Month: August 2014

A to-do list for David Platt

Congratulations to David Platt on his election as president of our most important SBC ministry. Others have spoken jubilantly about the election of a young man to the job and SWBTS President Paige Patterson has suggested in a blogpost what Southern Baptists should do for its new missions leader. Let me humbly suggest a few things that Dr. Platt will need to do, and perhaps a couple of challenges he faces as he takes the reins in Richmond.

Spend his influence wisely—It has been rightly emphasized that Dr. Platt has a good hearing among younger Southern Baptists. That’s great and can be leveraged for the glory of God’s kingdom. It’s important what he does with this influence. He’ll need to highlight things that he knows now but didn’t quite so well when he was a pastor—the crucial part cooperative giving plays in reaching the nations for Christ, for example. It’s not going to be enough to get younger leaders to our meetings or even engaged in the mission unless they become committed to the principles (not methodology, necessarily) that have brought us to the position of strength we currently hold. Yes, I said “strength.” Our decline in giving, attendance and baptisms is ominous and undeniable but we still have remarkable resources for the advance of the gospel. We can’t disregard them.

—Build bridges with existing leaders—There are some constituencies that have concerns about the comments and theological statements Dr. Platt has made as a popular speaker and writer—nothing unorthodox but pretty Calvinistic at times. Additionally, his approach to missions giving has caused some to wonder about his commitment to our thorough missionary enterprise. I’ve heard him address these issues and you’ll find some of those explanations in this issue of the TEXAN, but he’s going to have to tell the story to those people who currently pastor our churches, lead our state conventions and support SBC missions. Many of them are 10 to 30 years older than him. These folks are the present tense of the SBC rather than just its heritage, and they are ardent fans of the IMB. Connecting with them will be more work than connecting with his own age group but the work can bear much fruit.

—Develop a strategy that fits the times—Neither hope nor urgency will reverse the decline in SBC numbers. We have a big task and amazing opportunities in the 21st century. The strategy of an earlier time will not suffice. I believe that individuals, churches and state conventions should give more beyond their own borders—many believe that—but that conviction is not a strategy and it is not a financial plan. Dr. Platt is positioned temperamentally and historically to help us find a new way of using our resources to reach people with the gospel. Strategy is perhaps the most important thing he’ll need to develop and winsomely communicate to our convention.

—Develop a strategy that fits our churches—Some SBC churches are capable of sending missionaries and starting churches from their own resources; most are not. In a way, approaching megachurches with the challenge is the gathering of low-hanging fruit. We should keep doing that but the reality is that we are still a convention of smaller churches. I’ve heard some suggest that larger churches should develop their own missions strategies and others should give through the Cooperative Program. That’s a thoughtless attitude and I don’t perceive David Platt to be that kind of leader. But how will churches of 50 or 100 or even 200 be part of a new strategy that flows up from the churches? Perhaps the trend of our people clustering in large churches will continue until that is about all we are but that day is not here. Smaller churches are the present makeup of the Southern Baptist Convention. A good mission strategy must bring them into more significant engagement without undermining the CP.

On this subject, let me suggest something that some wise SBC leaders have made a practice. Southern Baptist missions has advocates, major fans really, in places I know like Newburg, Ind., and O’Brien, Texas. Those churches will not likely call the president of the IMB this week to speak to their people six months or a year down the road. One friend told me of his practice of keeping a Sunday each month open for last-minute preaching invitations, thinking that smaller churches are more likely to make “last-minute” invitations. That allowed him to keep in touch with people and churches he’d never know otherwise. I think this kind of engagement with people who don’t come to big meetings would make a difference in how Dr. Platt leads our mission board. Maybe there are other ways to keep in touch, but regularly giving attention to small congregations of Southern Baptists in out-of-the-way places sounds like an edifying discipline. 

My space is nearly used up but I’ll close by saying that the SBC and the kingdom of God can be strengthened as God blesses David Platt’s ministry. I pray for that to happen and encourage you to join me in that prayer. There are other ways we might have opportunities to encourage him and to join him in his work and we will do that. The work of our IMB is important in every era and I think every generation that the Lord tarries will find the urgency of the work more apparent. For our day, Southern Baptists need our IMB and its new leader to prosper in worldwide gospel ministry.

Bible Conference follows “Rend the Heavens” theme

FORT WORTH—“Rend the Heavens,” based on Isaiah 64:1-4, is the theme for the Nov. 9-10 pre-convention Bible Conference to be held in MacGorman Chapel of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Conference president Michael Dean, pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, is anxious to see participants “join together in seeking God in his Word and in fervent prayer for the great revival that God desires and that we all need.”

Speakers for the Bible Conference include Richard Ross, professor of youth ministry at Southwestern Seminary; Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.; Michael Pender, pastor of Fallbrook Church in Houston; Eric Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va.; Steven Smith, vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern Seminary, and Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.

Chris and Diane Machen of Frisco will lead in worship.  John Lee, associate pastor for worship and music at Travis Avenue Baptist Church will lead combined choirs from Fort Worth area churches, including Travis Avenue and North Richland Hills Baptist Church.

Dean observed, “There appears to be a stirring of the Spirit of God among his people these days. There is a growing hunger to see God move in an extraordinary way in our lives, in our churches and in our land.  As the SBTC Bible Conference approaches, we want to set our sails to catch the wind of God’s reviving activity.”

Following the Bible Conference Monday morning session, the Ministry Café will offer a panel discussion answering, “How do you lead your people through seasons of refreshing?” Panelists include Thomas, Graham and Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church. Lunch will begin at 11:30 a.m. and the dialogue starts at noon in Truett Auditorium, concluding at 1 p.m.

In addition to Dean, Bible Conference officers include First Vice President Scott Maze, pastor of North Richland Hills Baptist Church in North Richland Hills, and Second Vice President Dongsun Cho, assistant professor of systematic and historical theology at Southwestern Seminary and associate pastor of Hanuri Church in Dallas.

Why should churches look like heaven?

The August 20 edition of the Texan Digital highlights a couple of churches making intentional moves toward greater multicultural fellowship, both within a congregation and between congregations. It sounds elementary, but such efforts have a lot of moving parts, just as the people involved have a lot of moving parts.

Perhaps this is well-illustrated as the nation watches the St. Louis-area community of Ferguson torture itself nearly to death over racial disharmony. I know there have been a series of provocations in this story, but the misunderstanding between communities is at the root of this sprawling event. I mention Ferguson because here we see in an extreme form the pattern of race relations in our nation. For a while it seems like we understand each other better than we do, and then something happens that highlights our differences in assumptions, expectations and experience.

Any simple explanations of the unrest in Ferguson—and there have been many—are reductionist and useless. In the same way, any simple explanation of misunderstandings between neighboring people groups elude us.

Among people of good will and great similarities—Christian folk—there is still a great diversity of style, language, culture and experiences. And these things sometimes divide us. In America we have the luxury of indulging that diversity; here in Texas I get to choose from among a variety of churches within 10 minutes of my home. If I prefer contemporary or traditional or gospel or Tejano music on Sunday morning, those options are right at hand. I can also pick from different preaching styles and doctrinal emphases just among the SBTC churches close to my home. These options give me the ability to worship with just the folks I prefer and in just the style I prefer. That privilege is rare in history and rare in the world. Perhaps it’s something that even we Texans should not take for granted.

Twenty-five years ago, I lived in one Midwestern town in a metro area of over a million but with exactly one Southern Baptist church within a 10-minute radius of my home. Expanding the circle to 20 minutes garnered two more small and struggling churches. I worshipped with the folks who were there and in the style of their tradition.

Other places in our country have fewer even evangelical churches sprinkled across the map. In Russia, a country with a long Christian heritage, we walked and rode busses for nearly two hours to get to the only Baptist church in a city of 2 million. Many of the Orthodox churches we walked past were closed, by the way. Some of you could tell similar stories in places where you’ve lived. Will hardships narrow our choices and eventually drive us to worship with people we don’t understand as well? It’s happened to other believers, and we can’t assume it won’t happen here.

There’s another thing that has helped believers in other nations look past ethnic and cultural preferences—persecution. In the past five years, I’ve heard more talk about persecution in the U.S. from serious people than in the previous 20 years. Perhaps more disturbing is that serious people less sympathetic with Christianity are suggesting limitations to religious liberty. We can now imagine a day when some churches will be taxed out of existence, when pastors will be penalized for preaching an unpopular gospel, and when believers will be more focused on what we have in common than on what we don’t. Is persecution what it will take for us to sincerely embrace those we know to be our brothers and sisters? 

Our convention’s Look Like Heaven emphasis is not radical. We’re not suggesting that churches merge but rather that they fellowship together and find ways to minister side by side. My mostly Anglo church has congregations of Black, Hispanic and Asian Southern Baptists nearly in sight of its parking lot. We share a community already, a common ministry field. When our church visits in our own neighborhood, we often find folks who prefer to speak Spanish or Vietnamese who will not likely worship with us, even if they are believers. A dynamic partnership with our sister churches will assist our ministries and be a provocative example to the community we’re trying to reach together with the same gospel.

Of course we know that heaven is going to be filled with the redeemed of all people. Nothing that formerly divided us will be worthy of notice in the presence of our Lord. But Christians begin to experience a taste of heaven in this life through our fellowship with the Lord and with his people. Consider what we’re missing if that fellowship is limited by our own imaginations and background. I just wonder if there are good things God intends us to experience and share with the world but that we are missing because we keep to ourselves. Wouldn’t it be pretty easy to find out?

Texas trustees assess selection of Platt to IMB

RICHMOND, Va. – With Aug. 27 election of a new president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Texans serving on the board of trustees  shared their thoughts on the selection of David Platt by a vote of 70-5.

Search committee member John Meador of Euless told the TEXAN, “After all the Q&A, all the concerns and prayer, the Spirit moved affirmatively for David Platt. I’m behind him all the way.”

Byron McWilliams of Odessa echoed that sentiment, stating, “I gladly support David one hundred percent as the next president of the IMB.”

Trustee John Mann of Springtown said, “With David’s commitments to champion the Cooperative Program and his passion to share Christ with every person on earth, I pray that the SBC will see the greatest movement of missions and the Kingdom of God will be flooded with new followers of Christ.”

Dr. John Ross of Longview told the TEXAN, “I voted for David Platt, a man anointed by God to make Jesus known to every person on the planet.”

Trustee Robert Welch said Platt’s heart for missions and leadership in getting the gospel to the lost had greatly impacted his own life. “Arguably, he has been the most influential voice for global missions both in and outside the SBC.”

Welch praised Platt for leading his church “in radical and sacrificial ways” with the entity he will now lead. “He has led his church to generous giving toward Southern Baptist causes, especially with the IMB.”

He anticipates “some incredible days ahead for the cooperative work of Southern Baptist churches” under Platt’s leadership “as we partner together to accomplish the Great Commission.”

Geronimo Disla of Bedford said, “The best man for the IMB now is David Platt. He has the passion and grace to lead us to great things with God’s power.”

Attending her first meeting since her election to the board in June, trustee June Richards of Keller said, “I am definitely going to support him and pray for him every day, as well as for his family,” noting that Platt and his wife have four young children. “I see his passion for souls.”

Trustee Mike Simmons of Midlothian entered the initial closed-door presentation by the search committee on Aug. 26 with questions on his mind regarding the candidate’s lackluster support for undesignated giving through the Cooperative Program, as well as his views on limited atonement and free will.

After several hours of committee members fielding questions and additional time spent with Platt, Simmons said his concerns were addressed sufficiently. “He addressed the issue of the Cooperative Program in the sense that he stated as he looks at it now he knows that he was wrong, and if he had it to do over again he would have been much stronger” in CP giving.

“On the issue of limited atonement I heard him address that Jesus did die for the sins of the whole world,” Simmons added. “On those issues [related to Calvinism] I began to be satisfied in my spirit.”

Further confirmation came to Simmons when he heard several search committee members explain how they had come to support Platt’s nomination after hesitating initially. “They were unanimous and that spoke pretty strong to me as well [as a sense] that God’s got his hand on David Platt.”

Search committee member Jay Gross of Conroe said he was among those “not favorably inclined” toward Platt’s nomination at first. “As we talked several times in the interview process I discovered my preconceptions were based on misinformation about his theology and ecclesiology.”

Gross said Platt “loves the SBC, his theology is biblically sound and he has led his church to be a strong Great Commission giver.”

What impressed Gross the most was Platt’s “insatiable, unflagging, contagious passion for the lost.” He added, “I have great hope that God can use him to build bridges generationally and lead us to cross the finish line in reaching the unreached, unengaged people groups.”

Trustee Nathan Lorick of Fort Worth told the TEXAN, “We’re living in a day where we have the opportunity to penetrate lostness like never before. In order to do that we need a man who is driven by brokenness and a burden for the lost in order to lead us to accomplish the task of reaching the world for Christ,” he said, adding, “I believe David Platt is that man and I look forward to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth with him.”

Search committee member Jaye Martin of Houston said, “David is anointed by God to lead the IMB for this generation.” She encouraged Southern Baptists to “get behind him for the nations.”

While not present for the meeting, trustee Marshall Johnson told the TEXAN that Platt “seems very passionate about making the Lord’s name great among the nations.”

Deacon healed from ALS participates in ice bucket challenge

HOUSTON—The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has swept the world by storm, raising nearly $100 million dollars in donations in less than a month, but few participants can say they have already been cured of the lethal disease.

JJ LaCarter can.

LaCarter, a deacon at Houston’s First Baptist Church, joined pastor Gregg Matte in the fountain outside of the church’s Loop Campus, Aug. 25, in order to raise awareness for ALS and to tell the story of his miraculous healing. Houston’s First posted his story along with a video of Matte and him participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge on the church’s website.

LaCarter was diagnosed with ALS in 2008 following extensive tests by a neurologist at the Texas Medical Center. He then underwent additional testing by one of the world’s foremost ALS research doctors, who confirmed he had the disease.

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal condition that affects more than 30,000 Americans, with no known cure.

“Over the course of about 2-5 years, ALS progressively paralyzes all the muscles in the body, including the muscles that control speaking, breathing and eating—eventually resulting in death,” LaCarter says.

“Barbara and I were in total shock.”

LaCarter says his church family rallied around him in support and prayer.

“People would stop me in the hall just to tell me they were praying for me,” LaCarter recalls.

“I know that when you ask people at Houston’s First to pray, they really do. My own prayer was for me to continue to walk, talk and breathe. Each Sunday I thanked the Lord that he allowed me to walk up the stairs to our Life Bible Study that met on the second floor.”

In spring 2009, Matte was on a tour of Israel, when a tour guide at the Pool of Bethesda encouraged him to pray for someone in need of healing. Matte sensed the Lord laying LaCarter on his heart, so he prayed for LaCarter’s complete healing from ALS.

Seven months later, during a scheduled visit, LaCarter’s doctor told him he did not have ALS anymore. Shocked, LaCarter’s wife, Barbara, asked the doctor if it was a misdiagnosis, but the doctor was certain that he did indeed have the disease.

“We immediately told him that it was answered prayer and God’s healing,” LaCarter says.

“(The doctor) said, ‘Maybe so,’ but we knew it was. I asked him if he had ever told anyone else this before, and he replied, ‘Only three patients since 1982.’

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a social media-driven initiative sponsored by the ALS Association (ALSA) to raise awareness and financial support for ALS research. Participants douse themselves in a bucket of ice water and donate money to ALS research before challenging a number of their friends to follow suit. The initiative has been fueled by online videos of high-profile athletes, politicians, and celebrities participating in the challenge.

Many pro-life advocates have raised ethical concerns about donating to the ALSA because the organization has funded embryonic stem cell research, which destroys unborn humans. A full FAQ on these ethical implications has been created on the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The website includes a list of alternative organizations recommended by Christian bioethicist David Prentice that do not fund embryonic stem cell research.

Along with the story and video of Matte and LaCarter’s participation in the Ice Bucket Challenge, Houston’s First included on their website a list of these alternative ALS research organizations and a link to the ERLC website. The church also included an online prayer request form and the phone number to its Prayer Line, offering to pray for those with ALS or other illnesses.

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How to help displaced Iraqis

The images of Iraqi refugees come so fast it’s hard to sleep at night. I am afraid to look at the news; afraid to read the stories; afraid to pop on to Facebook and discover the latest photos my friends in the Middle East are posting.

I’m afraid I’ll recognize their bodies in a pile of humanity spread on desert rocks. I’m afraid the smiling faces of believers I met in Dohuk, Iraq in 2011 will be smashed, smattered, and bloodstained.

They will have died for Christ. Of this I am sure. But still, the pain remains. The fear is that whatever I have done is not enough. So for now, I pray, write and text $10 by entering 80888 as the recipient and imbrelief as the message.

In September of 2011 I was with a group that traveled to Kurdistan, Iraq, to host a conference for Christian pastors and their wives. They came from all over Iraq–from the cities and from the villages and mountains nearby, risking dangerous roads and exposure to extremists to learn about ministry and be inspired in preaching and teaching the Word.

I was told stories of modern-day persecution. Not the kind you read about in the papers, but first-hand accounts from people sitting across from you at the dinner table. I was stunned by how they lived to serve Christ. I wrote a series of special reports.

Celebration and terror were two sides of a coin in Iraq•even in 2011. I was there to write about the gift of property, new partnerships in Iraq, but even then I was concerned that Christian persecution was only going to continue if left unabated in Iraq and history repeated itself.

The day I left Dohuk, Iraq, I interviewed Farouk Hammo, pastor of the Baptist church in Baghdad. A gentle, smiling man, I learned he had family ties to Yazidis, a non-Christian religious sect which is also being persecuted. I was reminded of Hammo’s origins after hearing horror stories this past month from my friends in Baghdad.

First, Islamic radicals finally drove Christians out of Mosul, Iraq, seizing their property and destroying their churches. They marked their homes with an “N” for “Nazarene/Christian” to exterminate or expropriate them.

A friend in Baghdad sent me an urgent message: “Oh my God, don’t let them come!”

As #WeAreN became a hashtag of solidarity in social media, the Christian media wrote stories about Mosul and the rise of ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), who are the terrorists who are said to be even more radical than Al-Qaeda.

The mainstream media finally announced in early August that thousands of Yazidis had became stranded in mountain caves after being driven from Sinjar and were starving and dehydrated. Reports of rape, murder, beheadings, executions followed as ISIS seemed intent on genocide.

Sunday morning I got an e-mail with a message from Pastor Hammo reporting a “massive exile” from mainly Christian cities in northern Iraq.

“ISIS has attack[ed] churches and raise[ed] their flags on churches; and call[ed] upon their gods inside our churches,” Hammo wrote.

“People walked out leaving everything behind just fleeing for their lives – I mean everything,” he wrote. “I was on the phone all night on the phone with brothers and sisters trying to help them find some sort of shelters as Erbil and Duhok were over-occupied.

“Families covered streets; curbs; schools & parks,” Hammo continued. “All churches ground[s] being occupied with families. It’s a symbol of the abomination surfaced and emerged recently in this land.”

Calling for urgent fasting and prayers, Hammo said: “I believe it’s a spiritual warfare more than a ground battle. During my personal prayer and the intercessory group’s prayers I found it’s the old days monster, the old stingy serpent filled with hate and poison.”

Describing first hand accounts of what he had heard, Hammo said he was praying for the Holy Spirit to move and for divine intervention.

“In Sinjar, they kidnap[ped] young girls and women and sold them as slaves. Kids and seniors died of thirst and hunger on the mountains,” he wrote.

Hammo asked readers to press on the government and authorities to get involved; for non-governmental organization to mobilize to save lives and treat the injured; and for support to provide food, medication, shelter, clean water, baby milk, etc.

“Your prayers and intercessors will make a big difference,” he said. “May the Almighty bless richly always, amen. Thank you.”

Russell Moore, Southern Baptists’ ethicist, in an Aug. 8 commentary calling for wise administration of the “sword of justice,” lauded President Obama’s efforts take action to protect religious minorities, including Christians, in Iraq from ISIS.

Pray and text. The International Mission Board and Baptist Global Relief, working together is standing by to help provide immediate assistance to the 200,000 displaced refugees. Southern Baptists and others may help Iraqis who have been forced from their villages and homes by donating to the IMB general relief fund or by texting imbrelief to 80888, which will donate $10 to that fund.

Yes, I’m afraid of what I’ll see next and mostly I’m just so proud of my brothers and sisters in Christ who have been so faithful. They are the un-secret church. They are courageous and God-fearing. “I trust the Lord will not leave us alone,” an Iraqi friend wrote me last week. “Please ask for actions with prayers.”

Share their story so many will come to know the Jesus whom we love and we serve. Pray and give. Our brothers and sisters are desperate for our prayers and our tangible support.

–Joni B. Hannigan is president of Intro LLC in Houston, Texas.

Pastors call foul on Houston”s handling of non-discrimination ordinance petition

HOUSTON—A district judge will hear arguments Friday in a lawsuit brought by local pastors charging city officials intervened inappropriately in the validation process of a petition calling for a referendum on a the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. The ordinance, known as HERO, extends civil rights protection to individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. If the judge does not rule by Friday, petition organizers could miss the Aug. 18 deadline to get the ordinance on the November ballot.

A temporary restraining order barring the implementation of the ordinance was issued Aug. 7. Opponents of the ordinance, a racially diverse group of pastors and parachurch leaders, called the No UNequal Rights Coalition, filed the suit Aug. 5 against Mayor Annise Parker, City Secretary Anna Russell and the City of Houston charging they violated the petition validation process as outlined by city charter. The case will be heard at 1:30 p.m., Aug. 15 in the 152nd Judicial District Court.

“The evidence seems very clear that something inappropriate was going on,” said Jonathan Saenz, an attorney, and executive director for Texas Values.

Within a few weeks of the ordinance’s passage by city council, a petition drive garnered more than 50,000 signatories demanding the controversial measure go before the voters. Pastors, volunteers and paid personnel with the coalition previewed 31,000 of the signatures for accuracy and submitted them to the city secretary’s office July 3. Russell had 30 days to certify the signatures and report her findings to city council.

In an Aug. 1 letter to Parker and the council Russell noted she had validated 17,826 signatures–more than enough to call an election on the issue. She had gleaned those numbers after inspecting only 19,177 signatures, resulting in a certification rate of 93 percent. But in the same letter Russell stated, as a result of the city attorney’s independent review of the petition pages, 2,750 of the 5,199 pages were declared ineligible for consideration. That left only 15, 249 signatures for review, 2,000 short of the 17,269 needed to call a referendum.

Feldman’s actions, which the coalition contends is not sanctioned by the city charter, disqualified not only the pages but valid signatures on those pages. The attorney, in an Aug. 4 letter to Russell, said his review of the petition revealed too many irregularities forcing him to declare them invalid. Some of the irregularities cited by Feldman cannot be found in the city charter, such as illegible signatures by the petition circulator.

“City Attorney David Feldman did not have the legal authority to intervene with the validation and acted as judge, jury and executioner by declaring 2,750 entire petitions invalid due to his claim of technical problems,” stated Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, in an Aug. 7 press release.

Parker has been outspoken in her support of the ordinance and took its passage personally. As a lesbian in a long-term relationship with another woman, Parker said the ordinance was about her. It has received unwavering support from the LGBT community. But other Houston residents challenged the ordinance calling it a threat to religious liberty. As has been the case in other states, they fear local business owners will be forced to offer services in violation of their religious convictions or face a fine.

Opponents also balk at the provision allowing transgender individuals to use the public restroom suited to their gender identity.

A plaintiff in the lawsuit, Pastor Max Miller, an African American pastor and president of the Baptist Ministers association of Houston and Vicinity said in an HAPC press release, “We are disappointed in the complete lack of integrity by this administration but unfortunately not surprised that they went to this extent in their attempt to silence the voices of the people.”

Many of the pastors in the coalition are African American leading African American congregations. Some are veterans of the Civil Rights movement and bristle at the equivocation of civil rights based on immutable characteristics, such as race, with characteristics based on sexuality.

SBTC”s Annual Meeting is just around the corner

It may be August but the convention’s Annual Meeting is on my mind. I am so excited about having the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention meet at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth this November. The SBTC and Southwestern share the same passion for the church and the gospel.

Pre-convention activities begin on Sunday night November 9th. A Spanish-language session will be held on campus. Attendance has been growing. This is great time of fellowship. Inspiring music with challenging messages are always a part of the program.

Pastor Michael Dean of Travis Avenue Baptist Church is the president of the Bible Conference. Sessions will be on Sunday night, Monday morning and Monday afternoon. Some of the featured preachers are Belleview Baptist Church, Memphis Pastor Steve Gaines and Eric Thomas, pastor, FBC Norfolk. Texas pastors Jack Graham and Michael Pender will minister to us from the Word. Southwestern’s Richard Ross and Stephen Smith are speaking as well. At lunch on Monday a ministry café will feature timely topics with a Q&A.

The actual convention will convene on Monday night and conclude on Tuesday night. The four sessions will feature common elements. Biblical exposition will kick off each session. A missions and ministry testimony segment will highlight the work done through the efforts of SBTC staff. This is a shareholders report to those who participate in giving through the Cooperative Program. The CP is an investment with eternal returns. As the theme of the convention centers around seeking the Lord, special prayer times have been scheduled. If ever there was a need for God’s people to seek his face it is now!

Monday night First Baptist Church, Forney, Pastor Jimmy Pritchard will deliver the President’s Address. Tuesday morning features recognition of Jimmy Draper with the Paul Pressler lifetime achievement award. Pastor Tony Mathews of North Garland Fellowship will bring the Convention Sermon. Tuesday afternoon has business on the agenda but an extended prayer time is allocated.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is our guest preacher on the last night. He will challenge us to be salt and light. A multi-ethnic choir will show us what heaven will look like.

There are numerous auxiliary events at the SBTC. Tom Elliff speaks at the President’s Luncheon. A church planters dinner, church revitalization dinner and affinity group meals will take place over the three days. A special reception for Southwestern students is scheduled after the final gavel.

November 9-11 is the date for the SBTC Bible Conference and Annual Meeting. The beautiful chapel and grounds make for a wonderful setting. I encourage you to get your hotel reservations. Bring your messengers. Invite guests to join you. Childcare is provided for those who pre-register.

Finally, let me ask that you pray for God’s Spirit to move on us. Maybe this is the place God will bring us to himself in a new way. Oh Lord, please cleanse us, and then fill us, all for your glory!

Who”s the thermostat?

I was arrested recently by I Samuel 12:14. In this passage, the last and greatest of Israel’s judges is powerfully reminding the people of their sin of rejecting the Lord and asking for a human king like other nations. They got just what they asked for in Saul. I’d never noticed verse 14 and I found it convicting: If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God.

Israel was apparently trying to put a king between themselves and the obligation to obey God and worship him only—they’d failed to do those things many times since entering their homeland. They would fail in hiding themselves from the Lord but this verse brings that home from a new perspective. “If you [y’all] fear the LORD,” they were told, “both you and the king…will continue following the LORD your God.” Perhaps they thought, as we often do, that having a great person as magistrate will free the people up to live without so much responsibility. The king or governor or president will tell us what to do, and if it doesn’t work out well it’s his fault. Not so fast.

I’ve heard Richard Land say often that Washington DC is not a thermostat, controlling the climate in America, so much as a thermometer, reflecting it. Isn’t that what Samuel is telling Israel? Saul will be an impressive king like other nations have, but he’ll also represent who the nation is spiritually, no better and no worse.

There’s hope in this message. I take the verse to promise also that the leaders God places over us will become more godly as we become more godly. Either the Lord will change the leader’s heart or his actions or his address. The hard news is that this puts us right back where we started, responsible to God for what we do.

We are just a few months from an important mid-term election day in our country. After that we have an endless presidential race that will culminate in fall of 2016. Over the course of these months and years we will hear ever more urgent messages about what will happen if a candidate is elected, overblown promises from one side and overblown threats from the other. Our brothers and sisters will send panicked emails about the candidate they favor or the one they fear. For the most part they’ll be wrong in either the content or volume of their promises and warnings. America will get in 2014, and in 2016, the leaders we want and deserve. The people we elect matter but they won’t determine how God blesses or disciplines America—the elected candidate may actually be the agent of that blessing and cursing, and he will reveal who we are as a nation.

A magistrate can only do certain things. He can restrain us in good and bad ways and he can punish evil doers. He cannot make us good or frugal or devoted parents or faithful husbands. He cannot do much about the most crucial problems our families and communities face. Those problems are ultimately spiritual. Bad parents have a spiritual problem, as do lazy people and thieves. Good parents and good citizens are people who honor God or those who live in the afterglow of God-honoring neighbors or families. As that glow fades, families and communities will become less functional and so will our nation’s leadership.

It sounds easier to just elect people much better than ourselves who would forcibly set the tone for our communities. Places where that has been tried have become the worst regimes in history. We’re still on the hook, responsible for our own deeds and for the well-being of our communities. There is no shortcut to national renewal.

I offer a last caution. A revival of strong families and communities would be a byproduct of something more essential. It is God we are made to worship. Our devotion to him will bear marvelous fruit in the lives of all around us, but our devotion to him is the point and not the revitalization of a nation. Remember that as we pray for our leaders and our country in the run up to future elections.

And, oh yes, Christians who are not registered to vote are on the sidelines of spiritual warfare in our nation. Registered voters who do not show up on Election Day are in sin. There’s time for you to become a registered, informed voter before this year’s mid-term election. You should do that. Be good stewards of your Christian citizenship but the hope for any people is, from the first to the last, in the Lord.