Month: March 2017

“Preppers” event equips survivalists for catastrophe and eternity

ORANGE  Most people think of “preppers” as doomsday prophets who live off the grid with gas masks and a three-year supply of food rations waiting for the apocalypse. However, one Southeast Texas church sees value in emergency preparedness while using this niche as a mission field among the “preppers” community.

Little Cypress Baptist Church in Orange, Texas, hosted their seventh annual ”Crisis Preparation and Sustainable Living Expo”  Feb. 18 to train members of the community on planning for natural disasters or major catastrophes, while also sharing the gospel with attendees.

The idea for the ministry stemmed from the church’s participation in disaster relief, pastor David Turner told the TEXAN. Due to previous natural disasters around the country—including severe flooding last year in Southeast Texas and parts of Louisiana—several LCBC members started volunteering with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams to help revitalize the affected communities.

“We have guys who are a part of these teams and come back saying, ‘we get there, and nobody was prepared. Nobody had any food or water, or anything to sustain themselves,’” Turner said.

Although natural disasters are prevalent, Turner says the event is also designed to prepare for other catastrophic threats such as economic collapse, a terrorist invasion, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack or nuclear destruction.

“People want to take care of their family,” he said. “People need to know what to do to survive in these types of events. … The most incredible spiritual awakening could happen after any major catastrophe.”

Classes offered at the event included beekeeping (for beginners to advanced), getting started with chickens, basic homesteading, soap making, planting, growing medical herbs, why to prepare and how to get started, low cost radio communication, and more.

Church members not only teach skills, but they also use the event as an evangelistic outreach.

“A lot of people who are involved with this aren’t Christians,” Turner said. “That is why several of the people teaching are members of the church [who] share their testimony during their class time.”

Outside of the various classes to attend, an expo hall was set up with vendor booths that ranged from iron casting to radio communication, from bee keeping—for uses such as making wax, hand scrubs, soap and honey—to growing a garden.

“One gentleman that joined our church, who is a prepper, is here doing a wheat grinding display in the expo hall,” Turner said.

Turner said the event is completely free to the public, vendors and teachers.

“It is all grassroots volunteer work,” he said. “Anybody anywhere can do this. It is a matter of asking God if this is something he wants you to do and be a part of.”

In the case of a hurricane or a tornado, Turner pushes the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) statement: “Everyone should have enough food and water for themselves to last at least a month.”

The hope for the future is for “Preppers” to grow in numbers with more vendors, classes offered and attendees, Turner says. The event is held every year on the third Saturday of February.

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“Trump bump” adds $600 million in GuideStone assets

DALLAS— GuideStone Financial Resources ended 2016 with $13.3 billion in assets, officers told trustees during the board’s winter meeting in Dallas Feb. 27-28.

Chief Operating Officer John Jones presented a report that detailed GuideStone’s state of affairs through 2016, noting the $13.3 billion in assets shows steady growth from the $6.8 billion at the nadir of the economic crisis of 2008-09. More than $540 million in assets were added during calendar 2016.

Jones reported that GuideStone has also added almost $600 million in assets in the first seven weeks of 2017, which he attributed to the “Trump bump,” a reference to the climbing U.S. stock market since President Donald Trump took office.

Also included in the COO’s report was an indicator of GuideStone’s success as related to its peer financial institutions. According to fi360, an investment firm that ranks the performance of financial management groups, GuideStone ranked in the top 35%, ahead of major mutual funds such as Fidelity, T. Rowe Price, and Putnam.

“This obviously so positively reflects on both the kingdom, first and foremost, and for Southern Baptist life,” Jones said. “The Extended-Duration Bond Fund has probably been our most highly recognized and awarded fund. For 2016 we ranked No. 1 in the 1-, 5- and 10-year periods.” 

Group plan enrollments have grown by 4.6 percent over the last year while participation in individual plans has decreased by almost 10 percent. According to Jones, the individual plans are largely comprised of pastors of small churches for whom traditional insurance has become cost-prohibitive.

“So many of those pastors are truly at the proverbial crossroads and cannot afford insurance. And the government exchanges that are offered with the subsidies offer a viable alternative for them,” Jones said.

Retirement aggregates for 2016 totaled $550 million, compared to a three-year average of $470 million for 2013-2015. There was also a significant increase in investments from intermediary platforms, which jumped from $2 million in 2015 to $144 million in 2016.

Trustees also approved an official media policy in response to a motion from last year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. Lonnie Wilkey, a messenger from Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn., submitted a motion asking entity trustees to examine their media policies and consider making committee meetings open to the public.

Although Guidestone’s plenary sessions have historically been open to the press, trustees chose to keep committee meetings private. 

“For decades individual committee meetings of the Board of Trustees and their reports to the board are work sessions and involve discussion of sensitive and personal information (including legal, competitive data, personal financial data of Mission:Dignity participants, and private health information governed by HIPAA) and are therefore restricted to trustees, appropriate staff and invited vendors,” the statement read.

Insurance premiums increased by 5.6 percent last year, while client and reserve adjustments jumped by 11.4 percent. This was a result of higher-than-anticipated healthcare claims, particularly in-hospital claims and catastrophic claims, classified as those that exceed $825,000.

Mission:Dignity, which provides financial assistance to retired pastors and widows, had a record year in 2016 with the number of giving units up 20 percent over 2015. For the first time in a decade, Mission:Dignity saw a net year-over-year increase in the number of participants receiving financial assistance.

GuideStone underspent its 2016 budget by $7.6 million, largely as a result of lower salary costs. Compared to this point last year GuideStone has seen a 12 percent reduction in number of staff, though Jones reports maintained efficiencies.

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins reported to the trustees on this year’s theme of innovation, using the story of Nehemiah as an example of approaching old problems with new solutions. He pointed out that those who seek to innovate must face up, team up, gird up, and look up.

“We want to achieve a culture of innovation at GuideStone so that we are able to meet the needs of our participants today and anticipate the needs of our participants as we seek to honor the Lord by being their lifelong partner in enhancing their financial security,” Hawkins said.

Rolling off the board after this meeting include trustees Ronald E. Brown (Ohio), Gerald R. Davidson (Missouri), William R. Dunning (Pennsylvania/South Jersey), J. Wesley George (Arkansas), James W. Hixson (Michigan), Kirk R. Hudson (New Mexico), Shadd G. Kennedy (West Virginia) and G. Bryant Wright Jr. (Georgia).

The departing trustees were honored by Hawkins at a dinner Monday night where they were presented with a gift for their service.

Tithing a matter of faithfulness, church members say

CANADIAN / CHANDLER Betty Thomason can’t participate in as much at First Baptist Church in Canadian as in former days, but that doesn’t prevent the 85-year-old widow from tithing. 

Widowed over 20 years, Thomason said she lives on a fixed income from social security and her late husband’s pension as a county commissioner. She is also a seamstress. 

Thomason’s strategy for the tithe is simple. It’s the first check she writes when her social security and pension checks arrive. “I really don’t even figure my tithe into the budget. It’s not mine.”

“I think the Bible is God’s true Word,” Thomason said. “The Bible says it’s impossible for God to lie. If you are not tithing, you are robbing God. If you do tithe, he is going to open the window up and pour out more blessings than you can tell. I believe that. I have tested it. I know.”

Quoting Jesus in Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (KJV), Thomason added, “And God’s part has always been a tenth, as far as I can tell.”

Even if she cannot do as much as she used to, Thomason said, “I know if I give my tithe, someone else can go in my place.”

“Everybody knows that I believe the Lord takes care of me and my needs. Anything I am or have ever hoped to be is because of my walk with Jesus Christ.”

Like Thomason, Jean and Joe Fleming, retired schoolteachers who attend Rock Hill Baptist Church in Chandler, consider tithing an act of obedience and love. While widows on fixed incomes may dwell at the bottom of the economic ladder, retired teachers are only a few financial rungs above. This does not stop Jean and Joe Fleming from giving generously.

Parents of two married children, the Flemings taught in four Texas public school districts. Jean taught special education for 41 years while Joe was a science and history teacher and football and baseball coach until 2010. 

“We’re old!” exclaimed Jean. “We’re both 66.”

Joe said the couple’s philosophy of tithing centers on obedience and gratitude to God for all he has given: “beyond your house, cars and all the tangibles … he gave us life. He has given his love. He has given his forgiveness, grace, mercy. He gave us his Son, who gave his life for our salvation. He rose again, which gives us hope and assurance.”

“Our lives here are temporary. Our tithing and offerings are just an expression of our gratitude, of our love, a way of worshiping and saying thank you, we leave our finances in your hands,” Joe said.

“The Bible says you are to give a tenth. Anything over that, we would consider a love offering.” Jean said. 

Like Thomason, the Flemings write their offering checks as soon as they receive their monthly retirement income. 

“You don’t see it, you don’t have it, it’s gone. And you work with what you have left,” Jean said, referencing Malachi 3:10 as “the one time in the Bible that God actually tells us to test him. ‘Give what you are supposed to give and then test me and let me show you what I can do.’”

“You can talk yourself out of tithing because you feel like you need the money,” Jean added.

The Flemings counter arguments of those who say they cannot afford to tithe with examples of God’s provision. 

Jean recalled wondering how they would manage a $400 down payment for their son’s braces. Help came from an unexpected source: the U.S. Treasury Department issued rebate checks to eligible taxpayers as part of the Bush tax cuts. 

“In the mail, I got a check for $400,” Jean said. “It wasn’t any more. It wasn’t any less. He knew I needed S400. That was a God thing.”

The Flemings also put two children through college debt-free, partly thanks to community scholarships, Joe said. The children participated in college extracurriculars, maintained good grades and held down part-time jobs. Their daughter was a cheerleader at Baylor and their son played baseball at Mary Hardin Baylor.

As the daughter of a Baptist minister, Jean has a personal “soapbox” regarding tithing: “People want to have a big church that has all these things to offer, but if you don’t tithe, there’s no money to do that.”

Jean’s “biggest thing” regarding giving involves the church’s responsibility to take care of the staff. “If we do not tithe, then our staff does not have what they need to take care of themselves [or] their families.” 

“People who come to church like to be fed,” Joe added. “And God expects us to bring our offerings. You are not going to get fed if people don’t bring any offerings. The pastor can’t survive. The staff have lives too, and family. Jean was a product of that. She saw it firsthand.”

Joe, whose father worked in an airplane factory and mother sold real estate, said he also hailed from a family of modest income. 

“We didn’t have a whole lot of money,” Joe said. “We ate a whole lot of hot dogs.”

However, tithing was always part of their lives. “I remember going to Sunday school with my little envelope carrying 50 cents in it,” Joe mused. 

Texan Legacy: Leaving a Legacy of Faith

Hebrews 11:8, 11-12: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. [NIV] 

The legacy of faith that Abraham and Sarah left for their family and generations to come was monumental. They were faithful to God, and they were blessed to have a legacy of faith that significantly demonstrated their relationship with God. Because of their faithfulness, the Hebrew nation was birthed. Through the lives of Abraham and Sarah, God was glorified! 

Consider at this very moment leaving this Earth forever and stepping into Heaven. What would be your legacy of faith for family and ministry? What legacy would be left that demonstrates your relationship with God? Will God be glorified through your life and the legacy of faith remaining after your passing?  

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Amateurs at the Top

One of the consistent criticisms I’ve seen of the current executive branch of the U.S. government is that many of the players lack the appropriate experience for jobs they hold. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has never been a public school teacher, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has only been a military man, President Trump never previously held elected office, and so on. While I recognize the variety of motivations for criticizing a leader for whom one has not voted, the idea that only “professionals” should lead is flawed and troublesome. I’m not endorsing anybody here, but the contempt for “outsiders” I hear from some pundits certainly sounds like contempt for voters.

Perhaps the rise of amateurs is a characteristic of revolution. One SBC seminary president complained in the 1990s about the “quality” of the trustees the SBC was sending him as the Conservative Resurgence gained momentum. They did not have the same stature as the denominational employees and high-level businessmen he preferred. On the other hand, housewives, small-church pastors and dentists can understand the purpose of a seminary. If the plans and reports of the administration don’t make sense to these average Southern Baptists, the fault is not with amateur trustees. The fact that they are not members of the denominational guild is actually a benefit to Southern Baptists’ interest in their institutions.

Wouldn’t this be true all down the line of democratically empowered public institutions? While you’d want some IT specialists, legal experts and other professionally trained folks in the infrastructure, the person at the top should be a generalist and able to understand how things, and people, generally work. In other words, the Department of Education should have people experienced in school administration as well as those who understand the bureaucracy of the department at hand, but maybe it’s not necessary that the person at the top is a veteran of the system.

I read a book once that described Ross Perot’s practice of hiring impressive people and then finding them something to do within his information systems company. He seemed to gravitate toward military veterans because the military does a good job of developing effective leaders. Perot allowed smart people to bring something from the outside into his company, and it worked for him. I imagine Perot’s Electronic Data Systems company would have been something less if he only hired those with specialized technical training. I also imagine some of those mid-level programmers grousing about the amateurs surrounding the boss. It’s a nearsighted complaint.

What did the religious leaders in Acts 4 see in Peter and John but uneducated men who were bold? They were not astonished that fisherman were uneducated but that common men were confident enough to speak on religious matters. They were offended that these untrained men were disagreeing with them.

Education does not make you right. Hopefully you will get some things right once you’ve learned the ideas of those who’ve gone before; but right and wrong is more about your essential assumptions—the filter through which you will view the wisdom of the ages—than it is about facts. This is a great reason why the exalted should never escape the accountability of the governed. The contentious wave that is rolling over our country at the moment is a reminder that the led and the governed will not be gladly disregarded. Some of the amateurs being put in charge of important matters in our country were placed there by those suspicious of the professionals.

In this 500th year since the Protestant Reformation of 1517, we should easily make the application to our churches. Pre-Reformation Europe was the world of “You don’t need a Bible; trust your leaders to tell you what God says,” or, “If you don’t speak Latin, you’re not educated enough to understand Christianity.” The post-Reformation world blew down the unbiblical wall between clergy and laity. We have different roles, but all believers will stand before the same God, accountable for the same three-score and ten years. One of Martin Luther’s “outrageous” beliefs was that the Bible should be available in the language of the people, German in his case. While I need a pastor to lead my church and preach to me, as the Spirit leads him, I do not need a pastor to tell me what the Bible says. I read it for myself and listen to the same Spirit as he applies it to my life.

Most of us have been that “amateur” in some setting and bridled at the haughty contempt of the insiders. And most of us have been those insiders, perhaps haughty ourselves. But the precept is true, generally in the world and specifically within the body of Christ; we are connected, a body you might say. Our God sometimes uses those we deem foolish to confound the wise. For those who deem themselves wise and sophisticated to have a fit about it really changes nothing.