Month: January 2017

Moore clarifies comments on Trump supporters

NASHVILLE—Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore has clarified that he never intended to criticize all evangelical supporters of President-elect Donald Trump, noting many were motivated by “biblical convictions” and “voted their conscience.”

In a Dec. 19 blog post, Moore acknowledged “pointed conversations in my denominational family about the election” over the past month, “some of them … directed at me.”

“I remember one situation where I witnessed a handful of Christian political operatives excusing immorality and confusing the definition of the gospel,” Moore wrote. “I was pointed in my criticisms and felt like I ought to have been. But there were also pastors and friends who told me when they read my comments they thought I was criticizing anyone who voted for Donald Trump.

“I told them then, and I would tell anyone now: if that’s what you heard me say, that was not at all my intention, and I apologize. There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience,” Moore wrote.

Moore’s blog post was published the same day as a Wall Street Journal article about the ERLC president with the headline “Baptist figure faces backlash over his criticism of Donald Trump.”

Moore has voiced criticism of Trump’s candidacy since at least September 2015.

The Journal, to whom Moore provided an advance copy of his blog post, included critiques of Moore by former Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham and Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Director David Hankins, among others.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and evangelical voter Ruth Malhotra, a millennial Republican who opposed Trump, expressed support for Moore to The Journal.

ERLC trustee chairman Ken Barbic told Baptist Press Moore “is a gospel-centered and faithful voice for Southern Baptists.”

“I am particularly grateful for his courageous and convictional leadership, under which I’ve observed within our convention and beyond, significant newfound energy and excitement about the work of the ERLC the last several years.”

In the Journal article, Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, cited Moore’s criticism of Trump during the presidential campaign for alleged “disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present.”

“It’s disheartening that this election has created this kind of divisiveness,” Graham said, adding Prestonwood is “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention,” presumably a reference to designating financial gifts to specific SBC causes rather than giving through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified channel of supporting missions and ministries in America and worldwide, including the ERLC.

Hankins told The Journal he knows of churches that “have said they are going to” divert their giving away from the ERLC. Messengers to this year’s Louisiana Baptist Convention annual meeting referred to the convention’s executive board a motion regarding concerns with the ERLC.

In support of Moore, Mohler told The Journal in an email, “I know his heart and his character and his love for the Southern Baptist Convention. I also have confidence in his ability to serve all Southern Baptists as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.”

The Journal quoted Malhotra, a 32-year-old Baptist, as illustrative of the “younger evangelicals” who allegedly support Moore and “who are becoming more diverse and [appear] to be turned off by the culture wars of their parents’ generation.”

In his Dec. 19 blog post, Moore clarified that “many Christians, including some of my very best friends and closest ministry partners approached the ballot box conflicted but felt compelled to cast a ballot for the ‘lesser of two evils,’ hoping for the best with a less than ideal president.”

Moore added, “We all owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ to understand their convictions and be slow to judgment when biblical motivations are the primary motivators. In the heat of an extraordinarily divisive campaign, that is something all of us, myself included, are wise to remember.”

10 Questions to Ask Your Social Media Self





I almost choked on my cookie. During a lunch conversation, a friend told me about a recent job interview where his future employer explained that they had already researched him and his family.

How did they do this? They examined the past five years of his Facebook account … every post, every comment, every share, every photo. They knew about his kids, his love for football, and even some of his pet peeves.

My first thought: “Note to self—check your Facebook security settings ASAP.” But my second thought was that this should not be a scary scenario.

In fact, this episode is not uncommon. I’ve heard a number of stories of millennials who have been rejected by potential employers or fired by their company due to personal rants, inappropriate photos or questionable comments on their social media past and present. Full disclosure, I’ve “Facebook stalked” a few applicants myself to get a glimpse of who they are outside of their resume.

I am personally grateful that social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager or young adult. None of us would want our youthful indiscretions and naïve, know-it-all comments captured for the whole world to see for years to come.

But social media, for better or worse, captures all kinds of details about who we are … or who we want people to think we are.

On several occasions in recent years, I’ve learned my lesson about social media. I’ve had to go back and delete an embarrassing post or apologize for an immature comment. On my better days, I’ve caught myself just before posting that self-promoting tweet or sarcastic comment and slowly hit the backspace key until nothing was left but the cursor. In fact, I’ve found myself posting far less on Facebook and Twitter over the last year or so for this very reason. Like Thumper’s father told him, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Maybe even more subtle are the motivations behind our posts. Sometimes we’re trying to prop ourselves up as something we’re not. Other times, we’re venting anger about some inconsequential topic. Or maybe we just want people to know how clever we are. Our motivations are often more transparent to others than we think.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar place, regretting that social media rant, self-indulgent photo, inconsiderate comment or conspicuous humblebrag. One way I’ve found to guard against this is to regularly take inventory of my social media posts. Every now and then, I look back over my Facebook and Twitter feeds for the previous month or two and ask myself a series of questions to evaluate what I’m broadcasting to the world.

Here are 10 of the most common questions I ask myself:

  1. If someone only knew me from my social media posts, who would they think I am and would they be right?
  2. What do I tweet/share about the most?
  3. What do these posts say about my general personality and mood?
  4. What do these posts say about what I enjoy and value?
  5. What do these posts say about who/what I trust in?
  6. Is there anything embarrassing or something I wish I hadn’t said?
  7. Do I need to apologize to anyone for a post or comment?
  8. How well did I point people to Jesus?
  9. What was my motivation behind these posts? Was there anything I posted as a way to make me look better than I am or as a way to impress people?
  10. What changes do I need to make in my social media habits?

 

These questions dive deep into our use of social media. Self-evaluation can be one of the hardest habits to form, but God can use it for our sanctification. Sometimes I come away from these reflections humbled and repentant. Other times, I’ve come away relieved that my posts have been positive, accurate, and helpful.

So take a few minutes to scroll through your feeds and ask these questions. You just might be surprised what you’ll find.

ISIS targets First Baptist Church Dallas





DALLAS—The congregation of First Baptist Church, Dallas, has taken in stride its debut as a featured target in the January release of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) official online terror magazine.

During the Christmas holidays and in the days immediately following, ISIS called attention to non-Muslim churches. On Dec. 21, ISIS published a list of thousands of United States churches’ names and addresses, calling for attacks on them during the holiday season. On Dec. 23, prompted by the ISIS release, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released to law enforcement agencies nationwide a joint bulletin with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

The bulletin was issued, officials are reported as saying, “out of an abundance of caution.” No specific, credible, planned threats were known, but the published list called for vigilance. The bulletin said that ISIS continues, “aspirational calls for attacks on holiday gatherings, including targeting churches.” On January 6, ISIS publicly released the 5th and latest edition of its Rumiyah magazine. With that release, it continued its targeting of U.S. churches past the holiday season.

The Baptist New Mexican obtained copies of the ISIS magazine from the FBI and from the Middle East Media Research Institute. In general, its content propagates radical Muslim theology and promotes and glorifies killing and carnage of defiant non-Muslims. First Baptist, Dallas is specifically mentioned in an article titled “Just Terror Tactics.” The article is part three in a series by the same name. The first two installments of the series encouraged and described knife attacks and attacks using trucks. The third article outlines how to make Molotov cocktails, how to use them and how to select targets for fires.

According to the article picturing the church, “This information will assist in execution and increase the likelihood of killing or severely injuring those inside.” Just after the heading “Ideal Target Locations,” a large photo of First Baptist Church appears. The caption beneath the photo gives the church’s address and says, “A popular Crusader gathering place waiting to be burned down.”

In an interview with the New Mexican, First Baptist Church’s pastor, Robert Jeffress, said that he was amazed at how his church had received the news about the magazine. “It has really had no impact,” he said. He described how the church had continued peacefully with its ministries. But, the church did contact DHS, the FBI, and local law enforcement immediately after receiving the report.

Jeffress said the church has not changed any precautions or procedures because the church had already implemented security measures “to make sure our congregants are safe.” The church also encourages its members to be vigilant and encourages other churches to take precautions, as well.

Unofficially, one federal official said that the lack of any specific known threat makes the magazine appearance and the publication of the church list less of a concern. He encouraged general vigilance, just like First Baptist encouraged.

To help churches generally prepare for emergencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created the “Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Houses of Worship.” The detailed guide walks through emergency response concepts, structuring a response plan and team, and implementing an emergency readiness plan.

In the guide, FEMA categorizes emergencies a church can face as caused by natural hazards, technological hazards, or adversarial and human-caused threats. Terroristic threats fall into the last category. The guide suggests preparations for other emergencies because they are more likely to occur. Key factors in assessing risks for planning purposes are the probability of a risk and the likely magnitude of the risk, should it occur, the guide says.

The ultimate goal of emergency planning, according to the guide is the successful prevention of and recovery from emergencies.

DHS has prepared an additional report on “Potential Indicators, Common Vulnerabilities and Protective Measures: Houses of Worship,” which emergency planning teams may want to review in drafting emergency operations plans. Both documents are available as online downloads via a simple Internet search for their titles.

Jeffress said he has shared with his Dallas congregation that the Bible says, “God did not give us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7). He said, “If we give in to fear, ISIS wins; and, worse, Satan wins.” In the meantime, no one can take a backpack inside the church. Jeffress feels that the lack of attention by mainstream media to the church’s appearance in the magazine indicates that the threat is not yet specific or credible.

Kevin Parker is the editor of the Baptist New Mexican news journal for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. This article first appeared on the Baptist New Mexican website.

REVIEW: “The Founder” may cause you to never visit a McDonald”s again





Ray Kroc is an entrepreneur with a great idea, but there’s one huge problem. It’s not original to him.

That, though, isn’t going to stop him. Kroc wants to open restaurants across the nation that can do the unthinkable: serve burgers and fries within 30 seconds in a 1950s society where it’s not uncommon to wait 30 minutes. And he wants to name all of them “McDonald’s,” even though brothers Dick and Maurice McDonald—the men who originated the concept—want to keep the idea in California, the home of their first restaurant.   

A biopic based on the life of Kroc—The Founder (PG-13)—opens this weekend, telling the controversial story of how a popular chain that boasts 36,000 restaurants in 100 countries got its start thanks to backstabbing and ugly business deals that would make even the president of the local capitalist’s club cringe.

The movie stars Michael Keaton as Kroc and Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as Dick and Maurice, respectively, the two men I caught myself supporting even though I knew they were going to get the short end of the stick. John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Rookie) directed it, and Robert Siegel (The Wrestler) wrote the screenplay.

The Founder is a good (not great) film with some content problems for families, but for those who can overlook them, it includes multiple lessons, both good and bad. Let’s take a look …

Warning: spoilers!

The Good

America’s history is full of groundbreaking innovations, and the story of the McDonalds brothers is one we should applaud. When everyone was content with sitting in a drive-through waiting nearly half an hour for food, they risked everything to launch a restaurant few thought would succeed.

“What’s this?” a shocked Kroc tells the worker at the counter during his first visit to the brothers’ restaurant.

“Your food.”

“No, no, no, I just ordered.”

Soon, though, he catches on, telling the brothers that he wants to turn McDonald’s into a place where “Americans come to break bread.”  

Kroc’s hard work, persistence and determination—at least in the first half of the film—are good qualities, although by the end of the movie they’ve been replaced mostly by greed and pride.

Keaton is outstanding as Kroc.  

The Bad

It’s difficult to cheer for Kroc, at least the Kroc we see at the end of The Founder. Sure, we might enjoy taking our children to the local McDonald’s playground as we sip on a McCafe Latte, but the backstory of the company isn’t pretty.

“Business is war,” he tells the brothers. “It’s dog eat dog.”

Their relationship begins innocently enough, with a contract that allows him to open a handful of franchises in the Midwest, provided he gets their approval for any changes to the model. (Their primary concern: poorly run restaurants with bad food.) The agreement works for a while, until Kroc’s bank account runs dry and he realizes he isn’t making enough money. No problem: He’ll just violate it. When the brothers reject his plan to serve powdered milkshakes in a cost-cutting move, he ignores them and sends boxes of powdered milkshakes to stores across the nation. He dares the brothers: Sue me. But he knows they can’t afford to do that.

The brothers come across as champions of small-town America, while Kroc appears as the heartless megacompany everyone hates. He agrees to pay them $2.7 million at the end of the film but claims their request for 1 percent of the earnings cannot be put in writing due to legal glitches. They agree to a “handshake deal,” but the brothers never see any additional cash.   

Then there’s Kroc’s relationship with his wife. She’s initially skeptical of his new idea but then becomes a cheerleader, even helping him find new clients. But Kroc launches an affair with the wife of a franchisee while filing for divorce and then tells his attorney: Don’t let her get any of the business money.

I walked out of the theater not wanting to visit a McDonald’s again. (I’m sure I’ll change my mind soon.)

The Founder contains no violence or sexuality, although we do see Kroc flirt with his new girlfriend. The film has a moderate amount of coarse language: GD (3), SOB (2), d–n (3), a–(1), he– (7), f-word (1), sh– (1).

The Worldview

McDonald’s, Wendy’s and every fast-food chain in America are successful for one reason: Americans want their food delivered within minutes. This desire to have instant gratification is one reason we have on-demand films, on-demand groceries and even on-demand prescriptions. Put it all together, and we collectively now have the patience of a 2-year-old. Perhaps that’s why Jesus (Mark 6:31; Luke 10:38–42) urged his followers to slow down, enjoy life and focus on eternal matters. After all, where does God fit?

Kroc’s workaholic mentality should serve as a warning to many of us. After his first wife reveals she wants to settle down and enjoy life, she asks him, “When is enough going to be enough for you?”

“Probably never,” he replies.

Yes, Kroc gained the world, but what did he lose?

Finally, my nutritionist friends would note that America’s love of dirt-cheap food has come at a cost. Sadly, the quickest, least-healthy foods also are the least expensive ones—and our waistlines often show it.

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

I wouldn’t be comfortable taking my young children to this one, but some parents might find value in taking their teens, assuming they can ignore the language.

Discussion Questions

What does a business model within a Christian worldview look like? How many (if any) of Kroc’s business moves could be considered moral … immoral? Were the McDonald brothers simply stubborn business owners who “had it coming?” When, if ever, can a contract be broken? Are we better off in America with or without fast food? (Explain you answer.) Were you cheering for Ray Kroc or the brothers? Regarding Kroc’s actions: Is this something that “everybody just does”? Compare and contrast Ray Kroc with the founder of Chick-fil-A.

The Founder is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5.

Fielder Church becomes a changed church for a changed community

ARLINGTON—Pastor Gary Smith was shocked by what he saw at the opening of a new middle school.

In 1991, when he had been called as pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, the city was predominantly white. His congregation was made up of middle-class folks who drove into Dallas to work. At school, the cheerleaders were all white.

Now, just a dozen years later, Smith was looking at a cheer squad of 24 girls—all but one black.

Arlington had changed dramatically, but Fielder Church was still white, and declining. Smith knew the church had to change as well, if it was going to survive.

More than survival at stake

Like most Southern Baptist churches launched in the mid-1950s, Fielder Church was as segregated as its community. As the city’s population exploded almost six-fold during that era, the church reflected the neighborhoods of white families drawn to the booming economies of Dallas and Fort Worth. Over the next 40 years, Arlington would multiply another six-fold, and Fielder Church grew along with it.

“During those early years, we experienced exponential growth,” Smith said. “We couldn’t build buildings fast enough.

“But neighborhoods generally decline,” Smith noted. “And after about 10 years, we noticed a leveling off of our numbers. People were moving out of Arlington to newer areas.”

As he looked at that predominantly black cheer squad, Smith realized Arlington had changed racially without the church recognizing it. He set out to learn what other predominantly white churches had done to adapt and survive.

“I discovered there were no models for it,” Smith said. “In those neighborhoods, 95 percent of those churches die.”

But Smith also knew the issue was larger than just survival.

“I knew that, from the beginning, God wanted to show the availability of the gospel to all the nations of the world,” he said. “God confronted the ‘Jews only’ mentality of the early church by calling Paul to the Gentiles and giving Peter a vision at Joppa.”

The segregation of Fielder Church had to be addressed, not just for the survival of the congregation, but also for the good of the community’s lost souls.

Painful journey

“We felt God wanted us to do whatever it took to become a vibrant congregation in the midst of a changing city,” Smith recalled. “None of our staff or church leaders had ever been part of something like this, but we believed it was God’s plan. Many of us could have moved to places where the task was easier, but we felt a calling from God to confront this challenge.”

Not surprisingly, the move to reverse the segregation met opposition.

“From the beginning, underlying prejudice surfaced,” Smith said.

“Prejudiced members chose to criticize the leadership or leave the church. Even some well-meaning leaders departed because they were simply unable or unwilling to build relationships with people who were not like them.

“For me as the leader, this journey proved especially painful at times,” Smith added. “Some of my closest friends left the church. We struggled to deal with reduced financial resources and the discouragement of declining attendance. There were many times I felt like a failure and wondered if I should leave as well.”

Fielder Church lost more than 10 percent of its attendance during a period of four years.

As part of the intentional transition process, Fielder Church hired a young Hispanic, Jason Paredes, to lead a Spanish-language mission of the church. During one of the English services, Paredes began singing a song in Spanish. Several church members walked out of the sanctuary as a protest.

Nothing short of miraculous

Undeterred, church leaders continued to pursue diversity that transcended Arlington’s ethnic, social, economic and age barriers. Church staffing at all levels was diversified. Intentional efforts were made to listen to the perspectives of others in the community. Sermons and testimonies confronted the issue of prejudice. Fielder’s members gathered with diverse churches for joint worship. Community service projects focused on low-income schools, apartments and neighborhoods.

And in February 2014, the congregation instituted a 30-month transition from Smith’s leadership by calling Paredes as senior pastor-elect with a 97 percent vote.

Paredes thinks the success of Fielder’s transition is nothing short of miraculous.

“This was, in my mind, nearly impossible,” he said. “Historically, this was a very Anglo church in a very Anglo city. It seemed like a perfect storm for things not to work.”

Paredes credited the transition’s success to “heroes of leadership” in the congregation and Smith’s willingness to “spend all his chips” in following God’s leadership.

“This was born from Gary’s deep conviction that a church is unhealthy if it is staying in one culture when the city around it is so diverse,” Paredes explained. “That conviction led him to consider some outside-the-box thinking.”

‘The church needs this’

“At every turn, there was a sense of rightness that brought God’s blessings upon our church family,” he said. “The more we began to look like heaven in our diversity, the more we sensed the presence of the God of heaven.”

Because ethnic minorities in the United States are steadily making their way up the ladder economically, even America’s suburban and established neighborhoods are diversifying. As a result, most churches need to be more reflective of their communities.

“The church is going through a great upheaval,” Smith noted. “Pastors are in a tough spot today. Security, money and buildings often rest with people who don’t want transition. Our journey has been painful and difficult. Six or eight years ago, I felt the challenge was too much, but the Lord wouldn’t let me leave—and I am grateful. Our church is now multi-ethnic and multi-generational, and it is a joy unspeakable for my wife and me.”

The 30-month lead pastor transition concluded in August 2016 when Smith retired as senior pastor of the changing—and changed—church he served for 25 years.

Fielder Church is now 30 percent non-Anglo, and Paredes hopes “pastors and church leaders of diversity” will be encouraged by the success of their transition.

“This should not have worked out. About 77 percent of pastoral transitions fail in mono-cultural situations,” he said. “But this transition has been phenomenal. People need to know this can and does happen.”

Making a transition into diversity requires a heart that yearns for change and the courage to obey God’s call, Paredes added.

“God is raising up leaders of diversity and calling us to step into these things, even if we don’t feel equipped or think it is impossible,” he said. “The church needs this, and when we cry out to God and ask for it, he does move.”

–This story first appeared in SBC LIFE.

SBC Crossover in Phoenix adds Greg Laurie crusade





PHOENIX  As Phoenix-area Southern Baptists prepare for next summer’s SBC annual meeting, they are praying that a new addition to Crossover activities could lead to long-lasting spiritual fruit.

At the invitation of the North American Mission Board, Southern California evangelist and pastor Greg Laurie has scheduled his national Harvest America outreach at the University of Phoenix Stadium for June 11, 2017, which will coincide with Southern Baptists’ Crossover efforts.

The Crossover crusade, which will be simulcast nationally, will include a gospel message by Laurie and music from top-name Christian artists.

More than 225 local church and parachurch leaders participated in a launch meeting in October where Laurie shared his vision for the crusade.

“I firmly believe that the Lord is working in a mighty way through Greg Laurie,” said Noe Garcia, senior pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church. “Just look at how God has used him in the past. It gets me excited for how God is going to use him here in Phoenix, especially for a place that desperately needs Jesus and needs restoration. We’re excited as a church to encourage that, support that and be a part of what God is doing here in Phoenix.”

Garcia serves on the local advisory team for Harvest America Arizona.

Southern Baptists who want to participate in Crossover Phoenix will be encouraged to fill much-needed volunteer roles in the crusade, according to Joel Southerland, NAMB’s executive director of evangelism.

“Greg Laurie and his team have proven that crusade events can still work and are a great way to introduce people to Jesus,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said. “Hundreds of Southern Baptist churches have partnered with the Harvest Crusade over the years, and we are excited about partnering with them for this event.”

Since 1990, Laurie’s Harvest events have drawn more than 5.7 million people. Another 1.9 million have attended the events “virtually” through the internet. Harvest America calls the crusades the longest-running annual evangelistic outreach in American history.

“If we fail to meet the challenges of our time, I fear the consequences may be devastating for generations to come,” Laurie said. “It is for this reason that we are partnering with the North American Mission Board and Southern Baptist churches all across our nation in an attempt to elevate the gospel.”

Local Southern Baptists already have been organizing and praying that God will use the crusade in big ways.

“We believe this event could result in the largest evangelistic impact we have ever seen in Arizona,” said David Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. “We are encouraging all of our churches in Arizona to participate and get involved either through challenging their people to pray, invite, attend and bring others with them or serving as volunteers or being a follow up church—or all of the above!”

The crusade will overlap with the first evening of the 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference, with conference organizers urging local SBC churches to participate in the outreach.

“We hope local pastors will rally their churches, invite lost people and get as many people out to the crusade as possible,” said Dave Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, and president of the 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference. “We would like nothing better than to see thousands of Arizona residents be introduced to Jesus through this event.”

Ezell believes the two gatherings can work in harmony with one another.

“Dave Miller has been a blessing to work with on this, and I believe these events can coincide well,” Ezell said. “The crusade is focused on reaching the Phoenix community.”

Phoenix represents a critical mission field for Southern Baptists. It is one of 32 cities where NAMB is focusing resources through its Send North America church planting effort. According to NAMB’s Center for Missional Research, there is only one Southern Baptist church for every 19,338 people in metro Phoenix.

“This is an incredible opportunity for church members to invite unchurched co-workers, family members and friends to an event where they will hear the gospel,” Ezell said.

For more information about participating in the crusade, either in Phoenix or via simulcast, visit HarvestAmerica.com.

Jack Graham to participate in National Prayer Service for Trump inauguration





PLANO—Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, has been invited to participate in the National Prayer Service for the 58th Presidential Inauguration. The prayer service will take place at Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, Jan. 21, a day after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the nation’s 45th president.

Graham, who served as honorary chairman of the 2015 National Day of Prayer, expressed gratitude for the invitation in a statement released Jan. 17.

“There is truly no greater honor than to serve one’s country on such a special occasion,” Graham said. “As a Christian, I’m compelled by my faith to pray for the leaders of our nation and to ask God’s blessing on them, for they cannot succeed outside his providence and without his guiding hand.”

During the presidential campaign last year, Graham was asked to be part of Trump’s 25-member Religious Advisory Council. Responding to criticism from evangelicals for his participation on the advisory council, Graham issued a statement in October acknowledging concerns over Trump’s character and qualifications for president but noted that he could vote for the Republican ticket without endorsing Trump’s behavior.

In his Jan. 17 statement, Graham concluded his comments with a word of hope.

“This is a time of change for America and the world. At moments, it has felt as if so much hangs in the balance. Yet, I believe we can approach this new era of our nation’s history with hope, for one thing hasn’t changed—we remain ‘One Nation Under God.’ May we as a people lean upon the same faith in God that has given us purpose and strength for over two-and-a-half centuries.”

A path toward greater intimacy with Christ

The infinite Holy Spirit, as the builder of our churches, could lead an infinite number of supernatural movements in our churches this year. We as pastors are a major factor in what movements he leads through our churches.

I’ve been meditating on Luke 5:33-39, Christ’s parable of the wineskins. The wines are movements of the Holy Spirit. Those movements could be seasons of spiritual growth in our churches, elevated numbers of salvations, numerical growth, a much needed removal of wolves from our flocks, constructing a building, opening a door to an unreached people group, or adding a key staff member.

The wineskins are us—pastors and leaders. Old wineskin pastors and leaders are those who have drifted from our mandate of “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” Fresh wineskin leaders are those who want what Christ wants, nothing more and nothing less, at any cost to them.

The Holy Spirit will not lead new movements of God through old wineskins; only through fresh ones. And Christ’s big point in the passage is this—prayer and fasting is the means to become and remain fresh (vs. 35). Through prayer, fasting and the Scriptures we can find such personal intimacy with Christ that it’s as if we are physically dining at a table with him.

Fellow pastors and church leaders, here at the dawn of a new year, the greatest way we can lead our churches is to intentionally enter a season of prayer and fasting for greater intimacy with Christ and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Would you consider setting aside 30 minutes per workday to pray for greater intimacy with Christ? And would you consider setting aside one workday per week during the month of January to fast for greater intimacy with Christ?

Greater than all our planning and programming is the stirring of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives and in our churches. May Christ be exalted from our churches during 2017!

Texan Legacy: Helping Your Family and the Kingdom

Children are a blessing from God. We love them, care for them, provide for them, pray for them and sacrifice for them. Even though there may be occasional challenges in these relationships, Scripture reminds us of the significant blessings of children upon our lives. Psalm 127:3 reminds us of that fact, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”

The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 reminds us of the strong ties among family members no matter how different they are and how challenging the relationship that may exist with them. There is much evidence throughout history that frames the familiar quote, “blood is thicker than water.”

Because of these strong family ties, individuals have contacted me over the years with an objective to jointly benefit both their children and the kingdom with their estate at their passing and possibly even while living. Christians often have a deep passion for both their children and their Lord. Because their estate plans are their final testimony of their values and stewardship, they often want to leave a legacy to both. There are multiple ways to benefit both children and kingdom ministries through estate giving. As Christians, our estate plans often demonstrate the love that we have for our children and our Lord.

For more information, contact Jeff Steed at sbtexasfoundation.com.

2017 Empower Conference to feature new schedule, same evangelistic emphasis





LAS COLINAS  In a society that encourages Christians to hold their convictions silently, this year’s Empower Conference, Feb. 27-28, will equip pastors and church members to proclaim the gospel boldly. The two-day conference put on by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention evangelism department will feature inspiring messages and breakout sessions from notable pastors, evangelists and ministry leaders.

Speakers for this year’s conference include Matt Carter, Ed Stetzer, Jerry Vines, K. Marshall Williams, Grant Skeldon, Steve Gaines, and others, with music led by the Prestonwood Praise Team and Austin Stone Worship. A complete list of speakers is included on the event website.

Those planning to attend the free conference at the Irving Convention Center in Las Colinas, near DFW airport, are asked to pre-register online at sbtexas.com/empower. The first 1,000 who pre-register will receive an exclusive access code upon check-in for online video access to conference messages following the event.

Conference organizers have streamlined this year’s schedule to encompass two full days instead of three days, as it was in previous years. The conference will kick off Monday, Feb. 27, with a Classics Luncheon at 11:45 a.m. featuring Christian comedian and singer Mark Lowry. The luncheon, which is open for all age groups and designed to honor senior adults, will be followed by a Classics Session from 1:30–4:05 p.m., featuring Lowry, Jimmy Draper, George Harris and Bailey Smith.

Conference breakout sessions will be offered Monday afternoon from 1:00–2:30 p.m. and 2:45–4:15 p.m. A Ladies Session will also be offered Monday afternoon from 1:30–4:00 p.m., with messages by Thelma Wells, Donna Gaines and Sheila Walsh as well as music led by Austin Stone Worship. SBTC Disaster Relief teams will provide a Phase 1 Intro to DR training Monday morning from 8:00–11:15 a.m., and those interested must pre-register online.

The Men’s and Ladies’ Dinner featuring Steve and Debbie Wilson will take place on Monday evening before the main session, and a Cooperative Program Lunch with SBC President Steve Gaines will take place on Tuesday.

For a full list of speakers, breakout sessions, childcare and hotel information, conference schedule, and meal registration, visit sbtexas.com/empower.