Month: June 2013

Veteran messenger and local writer offer advice on enjoying Houston

Editor’s Note: Tracy Barber of Farmersville was 11 when she flew with her parents from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas to attend her first Southern Baptist Convention meeting. Now she and husband Bart continue to take their two children every year without fail. We asked Tracy to pose questions for which she seeks answers as she anticipates preparing the family for an enjoyable SBC travel experience. TEXAN writer Bonnie Pritchett of Nassau Bay fills in the gaps with answers from her time in Houston and tips of a local hotel concierge Tim Hess.

Tracy: As the hotel door closes I’m thinking about taking a nap, but the kids have a different idea. The questions come non-stop from my daughter. When can we go eat? Is it time to go to the children’s museum? Are our friends here yet? Can we please ride with them to go to the aquarium? All my son wants to know is when he can go swimming.

Bonnie: Before I get to all of those important questions, consider hiring a teenager who will be in town with another Southern Baptist family to be on call as needed if you forgot to take advantage of childcare and day camps available by reservation.

Tracy:  Where is the closest restaurant with kid friendly food?

Bonnie: This part of the metropolis has been redeveloped for folks—single or couples with small well-groomed pets, not children—who can’t get enough concrete and car exhaust in their diet. The conspicuous absence of restaurants with children’s playscapes is, I’m guessing here, by design. There is a McDonald’s with a playplace in the next zip code over two miles away. Your best bet may be Hubcap Grill about 10 blocks away at 1111 Prairie.

No problem. Tracy already has Jason’s Deli mapped out at McKinney and Travis.

Tracy:  While I’m in Houston how do I know where to find the best Tex-Mex or barbeque?

Bonnie: This is an important question so I’m wondering why you listed it so far down in your query. The original Ninfa’s  (2704 Navigation Blvd) is about a mile and a half away. Houston’s First Pastor Gregg Matte adds that it is the birthplace of fajitas. Tracy is partial to Pappasito’s, (2536 Richmond Avenue). Chuy’s 2706 Westheimer Road) is Bonnie’s preference and Lupe Tortilla (2414 Southwest Freeway) is another popular pick.

For barbecue, Bonnie’s concierge friend from the Triple A 5 Diamond St. Regis Hotel recommends Pappa’s BBQ and Goode Company scattered throughout Houston. Tracy has Luling City Market on her radar at 4726 Richmond Street near the Galleria area. While in that same area, Gregg Matte recommends seeing the Williams Tower Water Wall at 2800 Post Oak Blvd.  Gary and Tammi Ledbetter are more interested in Pappa’s Seafood House (11301 I-45 N) since good Tex-Mex is abundantly available on the ride down and Rudy’s is already a Sunday ritual for lunch.

Tracy:  I really don’t like driving in city traffic so can I get around downtown without driving my car?

Bonnie: A cab should cost only about $6 to get from one point to another in downtown Houston according to Hess. There is parking-lot-turned-green space right across the street from the convention center called Discovery Green covering 12 acres. Take the kiddos there and cue Andy Williams singing “Born Free.” Check out

Tracy found additional resources at and for travel to the zoo and museum. There are rail stops downtown and at the zoo, but it’s an easy drive as long as you avoid rush hour timeframe. But keep in mind the humidity level in the summer in Houston. Tunnel and skywalk information along with trolley details are accessed at

Bonnie adds that this is also a good resource for what to do with a passel of squirming little ones or adventuresome teenagers:

Tracy: How do the trolleys, tunnels, and trains work here?

Tracy already has found additional resources at and MetroRail schedules at for travel to the zoo and museums. Tunnel and skywalk information along with trolley details are accessed at

Tracy: Are there any museums, aquariums, zoos, or historical sites that we need to see while we are in this part of the country?

Bonnie: I recommend the free water play space at the Downtown Aquarium restaurant (beneath the Pierce elevated bridge) which is part of the Landry’s chain. Finding the zoo requires knowledge of the bus route or the courage to drive in Houston traffic. The zoo boasts a wide variety of attractions, some free, some not. Adjacent to the park is Miller Outdoor Theater (Saturday’s production is Jacques Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne. Hillside seating is free. Check for details.) If an operetta about life in Paris isn’t your idea of fun, then let the kids roll down the hillside adjacent to the theater. It’s free and good for a laugh … until the kids collide and require medical attention. Not to worry! You’re only blocks from the world renowned Houston Medical Center.

Tours of Minute Maid Park, home of the working-on-the-great-fairy-tale-comeback Astros are available during the weekdays. Go to for details. The team plays out of town during the convention otherwise you could score some really cheap seats.

Pick up LifeWay’s Facts&Trends in the exhibit area for a long list of recommendations for enjoying Houston, adding a free view of the downtown skyline from the tallest building west of the Mississippi on the JP Morgan Chase Tower Observation Deck. For history buffs Facts&Trends Managing Editor Polly House steers folks to the historic district of 1800’s-era architecture, tree-lined streets and an eclectic mix of sidewalk cafes and shops. Allen’s Landing is the Plymouth Rock of Houston where August C. and John K. Allen stepped ashore in 1836 to claim Houston as their own. It’s where Buffalo and White Oak bayous come together as Houston’s first port.

Tracy: I don’t want to get home and find out we missed the best children’s museum.

Bonnie: Houston’s Children Museum (, 1500 Binz, 713.522.1138) has been rated number one by Parent Magazine and it has recently expanded.

Tracy also is considering side trips to a few of these: the Space Center Houston (, 1601 NASA Pkwy, Houston, 281.244.2100), San Jacinto Monument (, One Monument Circle, La Porte, 281.479.2421), Battleship Texas (, 3523 Independence Pkwy. South, La Porte, 281.479.2431), and the Holocaust Museum (, 5401 Caroline St., Houson, 713.942.800). The Cockrell Butterfly Center is situated next to the Houston Museum of Natural Science (, 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, 713.639.4629) and features a simulated rainforest, thousands of colorful butterflies and a dramatic 50-foot waterfall.

Tracy: Of course we have to fit all these extras around the pastor’s conference and annual meeting so how long do I need to plan for each site? After paying for lodging, travel, and meals this week we need to save money where we can.

Bonnie: Go to for discount deals, including a “two for Tuesday” special at the aquarium. And don’t forget to take advantage of the Exhibit Hall where many displays cater to kids and candy dishes are overflowing.

Tracy: The questions are still coming from the kids as all these questions run through my mind. Is it time to eat yet? When do we get to go to childcare at the convention? Will my friends from last year be there? Can we get in the pool yet? Mom, did you pack my swimsuit?

Tracy knows it’s time to find the closest Wal-Mart to solve that swimsuit issue. While not necessarily the closest, locals recommend the Wal-Mart at 9555 South Post Oak Road to the southwest off Loop 610. And it’s not too early to enter the dates for next year’s SBC in Baltimore, Md., June 10-11 and for 2015 in Columbus, Ohio, June 16-17. 

No “pulling punches,” church advocates for adoption, foster care

WAXAHACHIE—“Adoption is maybe the most explicit picture of the gospel,” said Aaron Clayton, pastor of Remedy Church in Waxahachie. “We were those neglected, hurting, helpless, fighting people, without hope, until God intervened in our lives and rescued us.”

Encouraging adoption and foster care has been a focus of Remedy Church since its beginning in September 2011 with 12 adults and five children in Clayton’s living room. Remedy Church is supported by sponsor church Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill and the SBTC church planting division, and has grown to about 65 people in 18 months.

“The primary reason we support orphan and foster care is because it is central to the heart of God,” Clayton said. “Throughout Scripture, God highlights his heart for orphans and specifically charges his people to care for these defenseless people. My conviction is that any church that is not involved in this disregards a major theme of Scripture and is disobedient to the Spirit and the heart of God.”

Remedy Church takes this charge seriously, promoting adoption and foster care in various ways among its congregation. The church meets in space rented from the Texas Baptist Home, which is a foster care and adoption ministry in Waxahachie that is an affiliated ministry partner of SBTC. “We’ve done lunches for their staff as a way to serve those who serve orphans and foster kids. We’ve hosted gift drives and gift-wrapping parties benefitting the kids at the home. We’ve done some clean up in various buildings on campus, and we’ve participated and served at their 5K, raising money for adoption and foster care work.”

Recognizing Orphan Sunday, the first Sunday of November, also increases awareness of adoption and foster care. “We put adoption resources in front of our people, highlighted some specific ways people could get involved immediately and for the long haul, and spent the day laying out the scriptural call to the church to care for orphans.”

Cultivating a culture of adoption is also ongoing at Remedy Church.

“This is something that will take time to do, but our hope is to see orphan care, foster care and adoption become regular parts of our ministry and our conversation at Remedy,” Clayton said. “We already have several families either praying and considering foster or adopting or already taking steps toward it. Our hope is to provide resources and support for these families, including financial help, in order to cultivate a culture of caring for orphans, even at a cost to ourselves.”

In addition to cultivating an adoption culture inside the church, Remedy Church also encourages community awareness of foster care and adoption needs. “Chick-fil-A has asked us to put on their family night periodically, and we use it as an opportunity to invite the families of Waxahachie to participate in orphan care with us through these various outlets. We also use Facebook, our website and personal invites to engage people.”

Engaging the church through finances is the final way Remedy Church encourages foster care and adoption awareness. “We have challenged our people to give above their regular offerings to what we call our Missio Dei Offering. It is our mission offering, given year-round and emphasized in the Advent/Christmas season. One hundred percent of what is given to it is used for six missional causes, one of which is orphan care, so we are challenging people to give regularly toward orphan care and adoption,” Clayton noted.

While challenging his church to embrace God’s heart through adoption, Clayton also lives what he preaches and understands the sacrificial nature of adoption firsthand. He and his wife, Charity, adopted a child from Kazakhstan in 2009.

“We know the road is hard,” he said. “It was by far the hardest season of our lives, exceeded only by how hard it’s been since we came home. So, yes, it’s a hard and costly road. And we don’t pull any punches when we talk about it as a family or as a church. People need to know what they are getting into and count the cost.

“The beauty of it is that it mirrors what God did for us in sending Jesus. We had nothing that should attract him to us or that earned his approval or gained his favor. He chose us and adopted us into his family based on his purpose and grace. Knowing the cost, he willingly paid it to bring us into his family, and he still walks with us down a hard road of rebellion, sin and struggle.

“This is the call to adopt, and after we have weighed the incredibly high cost, we should knowingly, humbly say ‘yes’ anyway, willing to walk down this road in obedience and with courage, believing that Jesus is more satisfying than comfort, security or convenience.”

Life and ministry amidst cultural Christianity

Over the past few years I have been perplexed by those who dance on the grave of cultural Christianity. I can understand some of the flaws of a dominant Christian influence. No doubt abuses and hypocrisy could multiply in that setting.

A state representative was a member of the same church where my family were members. I remember very vividly how my dad would remark that he knew it was election time because George was attending church. Identification with Christianity was an asset. Business deals would revolve around those you knew in the social network of the church. Often people who lived immorally were shamed and shunned by the good members of the church. Especially in the South there was a generic Christian god who everybody acknowledged. This did lead to superficial and legalistic acts of morality. Although my childhood church preached the gospel, I suppose there were a lot of churches that proclaimed a “do good” theology as Christianity. Possibly Christianity Lite was the norm.

In cultural Christianity decent people were expected to profess Jesus as their Savior. This probably produced a number of false conversions. From the Declaration of Independence to World War II, Christianity was a part of the American fabric.  There was a blurring of patriotism with the message of the gospel. My values and spiritual framework came from the Builder Generation, not my Boomer friends. America was viewed as a Christian nation. Americans fought against godless Fascism and atheistic Communism. It was natural to pledge allegiance to the American flag at Vacation Bible School. Several months ago I wrote about the challenge of reaching the nations while showing American patriotism. Obviously, we must be careful not to equate the gospel with love of country but neither should we make them mutually exclusive even in a church service context.

As a pastor for over 20 years one of the most serious difficulties I faced in cultural Christianity was putting personal preferences and family traditions above the authority of Scripture. It drove me crazy that social mores and community standards were elevated to the place of Scripture. The epitome of usurping the Word of God came in a deacons’ meeting where one of the men announced to the group, “I don’t care what the Bible says. We’ve always done it this way.” His insistence on a practice that contradicted God’s Word didn’t faze many of his colleagues.

As you can see I didn’t just read about cultural Christianity, I lived and ministered in the midst of it. Yet, with all of the unfortunate aspects, cultural Christianity did have some pluses. It was a day when there was shame about sin. A young man and young lady were expected to marry when they produced a child out of wedlock. Homosexuality was not touted as a civil right but seen as an unholy practice. Familiarity with the Ten Commandments and absolute truth caused consciences to be more aware of right and wrong.

With the predominance of Christianity there was accountability to the community not possible today. When the majority of people had an expectation of moral behavior, evil activity was somewhat deterred. Explicit sexual emphasis and violence were suppressed by society. You may say it only caused people to outwardly conform. This is true but I’m not talking about getting to heaven. I’m talking about the atmosphere in our schools, places of business and on the streets.    

There was an accommodation to the gospel in the public square. While the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religion, Christianity was the religion accommodated by American culture for over 200 years. By giving greater credibility to Christianity, there was easier access for gospel proclamation. Today there is almost a reversal in culture to an anti-Christianity bias. The gospel can and will flourish in a hostile environment. What I am saying is that cultural Christianity afforded an even greater opportunity to present the gospel to America and the nations.

By losing a culturally Christian majority we see the obvious results. The departure from biblical absolute truth promotes rampant immorality and hardness to the gospel. While I am grateful for our Catholic friends who share many of our convictions, America will look different when we lose the Protestant/Baptist foundation. Look at how Central and South America evolved under a majority Catholic influence.

God set up natural law. Nature abhors a vacuum. Secularism has replaced Christianity as the predominant default culture in America. Hinduism, Islam and other eastern religious influences have a different frame of reference than Christianity. America will be a different country in one generation unless something dramatic happens.

I’m not calling for a legislative change as the remedy. I’m not advocating some type of Dominion Theology. Returning to a cultural Christianity is not the ultimate answer. The first step to seeing our nation come back to God is to experience a spiritual renewal among believers. Prayer brings confession of sins. Believers must lead the way by getting serious about loving Jesus more than anything else. As the old revivalist used to say, “Lay your all on the altar.” We must get to the point where we will do whatever it takes to see God move in our lives.

Once believers turn their hearts to God it is possible to see a spiritual awakening among the lost. Unashamed identification with the cause of Christ in the public square will bring persecution and/or conversions. The gospel is the power of God. The display of God’s power may not happen at a mass meeting. Spiritual awakening does happen one heart at a time.

We must recognize that geo-political states, not just ethno-linguistic people groups, are seen by God too. In the Bible the various people groups opposed Israel—Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, the list is long. These were ethnically monolithic, but God holds geo-political states accountable for their actions. Diverse people groups constituting a geo-political state have been judged by God. The Soviet Union is gone. Nazi Germany is no more. The United States is standing on the precipice. Pray that our nation will step back, falling on our knees to acknowledge the true God of heaven. Christianity can become the culture again but only by a supernatural act of God. If a sweeping move of God takes place, Christianity just might become the dominant culture again and it won’t be all that bad.

Back to the basics: Jesus saves

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
—2 Timothy 3:14–17

By the grace of God I grew up in a Christian home and a loving, conservative Baptist church where sin was opposed and grace was extended to the members. At the age of 6, I believed that Jesus died, was buried, and resurrected from the grave. I experienced a rebirth or born-again experience. Jesus came into my life. I understood the biblical plan for salvation and that it would save sinners like me from a sinful lifestyle. Although I did not understand completely how the doctrine of salvation worked, I knew that I was saved from my sins. This basic knowledge of salvation has sustained me through all of my moral failures for over 50 years of living the Christian life. In the midst of my failures, the Holy Spirit has always taken me back to the basics of salvation: Jesus died to save sinners from sin.

The Christian home is God’s greatest evangelism tool. My wife Nancy and I are blessed with three wonderful children. They all have accepted Christ as Savior and were baptized into the Christian family during their childhood years. They now have families of their own and continue to live as Christian adults with our grandchildren. As conservative parents, we taught them that God forgives all sin, and that they should strive to live holy and avoid sinning at all cost. However, just as their parents had prodigal experiences, the agonies of life compelled them to return to the basics of their Christian upbringing: Jesus saves from sin.

Scripture states we are to train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not depart (Proverbs 22:6). Our two sons joined the military at a time in their lives when they were men, but lacked Christian maturity. My wife and I had tried to instill sound, moral Christian principles within them. They were expected to attend college, respect all people, follow the laws of the land, love and serve God. Before they became enlisted soldiers the military required them to attend basic training. There we saw God work in their lives. At the end of basic training, they had become men with sound Christian judgments. I recall sharing with both sons at their basic training graduations that the military accomplished in two months what their parents had been unable to accomplish. They both expressed similar responses—the military only brought out of them what their mother and I had instilled within them. Those of us who are blessed to be born into a Christian family understand the importance of returning to the basics.

As Christians, we are to witness to the lost in our world about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. There is a struggle to maintain a strong moral fiber in the church and world. We have spent a great amount of energy fighting for the sanctity of life and traditional marriage, just to name two issues. Every fight against sin is appropriate for Christians when post-modern America is tolerant of sin and sinful lifestyles.

Paul reminds Timothy, his son in the ministry, that the apostate church was a reality and gave him directions on how to handle the times.

“For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1–7). 

As stated above, Paul encourages us to remember the Holy Scriptures which are able to make us wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus. Oftentimes, societal behavior that is opposed to biblical standards can distract us from leading sinners into salvation. We find ourselves immersed in warfare to address issues and movements—believing that if we stop immoral movements we will create a better society and people will change. The only way spiritual change happens in a person’s life is when God changes the heart of a person. We must get back to the basics, and make a clarion call for Christians to lead lost sinners to find salvation in Christ.

Consider that Scripture often describes God’s work in salvation as a miracle. He makes alive what was once dead.

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:1–5).

Secondly, he delivered us from the domain of darkness.

“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13); and third, Jesus explained that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” “When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26).

Once we realize that evangelism occurs in the realm of the miraculous, we start praying more faithfully, trusting more enthusiastically, and proclaiming more tenderly. When we abandon our ability to persuade others and trust in God’s power to save, we find hope beyond understanding. Many of the moral ills in our society are because sinful men and women choose to lead our city, state, and federal governments without seeking God’s direction. Through their leadership, many Americans have become tolerant to sin. The only way to change our sinful world is for us to witness to the lost—to present God’s salvation plan. As believers, we must return to the basics: Jesus saves!

Evangelism kept at the forefront of SBTC church planting efforts

ROCKWALL—Cross-cultural church planting, countering the postmodern mindset and overcoming evangelistic apathy among church members are among the greatest obstacles and opportunities related to harvesting souls for Christ in the 21st century, according to a panel discussion at the SBTC Church Planter Retreat earlier this year.

“Your church will really be successful when all of your members are looking for opportunities to share the Lord with people,” SBTC church planter Damon Halliday said. When members are active witnesses for Christ, “you can give an invitation in church and people have already been led to the Lord throughout the week. They’re just waiting for the invitation to walk down the aisle.”

Joining Halliday on the panel were Sam Douglass, a church planter master coach for SBTC; Richard Taylor, SBTC church planting associate; Nathan Lorick, SBTC director of evangelism; and John Massey, associate professor of missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. The discussion was moderated by SBTC Director of Missions Terry Coy.

Massey noted that by 2040 the Texas population is projected to be 77 percent Hispanic and only 4 percent Anglo. This demographic shift will require Texas Southern Baptists to plant increasing numbers of ethnic churches and rethink what population segments they are trying to reach, he said.

“We all know of the experience of traditional churches that are in a neighborhood that is transitioning and the church decides not to do evangelism among the groups of people who are coming into that neighborhood. And what happens? They decline,” Massey said.

“I think we can take that and put it on a state level and say that if as a state convention … we don’t see that our country and our state is transitioning, this is going to be a great hindrance to following what we see God doing in the world and in our community and in our state.”

Lorick said church planting should be a byproduct of evangelism more than a means of evangelism. Ideally, new churches should be established because people are getting saved and need a congregation in which to be discipled, he said.

Lorick also said church planters should instill a love for the lost in their churches’ DNA and teach their members practical steps to fulfilling the Great Commission.

“Everybody in your church wants to be a part of the Great Commission so desperately. They just don’t really know how,” he said. So planters must “inform, train, teach our people to do that.”

Douglass cautioned church planters against growing their churches by drawing members away from other congregations. He added that church leaders make a mistake when they build relationships and share the gospel but don’t call the lost to respond to Jesus.

With the plethora of evangelism tools believers have, there is no excuse for failing to tell non-Christians that they must trust Christ for salvation, he said.

Douglass said “people are looking for an answer, and the answer is Jesus Christ. And we’ve got to get the word out.”

Halliday agreed, saying every church planter should either have the spiritual gift of evangelism or have someone on his leadership team who does. Evangelism “should be the primary purpose of planting a church,” he said.

“The purpose of church planting is to build the kingdom of God,” Halliday said. “If you’re trying to plant a church and that’s not the goal, then what are you building? You’re building your own kingdom.”

“Evangelism is the most intimidating thing you will ever do,” Halliday said. “I don’t know why it is. I’m an evangelist. I feel like I’m gifted as an evangelist, but it’s still scary and challenging for me all the time. I’m always threatened with the opportunity. I don’t know what it is about that dynamic, but we just have to trust the Lord and we have to do it. It brings the greatest joy of anything we will ever do to lead somebody into eternity.”

In a final charge to church planters, Taylor said the greatest barrier to evangelism is believers who lack a burden for the lost.

“Burden keeps you up at night. Burden makes you shed tears when you don’t really know why you’re crying. Burden is what Jesus had when he looked out over Jerusalem and the Bible says he wept.” Taylor said.

“I want to suggest to you that we really don’t. And until we do, we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, getting what we’ve been getting.”

Calvinism report majors on doctrinal agreement

NASHVILLE, Tenn—Despite broad agreement over doctrinal distinctives articulated in the “Baptist Faith and Message” confessional statement, last amended in 2000, Southern Baptists “sometimes disagree over certain theological issues that should not threaten our Great Commission cooperation.”

So begins the first few paragraphs of a much-anticipated report from an ad hoc advisory team appointed last August by SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page to find ways Calvinist and non-Calvinist camps in the denomination could work together civilly and productively to further the gospel.

The 19-member advisory team has issued a seven-page report—unanimously endorsed—called “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension.” The team included Calvinists such as R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, and Florida pastor Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries, and non-Calvinists, such as Southwestern Seminary’s theology dean, David Allen, and Georgia pastor and former SBC president Johnny Hunt.

“Four central issues have become clear to us as we have met together,” the statement reads. “We affirm together that Southern Baptists must stand without apology upon truth; that we do indeed have some challenging but not insurmountable points of tension; that we must work together with trust; and that we must encourage one another to testimony.”

The statement affirms the inerrancy of Scripture and adds that “[n]either Calvinism nor non-Calvinism ought to be equated exclusively with sound Southern Baptist doctrine nor be considered inconsistent with it.”

It also affirms the lostness of humanity apart from Jesus, the power and exclusivity of the gospel message, the atonement of Christ, the reality of heaven and hell, the necessity of conversion, and the church’s duty to fulfill the Great Commission.

Of particular interest in the Calvinist and non-Calvinist dialogue are several denial statements that aim to communicate what the team refutes alongside what they affirm.

One such statement denies that the gospel “lacks any power to save anyone who believes in Christ and receives him as Savior and Lord” and another denies that the gospel “is without power to save anyone who repents and believe in Jesus Christ.”

On the atonement, “We affirm that the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was both penal and substitutionary and that the atonement He accomplished was sufficient for the sins of the entire world.

“We deny that there is anything lacking in the atonement of Christ to provide for the salvation of anyone.”

The statement also affirms “conscious” faith as a necessity of conversion and that it involves “the will of the believer as well as the will of God.”

Additionally, “We also deny that salvation comes to any sinner who does not will to believe and receive Christ.”

Acknowledging tensions in comprehending the doctrine of election, “[t]hese differences should spur us to search the Scriptures more dutifully, to engage in lively interaction for mutual sharpening and collective Gospel effectiveness, and to give thanks that what we hold in common far surpasses that on which we disagree,” the statement reads.

Also, “Southern Baptists who stand on either side of these issues should celebrate the freedom to hold their views with passion while granting others the freedom to do the same.”

Last August, Page said he hoped the team would “identify areas of agreement and disagreement in Southern Baptist life concerning how God’s redemptive purposes are achieved through Christ. Once these are more clearly identified, we hope to develop some positive strategies that will enhance our ability to work together for the proclamation of the gospel and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”

Noting that Satan “delights when he is able to divide and conquer,” Page added that “if we reclaim the principles of respect, honesty, trust and Christlike selflessness in our dealings with one another, our brightest days of kingdom advance are still before us.”

Besides Southwestern Seminary’s Allen, other Texans on the advisory team included Southwestern President Paige Patterson; Daniel Sanchez, associate dean and director of the Scarborough Institute of Church Planting & Growth at Southwestern; and Tammi Ledbetter, TEXAN managing editor and a member of Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie.

NIV concern likely to motivate motion

MUNCIE, Ind.—Indiana pastor Tim Overton hasn’t given up on persuading LifeWay Christian Resources to stop offering the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible in its retail stores now that Zondervan no longer publishes the 1984 edition that remains popular among many Southern Baptists.

“As Southern Baptist Convention leaders learn more about the gender-neutral NIV, they become more concerned about LifeWay’s decision to sell this inaccurate Bible,” Overton told the TEXAN in anticipation of an upcoming SBC Executive Committee meeting. There he will make his pitch for EC members to mediate his grievance against LifeWay’s board which declined his request at last year’s annual meeting to reopen a study of whether to sell the translation.

At their Aug. 27-28 meeting, LifeWay board chairman Adam Greenway reiterated that the availability of the NIV translation does not constitute an endorsement. While two trustees voted against the refusal to reconsider, including Texan Lynn Snider of Spring, the LifeWay motion took issue with public criticism of the 2011 edition, noting, “The translation does not use gender-neutral wording for the names of God and contains no gender changes with respect to God’s name.”

Snider agreed with Overton’s concern, stating, “I don’t think LifeWay ought to be selling Bibles that aren’t as close to the original autographs as we can get them, though it’s obviously politically correct.”

Overton provided EC members with a 36-page report created for LifeWay trustees when he initially urged reconsideration. It features the text of two previous SBC resolutions expressing concern about gender-neutral translations, including a 2002 statement asking LifeWay not to distribute Today’s New International Version (TNIV) and the 2011 resolution he penned which encouraged pastors to make congregations aware of translation errors while requesting LifeWay “not make this inaccurate translation available…”

“If the Executive Committee specifically asks LifeWay to cease selling the gender-neutral NIV, they will have little choice but to comply,” Overton wrote. Current practice undermines the Southern Baptist belief in inerrancy, he added. “This is not a time to circle the wagons, but to act on principle.”

The NIV translation is one of four choices offered for LifeWay’s Explore the Bible curriculum this fall, Overton observed further.

If the Executive Committee fails to act to his satisfaction, Overton said he anticipates making an appeal to messengers meeting in Houston June 11-12.

Houston”s Mission Greenspoint dispelling darkness with light

A history of violence associated with this part of town has earned its more infamous shopping center, Greenspoint Mall, the moniker “Gunspoint Mall.”

The Greenspoint area sits on the city’s northeast side, near the edge of Houston proper. Like so many metropolitan regions, it has seen an ebb and flow of prosperity and decline. The majority Hispanic population settled into the void left by residents fleeing the flooding of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Many are poor and undereducated, most just barely scraping by. Among them is an unquantifiable illegal immigrant population living in the shadows, said Silvano Paiva, a church planting facilitator in Houston for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Additionally, gang violence, drug dealing, and prostitution have blighted the neighborhood. Paiva used to live in the area and is disturbed by its decline. He said the neighborhood is made of “good families” forced to live in an environment with an increasingly degenerative influence on the younger generations.

“The darkness is penetrating at a faster pace than Christians can keep up,” he said.

But light shines brightest in the darkness.

In the heart of this troubled community shines Mission Greenspoint, a Christ-centered ministry operating a stone’s throw from “Gunspoint Mall.” The multi-faceted ministry is staffed by a small brigade of faithful volunteers and three paid employees committed to sharing the gospel with those who have little else besides their faith. Throughout its 15-year history, Mission Greenspoint has aspired to be all things to all people and is now on the cusp of expanding its reach into the community.

One of the ministries serving under the auspices of Mission Greenspoint that would directly benefit from the medical expansion is Greenspoint Pregnancy Assistance Center (GPAC). GPAC Director Flora Lopez said offering medical care would be a boon to the pregnancy center. Abortion-minded women and those wanting to keep their babies would receive Christ-centered care throughout their pregnancies.

And last month GPAC got the news it was hoping for: An ultrasound machine is on the way, donated by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Psalm 139 Project.

Gospel engagement
The growth of services provided by Mission Greenspoint only emphasizes the persistent needs of the community, but Grady Butler, Mission Greenspoint executive director, is not discouraged by the seemingly endless struggle against poverty. On the contrary, every client represents an opportunity to share the gospel.

Robin Tanner, missions coordinator for Metropolitan Baptist Church—one of numerous Southern Baptist churches that partner with the ministry—appreciates the evangelistic emphasis of the ministry.

“Everyone who walks in the door of Mission Greenspoint is going to get the opportunity to hear the gospel,” Tanner said.

Lopez said she chronicles conversations with each of her clients in a journal.

“We really get engaged,” she said. “It’s about their emotional and spiritual needs.”

Her notes allow Lopez to reconnect with each client upon their return. Many are dumbfounded by her recollection and genuine concern. And hundreds each year make commitments to Jesus Christ.
Butler records each decision made—not to keep a spiritual scorecard but as a reminder to himself, the volunteers and the ministry’s supporters of why they persist in their efforts.

In 2012 Butler noted 492 professions of faith. Day-to-day contact accounts for some of the salvations but most were made during events that drew the community to the center—back-to-school supply drives, Thanksgiving food baskets, a Christmas store, and more.

It was during last year’s back-to-school drive that Butler became aware of the pervasive homelessness of some of their clients. Several hundred children live in area motels or a downtown homeless shelter with their families.

Mission Greenspoint is surrounded by the 65,000-student Aldine Independent School District. Eighty-five percent of the district’s students are classified as economically disadvantaged, earning the district federal Title I funding to supplement the school district’s education needs.

Standing in the gap is Mission Greenspoint, providing not only food and clothing but job training, English-as-a-Second-Language classes, assistance with Social Security paperwork and other government forms for Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps.

Some of the classes are offered as need and interests prescribe. The ongoing need is always for food and clothing. The mission does not give vouchers or housing payments but by reducing the financial burden for some basic needs clients can put their own resources toward those needs.

The life-affirming influence of Mission Greenspoint is supported with $47,000 in annual funding by 12 local churches. The offering pays three staff members (the yeomen’s work is done by volunteers including Butler and his wife Cindy) and finances the supplementation of client material needs.

Metropolitan Baptist Church, Champion Forest Baptist Church, and Spring Baptist Church are among the supporting congregations, supplying labor routinely and during large-scale supply drives held throughout the year.

Lopez said the task of caring for the poor and wayward would be overwhelming for those not grounded in their faith and resting on the assurances that God is in control and working out all things for good. She said it doesn’t hurt that God encourages her by revealing victories against the darkness.

Lopez told of a woman overwhelmed with the burdens that come with a husband who abuses drugs and alcohol. His job was in jeopardy. He needed stability and, most importantly, salvation, she told Lopez. The women prayed for the husband. And Lopez made note of their time together in her journal.

Thirty days later she was able to go back to her journal and conclude the story. The wife contacted Lopez and told her that two days after they prayed together the husband gave his life to Christ, went to church with his wife, and put drugs and alcohol out of his life.

One more light to dispel the darkness.

Wherever he leads, I”ll what?

I’ve looked at a lot of resumes. One of my roles at Midwestern Seminary was answering requests for churches looking to fill ministry needs from our collection of alumni and students. Since that time I’ve served on a pastor search committee that received 300 resumes. Some resumes today are a bit more specific than was common earlier in my own ministry. Now we see that some schools and state conventions use forms to ensure that similar information is collected from all submitters. The fields that caught my eye have to do with the types of ministry a candidate was willing to consider. Some men feel called to minister in the suburbs or the Southwest United States or even to certain sorts of people in those places, though that is not as common. I get the idea that we encourage this thinking by the questions we ask when someone expresses an interest in a ministry move.

And I have had colleagues through the years that weren’t “called” to hospital visitation or helping with VBS, or in one very specific case, to setting up chairs in the fellowship hall. The job descriptions of those brethren were much more specific than mine, I’d suppose. The disconnect comes, in my mind, when you consider the claims of the called. If one is called to the gospel ministry generally but doesn’t know what sort of specific ministry at first, then he prepares generally for the gospel ministry until he is called by one ministry or another to do things they need done. The candidate affirms, as does the ministry, the leadership of God in the move. Neither the ministry nor the new minister has any idea what specific things will need to be done, even in the ministry of the Word. Are there places too small or age inappropriate for the minister to invest his time? Actually, I’ve heard of one or two who would set those kinds of limitations on their preaching ministries.

In a few cases I’ve known of people who were certain that they wanted to serve as overseas missionaries, specifically Southern Baptist missionaries, so long as they can do so in just such a way in just such a country. As you can imagine, that’s not always possible and it seems odd that someone who knows little except his own preferences would feel disappointed that leaders assigned the overall strategic responsibility cannot always bow to those preferences. There’s something about some ministers’ understanding of call that holds them back. 

I find this attitude shocking. There are men who’ve influenced my ministry who would drop on me like a ton of bricks if I took that tone about ministry. It seems appropriate that they would. Consider some important concepts in our call to ministry pulled from the ministry license that hangs on my wall.

Gifts—Typically, we teach that spiritual gifts are administered to Christians for use on behalf of the body of Christ for the glory of God. We do not obtain them through practice or desire or education. They are given by the Lord we serve for his purposes. Those purposes are rarely aimed at our fulfilling our own dreams; they are outwardly focused.

Call—Again, this is something not generated from within ourselves or even from our mothers or pastors. We commonly understand the call to the gospel ministry or to a particular one to originate with God regardless of what human means he uses to put us in a place of service. If we’d initiated it we could add fine print to it regarding the where and what sort of ministry we’d accept. I don’t think we can do that, to any degree. We might sometimes mistake this giftedness for talent, the ability to do something that can be refined by practice. Singing or other kinds of musical ability would be an example of this. A talented musician can be a gifted ministry leader but the two things do not necessarily follow one from another. By the same token, the Lord is going to have to supernaturally change my paltry list of talents if he expects me to use my gifts in some kind of music ministry. I don’t expect it but I’d hesitate to tell him he can’t or that I won’t go if he does. If such a strange thing happened, I think I’d find joy in following him even as I do now.

Preach—While we often think of this as a pulpit ministry it is not always. I think preaching takes place in homes, on the street, or in the workplace. It can be a spoken word, a written one, or a song but it must have the gospel as its content and making disciples as its goal. And we often associate the gospel with either the Lord’s commission in Matthew 28 or that recorded in the first chapter of Acts. In both of those, the preaching and teaching of the gospel is loosed on the world in every place the Lord’s disciples go. The call to preach has no imaginable limits unless the gospel does. Called people should not easily imagine limits on their preaching of the gospel.

Opportunity—My license says “as he may opportunity” in reference to my preaching of the gospel. I think the word implies that I’m willing, even eager, to preach as often as possible. My friend Don has filled in for me a couple of times and it was my pleasure to hear him say, “I feel like I ought to say ‘yes’ if I can any time I’m asked.” That’s the way I view opportunity, although we often have a chance to make opportunities. A preacher that doesn’t want to preach, and often, might not be called to preach. It’s not my experience that I get to pick where, to whom or even how.

There’s a trend here. Our call, our giftedness, our message, and our opportunities all start with God. They are not ours to judge worthy or unworthy of our lives. If Christians are called to follow Jesus wherever he leads, so are those called to serve his church in any capacity. Some guys are doubtless on the shelf because they consider some kinds of ministry outside their call. If that’s true, the call didn’t come from God.

I can’t help but think that this is why some small town and rural churches struggle to find pastors. I’ve heard preachers say that they are called to the suburbs and I’ve heard others say they’ll go anywhere they are sent but I’ve very rarely heard men  say they prefer a small rural ministry made up of people over 40. If you’re going to pastor an existing Southern Baptist church, the odds are you’ll pastor one just like that. That is the bride of Christ in her most numerous context. Are you called to serve the church of Christ or not? Look at the resumes of the most prominent preachers you know. For the most part, they’ve served well in ministries that were lesser known. They were good stewards of smaller responsibilities before they were trusted with larger ones.

This issue of the TEXAN has some stories about church planting. We’re in a bit of an odd situation here within the SBTC. We have places that need churches and we have money to help start churches there but we are short of qualified church planters willing to go to the places and people that need them. Our qualifications for church planters are higher than many other places, granted, but I’m also told that too few people are “called” to minister to people within the inner loop of a city. We have more people willing to start a church in the suburbs when we need more willing to start a work in the city. I can’t help but compare this with our IMB candidates. The situation with international missions seems to be the opposite; we have qualified candidates ready to go to the hardest places in the world but too little money to send them. A call to missions is a call to missions. I’m not sure why we should think about a call to church planting in a more limited way than we do a call to reach people in a distant land.

Are you a recent seminary grad? I challenge you to look for limitations in your resume or in your attitude toward your call. Take the safeties off and preach the gospel everywhere you have a chance, for free or for cheap. Your ministry has already started. Have you had trouble finding the spot or ministry you think is the best fit for you? Stop trying to do that; I doubt that you know the best fit for you. Go somewhere where people will let you serve in some way. Find a ministry and let the position come in the Lord’s time. Be patient, yes, but in the meantime, while waiting for that place you’ve dreamed of to come along, preach the Word as you may have opportunity. It is the testimony of your seniors and mentors that you’ll find joy in that meantime ministry.