Month: November 2014

Panel discusses how churches should address issue of homosexuality

FORT WORTH—Baptist educators, a Texas pastor, an expert on the law and the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethical and moral concerns entity shared their perspectives on the church’s response to the issue of homosexuality during a panel discussion following the close of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting, Nov. 11. The panel was held in MacGorman Chapel on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

The panel, moderated by SBTC Director of Communications and Ministry Relationships Gary Ledbetter, agreed the church’s failure to speak both to the culture and its members has contributed to the normalization of homosexuality and the rapid acceptance of same-sex marriage in the culture.

Criswell College President Barry Creamer said the trajectory of this issue at this moment has the Bible-believing church judged to be on the wrong side of history rather than the “wrong side of truth.”

Nonetheless, said Creamer, “we have to make absolutely certain the basis of all we do in responding to the government or being obedient to proclaiming the gospel is rooted in my love of God and my love for my neighbor.”

While the gap between the church and culture is well acknowledged, there is a similar gap between the pulpit and the pew on this issue, noted Nathan Lino, senior pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church.

“Our people are desperate for teaching on these matters. We do not have to convince them to want to talk about these things,” Lino said.

“I think we pastors live in such a bubble based on our vocation that we are out of touch with the reality in which people live. They are immersed in these matters. … Yet no one is speaking truth to them in these matters nor teaching how to do truth well.”

Lino said homosexuality is personal for most young people: “They have homosexual friends. When we address the issue, they’re not hearing an issue, they’re thinking of their friend.”

“We haven’t done a good job training younger generations how to think biblically about sexuality,” asserted Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics and director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Seminary. He said the church has failed to give young people a scriptural foundation for human sexuality.

Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville, said the church has been caught flat-footed with the rapid shift in opinion on the homosexual issue in part because of its mishandling of the Bible’s teachings on sexuality.

For a long time, Moore said, the church’s preaching on divorce was unbiblical, given that it was condemnatory. Divorced persons were viewed as “social pariahs,” he said. Then, he continued, the church “over-corrected” on the issue when divorce became normalized in the culture.

“The problem with divorce is not that it is shocking but that divorce is destroying a picture of the union of the church and Jesus Christ,” Moore said.

“The culture around us has changed its views on sexuality where sexuality becomes the highest good and the highest end of who someone is. When you add to it a narrative that views the sexual revolution in the same terms as the civil rights movement, you don’t have a church that is able to stand up and say, ‘Here is what marriage and sexuality are.’”

Lino agreed, saying the disconnect between the church and the culture has been building for a number of years.

“The gap between our people understanding where culture is and being able to appropriately address culture comes from a lack of proper teaching on the matter over the last 10 to 20 years,” Lino said.

Pastors need to give a more full understanding of the gospel as it relates to human sexuality, Lino said.

“It’s not just homosexuality that we need to be addressing. Homosexuality is a piece of a bigger pie,” Lino said.

“We speak against homosexuality just like we are supposed to be speaking against heterosexual premarital sex. We’re also supposed to be speaking against heterosexual extramarital sex. We’re supposed to be speaking about gender roles. All of these are the same matter. All of these are the picture of Christ and the church.

“Our people are unprepared to deal with these issues in the culture because they don’t think of it along these lines. Until we start equipping them with a more robust gospel they’re not going to be able to address this in culture, and we are just going to fall more behind.”

Creamer noted that for a time the church was “supporting and undergirding cultural norms as if that were the communication of our Christian message and the gospel,” and as a result, many were treated as outcasts by the church.

“It wasn’t that they couldn’t be saved and come into the gospel; it was because they were outside of the norms of American behavior,” he said, noting the church needs to clean up its act when seeking to minister to individuals who are in some ways different than those traditionally served by the church.

“Our presentation of the gospel has in some ways been marginalized in this culture because we held on to some of those stereotypes and language in the same way we held on to racist language,” Creamer said, quickly noting, “Racism and gender identity are totally different issues morally in the world.”

There were those elements of the faith community that “attached their conservatism to the society instead of to the gospel,” Creamer said, insisting those in the church need to be more careful in their choice of words.

“It’s not a compromise of our commitment to the gospel to be more considerate about the way we speak about people in the culture who need to come to the gospel.”

Ledbetter asked the panel how pastors should respond when their religious liberty rights are threatened, as in the recent case in Houston when the city’s mayor subpoenaed pastors’ sermons and notes related to the city’s statute extending certain rights to gay and transgender residents.

Moore said church leaders would be wise in heeding the model set by the Apostles Peter and John, as recorded in Acts 4, who when they were told to cease preaching, refused.

“That’s necessary because the only way they could be obedient to Christ is to refuse to submit to that decree,” he said, explaining at times the state will ask Christ-followers to do things they might not agree with but that are within the “rightful authority” of the government to require.

“But then there are going to be those things that to obey the government is to disobey God,” Moore added, citing instances in which the government tries to dictate what is to be preached or asserts what is and what isn’t sin.

“We have to say to the government, ‘There’s a law higher than your law,’ and refuse to obey,” Moore said.

Moore said one of the more immediate issues in the area of religious liberty doesn’t concern churches but instead children’s homes, adoption agencies and colleges and universities.

“One of the biggest problems we are going to have is those agencies simply laying down, not even fighting for their religious liberty rights, which will then consign everybody else and future generations to a violation of conscience,” Moore said. These institutions need to be willing to face “some cost and some hurt,” he added.

Lino said he grew up in South Africa during apartheid as the son of a pastor. He recalled his father preaching against racism on Sunday mornings. Government agents would record his father’s sermons, even going so far as to come to his house and bully him because of his stance against the government’s racist policies.

“When we left South Africa,” Lino said. “I thought we left that behind.”

“The reaction of pastors to the government in those situations has to be very different than our reaction to culture. When culture is opposing us, it’s a lot different.”

Anticipating a day to come when legal protection for religious rights will no longer prevail, Lino said, “We have to resolve in our hearts that we are men of God, that when we surrendered to the call, we died to ourselves.”

“The government might think we are mercenaries, that we are in this for money, fame and power and that if they bully us we don’t want to lose those things, so we will give in.

“We are citizens of a Kingdom. The day is going to come that we will pay a price. And it’s going to get here a lot sooner than we expected.”

This tidal change in the culture will also impact the legal environment the church finds itself in, attorney Jim Guenther said.

“The constitution simply will not allow the government to interfere with the free choice of religious bodies in the selection of their religious leaders,” Guenther, who has served as general counsel for the Southern Baptist Convention for 40 years, told those gathered.

Yet Guenther noted the ongoing cultural confusion over gender roles and the societal redefinition of marriage complicates laws regarding discrimination.

“We’ve got a lot of untangling to do in this area. All the laws pertaining to marriage were rooted in the traditional notion that marriage was a relationship between one man and one woman. As its fundamental basis erodes, those laws are going to be in transition,” he warned.

Guenther prepared a question-and-answer document on the law, churches and same-sex attraction that was handed out during the event and is also available online.

When examining the church’s responsibility to stand for truth and also offer grace, Lino said, “To Jesus, absolute truth and loving your neighbor are not mutually exclusive,” adding there is not a third way.

“Silence is not an option; you have to stand on truth. We have to proclaim the gospel with courage from our pulpits,” Lino said, adding that pastors must proclaim a biblical gospel.

“The issue with homosexuals isn’t that they are homosexual,” Lino said. “The issue with homosexuals is that they are in need of Jesus Christ.

“The right gospel is not that the road to salvation for a homosexual goes through becoming heterosexual. The road to salvation for anyone from anywhere is to go directly to Jesus Christ.”

To watch the entire panel discussion, go to sbtexas.com/panel.

Can We Talk? Conversational, pastor-led evangelism effort sparks surge in gospel fervor, transforms church culture

One hundred and twenty football players in a locker room. One hundred and seventy mourners at a funeral. Two young women wandering in a parking lot. A classroom full of students in a secular college philosophy class.Not soliciting spiritual answers or seeking out a preacher, these people were simply going about their business—playing sports, grieving the dead,waiting for a ride and earning class credit.

But, because of one North Texas pastor following the Lord’s instruction to lead out in evangelism in his church, each of these people heard the gospel clearly and confidently explained. It wasn’t the pastor, though, who shared with them but members of an ever-growing gospel army rising up at First Baptist Church of Euless.

Last year as pastor John Meador was preparing his message for the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2014 annual meeting to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, the Lord guided him not to select a text or write a message. Instead, he would live the message, and that is what he would share with Baptists in Baltimore. Meador says he certainly did not know what the Lord meant or intended by that all those months ago. Looking back, it is pristinely clear.

Before he was ever invited to preach at the annual meeting, the Lord had already begun working on the substance of that message.

“We needed an evangelism ministry here,” Meador said. “I’d been involved in evangelism ministries over the years, but since I became a senior pastor here… most of that’s delegated to a staff member. But the Lord began to convict me, ‘No, you as a senior pastor need to step up and lead the way. It’s never going to get into the DNA of the church unless you do it.’ So I really began to be convicted in that.”

Meanwhile, the pastor continued his patterns for evangelism and ministry at Euless. In addition to giving clear presentations of the gospel and extending invitations to salvation in each worship service, Meador was and is personally committed to meeting visitors at the church’s guest reception each week following the service. At the reception, known as Guest Central, he tells the two or eight or 20 people who gather that he wants to share with them the one conversation he would have with each of them if he could only have one. In just a few minutes, Meador conveys in a concise and conversational way that faith in Christ—not works or church attendance or good behavior—is the only reason God will ever let anyone into heaven. Hundreds who have listened to Meador’s brief presentation over the years have trusted Christ for salvation.

Somewhere along the way, a church member suggested to Meador that he put the presentation on paper so others could emulate the message and share with people who don’t come to Guest Central. So, he did just that and began training church members to share, resulting in a ministry that now bears the name Can We Talk?, which Meador leads each week. The pastor and his church had found God’s answer to the need for a pastor-led evangelism ministry, and Meador had the message he needed to share and did share at the 2014 annual meeting.

“We saw God raise up a community of people in the church that believed the gospel was going to change the world and that he was going to do it from right here,” Meador said.

Nearly 600 church members—from teenagers to senior citizens—have been trained to share the gospel with confidence and are now qualified as Can We Talk? trainers. Each semester, Meador casts the vision, equips the people and then leads them in going out in groups of three to share the gospel in the community. Meanwhile, prayer partners gather to pray the entire time the groups are sharing, directed by live requests sent via Twitter feed to a television screen at the church.

When tweets come in showing real-time answers to those prayers, the prayer team celebrates.

“When [the Tweet] came through and said [Sofia] had accepted Christ, it was like someone scored a touchdown at a football game,” said John Briere, a deacon at First Euless and a Can We Talk? team leader.

Briere says Can We Talk? has revolutionized his life by equipping him to confidently engage lost people—both strangers and those he knows well—with the truth of the gospel. Watching his pastor’s evangelistic example and repeatedly listening to a Can We Talk? CD has significantly helped Briere feel prepared to strike up conversations that he can direct toward the gospel.

“In the beginning I was fumbling my way through it,” Briere said. “Now [I’m] sensitive to when God is putting those opportunities in front of [me]. I’ve had countless conversations with colleagues that I never would have before.”

Briere even used what he learned through Can We Talk? to share the gospel with about 170 people at his father’s funeral—something he says he never would have done before the training.

Jenna Milleson, Meador’s executive assistant, and college student Morgan Wilson—both active in Can We Talk?—led a young woman to Christ in the church’s parking lot just a day before talking to the TEXAN. Milleson said two weeks prior to their sharing with the woman in the parking lot, their pastor also led someone to the Lord in the same parking lot. She said Meador’s involvement and accessibility has helped make evangelism at First Euless not just a top priority at the church but a pervading culture.

Meador says he, too, is immensely grateful for the increased church member interaction afforded him by Can We Talk? each week.

“I get to know these people. I get to love on them and laugh with them and communicate passion to them and watch them grow,” Meador said. “I get to know the John Briers who are out there sharing the gospel at their dads’ funerals.”

Wilson also had the opportunity to share with her college philosophy class when she disagreed with the professor’s appraisal of Jesus and Christianity and was ready to defend her beliefs with grace and confidence. Wilson says Can We Talk? has shown her that God has given her a mission field in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Another unexpected blessing, Wilson said, is seeing all ages from across the church catch a passion for sharing the gospel.

Meador said a 13-year-old boy who had been through the class multiple times with his dad approached him at church to say he is ready to be a team leader. Milleson said a 13-year-old girl from Can We Talk? pulls her teachers out into the hallway during free periods and study halls to share with them at the Spirit’s prompting. A football coach asked another student involved with Can We Talk? if he had anything inspirational he could share with the football team before they ended their practice on Good Friday. The student jumped right in and shared with the team the record book of sin illustration that Meador taught him.

“These are just normal kids that have gotten excited about the gospel,” Meador said.

Meador said other churches and pastors are beginning to catch the excitement and model their own evangelism efforts after Euless’. In 2015 First Euless will offer 10 conferences across the state of Texas to equip pastors. Information is available at johnmeador.com/canwetalk.

Briere and Meador agreed that the conversational approach of Can We Talk? equips and emboldens church members to share throughout the course of their day-to-day lives, often with people they already know well. From locker rooms and funerals to parking lots and classes, daily life provides many divine appointments just waiting to be kept by believers, they said.

Can We Talk? is not a program where we enlist more and more people to go out together to share the gospel one night a week,” Meador said in a July 2014 blog post. “Can We Talk? is about equipping people to share the gospel in their everyday lives.”

Evangelicals, Southern Baptists react to President Obama”s executive order on immigration reform

President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration reform, including granting legal status to millions of people currently in the country illegally, was detrimental to the efforts of Southern Baptists who for years have championed comprehensive and compassionate immigration legislation. SBC leaders in the church and Congress said the president’s unilateral, and arguably unconstitutional, action hurts those he claims to be helping and alienates those who echoed his calls for reform.

In a presidential address Thursday evening, Nov. 20, Obama highlighted his three steps for addressing immigration reform: more security personnel on the borders, simplification of visa applications for high tech workers, and legalization of undocumented immigrants already in the country. The president officially signed the order Friday during a visit to Las Vegas.

Since 2012 a collaborative effort among ministry leaders representing about 68 million American evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, has been pressing Congress for immigration legislation grounded in biblical principles. Although representing socio-political ideological extremes, the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) coalesced on this one issue. But Obama’s actions could jeopardize that tenuous relationship.

“Acting unilaterally threatens that consensus, and is the wrong thing to do,” wrote Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in an op-ed for TIME magazine posted Thursday afternoon. “Even those who support broad executive action (including many friends of mine) acknowledge that the actions won’t solve the problem, only a legislative solution will.”

Tim Moore, pastor of Walk Worthy Baptist Church in Austin and Texas Mobilizer for EIT, is also frustrated, telling the TEXAN Thursday before the president’s address, “Am I eager for the president to do something? Yes and no.”

The failure of the House of Representatives to take up a bipartisan bill passed last year by the Senate concerned Tim Moore. He believed Obama, impatient with Congressional inaction, was acting out of conviction but said an executive order only provides a temporary and insufficiently comprehensive solution and shifts undocumented immigrants from one state of limbo to another.

“It’s unconscionable that Congress won’t act,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-TX, said the frustration is understandable but criticized the Senate bill for its lack of border security and appropriation mechanisms that can only be initiated by the House. He said Congress will be in a better position to pass legislation in January when the new legislators are sworn in, but Obama’s executive order interferes with that process. Both houses will have Republican majorities.

“The Republicans have said that they want to demonstrate that they can govern and that they want to find areas where they can work together with the White House,” Russell Moore wrote. “Why not give them the opportunity to do so?”

In an interview with the TEXAN before Obama’s speech, Flores admitted “hypertension” over the subject of amnesty causes some Republican House members to reject sound legislation, especially since “amnesty” means different things to different people. To some, Flores explained, anything short of “rounding up” the undocumented immigrants and sending them back to their home countries is amnesty.

But that, Flores said, is not a practical solution. The reforms he would outline in legislation include: a secure border certified as such by an agency not affiliated with the federal government; an enforced visa entry/exit tracking system (40 percent of all illegal immigrants are people who overstayed their visa); a guest worker program; full implementation of E-verify for employers and stiff fines for those who fail to use it to verify legal status of potential employees; a long and rigorous path to legal residency—not citizenship—for those willing to meet the standards; and similar standards for those brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents. The latter group could earn citizenship, Flores said, because he feels it inappropriate to hold the children responsible for “the sins of the fathers,” adding, “That’s not amnesty.”

But if Obama grants immediate legal status to the estimated 5 million undocumented immigrants in the country, the act would not only be unlawful but unfair, critics contend. And the battle over the constitutionality of his action could stymie the legislative progress.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott said, “Following tonight’s pronouncement, I am prepared to immediately challenge President Obama in court, securing our state’s sovereignty and guaranteeing the rule of law as it was intended under the Constitution.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry called the president’s decision a bad policy that will only encourage more illegal immigration.

Flores, who was elected Nov. 18 to head the Republican Survey Committee, said the executive order complicates the process of creating immigration reform legislation, something the 114th Congress is sure to take up. By granting legal status to people who entered or stayed in the country illegally, Flores said, the president disregards the efforts of those who came here through lawful channels.

Additionally, a sudden influx of millions of new workers competing for jobs in a sluggish economy hurts U.S. citizens, which is problematic in its own right.

Thus, Christians face a tension between offering mercy to lawbreakers and demanding their accountability, but SBC pastors and policy makers affiliated with the EIT and lawmakers in Congress argue the two ideas are not diametrically opposed and can work for the good of all involved.

Tim Moore’s role with the EIT has given him the opportunity to hear and be heard on the matter of immigration in congregations across the state. Most evangelicals admit Congress needs to enact reform, he said, but their ideas on what should be done are informed more by emotion and politics than Scripture.

As a pastor and EIT spokesman, his message is the same—Scripture demands Christians treat all people with the dignity afforded them as image bearers of God. That is manifested in government policies that offer assistance to those who merit consideration for a visa, permanent residency or citizenship while deporting everyone else.

Although sympathetic with the plight of undocumented immigrants, Flores and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX, both members of SBC churches, said the roles of the church and government are distinct and not interchangeable.

“There is a common mistake being made by caring Christians who think the duty of a government and the duty of a Christian individual are the same. They are exceedingly different,” Gohmert wrote in a statement about the role of Christians in the immigration debate.

“The Bible says we are to help those in need,” Flores said. “The question is, “Who is the ‘we’?”

While Christians and churches should assist “the least of these,” including undocumented immigrants, the institutions established to create and enforce law are bound by their pledge to uphold the law even if it seems unpopular at the time to do so, Flores said. Without the enforcement of the law, all citizens would suffer.

Gohmert agrees.

“The government must follow its own laws fairly and impartially so lawlessness is not encouraged,” he wrote. “A Christian should love his neighbor. A government should require neighbors to comply with its laws.”

Russell Moore emphasized the need for Christians to rise above the political fray.

“I pray that our churches will transcend all of this posing and maneuvering that we see in Washington,” he wrote. “Whatever our political disagreements, we ought to continue to stand with [immigrants], and to see to it that the immigrants among us are welcomed and loved. Whatever happens in the White House, our churches must press on with ministry and mission.”

LifeWay Among Stores Remaining Closed on Thanksgiving Day

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—While the War on Christmas generates more headlines, Thanksgiving has been taking a beating, but some customers and stores are fighting back.

In contrast to many major retailers who have decided to open on Thanksgiving Day, others, like LifeWay Christian Stores, are maintaining their commitment to give employees—and customers—the day off.

“Just as we do every Sunday, we believe it is important to set aside Thanksgiving for our employees to spend time with family and friends thanking God,” said Tim Vineyard, the vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources Stores.

Apparently at least half of Americans agree. A nationwide survey of U.S. consumers found 50 percent say shopping hours on Thanksgiving Day are a bad idea that detracts from the traditional celebration. The research from LoyaltyOne, a customer analytics firm, found only 33 percent believe open stores are beneficial.

A growing number of those Americans opposed to shopping starting on Thursday are making their feelings known. An online petition started by a Target employee asking the fourth largest U.S. retailer to give employees the day off has garnered over 90,000 signatures. Over 100,000 people have liked the Facebook group “Boycott Black Thursday.

Vineyard believes LifeWay customers will appreciate the stance to remain closed and could give them another reason to spend time with loved ones. “We hope our being closed will encourage families to enjoy Thanksgiving together and find respite from the busyness of the holiday season,” he said.

Instead of opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, LifeWay Christian Stores’ 186 locations will have three sales surrounding the holiday, including a traditional Black Friday sale on November 28 beginning at 6 a.m. and continuing Saturday, November 29, with stores opening at 9 a.m.

That seems to work just fine for most shoppers. Despite the push to start the sales earlier and open on Thanksgiving, most do the bulk of their purchases later. Deloitte University’s annual holiday survey found 65 percent of consumers plan to do the bulk of their shopping after Thanksgiving.

For more information of LifeWay Christian Stores holiday hours and sales, visit LifeWay.com.

Did you vote?

Politics in Texas grew to a fever pitch in recent months in the wake of the ongoing saga over Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s subpoena of pastors’ sermons and mid-term elections that produced a new governor, new lieutenant governor and new attorney general for the Lone Star State.

The political involvement of Christians ranges across the intensity spectrum from fanatic to oblivious. Regardless of which political party you align with, the right to vote is a privilege and a responsibility that every Christian should take seriously.

I’ll admit, I considered skipping long lines at the polls on Election Day. However, something I heard regarding last year’s Houston mayoral election prompted me to reconsider.

As more than 6,000 gathered Nov. 2 for the I Stand Sunday rally in support of the five Houston-area pastors subpoenaed for their sermons, one of the participants mentioned that only around 10 percent of registered voters in Houston turned out for the 2013 election, where Parker was re-elected.

Even if this number was approximate, it’s still telling. Imagine what might have happened if conservative Christians in Houston had exercised their right to vote last November. The outcome of the mayoral election likely would have been different, and the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance likely would have never been on the docket in May.

Yet, now, Christians are up in arms over the city’s infringement on religious liberty, and rightfully so. However, there’s no doubt that many of them are at least partially to blame because they abstained from the ballot box last November.

Certainly as Christians we realize that our hope is not found in government, and the state of Texas—as glorious as it may be—is not our true home. However, in the United States we have the freedom and obligation to let our voices be heard, which is best done proactively at the polls rather than reactively after elected officials pass legislation we dislike. We should do both, but the latter without the former seems disingenuous.

This article is not meant to make you feel guilty if you didn’t vote. Hopefully, it will encourage you to make sure you exercise your right to vote in future elections and to consider how you can be both a good citizen of the state as well as a good citizen of the kingdom of God.

It’s growing increasingly apparent what happens when Christians remove themselves from the public square. We must not cower in fear nor should we be obnoxious revelers. There are ways you can be a responsible citizen, maintain your Christian convictions and make a difference. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Look for ways to be involved in the public sector. This could include running for a position on your local school board, city council or other civil office.
  • Volunteer in your community. City officials are always looking for individuals to help organize or serve at community events. I know of many church planters who have found serving their city in these ways gives them credibility in the community and opens doors for ministry.
  • Get to know and pray for elected officials, even if you disagree with their positions. What might it look like if your local city council received consistent notes of encouragement letting them know that you care about them and are praying for them? Who knows, those prayers may go a long way in turning their hearts toward God.
  • Vote in all elections, not just the “big” ones. You never know what ordinance or decision may have a significant impact down the road.
  • As much as possible, without violating the Word of God, submit yourself to those in authority over you. Peter’s words to fellow sojourners is helpful here: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Imagine the impact convictional kindness and community involvement can have in your city, in Texas and in the United States. In this way, Christians can be “in the world but not of the world.”

Gratitude and grumbling

Numbers 14:26-27—And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.

The Lord takes gratitude, and grumbling, pretty seriously. Sure, sure, we’re grateful for Jesus, and we’re grateful for our families and for our health. Maybe we’re not grateful in detail but toss out a generic “thanks for everything.” It seems that gratitude, thankfulness, is more difficult and vague when we are prosperous and comfortable. Ironically, grumbling is easier.

Look at Israel’s situation in Numbers 14. The Lord had brought them out of Egypt, defeated their enemies, fed them, fed them something better, watered them and now brought them to the borders of the land he’d promised to give them. But they were afraid to occupy the land because of the challenges ahead. Behind this fear is the outrageous idea that God would not or could not deliver on his promises, as if he had not brought them out of Egypt, defeated their enemies and so on. A lack of trust was here a lack of gratitude—a grumble. The Lord judged it harshly.

I recently heard the testimony of a prayerful mother who thanked God that her homosexual, drug dealer son was, while serving a term in prison, safe in a place where she could find him. That’s humble gratitude from a lady who had learned that God answers prayer with good things we might not have  specifically sought. He saved her son while he was in prison, by the way.

How do you think of gratitude during a holiday season (Thanksgiving) when the word is used to market nearly everything? Is there anything you desperately need from God? Has God done anything for you, big or small? Yes, you do need something from God, and yes, he has done great and “small” things for you this year. Bringing those things to the front of our minds is an exercise of gratitude and an antidote to grumbling. 

Grumbling comes naturally, though. Our lives have not turned out the way we might have wanted. There are disappointments and even tragedies that dot our own journeys out of Egypt. It’s easy to concentrate on those things, to be bitter that we didn’t get our own way. We forget that if we always get our own way, we’ll never leave Egypt—we’ll never be saved from sin. When Israel grumbled they asked to go back into cruel slavery under a pagan king. That’s what we do when we are bitter about the way things have turned out.

We had a brief family upset a few weeks back, a bad car wreck, just a week after a glorious evening wedding for our daughter. It cost them money; it was several days of stress and worry; and it was a harsh lesson to a young family. Woe is us! I wish it hadn’t happened! But, we have a list of passersby, neighbors, friends, EMTs, a state trooper, the skeleton crew of a blacked-out small-town hospital, a kindly wrecker company owner and a local church—all that came out of the woodwork to minister to our kids and to us. These servants of God helped in ways ranging from cutting a tree off our fence (all this happened during a violent storm) to distracting our grandson while Grammy took the initial call from our daughter to two college freshman prying my daughter out of their wrecked car. I am humbled to see the way God worked to save our kids from nearly every harm and to provide for every need that arose during a crazy week. We are richer for the experience because we know not only our own fragility but also the expanse of God’s provision. I can make a list to cover this page of things and people for whom I’m grateful. I wouldn’t grumble over the money or the car or the inconvenience. I wouldn’t think of it. But what now?

If I’ve learned anything from God, if I truly am richer for the experience, will I trust God for the next bigger thing without fear, faithlessness or grumbling? How do I inoculate myself from the temptation to gripe about every upward step of faith?

I think the answer is based on a discipline, a habit of counting blessings great and small. The drug dealer convict son I mentioned earlier posed for a photo with his mother and her list of things for which she thanked God as she prayed each day. It looked like an adding machine tape covered with handwriting. I find it easy, when I stop, listen and think to see any number of things that God has provided to me each hour of the day. And I confess that I don’t stop, listen and think about those things often enough.

Don’t let our cultural cluelessness about giving thanks ruin Thanksgiving. While others are flippant about “Turkey Day” or speak of giving thanks without any object of our gratitude, we know that the God who holds our future is the one who has brought us through many “dangers, toils and snares.” He is the one who makes turkeys and then makes the food available for our tables. He’s the one who allows us a place to sit and eat the food and so on. Give thanks, but not just generally, and certainly not on only one day. If you do, I expect you’ll be tempted to grumble for the other 364 days of the year.

Baptisms look like heaven at SBTC annual meeting

FORT WORTH—Messengers and guests at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention witnessed a baptismal service of First Baptist Church of Euless via live video feed from the rotunda of the MacGorman Chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Nov. 11. The baptisms, conducted by First Euless pastor John Meador, looked a bit like heaven and immediately followed the SBTC’s Look Like Heaven report.

SBTC president Jimmy Pritchard introduced the baptismal service to those in the chapel auditorium, noting how the baptism of believers pleases the Lord and reminding the audience of the SBTC’s involvement in providing funds for the chapel’s baptismal pool.

Around 50 gathered in the rotunda as Meador began by defining a “gospel-centered church” as one in which the people are actively engaged in sharing the good news of Christ. Meador stated that since First Euless implemented the Can We Talk? evangelism program 14 months ago, the church has mobilized 600 people to share the gospel and seen hundreds come to faith.

Expressing excitement about his church’s involvement with equipping other churches to do the same, Meador proclaimed, “I believe God is getting ready to raise up a massive number of people to share the gospel in communities where people have never heard [it] before.”

“We’re excited to be partnering with the SBTC in all that,” Meador noted, commencing with the baptisms.

“I am Snowflower Dong. Jesus is my Lord, and I am not ashamed,” exclaimed a young Chinese woman, the first to be baptized.

Meador explained that Dong, the daughter of a Chinese pastor, had previously accepted Christ and desired to follow the Lord in believer’s baptism by immersion. Applause reverberated throughout the rotunda and auditorium as Dong emerged smiling from the baptismal waters.

Meador then introduced Holly Coleman, a young woman who had prayed to receive Jesus Christ after hearing a Can We Talk? presentation a month before. Shortly after, Coleman attended a meeting at First Euless, assuming it to be a class on baptism.

“About an hour into that class, she realized we weren’t talking about baptism, we were equipping her to share the gospel,” Meador said. “She decided to stay, and she joined an evangelism team and has already been out sharing the gospel.”

“That’s the way it ought to happen with everybody,” Meador remarked before baptizing Coleman, who also joyfully proclaimed her faith in Jesus to resounding applause.

Meador concluded the service with an exhortation to pastors and churches to equip their people to share the gospel in their communities.

“Every one of us ought to lead the way,” Meador said.

Moore: Don”t be surprised if your preaching upsets the status quo

FORT WORTH­– The issue of religious liberty is one that confronts every single believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, said Russell Moore in an address to the 2014 Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting, Nov. 11.

This is a tension seen clearly in the book of Acts, Moore said, drawing the messengers’ attention to Paul and Silas’ experience in the Philippian jail detailed in Acts 16.

“It is a tension of living in a world with legitimate, rightful state authority but living in another world as the people of God in which we have a greater authority in the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” continued Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“Paul finds himself in prison because he was on mission for Christ,” Moore said, noting religious liberty is a matter of global mission, as well as a matter of gospel witness and public justice.

In casting the spirit out of the slave girl, Paul quickly discovers the town’s citizens preferred this girl enslaved physically and spiritually because for them she was a “means of great gain through her fortune telling,” Moore said.

Noting this incident was a common theme in Paul’s ministry, Moore explained, “The gospel becomes a public threat. The gospel becomes something that must be silenced.”

“The gospel of Jesus Christ comes in with a message that if it is understood is always, in every single era, going to seem strange and crazy and freakish and dangerous,” Moore said, explaining Paul was not surprised his preaching of the gospel would upset the status quo.

“That has everything to do with religious liberty. If you get the gospel wrong, you will get religious liberty wrong. If you get the mission wrong; you will get religious liberty wrong.”

Referencing Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s attempt to force a group of pastors in the city to hand over their sermons and other papers, Moore said the mayor’s decision to subpoena sermons was “shocking and audacious and reckless.”

“But you know what is worse than a mayor audacious enough to subpoena sermons?” Moore asked. “Sermons that aren’t worthy of being subpoenaed,” he answered.

Moore said to avoid such governmental interference is to become the kind of people “city hall doesn’t have to worry about.” But that is the wrong direction to go, he insisted.

“It is a terrible thing for the government to put the church in jail,” Moore said. “But it is worse if the church isn’t willing to go to jail for anything.”

For religious liberty protections to remain in place, it is critically important the church raise up a generation that fears God more than they do governmental authorities or any other outside force, including death, Moore concluded.

Ziafat encourages churches to join Look Like Heaven initiative

FORT WORTH—Southern Baptists of Texas Convention President Jimmy Pritchard opened the “Look Like Heaven” report at the 2014 SBTC Annual Meeting by introducing Afshin Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco.

Following a Look Like Heaven video, five individuals onstage prayed in five languages: Spanish, Hebrew, Swahili, Korea and English, before Ziafat encouraged the gathering of “fellow church leaders from across the state of Texas” to join the SBTC’s Look Like Heaven initiative.

Reminding the audience of the video’s emphasis on Revelation 7:9, Ziafat spoke of the “great multitude” from “all tribes and languages” loved by God. He urged pastors to encourage their congregants to get out of their “comfort zones to go out to other tribes, to people who do not talk or look or dress like us.”

Citing the examples of Abraham as the founder of a great nation and father of many nations as well as Peter’s witness to Cornelius in Acts 10, Ziafat reminded all that the Bible is the story of God’s redeeming a people to himself from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Referencing Ephesians 3:10, Ziafat expounded upon the meaning of “manifold” or “multifaced,” alluding to a diamond “with many faces that sparkles brightly” as an image of “God’s vision for the church” as a place for “every nation.”

Ziafat, an Iranian-American, recalled his own childhood experiences during the 1978 Iran hostage crisis, when his family returned to America from Iran and were spurned by others. A second grade tutor befriended him, giving him a New Testament with instructions to keep it and read it later.

“I am so glad that [she] got uncomfortable, loved me, and gave me that New Testament. I read it as a senior in high school,” said Ziafat, who trusted Christ afterward.

Ziafat also expressed gratitude to the Baptist church in Houston whose members discipled him after his father and family disowned him following his conversion to Christ.

“There are thousands more Afshin Ziafats all over neighborhoods around our churches,” Ziafat admonished listeners. “We must equip our people to get out of their comfort zones and go to the ends of the earth … to go and to love and to get uncomfortable as one person did for me.”

Outreach does not necessarily mean travel, Ziafat said.

“The ends of the earth have moved across the street,” exclaimed Ziafat, urging the audience to navigate the SBTC’s Look Like Heaven website for ways to engage the lost across cultural lines.

Ministry Café panel cites precursors to revival

FORT WORTH – While revival is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, there are things pastors can do to position their churches for a movement of God, panelists said during a Ministry Café during the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Bible Conference, Nov. 10.

“When revival comes, there’s always a focus on preaching and teaching the Word of God,” Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, said.

Uniting a church in prayer, focus and expectancy are important, panelists said, and obstacles to revival must be removed.

When a church “exalts something as a priority that is not a priority to God according to His Word, that is an idol that must be torn down,” Eric Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., said.

Kie Bowman, pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, said God can use hardships to bring revival.

“Everybody we preach to hurts. Everybody on this platform has experienced intense pain just being obedient, just serving God,” Bowman said. “… God is going to do something through a hurting people.”

Romans 8 makes clear that believers must suffer, Bowman said.

“If we’re not ready to suffer with Him, we will not be raised with Him,” he said. “Revival will come out of our hurt and out of our pain and out of our discouragement.”

Graham cited Acts 20:19 and how the Apostle Paul served the Lord with “all humility and with tears through trials.”

“God uses us when we’re most broken,” Graham said. “… What I need the most are more tears. We’re pretty good at righteous anger and pounding our fists on the pulpit or on the table—and there are some things that we should shout about and get good and angry about—but we’re not so good at anguish.

“If we’re going to bring people to Christ, if we’re going to see our churches revived, we need to try tears. I’m not talking about working something up. I think those of us who are pastors ought to cry privately more than we cry publicly. But if I’m not putting some tears on my carpet on the floor of my house or my office, then I’m not doing it right.”

Thomas pointed to Luke 18:1, which says believers “always ought to pray and not give up hope.”

“The longer I live in the lap of my Heavenly Father and immerse myself in His love for me and for the church, the more strength, comfort, courage, patience and perseverance I have to press forward in the extravagant things that He calls us to do and to be,” Thomas said.

Once a church experiences revival or even a short season of refreshing, Graham said, pastors must be ready to help people grow in their renewed faith.

“We’ve got to put them in the game,” he said. “We’ve got to give people an opportunity to serve in meaningful ways.”