Month: January 2015

Jim Richardson Receives Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Robert Dixon Award

PORTLAND, Ore.—The North American Mission Board awarded Jim Richardson, recently retired director of disaster relief for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Robert E. Dixon Award, Jan. 28.

The Robert E. Dixon Award recognizes individuals for a lifetime of service that helped shape the course of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief by contributing in a manner that has made a significant impact on ministry both inside and outside their state conventions.

Jim Richardson has served Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for 20 years, serving many of those years as state disaster relief director for the Georgia Baptist Convention and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He also served on the SBDR steering committee as the Region 3 representative.

 “Southern Baptist Disaster Relief would like to thank Jim for his faithful service and servant heart while bringing help, healing and hope to those in need,” a NAMB DR spokesperson said.

Upon accepting the award, Richardson, who retired Dec. 31, 2014, expressed appreciation to all the SBDR volunteers he has served with over the years.

Ross calls for senior pastors” attention to youth ministry in new resource

Richard Ross, co-founder of True Love Waits and known for his passion for seeing young people come to know and serve Jesus, says while the youth minister plays an important role in raising up a generation of sold-out Christians, the senior pastor holds the keys to unlocking “true reformation” in youth ministry. He writes as much in his new book, The 

Senior Pastor and the Reformation of Youth Ministry. 

Unlike some of his other books geared toward youth ministers and parents—including 50 Core Principles of Youth Ministry, Student Ministry and the Supremacy of Christ and Accelerate: Parenting Teenagers Toward Adulthood—Ross’s new book is written with senior pastors in mind.

“I believe in youth pastors,” Ross says. “The vast majority of them are sacrificially investing their lives to see teenagers join Christ in changing the world. But they do not have the voice, the pulpit or the influence to lead the entire congregation toward a true reformation in youth ministry.”

Only the senior pastor has that kind of influence, Ross writes in the preface. 

“That is why this book is targeted specifically to you,” he says to senior pastors.

Ross, who spent 30 years serving churches as a youth minister before joining the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, sees Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) as one of the major issues stifling revival in both teenagers and adults. The term, coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, is used to characterize a common religious worldview held by many American young people. When speaking at the 2014 Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Bible Conference in Fort Worth, Ross described someone who has bought into MTD as someone who would like to have a little Jesus figurine to carry around in his or her pocket. These people pray to Jesus when they are in a bind or when they need to pass a test, but when it comes to serving Jesus and revering him as king, the God-Man is simply a byword and less than a passing thought.

A little Jesus is no Jesus at all,” Ross told conference attendees. 

Part of the reason teenagers buy into this empty philosophy, Ross says, is that this sort of shallow easy-believism has been modeled before them by parents and even youth workers.

“Why focus on senior pastors?” Ross asks. “Because some of the adults who have the greatest impact on teenagers are spiritually shallow. Church teenagers aren’t shallow because the pizza got cold but because some of their parents and even volunteer leaders are shallow.”

Involvement from the top and attention to solid teaching can help to rectify that, Ross says.

“As this book will make clear,” Ross continues in the preface, “the youth pastor can and should have a role in the spiritual transformation of parents and volunteer leaders. But the senior pastor must take the lead role, and he has to know specifically how that role should look.”

The reformation of youth ministry, Ross says, will require change—some systemic and some more specific with the design of youth ministry itself. Hence, the need for a team effort that includes the senior pastor, youth pastor, parents, youth workers and the entire congregation.

“Some of the most needed reformations involve systemic change that will ripple through the entire congregation,” Ross said. “Even the brightest and most influential youth pastor cannot lead such change alone. That is why I am issuing a call to senior pastors.”

Ross points out that time is of the essence in the effort to demonstrate true faith before teenagers’ watching eyes and to introduce them to passionate devotion to the king.

“At high school graduation, about half of church youth group members leave the church,” Ross said. “Another 40 percent join that mass of shallow adults who enjoy the benefits of the church but who make little impact on the world. Only 10 percent follow Jesus as disciples, in awe of his majesty and courageously joining him in advancing the kingdom. If we keep doing youth ministry the way we have for decades, we will keep getting these same results. That is why I am calling for a complete reformation and not business as usual.”

Right now, pastors have everything to lose and everything to gain based on their choice to either avoid or engage the youth ministries within their churches.

“Only the pastor can take the lead with a full reformation in youth ministry,” Ross writes. “If he doesn’t, he likely will witness waves of successively shallow and impotent believers. If he does, he likely will witness teenagers, families and future generations of his church carrying the aroma of Christ and impacting the world for the glory of God.”

The Senior Pastor and the Reformation of Youth Ministry is available Feb. 1 online at  

Adoption resources focus on gospel, provide guidance for families

Perhaps the most influential book written by a Southern Baptist on the subject of adoption is Adopted for Life by Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). In the book, Moore offers a thorough scriptural discussion for prospective adoptive families and for their extended families, friends and churches.

Families considering adoption will appreciate Moore’s conversation about adoption’s theological foundation but especially his testimony of how adopting his two sons deepened and strengthened his faith. Moore helps prioritize adoption for Christian families by explaining that adoption is both gospel and mission: every Christian is an adopted member of God’s family, and Christians have a calling to grow God’s family through adoption into the faith.

While Moore does address the Christian community at large, his audience specifically includes couples who are coming to terms with infertility and couples who already have children. To these, he says that adopted children and biological children are both “real” children, just as a Christian is “really” a child of god.

The majority of Moore’s book presents an overview of the practicalities of adoption: international or domestic, open or closed, healthy or special needs, and gender, age, and race. He walks families through the entire adoption process and offers advice for how to wait for the phone call, how to welcome a new child home, and how to talk to the new son or daughter about adoption.

Adopted for Life will help families learn more about why and how to adopt. Moore’s book may inspire readers to adopt a child or to consider how to help orphans, but it certainly makes readers mindful of their “mission of representing Christ to the fatherless among us.”

Available from Crossway, an updated edition of Adopted for Life will be released next fall.

Two other Southern Baptist pastors teamed up to write Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care, offering a practical response to God’s command to care for the fatherless told through the stories of families and ministries who are responding.

Tony Merida, founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., and associate professor of preaching at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, joined with Rick Morton, associate pastor for discipleship and equipping at Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett, Tenn., and a visiting professor at Kyiv Theological Seminary in Kyiv, Ukraine, to explain how adoption, foster care and other forms of orphan ministry can be explored by individual Christians and local churches. The book is available from New Hope Publishers.

Messages from a 2010 conference on adoption hosted by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are offered through their website at:  Sixteen speakers are featured along with a panel discussion. A number of the speakers are also featured in a resource from SBTS called A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care.

In addition to a variety of articles on the subject, the ERLC provides suggested scripture for praying through the process, along with questions to consider when exploring adoption. Visit the ERLC webpage at

—With additional reporting by Tammi Ledbetter

WORTH THE CHALLENGE: God cares for children through foster, adoptive families

Adoption and foster care will always be messy, but families have an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and grace in the midst of the challenges, a group of adoptive parents said during an informal discussion with the TEXAN.

Margaret Voros and her husband began as foster parents to 2-year-old Gabriel. She relayed the fear others expressed as they reminded her that the child could be removed from her home at any time. However, these sentiments never deterred her.

“We are adults who have the support and coping mechanisms to handle loss if a child were to leave our home and return to his biological family,” Voros told the TEXAN. “These children don’t have the support or the ability to cope with all the challenges life throws at them. They need a family for however long they are in care.

“The fear of them leaving and the pain and loss we would feel if they left does not make it OK to do nothing,” Voros said. “They need a family more than we need to be comfortable.”

Others in the informal discussion at the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention building agreed that because adoption and foster care are ways God cares for children, families must be willing to consider if he may be calling them to one of these options. Even so, they offered advice from the frontlines.

“Adoption is born from loss, so it will be messy. There’s no way to do it neatly,” said Heather Enright, who has been an adoption social worker for 20 years.

Keith and Alicia Smith, members of Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, adopted two daughters from China and one from Ethiopia. Alicia Smith advises people to examine their motivation for adopting, noting it must be primarily to glorify God.

“When God’s glory is the aim, you are able to love because he first loved you. You can love and serve and guide even when things do not look the way you envisioned. Your goal to worship and please God can be accomplished even when everything else seems messy.” —Alicia Smith

Children “may or may not be excited about entering your family,” Alicia said. “When God’s glory is the aim, you are able to love because he first loved you. You can love and serve and guide even when things do not look the way you envisioned. Your goal to worship and please God can be accomplished even when everything else seems messy.”

Be ready for awkward and even ignorant questions and comments from family, friends and strangers, several in the discussion group said.

“People think when you’re adopting that they’re privy to all of your inside information,” Enright said. “When I carried my babies nobody ever came up to me and asked if I smoked or drank, but they will come up to adoptive families and ask, ‘What do you know about her history?’”

Enright, whose husband Chris Enright is an information technology associate at the SBTC, advised that adoptive parents should be sensitive to sharing a child’s history.

“You’re the gatekeeper to all of that history—good, bad and ugly—and you tell your child as you think they’re ready for it, age-appropriately. You always tell them, ‘I have your story, and when I think you’re ready then we’ll talk about the next step, the next layers of it.’ But that doesn’t mean everybody gets that information,” Enright said.

Every time a parent answers a question about a child’s birth story, the parent is setting an example for the child, Enright said.

“When they’re asked on the playground, you’ve already modeled how to answer.”

Caleb Lasater, who was adopted when he was three months old and serves as a convention strategies intern with the SBTC, said it’s important for parents to tell their children from an early age that they are adopted.

“Go ahead and have that as part of their life so it doesn’t come back later” and shock them, Lasater said. “If they don’t know, people around them are going to know. Then you run the risk of them finding out from someone other than you.”

Lasater also would recommend answering a child’s questions “honestly but constructively because they may not be ready for the full story.” When Lasater had a question about his birth story growing up, he didn’t always get the full details, but he received an honest, age-appropriate answer, he said.

Enright said research shows the adoptees who struggle the most in adulthood are the ones who can remember distinctly when they were told they were adopted, so she encourages parents to disclose that information early.

“If it’s not a big deal but you’ve kept it a secret, you’re sending a mixed message,” Enright said. “… Honor your child’s history by making sure they grow up knowing.”

Though some people prefer not to meet a child’s biological parents, Enright said what feels safe to the adoptive parents may not be the best thing for the child in the long term.

“You have to validate their history and help them feel connected to it, whatever that looks like,” she said.

Many adopted children come from dark situations, but Enright emphasized that the birth mothers she has known in her decades of social work “were brave, strong and courageous to choose life and carry to term. They were making a conscious and intentional plan for their child’s best interest.”

“It is so important to me that birth parents are honored,” Enright said. “Even in instances where a child is removed from their birth parents, I think adopted children need to have their biological history affirmed as positively as possible.”

Andrea Palencia and her husband dealt with infertility for more than four years before God opened a door for them to adopt an infant girl earlier this year. The baby was diagnosed with a congenital heart problem before birth, and the Palencias were willing to raise the child anyway.

“Ask the Lord to guide you through this process. If he is calling you to adopt, do it for the right reasons. It’s human nature to want to become parents, but once we step into the adoption process, the Lord teaches you that it’s really not about you.” —Andrea palencia

“The Lord called us to step in,” Palencia said.

As couples consider adoption, Palencia said, it’s important to work through their pain and place of loss, particularly if infertility is part of their story.

“Ask the Lord to guide you through this process. If he is calling you to adopt, do it for the right reasons,” Palencia advised. “It’s human nature to want to become parents, but once we step into the adoption process, the Lord teaches you that it’s really not about you.”

Michael Linton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Nixon, entered the foster-to-adopt process with his wife Etta after they had two biological children because they wanted to grow their family and because they believed God was calling them to get involved.

Linton, who serves on the board of the Texas Baptist Home for Children, advised foster parents especially to remember what has become a motto for him and his wife: “They’re ours until they aren’t.”

“We’re going to love them as our children, and if there comes a day when we have to give them up because we can’t adopt them for whatever reason, then we’ll deal with that then,” Linton said. “But we’re not going to hold them at arm’s length until we find out they’re ours.”

Amanda Kennedy, a receptionist at the SBTC, adopted her nephew from a difficult home situation when he was 1 year old. She didn’t know at the time that she and her husband would struggle with infertility.

“God knew way before we did what we needed,” Kennedy said.

Though she desires a house full of children, Kennedy shared a quote by author Elisabeth Elliot that for her has been “a hard truth but a comforting truth.” In The Path of Loneliness, Elliot wrote, “God has promised to supply our needs. What we don’t have now, we don’t need now.”

Tori Alexander, whose husband David Alexander serves the SBTC as a church planter lead associate, said they dealt with infertility for nine years and endured four failed adoptions in a single year before God gave them two sons through adoption.

“I was absolutely devastated every time,” Alexander said.

Kennedy said the emotional challenges inherent to adoption necessitate a strong support system for the adoptive parents.

“We probably would have crashed and burned if it weren’t for having a church family and a support system behind us who knew what we were going through,” she said.

Many couples fear the financial cost associated with adoption, participants in the discussion noted. The average cost of a private domestic adoption is $25,000, Palencia said, but Enright explained that the cost is spread out over the length of the adoption process, and financial aid and fundraising opportunities often significantly curtail the cost.

Patience is critical to the process, Palencia reminded.

“We waited a lot,” Palencia said. “Be patient. Once you are ready to go through the adoption process be sure to do your homework and research the agencies. Talk to them, sit down with them and talk to the caseworkers.”

Kennedy also advised taking notes on any conversations with Child Protective Services or an agency with which parents have interaction.

“When fostering to adopt, keep journals and take pictures,” she suggested, “realizing you can’t post them publicly.”

Before adopting a special needs child, Kennedy encouraged parents to do research on that child’s special need in order to be better informed and prepared for the responsibility.

“All I know is that God took something bad and made it good for me. My mom loved the Lord; she told me about Jesus and gave me a desire to live for Him. God took me from Joyce to give me to my mother, literally for a reason—his reason.” —June Richards

June Richards, whose husband Jim Richards is executive director of the SBTC, shared a reminder of why adoption is worthwhile and glorifying to God. She was adopted as an infant and was told the truth from the beginning.

“My mother always stressed to me that Joyce (my biological mother) was not able financially to take care of me,” Richards told the TEXAN. “This helped me to realize that Joyce did not just give me away because she wanted to do so.

“All I know is that God took something bad and made it good for me,” Richards said. “My mom loved the Lord; she told me about Jesus and gave me a desire to live for Him. God took me from Joyce to give me to my mother, literally for a reason—his reason.”

When Richards had her first child, she wrote to Joyce and thanked her for giving her life.

“I also wrote my mom and thanked her for giving me her unconditional love and taking care of me,” Richards said.

5 Questions to Ask Before Adopting

Adoption is a significant step for any family and can surface a number of important issues worthy of thinking through. When we consider the Father’s gracious adoption of us in Christ, however, I think many of the common questions and concerns—like “Can I love a child that I did not birth like ‘my own’?” or “Isn’t adoption just too costly?”—simply melt away. Having said that, I do not believe that adoption is for every believer. There are certainly questions that all prospective adoptive parents should ask before launching into the adoption process.

1.  Am I prepared spiritually for the adoption process?
Parenting is spiritual warfare, and the journey to becoming a parent through adoption is as well. Let’s be honest. Satan does not want children to be adopted into the homes of families who are committed to Jesus and who will raise these children under the influence of the gospel. It is in the devil’s interest for them to be left in places of darkness. Adoptive parents should be wholly committed to the adoption process and enter that process expecting difficulty and attack—before, during and after. Adoption has a way of making us aware of our powerlessness and our desperate need for the Lord. How do you prepare yourself for the journey? You deepen your pursuit of Jesus as his disciple. Pray, dive into the Scriptures, surround yourself with a community of brothers and sisters for growth and accountability, and be a part of building Jesus’ kingdom. Being actively involved in an adoption does not give you a pass to take a time-out on the body of Christ. On the contrary, in this time you need the body perhaps more than ever.

Examine yourself. Is your relationship with Christ growing? Are you sustained by it? Your child will need all of you and all of the Spirit’s presence in you. Adoption is not a way for you to make up for deficiencies in your own spiritual life. There will be tough days and you will need to rely on a vibrant, healthy relationship with Christ, both during the adoption process and in your journey as a parent. In fact, there are some days that Christ will be all you can hold on to. If there are deep struggles or sins in your life that hinder your relationship and obedience to Christ, deal with them first. Then consider adoption.

2. Am I relationally and emotionally prepared for the adoption process?
Adoption is not a way to fix problems in a family. Adopting a child into a family will stress every existing relationship in that family. Similar to the addition of a new baby to a household by birth, the addition of an adopted child forces the renegotiation of every relationship in the family. If the adopted child is older, the complexity of the task only increases. Unless you are starting from a healthy foundation, the road promises to be hard.

3.  Am I financially prepared for an adoption?
For many people, the financial ramifications of adoption can be among the most off-putting aspects of this entire conversation. In truth, even the most expensive international adoptions are really not that expensive when you think about it. Many families will spend more for a family car than it costs to adopt. And that does not factor in tax credits or financial aid, which will offset the expense. The real hidden financial consideration for many families is the ongoing medical costs that may be involved with adopted children. Poor prenatal care or institutional life may result in physical or psychological deficits that will require medical treatment. Do you have adequate medical insurance, dental insurance and income to provide these needed services?

4.  Have I done my homework?
There are many types of adoption (foreign or domestic, infants or older children, healthy or special needs, open or closed, etc.), and families should try to become as educated as possible about all the issues surrounding their case. I would advise choosing an adoption agency that provides parent education/training as part of the adoption process. Along the way, you may hear health terms like fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), reactive attachment disorder (RAD), pervasive development disorder (PDD) and many others thrown around in relation to adopted kids who have gotten off to a tough start. More and more, there are books, seminars and conferences around the country especially designed to help adoptive parents and even those simply considering adoption. As an adoptive parent, you want to understand these types of diagnoses before you adopt. I believe that God would have us adopt the difficult kids from the hard places. After all, he adopted us, and we were irrevocably broken in our sin. Also, we must remember that God’s grace is sufficient for us and for our children … even those who come from the hard places.

5.  Am I socially ready?
Do you have a support network of brothers and sisters in Christ, friends and family who will care for and pray for you and your family through this journey? Do you have people in your life who have adopted with whom you can compare notes and lean on for support? God has given us the gift of each other in the body of Christ, and we need the prayer, love and support of others who will love us before, during and after the adoption process.

Quite frankly, older adopted children sometimes can put their adoptive parents into socially awkward and embarrassing positions. None of us intends to write into our adoption “fairy tale” a child’s recovery from nicotine addiction or a sexually transmitted disease. We pray those are not things we will have to deal with, but part of bringing kids home from the hard places is dealing with the hard things. You can’t do that under the specter of shame and isolation. You need the support and prayer that is found only in genuine community in the body of Christ.

So ultimately the question you will find yourself asking over and over in the adoption process probably will be, “Am I ready?” The answer will likely be, “No.” The great news is that you do not have to be ready or capable, you just have to be available.

How can you and your church support and encourage adoptive families?

Editor’s Note: The TEXAN asked John Mark Yeats, dean of Midwestern College in Kansas City and adoptive father of four, to list ways you and your church can support adoptive families before, during and after the adoption process.

How Christians Can Help

  • Throw a shower/party when the adoption is finalized. Adoptive families never know quite the age nor the needs a child will have when they bring them home. A shower for a newly adopted 5-year-old is different than a newly adopted 5-month-old.
  • Love the kids. Many adopted childen experience struggles, but they are still kids and need love.
  • Become certified as a respite caregiver so that you can give adoptive moms and dads a “date night” during the period before final placement.
  • Don’t ask your questions about adoption in front of or direct them toward the children.
  • Most adoptive families are willing to share their stories, but ask permission before you delve into questions. Say something like, “I have always wanted to know more about adoption. Is there a time we can get together so I can hear more of your story?”
  • Avoid assuming that families adopt only because of infertility. The old “I just know you are going to have a child because so-and-so applied to adopt and got pregnant!” can be hurtful to families. It opens wounds to those who do/did struggle with infertility and makes adoptive children feel second-class when compared to biological children.

How Churches Can Help

  • Preach on adoption.
  • Do “child” dedication, not baby dedication. We were actually prevented from publicly dedicating our children at our church because they weren’t babies.
  • Pastors and staff need to be aware of adoption resources in your area.
  • Bring meals to the homes of those who have a new placement. Families with biological children have nine months or so to prepare. Adoption placements often happen suddenly, and a family may add a child unexpectedly.
  • Respect privacy, if needed. Some children adopted from international and domestic contexts need bonding time with the adoptive parents. It is not uncommon for the new parents to spend exclusive time with that child to help with bonding.
  • Think carefully about how you use the term “adopt.” Adoption is forever. It strikes adoptive families oddly when we “adopt” a family at Christmas or “adopt a teen” for youth camp.
  • CELEBRATE every adoption. Big time. Publicly. Pray for adoptive families publicly. This is a prime time to point to the gospel and what happens to us when we are saved.

Heaven and Race Relations

Feb. 8 is Race Relations Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. If there was ever a time churches needed to observe a denominational calendared emphasis, it is now. Tensions have run high across our nation because of the events in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City. I am heartbroken over the loss of life. I grieve with those who have been robbed of their loved ones.

The immediate past president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Mesquite Friendship Pastor Terry Turner, launched a “Look Like Heaven” Emphasis during his tenure. Many SBTC churches have started to reach out to those of different racial and ethnic groups. In Christ we have the answer for our culture. The lordship of Jesus in our lives will enable us to see others as brothers and sisters.    

Revelation 7 gives us a glimpse of the people who will be in heaven. In my eschatology these are people who will be saved during the tribulation period after Jesus takes away the redeemed. Even if this is not your view of the end times, this passage teaches that there will be people of all races, ethnicities and languages in heaven. Revelation 7 gives us an example of what heaven will look like.

Heaven is multi-racial because we all share the same creator. We all came from God’s hand. Although we are different in some ways, we are only one race. It is the human race. We are all the children of Adam. God shows no partiality by race when it pertains to having a relationship with him.

Because all humans have the same progenitor, we have the same curse. Born with a nature that goes against God, we choose to go away from God. Black, white, red and yellow, all are guilty before a holy God. Every person needs a savior. John 3:16 is the universal good news. By repentance and faith we come into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. On earth, all believers have equal standing before God in Christ. We will be in heaven together for eternity!

Racism was rampant in New Testament times. Jews discriminated against Gentiles. Most of the people who read my column are Gentile. I’m so glad God included Gentiles in his salvation plan.

All people struggle with the same cares. Regardless of skin color, language or some other difference, we share life in a sin-cursed world.
Believers are in a spiritual warfare together. The burning alive of an Indian believer causes me distressing sorrow. Daily I pray for a man I’ve never met, Saeed Abedini, because Jesus is our common bond. I rejoice in knowing that the SBTC provides scholarships for African-American and Hispanic, Spanish-speaking students at two seminaries. When SBTC Disaster Relief goes into action, no one checks the ethnicity of the people we are helping. All of us have needs, and we need one another.

Heaven will be a wonderful place. We will sing. We will fellowship. Jesus ate food in his glorified body; maybe we will eat without counting calories. Indications are that we will retain our ethnic identity. With all the positives, there is one activity that will end for us. We will have no opportunities to change lives with the gospel.

Jesus gave us the ultimate lesson in race relations with his story about the “Good Samaritan.” Following his principles we can see lives changed while we are on our earthly journey. As we die to self we lose our rights in submitting to the lordship of Christ. We are to live the gospel by caring for our neighbor’s spiritual, emotional and physical needs. This kind of love will extend to all people because everyone is our neighbor.

Be fruitful and multiply, by all means

The definition of “family” has become one of the most important issues in our culture. It’s more important than energy policy or presidential politics. Of course, foundational to that is the definition of “marriage.” But perhaps more important than the makeup of a marriage or family is the “why” of it. What are the value and purpose of family units? Do we marry only for our own comfort and prosperity, or is there a larger purpose behind the institution? Marriage can and should provide comfort, moral encouragement and spiritual strength—all mutually given by the spouses to one another. Once you’ve married and set your course together, what do you do with the powerful thing that God has built between you?

God’s intent for marriage is that it adds something to not just the husband and wife but also to those outside who are presently mindless of God’s will. In a God-honoring marriage you have something that not everybody has or even knows that they want. The most essential way we share those blessings is by producing children who will become godly adults. That does not argue against marriage for those too old or otherwise unable to conceive. All of us, including empty nesters, still have opportunities to share our homes with others. I’m saying that no home, just like no church, should be a receptacle that receives and never gives. The word for that is “stagnant.” And yet many homes are just that. Yes, I’ve seen childless couples who were generous with nieces and nephews, church members, neighbors, co-workers and anyone else who needed what God had given or taught them. Many empty nesters also find ways to bring others into the warmth of their own home. But too often, families are tempted to keep to themselves if they find out they’re infertile, or perhaps after they’ve done their bit with their own kids. Would you like to guess which kind of couple is happier?

Producing children is a key aspect of God’s intent for marriage, an extension of the best reasons to marry in the first place. Compare it with evangelism at your church. It adds to the size, strength and giftedness of the church, and it also enriches the lives of many outside your church as redeemed, loving, law-abiding people populate shops, factories and government offices. The children you produce from your body and teach the ways of the Lord are a product of the gospel that provides the foundation for your marriage. They increase your family’s size, strength and giftedness, and they will very often enrich their own families and communities as they follow your godly example. I’ve said in this space before that giving your best effort to producing godly kids is counter cultural and more powerful than anything else we can do to change our communities. As joyful and emotionally satisfying as producing and raising kids mostly is, it is also a calculated broadside into a culture that honors neither God nor life. It is an obligation that most can and should fulfill in the old fashioned way.

And adoption is like unto it. Except for increasing the human population, the things true of procreation are true of adoption. Adoption has an intriguing added benefit of observably diminishing the number of captives in the enemy camp. Adoption is the alleviation of real and potential human suffering, but it very often has a more strategic spiritual result as these victims become transformed bearers of salt and light. What a happy thought!

Romans 8 uses adoption to describe our redemption (vs. 15) and our ultimate salvation (v. 23). It’s hard to imagine a more pointed picture of God’s grace than our love for an orphaned child. It speaks loudly not only of God’s love for the “least of these” but also of his love for those we don’t traditionally see as helpless but who need God’s adoption nonetheless. There is also an undeniable aspect of gratitude lived out when we who have been adopted as brothers and sisters, co-heirs with Christ, pay forward the blessing of adoption.

A family that adopts interacts with perhaps scores of people who witness a sermon as dramatic and arresting as that of Hosea buying his wife out of slavery. Even skeptics must sometimes wonder why atheists are not much into starting or funding or serving children’s homes. Lost people may not ask that question, but they notice the sacrificial love being modeled by a Christian family. The sermon has half preached itself by the time they ask.

I think God’s call for nearly all of us is to marry and experience the joy of a committed relationship with someone who complements us in significant ways. For nearly all believers who marry, the call of God is to add children to our homes either by procreation or adoption—both beautiful expressions of God’s blessings and our faith in him. Pragmatism implies that your marriage and family exists primarily for your purposes and will progress according to your own plan. If you don’t think that way (and you shouldn’t) about your own life or your own church, why do so many think that way about their marriages and their families? And for those whom God calls and enables, the striking and powerful message of adoption is ours to preach.

Do it now!

The Southern Baptist radar, mine included, has been picking up calls to prayer for spiritual awakening with greater frequency in recent days. These calls provide great encouragement since every biblical revival and awakening throughout history has been connected to prayer.

However, while the importance of prayer cannot be overemphasized, our approach can become unbalanced. With Pharaoh on one side and the Red Sea on the other, Moses went to the Lord in prayer and received this response, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on” (Exodus 14:15). Similarly, when Joshua was leading Israel to deal with Achan’s sin, he received this response to his supplication, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?” (Joshua 7:10). When preparing the batter for the awakening cake, added to prayer must be the ingredient of taking obedient steps forward into God-directed areas of ministry that require God’s presence and power for success.

In most cases, these “steps” require simple obedience to the revealed Word of God. After all, God does say, “Return to me, and I will return to you,” placing the emphasis on his people’s obedience (Mal. 3:7). Similarly, when the Lord reveals his vision for a church or a people, he expects them to get off their knees and get to work.

However, in many cases, our faithlessness has limited God’s vision in our lives. Consider a quote from Carl Bates:

There was a time in my life when I earnestly prayed, “God, I want your power!” Time wore on, and the power did not come. One day the burden was more than I could bear. “God, why haven’t you answered that prayer?” God seemed to answer back with his simple reply, “With plans no bigger than yours, you don’t need my power.”

We will be praying together across our state for spiritual awakening this year. We should pray together for a special movement of God. Let’s add to our prayers some dreams that are bold and courageous. Those dreams should certainly include innovative plans to reach the people in our communities as well as the people of the nations for Christ. Let’s throw in some obedience as we actively take steps to bring those dreams to reality. Let’s take some risks for the glory of God.

Someone once said that a church will become either a caretaker, an undertaker or a risk taker. Let’s choose the latter. And let’s do it now!

Fighting City Hall: Plano petition drive succeeds while Houston awaits its day in court

PLANO—Plano Citizens United, a coalition of churches and civic leaders, this week cleared the first hurdle in rescinding a city ordinance that legal experts said would stymie free speech and religious liberty, while opponents of a similar ordinance in Houston prepare to take their fight to court.

With no preexisting ministerial alliance in place, Plano churches were caught flat-footed when the city council, led by Mayor Harry LaRosilier, passed an ordinance Dec. 8 creating a protected class of citizen based on sexual orientation and gender identity. With help from the Houston pastors’ coalition, opposition to the ordinance was hastily organized and a successful petition drive mounted.

In order to force the repeal process, the coalition needed signatures of 3,822 registered Plano voters. The volunteer group verified over 4,000 signatures before submitting almost 7,000 to the city secretary Jan. 20.

“The mayor has been adamant,” said Mike Buster, executive pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano. “He will not discuss this with anyone. The citizens of Plano said we will discuss it. We will vote on it.”

The ordinance, like Houston’s and scores of others passed in cities across the nation, is championed by the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization calling for civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The ordinances are beginning to meet opposition as they are brought to light.

Plano is home to the Liberty Institute, a religious liberty advocacy organization. Their attorneys joined the Citizens United legal battle and stated in a press release, “Government officials have demanded that family businesses and employees be punished for simply trying to exercise their faith beyond the four walls of their church or in their homes.”

Opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, passed last May, are taking their battle to court next week. Barring any delay by Houston’s legal team of city and pro bono attorneys, jury selection should begin Monday, Jan. 26.

The No Unequal Rights Coalition, led by a racially diverse group of Houston pastors, gathered 50,000 signatures on a petition to force the ordinance’s repeal. Following verification by City Secretary Anna Russell, City Attorney David Feldman disqualified thousands of pages of signatures, effectively defeating the recall effort.

The coalition filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston, Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker demanding they recognize the signatures and present the petition to City Council as required by law. A jury will determine if Feldman and Parker acted outside their authority in squelching the referendum.

No such interference has come from Plano city administrators, said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council, which led opposition to Houston’s ERO and helped coordinate the Plano referendum effort. However, he said, hostility from the LGBT advocates was swift.

“It just got ugly real fast. It was very enlightening,” Welch said.

Welch said coalition headquarters received antagonistic phone calls and business owners opposed to the ordinance were threatened with demonstrations outside their businesses.

But how can Christians fight against city hall without appearing to fight against those who would benefit from the ordinances?

“We have to state, always up front, we love all people. And this is an issue of religious liberty,” Buster said.

Mark Reid, a Plano Citizens United volunteer and small business owner, told The TEXAN arguing against “anti-gay” and “bigot” labels is futile.

“The issue is not about hating anyone. I don’t fight it on that basis,” said Reid.

Instead he demands protection of his First Amendment rights. As an employer whose crews work in schools and churches, he can admonish employees for inappropriate behavior. But with the Plano ordinance in full force, Reid said his speech—grounded in his Christian convictions—could be deemed in violation of city code.

“That’s not equal rights. That’s special rights, and that’s wrong,” Reid said.

If the Plano signatures are certified, the city council must repeal the equal rights ordinance or put it on the ballot in the next general election in May.