaps the boldest statement, the most uncomfortable for those who are unfamiliar with firearms, was their last point: The framers of our Constitution did not prohibit the seizure of arms held by private citizens because they wanted to protect deer hunting. When public figures ask why anyone needs an assault rifle to hunt deer, they are missing the point. We are given the right to keep and bear arms in order to ensure that we are governed with our consent, not by the use of raw, unchecked force.

Love the fact or hate it but this is the purpose for putting in the Constitution an allowance for the people to keep what General Washington called their “liberty teeth.” That’s why most gun owners will glaze over when someone begins a question with “why does anyone need…” If you ask such a question you will have difficulty understanding the answer. 

The first few pundits I read on the subject, among Baptists and former Baptists, were uniformly in the “potential safety trumps liberty” camp. Of course the national dialog has been understandably emotional—the killing of innocents is an emotionally charged event. Madsen and Harrison are serving all who will hear when they ask that we pause a minute for national grief before we start writing laws and making national policy. That’s not what our nation has done, but there is still time for us to be deliberate in our actions. Rather than being a mere response to a tragedy, our nation’s policies on its citizens’ rights should be carefully developed with a bias toward liberty.

Safer societies have stronger families

Perhaps the hundreds of efforts by professional pundits to help us understand the tragedy visited last month on Newtown, Conn., will serve to teach us an important lesson—things like that don’t happen for just one reason. Many commentators have a piece of the puzzle or have accurately described a symptom of the larger problem, but they do not look deeply enough. Such horror will not then have one simple solution. More money or legal support for the mental health industry will not be the magic pill. Neither will adding to our already voluminous laws regulating the manufacture, distribution, and ownership of firearms. Our challenge is much more difficult than laws or budget allocations can begin to address.

During my lifetime and memory our culture has changed its mind about some things. I remember when we had cigarette commercials on television, when pretending to be drunk was a staple of some comedy routines, and when there was a stigma attached to some kinds of sexual behavior. About the same time that cigarette commercials were banned from TV, the first primetime program showed a main character, a hero, living with a girlfriend without benefit of marriage. Sexual immorality was certainly not new to entertainment media but in this context, the normalized portrayal of this behavior was novel … for a little while. In those days, a girl who was pregnant out of wedlock was “in trouble” and a divorced family was a “broken home.” Jump forward a few years. Now, a movie is rated PG if a main character smokes; public intoxication is not rare but also not exactly respectable; sexual behavior has become a casual matter; high school kids throw baby showers for one another; and marriage is fairly optional for the rearing of happy healthy kids—at least in pop culture. The facts are a bit more stark.

Those who follow their celebrity heroes into divorce and serial marriage find that it’s not as much fun as it seemed. Divorce is the number one cause of poverty among women and children. Most children who live below the poverty line live with single or divorced mothers. Boys who live with single mothers are significantly more likely to be depressed, friendless, act up in school, drop out, get in trouble, engage in criminal activity, and go to jail. Girls who live without benefit of a biological or adoptive father are likely to have an unreasonable self-image, act out sexually, and go with boys who will treat them badly. Kids who grow up this way are more likely to become parents who divorce, are poor, etc. Ninety percent of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes, as are 63 percent of those who commit suicide.

Yes, America has a higher ratio of legally owned firearms to population than other countries. We also lead the world in the percentage of mother-only families. Perhaps the radical individualism and sense of personal liberty that leads to the first fact also impacts the second.

How do children learn how to relate to the opposite sex except by watching their parents? How do kids learn how to deal with other people at all unless they have involved and positive interaction with a dependable woman who will tend to nurture them and a dependable man who will tend to challenge them toward independence and achievement? Kids who live with both parents even develop a higher IQ than do those who live with only one parent. Pastor, does this call to mind any occasion when a troubled couple told you that they were divorcing “for the good of the children?

Reversing the trend in our culture away from healthy and lifelong marriages doesn’t sound as simple as allocating more money to counsel troubled young people. In fact, I can imagine us doing the latter but cannot imagine how difficult it would be to encourage healthy marriages and families.

But consider this: When some other social phenomenon is so solidly proven to be causative in negative outcomes, we tend to frown on it, big time. We begin to vilify those who encourage it or who profit by it. Think again of the way we think of drug dealers or cigarette companies, even the way we often portray the users of those products. Is it your impression that our society discourages divorce or single motherhood? In some cases we’d have to admit that our churches do not do enough to support strong marriages or encourage traditional families. No-fault divorce has resulted in a rapid increase in the number of broken families, poor kids, and emotionally disadvantaged adults, as well as an industry that would fight tooth and nail to preserve these harmful laws.

So last December a troubled young man who lived without a father, spent his days alone with video games, and who seemed unable to make friends, murdered his single mother and then destroyed 20 grade school kids. Is it reasonable to blame this event on too few mental health resources and too many guns? Regardless of how you answer that question, it is clear that our continued scorning of traditional families is reaping a bitter harvest in America.    

Giving more means reaching more

Happy New Year! I am excited about God’s presence and His work in 2013. The SBTC staff is hitting the ground running. It is our privilege to assist the churches in the awesome assignment of the Great Commission.

I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. My role is to be a “forth” teller, not a foreteller. However, there are some exciting projections I have for the coming 12 months.

El Paso is about to experience a mighty move of God. Scores of churches and hundreds of volunteers will make their way to Texas’ most western city. We are praying for thousands to come to Christ. Chuy and Maria Avila, your SBTC/NAMB missionaries, are relocating from Laredo where God has showered his blessings over them the last few years. Churches were started, existing churches were strengthened and the entire city was covered with the gospel. The same will happen in El Paso.

Student Ministry is already promising to be a year for reaching a record number of young people. The first summer camp is full. The second week of camp is over half reserved. There will be a Student Evangelism Conference on the campus of Southwestern Seminary and one in McAllen. I believe there will be huge numbers of kids coming to Christ and answering the call to ministry at these events.

The SENT Conference, the Equip Conference, and other training/encouraging activities will continue to assist the local church in carrying out the Great Commission. While there are many challenges facing us in 2013, this could be the best year ever. It could also be the year that the Lord Jesus comes!
Some things will stay the same. Over the previous 14 years of the existence of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, we have made much of our first two core values and rightfully so. We are a confessional fellowship of churches. Churches are willing to work within the parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message (2000). Unapologetically churches identify with the SBTC as an “inerrantist” convention. The Executive Board has defined a “high view of Scripture” so there would be no question where we stand on the nature of Scripture. We are a Bible-believing group of Baptists. We are Biblically Based.

The second core value is the Kingdom Focus. Keeping the funding and staffing majored on missions and evangelism puts the emphasis where the churches want it. A small-numbered staff still provides over 100 ministries to 2,400 churches stretching across the expanse of Texas. Our first core value is about who we are. This core value is about what we do.

The third core value has not had the emphasis of the other two through the years. We have called it by different names through the years. The third core value was originally called the “Methodological Approach.” It is about how we do what we do. Now it is Missionally Driven. While the nomenclature has been modified, the meaning has not. The SBTC is made up of missionally driven churches. A funding method that works better than anything used in the evangelical world makes us missionally driven. It is the Cooperative Program.

The Cooperative Program is the funding vehicle that makes missions and ministry possible in Texas and beyond. Churches choose to participate by sending funds to the SBTC. Messengers at the SBTC annual meeting vote on a budget that allocates the disbursement of monies. Fifty-five percent of the adopted budget goes to the Southern Baptist Convention. A little over half of the Southern Baptist Convention budget goes to the International Mission Board with 22.16 percent going to the North American Mission Board. The six SBC seminaries who train Christian workers receive about 22 percent, too. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission gets 1.65 percent. The SBC Executive Committee has 3.2 percent for operational purposes. By giving through the CP a church, large or small, invests in reaching the unengaged peoples of India, China and other challenging places. A church helps train Christian workers for existing churches and a wide range of ministries.

In Texas the 45 percent that remains is invested in similar ways. Church planting is over $1 million in the operating budget. Evangelism and missions make up almost 40 percent of the in-state allocations. Colleges, children’s homes, ministers’ retirement homes and other beneficial ministries receive a portion (less than 10 percent of the in-state budget). The personnel costs of salary and housing total less than 14 percent of the total budget.

Every church should do as much as it can locally, nationally and internationally. Mission trips and hands-on efforts are vital to the spiritual life of the church. However, no church can do it all. By joining with other churches of like faith every church can have an uninterrupted ministry locally and globally. When a church gives through the CP your dollar never sleeps. Around the world or in the middle of the night, there are CP missions and ministry taking place.

All the projections of ministry for 2013 that I made in the opening paragraphs of this article are only possible by the good pleasure of the churches. Your church determines what kind of missions and ministry you want to happen in Texas. By praying, going and giving you have a part. The Cooperative Program is the common tool we use to make it happen. In 2013 I want to challenge you to pray about increasing your church’s participation through the Cooperative Program by 1 percent. If your church is not giving, give 1 percent. If your church is giving, consider giving 1 percent more. What this will do is enable us together to reach more, teach more and love on more people. Let’s make 2013 the greatest year for Jesus ever!