Month: June 2016

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin

“Blasphemy” is irreverence for God and for the things he has declared holy. The scene from Daniel 5 is a perfect picture of blasphemy. Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar and king of great Babylon, is having a party. In an effort to exalt himself over all things, he has the implements taken from the Hebrew temple brought so he and his guests could drink libations to pagan gods from these vessels. A sobering moment came when the king saw “the handwriting on the wall.”

You know the story. Daniel, the aging prophet, was brought to read and interpret the mysterious words, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin.” Before doing so he rebuked the king for his pride and dishonor before God. The message was that Babylon would fall to an army that, unbeknownst to the revelers, was already invading the city. Ancient historians record that the Persian army sneaked into the city while a great feast was underway. That night, Belshazzar died and Babylon fell. His specific blasphemy of that night only followed a life of obstinate pride and impiety on the part of the empire and its king. But when Babylon fell, the empire’s leaders were caught doing the things that typified their condemnable course.

No lesson in Scripture has seemed more pertinent to me over the past few weeks than does this final event in the history of Babylon. Just a year ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergfell v. Hodges—essentially overturning the voters’ verdicts in several states that marriage has a fixed and coherent meaning. This year’s big finale also overturned the ability of voters to speak on a crucial and foundational issue, this time the value of mothers and babies. Many have spoken eloquently on this particular case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt; none speak for my heart so well as Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent, (

The celebratory response to both decisions was startling and overt in its blasphemy. The most familiar example is a tweet from The Daily Show that praised this victory for industrialized and unregulated abortion by crudely encouraging men to impregnate women in Texas. Some of the other responses of private individuals were worse and more crude. One columnist spoke of being happy that the late Justice Antonin Scalia is dead, especially after the Whole Woman’s Health ruling. Clearly, we have gone beyond the “Safe, Legal and Rare” myth. The celebratory responses to Obergfell were just as mean and irreverent, if less bloodthirsty.

I guess I’m saying that if America falls tonight, this is what our nation will be caught doing, showing future generations the reason for our fall. Those who fear God use the word “sanctity” to describe marriage and life indicating our belief—certainty, really—that these things are God’s particular prerogatives. We disrespect his person when we scorn them.

I offer two thoughts about the whole matter of blasphemy and cultural wreckage. First, Daniel was not undone or aflutter about all this. He’d seen kings and their outrageous behaviors come and go; still, the unchanging Sovereign abides. You can see his confidence when the old man rebukes the king of Babylon as if he is a disobedient child. He refuses to sell his credibility for trinkets, he scorns the threats of kings, and he stands as empires rise and fall. That’s God at work, not Daniel. He’s still at work and will be as nations, even ours, wax and wane.

The second thing is an “in the meantime” encouragement. We’re still here, and we still have rights as full citizens of a free country. It’s not time to build a monastery or stockpile ammunition against that day. We should have the truth of God in our mouths and a voter registration card in our pockets. We should show up for Election Day for however many years or generations we are allowed to do so. In this way, when Belshazzar asks us to speak for our God, we should do so. We are frequently reminded after a Supreme Court legislative action that elections have consequences. Presidents elected without substantial turnout from our churches appoint the justices. Senators elected without substantial turnout from our churches approve those justices. And so it goes all the way down to the lesbian sheriff of my county to the Fort Worth ISD school board in neighboring Tarrant County. We act surprised when something terrible happens.

Like Daniel, let us take seriously the things of God—we must be known for that, to a greater degree than now. We’re not undone when others do otherwise, bringing catastrophe on the nation; but neither should we be tempted to join the party, handling irreverently the things of God.  

Criswell College announces $1M gift, establishes scholarship endowment

Barbara MarshallDALLAS—Criswell College president Barry Creamer announced today a gift of $1 million from the estate of Barbara F. Marshall, a long-time supporter of the college.

In conjunction with the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation, the funds will establish the C. Frank and Barbara F. Marshall Scholarship Fund as an endowment to benefit and assist students seeking education at Criswell College.

“The assets and resources which put Criswell College in such a strong position today have come primarily from the generosity of families and individuals just like Barbara Marshall,” Creamer said.

Marshall and her husband, who died in 2000, were long-time members of First Baptist Church of Dallas and active members in the Sunday School class taught by Criswell theology professor R. Alan Streett Sr.

“Such estate giving not only bears immediate fruit, as it has here impacting the college, the denomination, and countless churches, but also continues to bear that fruit indefinitely—something especially important to Criswell as we expand to produce Christian leaders who can transform the culture,” Creamer added.

The living trust established by Marshall places provisions on the gift that assign general guidelines in regard to its use. Funds must be disbursed out of the endowment’s interest and may only be awarded to current, full-time students who possess an exceptional commitment to preaching and demonstrate a need for financial assistance.

Criswell CBO Kevin Stilley emphasized the need for stewardship and discernment as the college continues to grow and expand its offerings.

“It is important that we not only meet these restrictions but structure the endowment in such a way that it is most beneficial both to our students and the college as a whole,” he said.

According to Stilley, wise management can create opportunities to multiply or add to the principal through new and existing partnerships.

“When we are blessed with a gift like this, it is a joy to imagine what it will accomplish, multiplied across many generations,” he said. “However, we must take a holy pause to reflect on the gift as a testimony of faithfulness and discipleship that encourages us to worship God as we honor the giver.”

The Marshall gift is a major step forward as Criswell moves to eliminate federal funding as a means of paying for college, removing some of the burdens caused by threats to religious liberty. The school’s Title IX exemption request, which would free Criswell from governmental regulations on matters such as transgender bathroom access, is currently under review.

“We need You, Lord”: Baptists plead for national revival

ST. LOUIS  At times they raised their hands. At times they gathered together in groups of two to three. And at times thousands of messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention knelt at their chairs on Tuesday night (June 14) as they pleaded with God to bring national revival and spiritual awakening to America.

In one of his final acts as SBC president, Ronnie Floyd led the convention in an evening of prayer during its annual meeting in St. Louis. Throughout the evening, various pastors from across the country led in times of prayer for spiritual leaders, revived churches, racial reconciliation, and nationwide and global spiritual awakening.

At the end of the service, Floyd encouraged every Southern Baptist church to dedicate at least 11 minutes—but preferably the entire service—to pray for America on Sunday, Sept. 11, the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. He asked that churches pray for the upcoming election and ask God to bring revival to the country. 

Seminary team”s Crossover efforts yield 105 professions of faith

ST. LOUIS, Mo. Brandon Kiesling, instructor of evangelism at Southwestern Seminary, says Crossover, the Southern Baptist Convention’s yearly evangelism push prior to its annual meeting, is significant for three reasons. 

First, the lost are confronted with the gospel. 

Second, local churches are reinvigorated during the weeklong evangelism push. “Many of the churches we work with do not have the drive and/or personnel to visit thousands of homes in one week,” Kiesling says. “So, the Southern Baptist seminaries send an army of trained evangelists to come alongside the churches to give them the boost they need to reach their communities for Christ.”

Finally, Crossover provides seminary students the opportunity to sharpen their skills in evangelism. “Over the week,” Kiesling explains, “each student will get multiple opportunities to share his/her faith with the lost, and many of them will get opportunities to lead people to Christ. This experience is invaluable to students as they are preparing for gospel ministry.”

All three of these elements were reaffirmed during this year’s Crossover event in St. Louis, June 4-11. Seventy-five students and staff from Southwestern Seminary participated, working alongside Tower Grove Baptist Church to ultimately visit more than 5,000 homes in five days. By the grace of God and to the glory of his name, these collective efforts ultimately yielded 105 professions of faith. 

“I think SWBTS led the way among all of our seminaries in bringing the number of students they did but also in trying to re-establish that intentional evangelism is what Crossover is all about,” evangelism professor Matt Queen said.

Chris Coury, pastor of Tower Grove Baptist Church mapped out nearly 10,000 homes within the neighborhood surrounding their church. Teams of Southwestern students went door-to-door throughout the community of Shaw and knocked on doors with the express intent of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with members of the community. They passed out fliers to invite people to a block party at the end of the week, offered to replace smoke detectors in homes and prayed for the Spirit of God to lead them to people who were in need of hope. 

“Of course when we can help people paint fences and install smoke detectors we want to do that, but our main concern is to tell people about the gospel of Jesus Christ; that’s what our students did, and we saw 105 people receive the Lord because of it,” Queen said. 

Giving Hope to the Hopeless

SWBTS students began the week of Crossover on Monday, June 6. It was on this same day that master’s student Kim Whitten received a phone call that her brother and sister-in-law who were expecting their first child had lost their baby. Struggling as one who has hope, Whitten felt the Lord clearly telling her that he had called her to Crossover, even as she mourned the loss in her family. So, when a fellow Crossover team member fell ill the next morning, Whitten jumped in to help take her to the hospital for medical attention. 

“I didn’t want to be in a hospital that day,” recalled Whitten, “because I couldn’t be at the hospital with my brother and sister-in-law, and it was a place I just didn’t want to be. But I knew this is where God had me, so I thought, ‘The Lord says give joy in all circumstances, so I’m going to have joy even while this girl is throwing up on my shoes.’” 

After spending a full day at the hospital, Whitten initiated conversations with other people in the waiting room, always to be cut off due to external circumstances. As they were preparing to leave the hospital, a woman with a deep scowl on her face caught Whitten’s eye. She walked over, offered her a tissue, and asked one simple question, “Are you alright?”

Sindra, the woman Whitten approached, shared that she had lost her job, been kicked out of her home, and unable to feed herself for the past two days. “This is the worst day of my life,” she told Whitten. 

Following the Lord’s prompting, Whitten shared the gospel with Sindra immediately.

After walking through the Romans Road, Whitten told Sindra she could have a relationship with Jesus Christ if she would just talk to him. Sindra began her prayer in earnest by telling God she didn’t know how to begin. 

“But then she just said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” Whitten said. “And the more she said ‘I’m sorry,’ the more broken she became. She was more broken over her sin than anyone I’ve ever seen.” 

Sindra ended her prayer by simply stating, “God if you’ll give me hope, I’ll give you my life.” 

Whitten saw a smile spread across Sindra’s face after she finished her prayer and a complete transformation in her countenance. Celebrating with her new sister in Christ, Whitten reminded her, “Today you walked in here with no hope and walked out with the God of the universe to give you not only life, but abundant life.”

Sindra’s story is just one of the many that Southwestern students experienced during the week of Crossover. Southwestern president Paige Patterson said, “The fact of the matter is that these kids change not only other lives but their own lives because they learn firsthand that you really can witness to people and see results, and they’ll spend the rest of their lives, many of them, witnessing. I’m extremely proud of them and grateful for them.” 

Save the Date

By the grace of God and with the doctor’s permission I made the trip to St. Louis for the Southern Baptist Convention. Although my strength is not 100 percent yet, I am grateful for the opportunity to have been with my fellow Baptists from across the nation. This year was the most unusual convention I have ever attended. You will find coverage in the TEXAN about the interesting events in St. Louis. Now, let me turn your attention to the SBTC. This fall I am praying for a supernatural gathering of believers in Texas. You will want to save the date.

I encourage you to be present at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention this Nov. 14-15 at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin. SBTC President Nathan Lino is working with the Committee on Order of Business to produce a Christ-honoring experience for all of us. Pastor Lino will bring the president’s address on Monday night. Various Texas leaders will speak throughout the two days. The music worship will encourage you. Testimonies of God’s work will thrill you. Most of the business will transpire in the Tuesday afternoon session. Our ministry together in Texas is worth your time. Save the date.

I’m excited to share with you that Tuesday night has been set aside as a monumental time of gathering for God’s people. On November 15th SBTC is inviting the Austin Prayer Network to join us in the evening session. This is an inter-denominational group that meets regularly in Austin to pray for spiritual awakening and renewal. Hyde Park Baptist Church Pastor Kie Bowman is coordinating the prayer meeting with the SBTC staff. A music worship team will help us to prepare our hearts for God’s Word. The convention message will be delivered by Houston’s First Baptist Church Pastor Gregg Matte. Gregg has God’s anointing on his ministry. You will want to hear the message he has for us. This night could change everything for your church. Save the date so you can experience this night with other believers.                   

“The Holy Spirit, Zechariah 4:6” is the theme for the 2016 Annual Meeting. I am thrilled we are focusing on the third person of the Trinity. We all need a fresh breath from heaven. We have the power available to us to be witnesses. We have to turn on the power switch. This year could be a difference maker for every person present. Texas churches need an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. Churches would be revived. If a supernatural work of God’s Spirit were to happen, the gospel would be unleashed in a new way across our state. We do not need another Pentecost or a second blessing. We simply need to seek the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. Be in Austin this fall. Save the date. 

If you have never attended a SBTC Annual Meeting I’m asking that you plan on being present for this one. If you have never brought fellow church members with you, this is the year to enlist them. Join with us Nov. 14-15 as we worship, hear the Word and pray together. It’s important that you save the date. 

Texas pastors lead, preach at SBC Pastors’ Conference

ST. LOUIS Aimed at giving pastors a charge like the one the apostle Paul gave his son in the ministry, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:5-6, the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference challenged pastors to endure hardship and engage in evangelism.

Texas pastors serving in leadership this year were pastors’ conference president John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, and conference treasurer Glynn Stone, pastor of Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview. Additionally, two Texas pastors preached sermons during the two-day conference at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis June 12-13.

Byron McWilliams

West Texas pastor Byron McWilliams concluded the Monday morning session with a charge to pastors to develop an intentional evangelism strategy for their churches. He shared from his own experience how the Lord has moved mightily at his church, First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas, through their intentional evangelism efforts.

McWilliams noted the pastor’s responsibility to lead out in evangelism, saying, “When the pastor lives the Gospel, God is most glorified, … God’s church is most fortified, … God’s servant is most satisfied.”

Recognizing the rich evangelistic heritage of the SBC, McWilliams reflected on the current state of Southern Baptist churches and said, “We stink at evangelism … and it is our (pastors’) fault. It is not the fault of the Southern Baptist Convention’s top leadership; it is not the fault of the people who sit in the pews; … I am a pastor, and I point the finger at me if I pastor a church that does not preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

McWilliams told pastors that if they renew their commitment to evangelism, it will be a life filled with broken-heartedness over the lost in their community and the world. At the same time, though, it will invigorate their ministry.

“You will not find true satisfaction in ministry until the Gospel becomes central in what you do,” McWilliams said. “You will see no evidence of the power of God at work until the Gospel becomes central to what you do.

“God has promised His power to further His kingdom through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You want power in your ministry? You make the Gospel first and foremost, and what you’ll see is the power of God will be unleashed in an incredible way.” 

Jack Graham

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, urged Pastors’ Conference attendees to fulfill their ministry calling, to be faithful, to be fruitful in their efforts, and to finish well. The way to accomplish these tasks is to “do the work of an evangelist,” Graham said.

Basing his message from 2 Timothy 4:5-8, Graham offered 10 principle ways to create an evangelistic environment and culture within the local church: evangelism begins with the pastor; an invitational culture should be encouraged and developed within a church; authenticity is critical; the power of the gospel must be trusted; do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ; train believers to share their faith; give a public invitation; baptize believers as often as you can; engage in event evangelism; and participate in mission trips and church planting.

“Pastors and people in ministry are called to … keep showing up and being faithful,” Graham said, emphasizing his point about pastors setting the tone for the evangelistic climate of their churches. “It all starts with us—with our attitude, our holy ambitions, and the enthusiasm, eagerness and passion to preach the Word and to do the work of an evangelist.”

Graham noted evangelism should permeate the atmosphere of a church. The ideology of it is more caught than taught, he said, so a high expectation should be set for church members to be invitational.

Additionally, Graham called for petty differences to be put aside when working to share the gospel within a community.

“The time is now to come together—to do away with the distractions and divisions, to set aside petty differences—and get on our knees, get together, and get people to Jesus,” he said.

When it comes to evangelism being carried out in the local church, Graham exhorted the group: “You gotta finish. Live this! (Evangelism) is our life; it is our legacy. I’m not interested in leaving a legacy; I’m interested in living a legacy and doing what God has called me to do.” 

—with reporting by Pat Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

An Open Letter for Preserving the First Freedom of Universal Religious Liberty

Editor’s Note: The following letter was written by Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Seminary; Thomas White, president of Cedarville University; and Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Seminary.

We are compelled by conscience to respond publicly to a June 6 public editorial penned by a revered Southern Baptist newspaper editor (Gerald Harris, The Christian Index, link to editorial: Before reading our fourfold response, please allow us a preliminary word to our brother in Christ and to the general reader:

First, to our brother in Christ, please know that we write as those who share your concerns about the imperiled present and future state of our culture and society. As Southern Baptist churchmen like you and as leaders in higher education, we have a long-standing appreciation for your work and witness at The Christian Index.

Second, to the general reader, please know that we agree with the editor’s effort to inform readers of teachings within Islam that are not fully known in the public square. We appreciate the editor’s attempt to raise questions requiring further exploration. Moreover, we recognize, support, and will heartily defend the right of the editor to express these views.

However, while we appreciate the intended tone of the editorial, we do disagree with the tenor for the four following reasons:

First, we believe, as Americans, that our Constitution guarantees the “first freedom” among all human freedoms, the freedom of religion with all of its benefits. For Christian Americans to question whether Muslim Americans qualify for religious freedom is essentially a question about whether all Americans are under the protection of the first and fourteenth amendments. We believe that all Americans, including Muslims, are granted, as an inalienable human right, the freedom of conscience to worship God as they believe best.

Second, we believe, as Baptists, that questioning whether Muslims deserve religious liberty is foreign to the historic Baptist understanding of biblical faith and practice. From the Reformation to the present, Baptists have been leading advocates for the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion for all citizens. In a supplement to this letter (link:, we include quotes from the first continental Anabaptists and from the first English Baptists in order to demonstrate that religious liberty is foundational to our faith.

We note that Thomas Helwys (the English Baptist pastor to whom most scholars trace Baptist origins) specifically included “Turks” (i.e. Muslims) as possessing religious liberty from God. There are also quotes from leading American Baptists such as Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and John Leland, each of whom was instrumental in shaping American Baptist life as well as American political thought.

Third, we believe, as Southern Baptists, that universal religious liberty is a non-negotiable aspect of our denomination’s theology. In that light, we have included a portion of the Baptist Faith and Message in the second appendix (see link: We have also included one of our most recent denominational resolutions supporting religious liberty. The Southern Baptist Convention has adopted dozens of religious liberty resolutions since our inception in 1845, and this resolution, from 2011, specifically supports the freedom of Muslims to build mosques.

Fourth, we believe, as Evangelical Christians, that it is inappropriate to question whether Muslims should retain the right freely to practice their religion. We understand that granting such rights to some forms of Islam might one day lead to the threatening of Christians in our worship. However, we trust God will honor our faithfulness to proclaim and practice his Word for his glory and to the best of our ability. Moreover, we believe any attempt to inhibit religious liberty will only prove to be a hindrance to reaching these precious men and women, created in God’s image, with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. As those who believe in the exclusivity of Christ for salvation and who know that one cannot be coerced to believe and be saved, we want religious freedom for all human beings, while there is still time before the day of final judgment.

We ask our brother and we ask all Baptists, as well as other people interested in human freedom, to join us in preserving the first freedom, freedom of religion, and in rejecting any restriction of its universal application. 

SBC repudiates display of Confederate flag

ST. LOUIS  Messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention renounced display of the Confederate battle flag in a historic, overwhelming vote June 14.

The convention adopted late in its afternoon session a resolution that urged “brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters.”

The resolution was one of seven adopted by messengers, but time for the report concluded before five other measures from the Resolutions Committee were able to be considered. The convention acted on the remaining resolutions during Wednesday morning’s session.

The Confederate battle flag resolution was another step in the convention’s effort to address its past actions regarding slavery and racism. The SBC, which began in 1845 in part in support of slaveholding missionaries, approved a resolution in 1995 repenting of racism and asking for forgiveness from African-American Christians.

It also has acted in a variety of ways in an attempt to bring about racial reconciliation and involve African-Americans and other minorities in leadership roles in the convention.

The Resolutions Committee brought a proposal to the messengers calling for “sensitivity and unity” regarding display of the Confederate battle flag. The resolution called for Christians who display the flag “to consider prayerfully whether to limit, or even more so, discontinue its display” because of the “undeniably painful impact of the flag’s symbolism on others.”

After two messengers spoke against the resolution, former SBC President James Merritt offered an amendment that went beyond the committee’s proposed language. His two-fold amendment deleted a paragraph that said the flag “serves for some not as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, but as a memorial to their loved ones who died in the Civil War, and an emblem to honor their loved ones’ valor.” It also removed language about prayerful consideration and called for a halt to displaying the flag.

Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., said he offered the amendment not just as a pastor but as the great,-great-grandson of two men who fought in the Confederate Army.

“[N]o one can deny” the Confederate battle flag is “a stumbling block” for many African-Americans to the witness of Southern Baptists, Merritt told messengers.

In a comment that produced a partial standing ovation, he said, “[A]ll the Confederate flags in the world are not worth one soul of any race.”

Calling it “a seminal moment in our convention,” Merritt said, “This is not a matter of political correctness. It is a matter of spiritual conviction and biblical compassion. We have a golden opportunity to say to every person of every race, ethnicity and nationality that Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.

“Today, we can say loudly and clearly to a world filled with racial strife and division that Southern Baptists are not in the business of building barriers and burning bridges,” he said. “We’re about building bridges and tearing down barriers.”

Messengers approved both the amendment and the amended resolution by wide margins.

SBC leaders gratefully and warmly welcomed the convention’s latest action in support of racial reconciliation.

Kevin Smith, the new executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and an African-American, told Baptist Press he was “very thankful and very moved by the clarity [Merritt] brought to the issue today.”

He was “pleasantly surprised” by the convention’s adoption of Merritt’s stronger language and believes it will help the SBC in the future, said Smith, who has been assistant professor of church history and Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Smith expressed gratitude to the Resolutions Committee and Dwight McKissic, who submitted the original version of the resolution. McKissic, an African-American, is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

Calling it “an extraordinary moment,” ethics leader Russell Moore told BP, “We watched a denomination founded by slaveholders vote to repudiate the display of the Confederate battle flag in solidarity with our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ.

“I can’t recall ever seeing anything like it,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “And my hope and prayer is that we will work together in our churches toward modeling for the rest of the world what it means to be brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God.”  

Read about additional resolutions at the SBC annual meeting here.