Month: March 2013

The violent take it by force

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. —Matthew 11:12

Several recent national polls that measure societal trends reveal the values and morals of Americans are changing. When President Barack Obama ran on a platform of change in his first campaign for president, the acceptance and approval of abortion and same-sex marriage were not what the majority of those who voted for him were expecting. I am certain the voters would not have elected him president had he revealed his approval and included these issues in his first campaign speeches. However, he did win the second term as president—running on a platform that promised the American people change, which included his approval of abortion, same-sex marriage and gay rights. As we observe America changing we can see where past immoralities no longer exist because they have become the morality of our day. The sins of days gone by have become the righteousness of this era. From a biblical perspective we see and hear current immoral changes to the American way of life echoing the words of our Lord Jesus Christ down through the corridors of time: “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force.” Modern Christianity in America is under a philosophical and spiritual attack that questions the very core of our Christian belief system: is sin still sin? The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines sin as “actions by which humans rebel against God, miss His purpose for their life, and surrender to the power of evil rather than to God.”

Christians are being forced to examine their understanding of harmatology (the study of sin), and answer several questions that will determine how Christianity in America will be practiced on our watch. How will the modern church handle the issues of sin? Is the Christian responsible to win souls into the kingdom of God by acknowledging that men and women are sinners who need the grace of God to save them? Should Christianity cease witnessing that the blood of Jesus Christ will forgive lost sinners of their sins, and clean up their sinful lifestyles? Is forgiveness of sins needed to change the hearts of sinful men and women—leading them to pursue a lifestyle of holy living? These modern philosophical and spiritual adjustments to Christianity tell pastors, teachers, evangelists and laypersons to save souls and teach them to continue living a lifestyle of sin contrary to the Word of God. Are the days of the Christian standing firm and teaching biblical morality outdated? Today, we are living in a society that is clearly attacking all that the Bible teaches as God’s purpose for mankind and holy living. Jesus addresses the issue of morality and sin in this statement:

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:8-13).

I want to offer a word of encouragement to those who would take a stand for holy living based on the Word of God. In the text Jesus Christ illustrates the life of John the Baptist as an example of how we will suffer when we stand for God, while assuring us that we are in good company. Therefore we must stand for righteousness, holy living, and all that promotes godly lifestyles. The above Scripture was spoken to the crowd and disciples of John the Baptist. John’s disciples were sent to ask Christ the question, “Are you the one (Messiah) or should we (John the Baptist) expect another?” John the Baptist was arrested and put in prison for denouncing the sin of adultery committed by King Herod. This answer is of great importance to John because he realizes the end of his life is near. If Christ was the Messiah John the Baptist would know that the task of preparing the way for the Messiah had been fulfilled, and his mission was accomplished. As Christians, we live in a society that attacks those who would stand for the gospel and Christian principles. Just like John the Baptist, Christians should serve as an example to the world by taking a stand against immorality for the sake of adding converts to the kingdom of God. John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ and the kingdom of heaven in his first coming. Christians today are to prepare the way for Christ in his second coming. However, our mission and task is greater than that of John the Baptist. As we compel people to accept Christ as savior to enter the kingdom of heaven, let us be reminded that the calling of every Christian is to advance the cause of Christ. In this world, “that men will see our good works and glorify the Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16b). Please know that just as Christians throughout the ages have suffered and struggled to advance the kingdom so must we. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).

SENT Conference delivers vision for missions to church leaders and volunteers

EULESS—By the time Brad Hodges left the SBTC’s SENT Conference in 2010, he had had his own “road to Damascus” experience about missions.

“I learned what it means to give up all and follow him, whenever and wherever. I will go. I don’t have to live overseas to be a missionary. I can live it here and now.” Hodges declared. “I now start my days with a SENT attitude.”

Of course, most pastors know that living out the challenge of the Great Commission is not a one-man job. It takes pastors and church members working together to reach those around the corner and around the world with the gospel. But building that DNA into a local church is difficult.

Most church staffs would love a congregation full of people with Hodges’ understanding of his role in the kingdom.

That’s where “Living SENT 2013” comes in, providing resources to help pastors and laypeople lead churches to develop a passion for missions. Living SENT 2013, April 26-27 at First Baptist Church of Euless, will feature pre-sessions, plenary sessions, and many workshops seeking to inspire believers to embrace the Acts 1:8 challenge as “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Topics include apartment ministry, travel and safety training, embracing unreached people groups, and learning to engage Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims.

“If you are serious about the Great Commission, SENT is a conference you must attend,” said Terry Sharp, lead strategist for state and associational relations in the mobilization office of the International Mission Board. “You will find inspiring messages, videos and testimonies, plus breakout sessions that help equip you to be involved in every facet of Acts 1:8,” he explained.

“If you go to only one conference this year, it needs to be this one,” Sharp said.

Other sessions, applicable to laypeople and ministers alike, include: “Teach a Man to Fish,” led by David and Jo Brown, missionary and Baptist Global Response representative; “Impacting a Lost World through Prayer,” led by Eddie Cox, IMB missionary and director of the Office of Global Prayer Strategy; “Busting the Bible Belt Norms—How Texas is forever changed and what the church needs to do about it,” led by Ben Hays, pastor of The Church in the Center, Houston; “Reaching Children at Risk in Your Church,” led by Clara Molina, North American Mission Board missionary; and “Really? You Want Me to Do What?” led by Brad Womble, IMB missionary and mobilization strategist.

“I found the SENT Conference to be very helpful and insightful for me as a young minister,” Nathan Adams, associate minister of missions at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church in Abilene, said of past conferences. “I learned how to use tools like community mapping and storytelling to enhance my church’s outreach efforts. I personally met several engaging people who took one-on-one time with me to answer questions and swap stories,” he added. “I would recommend this event for anybody interested in connecting with people or working with the local church.”

Local churches have seen mission involvement increase following previous SENT Conferences. “Our involvement in Mexico Missions is a result of our attendance at the Sent Conference sponsored by SBTC,” said Carey Butler of First Baptist Church of Quitman.

For more information about Living SENT 2013, including complete pre-conference, conference, and workshop information and registration requirements, visit

Texas” 2013 legislative session

Our convention’s legislative agenda for 2013 is pretty similar to previous years when Texas’ lawmakers migrated to Austin for a few months. Convention messengers have spoken on a selection of issues related to religious liberty, strong families, and wholesome communities. Our convention speaks when one of our priorities can be advanced or defended. Convention priorities are set by our resolutions, statement of faith, and other places where our churches or their messengers have expressed an opinion on a timely subject. We’re not likely then to weigh in on toll road expansion or governance of the University of Texas, but when an issue about which Texas Southern Baptists are close to a consensus arises, there we are. Here are a few subjects we’re following, along with some sample bills that are under consideration.

Marriage and Family—The Texas Constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Some want to amend this understanding at local and state levels but those efforts won’t succeed until Texas is a far different place. More positively, some lawmakers are hoping to strengthen real marriage.

HB 1673 proposes to clarify already existing legislation that encourages “covenant marriage.” Our current law is pretty vague and offers marrying couples the option of calling their marriage a covenant. The current effort adds language to ensure that wives will not be trapped in abusive relationships. It also specifies a commitment to both pre-marital and pre-divorce counseling. It reads as a first step toward unwinding no-fault divorce. Stronger marriages will help us avoid novel definitions of the institution.

HB 1057 is called the Texas Parental Control Accountability Act and would allow parents more say over the instruction of their children on the subject of sexuality. It would prohibit abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, from providing sex education or materials through our public schools. Parents would have to opt in if their children are to receive sex education from any outside person or organization.

HB 1568 responds to efforts to pull apart the Texas defense of marriage amendment by passing local ordinances, as was the case when the Pflugerville I.S.D. approved domestic partnership benefits for employees. The bill would deny healthcare funding for school districts that offer benefits to those who are not employees, or spouses or children of employees.

Sanctity of Life—Texas is a pro-life state. Efforts to turn Texas “blue” are not entirely about electing Democrats to national positions. Our pro-life tradition is also a threat to the liberal and growing anti-family movement in our country. If Texas turns blue on this issue, it won’t be in 2013.

SB 97 attempts to regulate the distribution of abortion-causing drugs, so-called morning after pills or “plan B” medicines. Under this bill, providers of these abortifacients would be required to adhere to FDA standards for prescribing and use of these drugs. It should be shocking to us how often the purveyors of this nasty business want to hide behind the respectability of the medical profession, until they’re required to play by the same rules as doctors.

HB 309 would prohibit sex-selection abortions. I must pause here and call attention to the fact that I just wrote that in our nation, abortions intended to choose the sex of a child by aborting the one you already have, usually a girl, are common enough to require prohibition. And in some states, an effort to ban sex-selection abortions would be more controversial than it will here.

SB25, a fetal pain act similar to what several other states have passed appeared a few days before the filing deadline. The governor has pledged support for legislation that would ban abortions at the point, often designated as 20 weeks, when a child in the womb can feel the pain of the abortion. Arkansas is the most recent state to pass such a law. Anyone who genuinely considers abortion to be regrettable or a last ditch response to a problem pregnancy will support a fetal pain act. Those who’ve never met an abortion they didn’t favor, or profit from, will not support a law that protects even creatures they consider subhuman from cruel treatment we wouldn’t allow for a dog. This will likely be a marquee bill for pro-lifers in this session.

Religious Liberty—The U.S. Constitution counts the freedom of a person to believe as he wishes to be a foundational freedom. And of course, the expression of that freedom in speech, assembly, written and published form, and in religious practice follows naturally from our freedom to believe a thing. The priests of secular religion are increasingly aggressive when a town allows a Nativity scene on the courthouse lawn or when high school cheerleaders use a verse of Scripture on a banner. They are also aggressive in another way when their faith is challenged in classrooms or text books by other faiths, even by the fair description of other theories. These cases have arisen often enough to prompt legal responses.

HB 285 says that public institutions cannot discriminate against faculty members or students who espouse intelligent design or conduct research related to that theory. That discrimination surely does take place and is especially harmful to professional academics. If this bill passes it will throw a big rock in the puddle of most college faculties.

HB 360 is apparently a response to events in other states wherein Christian student organizations were required to allow members who do not share the defining convictions of the organizations. Imagine PETA being required to allow hunters and butchers into their happy fellowship. This bill would withdraw state funding from any institution that so persecutes a student organization. The claim of the bill is that such actions violate the First Amendment rights of the students, and they do. 

Gambling—I’m told it’s easier to kill a bill than to birth it. That makes sense when you consider that filed bills outnumber signed ones by three or four to one. Gambling bills are those we would love to see killed. While I think one could make a case that gambling is a personal morality issue related to stewardship, obsession, materialism, and personal responsibility, it is without a doubt an issue that bears on the health and stability of our communities. The gambling industry would be much less prosperous, and less attractive, without problem gamblers. Problem gamblers neglect their families, defraud creditors, lose their jobs, pawn their wives’ jewelry, and go bankrupt. It is foolish to want more of it in our communities. It is immoral for us to consider expanded gambling a solution for a public revenue shortfall.

HB 109, HR 27 and SB 55 all bring up the biennial effort to legalize video gambling. At one time, the horse and dog tracks in Texas were going to save us all from bankruptcy. Now the argument is that video gambling is needed save the horse track, and accompanying equine industries. And, oh yeah, it will also provide more money for schools, after big gambling gets paid. The fact that these efforts come early and often is no reflection that Texas needs the money or that the reps involved are losing sleep over classrooms without enough laptops. It reflects the fact that a lot of money is behind the gambling industry. Their favorite lawmakers are diligent. If the legislature gets nervous about money this zombie issue will shuffle into the chamber and receive a serious hearing. I don’t think it will this year but we must always pay attention. Legalized gambling is not the worst idea elected officials have ever supported but a lot of terrible and destructive ideas are not the worst one.

We should all appreciate the work and service of our elected leaders, even those with whom we disagree on occasion. Obedience to God requires that we pray for them; so does simple gratitude. While we’re being grateful, let’s thank God that we live in a state where so many of our elected leaders share our convictions. Our opportunities to reach Texas and touch the world are enhanced by the political climate in our particular mission field.

Evangelism panel: Churches must refocus on ‘telling’

IRVING—A recurring theme emerged during a panel discussion March 5 at the Empower Evangelism Conference in Irving: Churches need to refocus on telling the lost about Jesus, regardless of which evangelistic method they use.

“The issue is whether we’ll be part of what God is doing or sit on the sidelines and watch,” Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said. “If our hearts are right, any strategy will work … It will work because we have a love for Christ and lost people that compels us to share.”

Along with Akin, the panel included Ronnie Hill, a vocational evangelist from Fort Worth; David Wheeler, evangelism professor at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va.; and Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. SBTC Evangelism Director Nathan Lorick moderated.

The recent decline in baptisms among Southern Baptist churches is due partly to demographics, Stetzer said, noting that many SBC congregations are in areas where the population is stagnant or declining. But part of the problem is also a lack of witnessing, he said.

“The promise of the Conservative Resurgence was that we would eventually agree on enough together that could we go reach the world for Jesus,” Stetzer said. “I’m ready for that to happen.”

Reversing the decline “is not going to happen on a seminary or LifeWay level,” he added. “Churches have to say, ‘We’ve been redeemed. This is worth telling.’ Southern Baptists need to tell the old story all over again.”

Though some argue door-to-door witnessing no longer works, panelists said it is still a viable method of evangelism, with Southerners being more open to home visits than people in any other region, Stetzer said.

Hill has been doing door-to-door witnessing for 10 years “and it still works,” he said, “but with organization. You’ve got to plan. But we’ve had results and we’ve seen people saved.”

Wheeler recommended combining servant evangelism with knocking on neighbors’ doors. He said service has created witnessing opportunities with his own neighbors, some of whom recently committed their lives to Christ. By giving them apple dumplings, raking leaves in their yard and performing other acts of service, he and his wife drove them to ask the motivation for such kindness—a perfect door for sharing Jesus, he said.

“Adopt five to 10 neighbors,” Wheeler said. “Start praying and ask God to give you opportunities to serve them.”

In terms of mass evangelism, panelists agreed that preachers must extend an invitation for people to repent of their sins and trust Christ for salvation. But they said an invitation must not always involve people walking to the front of a room to indicate commitment to Jesus.

“I don’t always ask people to come forward,” Akin said. “You don’t have to change geographic space to get them to respond. But I give an invitation when I do a wedding or a funeral. I teach students that when given an opportunity to speak to lost people, you’re guilty of ministerial malpractice if you don’t present the gospel and invite people to respond.”

Hill said a “come-forward invitation” is his preferred method of inviting people to trust Christ for salvation because it allows someone to counsel and pray with a new convert. He also advocated baptizing new believers as quickly as possible.

One key to evangelistic invitations is not manipulating people, Wheeler said. But in an effort not to manipulate, some Christians have overcorrected by stopping invitations altogether, he said.

Another point of agreement among panelists was the usefulness of vocational evangelists in the postmodern era. Stetzer noted that “the revival is a newer phenomenon than the gift of the evangelist” and said all churches don’t have to hold revival meetings. But Scripture commands evangelists to equip churches for the work of ministry, he said, and evangelists should train believers how to share their faith.

“We need more evangelists functioning in our churches than ever before,” he said.

On the question of how to begin an evangelistic conversation, the panelists said Christians should not always use the same lead-in to the gospel but discover a lost person’s needs and speak authentically.

Wheeler cited Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well as an example of how to relate to a non-believer interpersonally before delving into sin, repentance and faith.

“It’s not the cutesy little lines,” Wheeler said. “It’s the authenticity. The woman at the well wanted to know who Jesus was because a man hadn’t looked at her who didn’t want something from her,” but Jesus was willing “to engage” and “affirm her humanity.”

In the end, every church does not need to have the same evangelistic strategy, but every church must do something to reach lost people for Christ, panelists said, even if that means diverting energy and resources away from other worthy programs.

“We have churches that are really, really, really busy doing lots of good, good, good things, but to the neglect of the most important things,” Akin said. “And I would rather see our churches do less and do the most important things better than do many things and do many things well and leave the most important things neglected.”

—With reporting by Tammi Ledbetter