Month: August 2017

Churches and Disaster Relief units prepare for Hurricane Harvey

CORPUS CHRISTI—As residents along the Texas Gulf Coast brace for Hurricane Harvey, SBTC churches and disaster relief units stand ready to assist victims.

Hurricane Harvey strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane overnight Thursday and continued to intensify Friday morning, the National Weather Service reported, confirming that Harvey is forecast to be a Category 3 storm expected to make landfall Friday night along the middle Texas coast.

#HurricaneHarveyRelief: Get up-to-date information, find opportunities to volunteer, and give online

In addition to the initial impact, a “life threatening storm surge inundation” is possible, and a “slow drift” of the storm may result in severe flooding south of the Interstate 10 corridor, the National Weather Service stated.

Churches in the storm surge area have encouraged their members to evacuate or take proper precautions. Most coastal churches have cancelled Sunday services.

“We talked everybody we could into leaving. A few of our families did decide to stay. We checked on some widows and others to see if we could help boarding up houses,” said Scott MacDonald, pastor of Corpus Christi Community Church which meets in an area school.

“We encouraged members to help their neighbors and check on those around them, making sure they had enough water and food,” MacDonald said, adding that many from the church had evacuated but others were determined to ride out the storm at home.

David Loyola, SBTC field ministry strategist for South Texas, started calling area churches earlier this week. Loyola confirmed that many people had evacuated Corpus Christi, including his son who is an ER doctor and was prepared to stay at the hospital but was told to leave.

“We are staying in contact with pastors and waiting to see what we can do to help,” Loyola said.

Likewise, Coastal Bend field ministry strategist Mitch Kolenovsky confirmed he had contacted churches in the region. Churches in Portland, Port O’Connor, Rockport and Freeport are not open today. Most have canceled Sunday services, he said.

“Six churches between Corpus and Galveston are already lined up to host disaster relief units as they are deployed,” Kolenovsky added. While some of these churches are directly in the storm’s forecast path and their facilities may suffer damage, they have offered their parking lots for staging.

Inland churches are also preparing for possible flooding, said Kolenovsky. “Even those as far north as the Katy area and Seguin are making preparation to assist however possible with people moving through the area.”

Churches outside the storm surge area such as Parkway Baptist Church in Victoria and Bay Area Fellowship in League City have offered their facilities for disaster relief, Kolenovsky said.

Sportsman’s Church in Victoria has a facility prepared for feeding units and recovery teams that will be coming to the area after the storm. “We want to be available to folks who are going to be serving others,” shared Pastor Glen Dry.

In his church’s Facebook post, Dry urged residents to make necessary precautions. “Take time to prepare your heart and mind as well—not just the physical. Stay calm and rest knowing God has this even in the midst of the storm.”

Just over an hour southwest of Corpus Christi, First Baptist Church of Premont has opened its doors to members of the church and community who do not feel safe remaining at home.

 Pastor Rick Rice said he doesn’t anticipate the storm tracking their direction, but knows that rain could be a problem. “Always when a hurricane comes this way, we open up our fellowship hall,” he said.

David Fannin, pastor of Nassau Bay Baptist Church, 25 miles north of Galveston, said his church is also prepared to help.

“Our church has been used as a shelter in the past. Nobody has contacted us from Red Cross about having our church available. Right now we are as in the dark as anybody. We don’t know where or when it is going to hit,” Fannin said.

“We are in a wait and see [posture]. We are ready to help. We just don’t know in terms of what or when,” Fannin said, adding, “Most of the people in our church have been through this before. If people need a place to stay, we will open the doors.”

Yoli Nieto Trujillo, longtime Corpus resident and retired Corpus policeman, said she was busy boarding windows and placing sandbags in doorways while her husband, a Port of Corpus Christi policeman, had reported for duty, instructed to pack for three days. Trujillo, who lives on the south side of Corpus, said she plans to stay with a neighbor since the storm is hitting at night.

Trujillo’s advice? “Stay off the streets. Don’t go to to South Padre to see the waves before the storm hits.”

Meanwhile, SBTC DR units are preparing to deploy, issuing a call out to volunteers across Texas.

“SBTC Disaster Relief has pledged to help Texans recover from the aftermath of the hurricane. Feeding units are capable of preparing up to 80,000 meals a day if needed. Recovery units stand ready to help remove fallen tree limbs, clear roadways and tarp homes. Other units are poised to provide showers for survivors and volunteers, purify water, assess needs of homeowners and provide childcare. Chaplain teams are prepared to provide spiritual counseling,” said Wally Leyerle, SBTC DR associate.

With additional reporting by Tammi Reed Ledbetter

REVIEW: “Leap!” tells us to follow our hearts. But is that biblical?

Felicie is a free-spirited young redhead who has one goal in life: to become a ballerina. She dances when she works. She dances when she plays. And when she sleeps? This tween girl is dreaming of dancing.

Felicie, though, lives in an orphanage that continually squashes her aspirations.

“Dreams are not reality,” a nun tells her.

It seems Felicie is destined to a life of fantasy; that is, until her best friend and fellow orphan Victor hatches a wild escape plan that involves running away in the dead of night and hopping on a train to Paris, the home of a world-famous dance school. Once there, she’ll enroll, impress everyone, and become a world-famous ballerina! Well, that’s the plan.

They do escape, but the Paris they discover in 1880s France is one that shuns orphans and has little taste for children without homes. Perhaps that nun was right.

It’s all part of the animated movie Leap! (PG), which opens in about 2,000 theaters this weekend and tells the story of a talented-but-poor girl who follows the dreams that her birth mom—a mom she never met—planted in her. It seems that Felicie’s mom left her daughter a miniature, ballerina-themed music box.  

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to dance,” Felicie says.

It stars Elle Fanning (Maleficent, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as Felicie; Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) as Victor; singer Carly Rae Jepsen as Felicie’s teacher, Odette; Maddie Ziegler as Felicie’s ballerina rival, Camille; and Mel Brooks as Luteau, the orphanage supervisor.

Leap! is an entertaining, mostly clean film that has plenty of fun moments but also a couple of ethical/worldview concerns.

Let’s examine the details.

Warning: minor spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing Images

Minimal. Luteau chases Felicie and Victor out of the orphanage; even though he doesn’t intend physical harm, he ends up placing everyone’s lives in danger. Later in the movie, though, Camille’s wicked mother Régine does try to hurt Felicie in a page straight out of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding saga. Also, we see a boy punch another boy.   


None. Felicie has two suitors: Victor and a French dancer named Rudolph. The romance angle is a major part of the film, although Felicie never kisses either of them on the lips. (Victor does try to do so once.) She later kisses Victor on the cheek.

Felicie and Victor end up in a pub where she performs an Irish step dance on patron tables.    

Coarse Language

None. (Although one character does say the word “sucks.”)  

Other Positive Elements

Odette, a servant to Régine, initially shuns Felicie but soon sacrifices her time and energy to become her mentor. Later, another character who had ridiculed Felicie changes his mind and decides to help her. Also, Felicie’s positive outlook on life is contagious to those around her.  

Other Negative Elements

The movie’s biggest ethical problem: Felicie steals Camille’s identity to get into dance school. She does get caught, but she is allowed to stay in the class due to her talent level and perhaps her background. (She is an orphan. Who wouldn’t feel sorry for her?) Maybe the instructor made the right decision, but it’s something parents should be ready to discuss.

Régine and Camille constantly belittle Felicie. (Camille calls her a rat and tells her: “You’re nothing” – a reference to her social status.)    

Life Lessons

There are solid lessons on hard work (Felicie), forgiveness (several characters), kindness (Odette and Victor) and mentoring (Odette and Felicie). Régine and Camille give us lessons on how not to treat someone. Their dehumanizing of Felicie is painful to watch, and we immediately feel compassion for Felicie.     


“You should always follow your heart and never give up,” a character tells Felicie in a pivotal moment. This theme is popular among Hollywood films. It’s also unbiblical.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us not to follow our own will: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Jeremiah 17:9 describes the heart as “deceitful” (ESV) and “wicked” (KJV).

In other words, we’re in trouble if we follow our heart. We better make sure our desires align with God’s will.

That said, God does give each of us unique talents, and those talents often spark a natural desire to use them. Scripture tells us not to waste our talents (Matthew 25:14-30). But we’re also not guaranteed fame. Consider: God just might want a girl in your church to be a world-famous ballerina. But he also might want her to use her talents locally. Either way, he is glorified.  

Follow your heart? No. Use your talents for God’s glory? Of course.


Leap! contains no language, no sexuality and minimal violence. The ethical/worldview concerns can be corrected in a post-movie car discussion. It’s family-friendly.  

What I Liked

Leap! is a beautiful film that displays the marvels of 1880s Paris. We see the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower being built (even though they were constructed a few years apart). We see the grand buildings and the marvelous museums. It’s easy to turn the film into a history lesson.  

Meanwhile, I also enjoyed watching a young girl turn down a kiss. How often does that happen on the big screen?

What I Didn’t Like

The dehumanizing of Felicie. It was a bit too much.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the Bible say about following your heart and your dreams?
  2. How are we to find the will of God for our lives?
  3. Was it OK for Felicie to lie? Should her punishment have been more severe?
  4. Have you ever seen someone make fun of another person? How did you react? How should you have reacted?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

SBTC DR crews return from assisting in Chicago metropolitan area

GRAYSLAKE, Ill.—Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief (SBTC DR) teams left Illinois to return to Texas Aug. 20, wrapping up a weeklong deployment aiding victims of July floods. Teams served at the request of Illinois Baptist State Association DR. 

Mud-out crews from Bonham led by Monte Furrh and Bellville led by Mike Phillips teamed with volunteers from Georgia, Virginia and Illinois in the Grayslake area, 40 miles north of downtown Chicago, where they were housed at Grayslake Presbyterian Church.

The overall area deployment saw 11 salvations. SBTC teams reported 17 gospel presentations and 19 spiritual contacts while distributing 17 Bibles and working on nearly two dozen jobs, STBC DR associate Wally Leyerle told the TEXAN.

“The spiritual impact of the SBC DR volunteers will continue for some time with people coming to Christ,” Illinois Baptist DR director Jim Weickersheimmer told Leyerle.

Most jobs involved mud-out and treatment of basements flooded when storm sewers backed up or sump pumps broke, said David Brandon, an SBTC DR volunteer from Borger.

The Illinois deployment was among the first for Brandon, who received DR training last October.

In addition to learning new techniques for removing sheetrock and preparing surfaces for anti-mold treatment, Brandon said he benefitted from seeing how teams work together on deployment.

“Each individual has a job to do and goes to it. If somebody needs help, they drop what they are doing and help,” Brandon said of the teamwork.

Brandon also noted the “spiritual relationship” developed between teams and victims.

“For the most part, we ran into good Christian people living under rough conditions, unfortunate in the flood,” Brandon said, describing an elderly man who professed faith in Christ while his daughter and wife, already Christians, praised the Lord with “rejoicing.”

During prayer time with homeowners at the conclusion of another job, the family’s grandmother announced, “Wait a minute I haven’t prayed. I want to pray for you!”

SBTC teams worked from Grayslake to North Chicago, serving African-American, Hispanic and Anglo homes in varying socioeconomic neighborhoods.

“I was very proud of our teams who took time out of their busy schedules to travel 1,200 miles just so they could get up early and work hard helping people they did not know overcome tragedy,” said Leyerle, adding that other teams had also volunteered but “we ran out of work before they could go.”

“Their sweat and skill demonstrated in practical terms that the God they served loved the people they served.”

SBTC prepares to advance kingdom mission through Reach Texas offering

Every day, 1,200 more people call Texas home, and as the state’s population grows, so too grows its need for the gospel message.  

“Living in Texas means you can no longer say you live in the Bible belt,” said SBTC Director of Evangelism Shane Pruitt.

“Texas is home to 19 million people that do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior. … The Bible belt has burst with lostness here in Texas.”

To ensure that Southern Baptists are equipped with the necessary tools to engage in Jesus’ Great Commission in the Lone Star State, the SBTC is inviting churches to partner again in the annual Reach Texas Missions Offering, with the 2017-2018 goal of raising $1.4 million.

Pruitt said that every penny of what is given will go directly toward advancing the kingdom through church planting, evangelism and missions in Texas. 

With more than 400 different people groups represented inside its borders, Texas ranks as the most diverse state in the nation. Southern Baptists’ gifts help support the work of Pierre Bitar, who ministers to one of those people groups as the pastor of Arabic Community Church in Allen. 

After coming to Dallas to continue his education in 2013, Bitar soon realized a large number of his neighbors hailed from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries. 

“I started to pray, and I started to see how the fields are white and are plentiful for harvest,” he said. 

With support from Southern Baptists, he is now able to serve local Arabic peoples by offering them a community while they are far from loved ones and by telling them of Christ’s salvation. 

“We eat with them. We celebrate with them, and we pray, and the most important thing (is) that we share the gospel with them,” Bitar said. “I’m so grateful for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and for the generosity and for their support and for help to be able to accomplish this ministry.” 

Funds from the Reach Texas offering also help meet physical needs through the SBTC disaster relief ministry, which works with local churches to assist with disaster cleanup and provide food and other necessities for victims.

“You come to a place where people are in anguish and in pain and hurting emotionally, physically and spiritually. Our main purpose is to make sure that we share the message of hope in Jesus Christ. It is a message that people need at that moment,” said Julian Moreno, SBTC disaster relief task force member. 

Churches can prepare for the offering by participating in the Reach Texas Week of Prayer and Emphasis, from Sept. 17-24. A prayer guide is available online, which includes a seven-day devotional for individuals, families or small groups, with specific prayer points and stories of how God is using SBTC churches and ministries to reach the lost. 

To download the prayer guide and access additional resources, including videos, posters, bulletin inserts and curriculum for all age ranges, visit the Reach Texas page on the SBTC website:

The Texas Privacy Act

Occasionally when talking to reporters I can sense a bit of incredulity or condescension at the views of evangelical Christians. The nice ones approach me the way you might talk to a crazy uncle building a time machine in his garage—somewhere between curiosity and fear. After SBTC made statements supporting six of the 20 issues under consideration during the Texas legislative special session, I was asked by media outlets in Asia, Europe and Fort Worth about only one of those—the “Bathroom Bill.” One international reporter said that she asked me because she didn’t know of anyone else who disagreed with fluid gender bathrooms. Although the reporters were fair and professional, it was clear that they, and presumably their audiences, thought we were a freak show. No worries; we’re supposed to be different. But I am frustrated at how mangled the message became over this issue. Other issues we supported, pro-life bills, were also mischaracterized, but they were not mentioned as often because there was no lurid shorthand for the issue, like “Bathroom Bill.” 

Okay then, why do we care “so much” about who goes in which dressing room or restroom? We don’t actually care more about this than anything else. I told one reporter that if a government entity decided to impose an unbiblical view of adultery or stealing on us, we would care about that as well. It’s surreal to many of us that otherwise serious people are presuming to overturn 100 generations of understanding about the definition of male and female. This discussion even divides conservatives in the most conservative state, at least in effect. 

We are discussing a foundational philosophical issue, whether we acknowledge that or not. Is it the will of our Texas communities that all differences between male and female people will be disregarded? Will our public institutions impose that view on our families, school districts and businesses? I believe the growing number of even very young children being trotted out as transgender has a lot to do with advocacy from our political leaders over the past 10 years. Children have some peculiar and transient ideas about reality that, if aggressively reinforced, can become an identity. That has happened a tragic number of times in recent years. Senate Bill 6, passed weeks ago out of the Texas Senate, does not impose a view of gender on individuals or businesses but rather constrains political bodies from imposing a view on them. It also forbids public institutions, schools primarily, from allowing biological males and females to use the same changing or restrooms at the same time. The Texas Senate leadership took one view of this issue when they passed the Privacy Act, and the Texas House leadership took the other when they killed it.

The bill gives way to parents and local communities to train and protect their children during a very recent flurry of irrational laws and teaching on gender identity. To remind you of what’s at stake, remember the 2016 effort by the superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School district to require access to restrooms and changing facilities to any student who decides to identify as a new gender. It also forbade school personnel from telling parents if their minor child was “changing genders” at school. Parents objected, and the directive was withdrawn. It clearly did not represent the views of those entrusting their children to Fort Worth schools. It’s happened elsewhere. 

Business interests were huge players in the defeat of the Texas Privacy Act. I know nothing about the personal convictions of the people who put millions of dollars into lobbying against the act based on a belief that companies and sports leagues would punish Texas if we passed a “discriminatory” law. In all likelihood these parents and grandparents would prefer their little girls didn’t have to change clothes standing next to a strange man. And yet, these convictions were apparently trumped by the imagination of losing a sporting event or automobile headquarters in the state. I wonder, if I can give you 10 bucks, or 10 million bucks, to abandon a conviction, was it a conviction at all? Is it a matter of belief or just a matter of price? 

Some have argued that this is a hysterical response to an imaginary issue. Okay, let’s set aside what has been recognized as common sense for thousands of years and just talk about today. If we go beyond binary (male or female as identified by biology) gender identification, how do we know if a man is sincerely convinced that he’s a woman or if he is merely devilish? The guidelines I have seen for some businesses, and those temporarily guiding the Ft. Worth ISD, were unhelpful—if a person with a beard says “call me female,” you can’t question him until he commits a crime. One business that famously declared its bathrooms and changing rooms open to all has experienced criminal activity in those rooms. It’s not a made up problem, and further difficulties are not beyond anyone’s imagination. I encourage our families and churches to be alert as these issues arise in our city councils and school boards. Absent the Privacy Act, I predict some communities are going to face shocking challenges. 

I close by saying that the defeat of this bill, mostly by moderate Republicans, is not the end of the world. It’s not the most important decision our legislators should have made. It’s not the most important thing that your church or our fellowship of churches should care about. But it is mind boggling that we have to care about it at all. 

Gaines, McKissic, others talk race and SBC

ARLINGTON—Evangelicals challenge political leaders who support same-sex marriage and abortion, and they should also stand strongly against vitriolic rhetoric, violence and hatred, pastor Dwight McKissic said in a panel discussion he hosted Aug. 20 at his church, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington.

Among guests on the panel was Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines, who renounced racial and political hatred, saying it has no place in a Christian’s life.

Speaking to an ethnically diverse audience of around 650 people, McKissic addressed the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va. He specifically expressed disappointment in President Trump, who publically blamed “both sides” for the clash between white nationalists and counter-protesters that turned deadly, leaving one young woman dead.

“Evangelicals need to say on this issue, we respect the president, Trump … but on this issue, he’s wrong and he’s giving air to these racists, and he needs to stop it, period,” McKissic said. “Barack Obama was wrong on same-sex marriage. I said it. Half of my church voted for him; he was wrong.”

In addition to Gaines and McKissic, were seven other panelists that included pastors, a law enforcement official and an educator for “A Kingdom conversation on race and the alt-right.” Panelists accepted questions from the audience in a discussion following a 6:30 p.m. worship service and corporate prayer.

Gaines, who described his pastorate at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn., as composed of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, said such political diversity “makes it hard” to discuss presidents from any specific party.

“I think we ought to be mature enough in the Lord to look at anyone and say I disagree with what you’re saying, but I still respect you as a person,” Gaines said. “You have to respect the office to have any civility in the nation, and whether you respect everything a person in the office does, that’s another matter. I pray for Donald Trump every day, not because I believe in everything he does, but because he’s the president.”

Gaines noted, “I have learned to disagree with people’s views … but we have no right to hate anyone, and whether it’s the president currently, we have no right, not as a Christian. You have no right to hate Barack Obama, you don’t. You can disagree with somebody’s views.”

McKissic, who introduced a resolution condemning alt-right white supremacy adopted at the 2017 SBC annual meeting, organized the Texas event to begin rebuilding national unity.

“I thought it was important for us to experience joint worship,” McKissic told BP after the event, “and by doing so we made a statement to our God, the world and ourselves.”

The 90-minute discussion drew questions regarding President Trump, diversity among Southern Baptist leadership, the lingering effects of America’s systematic enslavement of blacks, ethnic diversity among Southern Baptist congregations, unity among evangelicals, effective dialogue among different ethnic groups, and educating today’s children about race relations.

In response to a question regarding the lingering effects of past racism, Gaines said he found it difficult to grasp the pain African-Americans still experience as a result of slavery, particularly the separation of families characteristic of the injustice.

“It’s hard to be sold. It’s hard for me to even fathom what it was like at those auction blocks where families were torn apart,” Gaines said when asked what is the proper response to suggestions that blacks “get over” the past. “I have 10 grandbabies, one on the way, and I can’t even fathom my children being sold into slavery. So there’s no doubt that that caused a huge impact. So I feel like for somebody to say get over it, that’s a wrong response.”

Ronnie Goines, lead pastor of Koinonia Christian Church in Arlington, said the very same leaders who would have blacks overcome the past are “the supporters of keeping the history in front of us to remind us of it, via statues and certain things that represent the very era that they want us to get past.”

Joseph Caldwell, president of the Memphis College for Urban and Theological Studies, encouraged whites such as himself to take time to listen to the concerns of blacks.

“The issue around race in America is that white leadership doesn’t listen when African-Americans try to say that racism is real in America. White leadership doesn’t listen when African-Americans try to say, ‘we live in fear.’ White leadership doesn’t listen over and over again,” Caldwell said. “For me it’s important, if we mean we want to be unified, if we mean that we want to be inclusive of everyone in the body of Christ, that those who have traditionally been in positions of power sit down, and allow those who have traditionally had their voices squelched stand up and teach us what it is we need to know about … race in America.”

Panelist Jason Paredes, lead pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, encouraged pastors to take the lead in developing relationships with members of other cultures, thereby encouraging congregations to do the same. Only through relations will different cultures learn the issues that are important to one another, Paredes said.

“The conversation has to spark first, before we can rise up together and fight on behalf of the other brother and sister,” Paredes said. “This is one place where pastors need to lead out. If we don’t develop those relationships, our congregations never will.”

Gaines joined Paredes in encouraging pastors to be intentional in embracing other ethnicities in ministry outreaches and evangelism. The SBC president pointed out a monthly breakfast meeting he hosts with a diverse group of pastors in Memphis.

“We have been discussing … all of the issues that we’re talking about here,” Gaines said, “and it really gives me a perspective that otherwise I would not have.”

Rounding out the panel were Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson; Kenneth Jones Jr., pastor of First Como Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; attorney and First Como member Leon Reed; and Oza Jones, Cornerstone’s youth and young adult pastor.

In worship preceding the panel, Gaines presented a message from Acts 16 on evangelism unhindered by cultural barriers, McKissic pointed out the birth of all cultures from Adam and Eve, and Jones presented a definition of the alt-right movement.

GuideStone trustees hear reports during ‘Year of Innovation,’ congratulate Hawkins on 20 years of service

COLORADO SPRINGS—Trustees for GuideStone Financial Resources gathered July 31–August 1 in regular session to hear reports from GuideStone executive officers and staff about the board’s performance in key lines of business.

GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins was lauded for 20 years as president of the Southern Baptist entity; he joined the Dallas-based ministry after having served for four years as pastor of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas.

Hawkins thanked the trustees for honoring him and his wife, Susie, for their service to Southern Baptists through GuideStone.

“We remain so thankful to serve this ministry we have received from the Lord through Southern Baptists,” Hawkins said. “As we consider GuideStone’s first century, and look forward to our second century of service, it is with gratefulness for our heritage and confidence for our future, focused on the Lord’s leadership.”

Hawkins addressed trustees about the entity’s annual theme, the Year of Innovation, citing the need for GuideStone to not rest on its laurels as it prepares to mark its 100th anniversary in 2018.

Citing the ministry’s accomplishments of its long-range plan, GuideStone 100, which has guided its work for over a decade, and Vision 20/20, which is an enhancement and extension to the long-range plan, Hawkins said that the organization is focusing on three strategic goals: increasing market share, responding to changes in the marketplace and continuing to aggressively manage costs while keeping customer service as its No. 1 focus.

Hawkins said it is imperative for GuideStone to keep focused on its mission and to keep faithful to its vision and calling.

Additionally, Hawkins recognized the seven new trustees joining the board since their election in June, expressing his thankfulness “for the wisdom the SBC showed when they elected to the GuideStone board of trustees such godly people.” 

“I am particularly pleased to see the increased diversity in the board with the election of three more African-American trustees this year,” Hawkins said. “I know of no other Southern Baptist entity with a board as diversified as GuideStone’s board. For that, we are extremely grateful.”

Retirement and Investments

Chief Operating Officer John R. Jones reported that total retirement and investment contributions were $485 million, an increase of $21 million, or 4.6 percent, year-over-year, with about 80 percent of that increase being directly attributable to GuideStone investment channels.

GuideStone’s award-winning mutual funds are available on 22 platforms. Platforms make mutual funds and other financial products available to financial advisors for purchase on behalf of their clients. GuideStone Funds are available on many major platforms.

“GuideStone Funds has had attractive performance in their peer universes and against benchmarks,” Jones said. “We have achieved stellar results in the first half of 2017.”


Like other providers of health plans, GuideStone continues to await an end to the stalemate in Washington regarding the Affordable Care Act. Nationwide, many counties across the United States are currently served by only one of the state or federal health care exchanges, and some providers have threatened to pull out of the exchange market altogether. Some counties may find themselves without any options on the health care exchanges.

Despite the challenges, Jones described life and health plans as having “very encouraging results” this year. Total medical insurance enrollment has increased by 1.2 percent, year-over-year, despite the headwinds in the industry. 

Property & Casualty Coverage

Jones said GuideStone’s alliance with Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company continues to provide benefits for GuideStone and Southern Baptist churches served by Brotherhood Mutual, calling it a “home run.” GuideStone has seen a renewal rate of 97 percent through mid-year. The hit rate, or the percentage of new accounts won based on bids, was 79 percent through June 30. Both the renewal and hit rates are significantly above industry average, proving the service and pricing provided by GuideStone and Brotherhood Mutual are being well-received by churches and ministry organizations.


Hawkins also told trustees about his two newest books, The Christmas Code: Daily Devotions Celebrating the Advent Season (available September 5) and The Believer’s Code: 365 Devotions to Unlock the Blessings in God’s Word (available October 24). As with all of Hawkins’ recent books, all author proceeds benefit Mission:Dignity. More information on the books is available at

Jones reported on continued success for Mission:Dignity, GuideStone’s ministry to provide financial assistance to retired Southern Baptist pastors, ministry workers and their widows in financial need. Gifts have increased 10 percent, year-over-year, as of mid-year. Strong participation in Mission:Dignity Sunday in 2017 will provide additional momentum into the third quarter, Jones noted.

As part of the celebration of GuideStone’s centennial, Mission:Dignity has launched a new marketing campaign, 100 Reasons, which will be part of Mission:Dignity’s promotions through December 2018. 

GuideStone will mark its 100th anniversary officially June 12–13 at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas.

Motor neuron disease doesn”t keep pastor from preaching one last sermon

ALBA—For 34 years, Ron Dyess preached the sufficiency of God’s grace, encouraging folks who had experienced trials in their lives with the promise that God would supply all their needs. He thought he understood those scriptures, but it was not until he began dealing with a neurological disease that he realized he did not.

In 2013 the signs of an undiagnosed condition began to appear. First, he began falling. Then he noticed he was mispronouncing some of his words. That gave way to slurred speech. After visiting a second neurologist, Dyess was told he had Primary Lateral Sclerosis (PLS), a slowly progressing motor neuron disease that causes muscle nerve cells to break down and weaken.

He and his wife, Janice, already had built a house in East Texas to which they would eventually retire. A year after the PLS diagnosis, Dyess struggled to preach and pastor. He decided to retire early and relocate to Hainesville. The couple joined Lake Fork Baptist Church in Alba where a college classmate of Dyess served as pastor.

It was reasonable for Dyess to assume he’d never preach again. Primary Lateral Schlerosis causes weakness in voluntary muscles like the ones used to control legs, arms and tongue.

“Ron is trapped inside a body that won’t cooperate, yet his mind is still bright and brilliant,” shared Perry Crisp, his pastor and longtime friend. Earlier this year he asked Dyess what he would preach if he had one more chance.

“He sent me his typed message after months of painstaking work,” Crisp told the TEXAN. Through the use of an Eye Gaze computer provided by the State of Texas, Dyess can stare at the letters or pre-programmed phrases displayed on the screen and “type” with his eyes. 

On Aug. 20 Crisp gave voice to the message Dyess had prepared for six months and preached it to the congregation at Lake Fork Baptist. “It made me laugh, cry, smile and think,” Crisp said after reading the sermon.

In his manuscript, Dyess described PLS as a slow progression of the more common amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed at 21, has lived 53 years with the disease. I certainly don’t desire to live that long and be constantly reminded of my limitations,” he admitted. “Nevertheless, I’m not going anywhere until God calls me home.”

Every three months he returns to UT Southwestern Hospital in Dallas to be seen by a team of doctors, therapists and technicians during a three to four hour visit. He uses an IPad with an application that speaks what he types. “This device has given me freedom to speak again and opened doors of opportunity to witness, especially to those in the medical field.”

Crisp explained to the congregation the experience of being trapped in a broken body. “This wretched disease has stolen my ability to walk, talk, as well as my personality. By looking at my facial expressions you might think I’m a few bricks shy of a load,” he wrote, “but I fully comprehend everything.”

Initially questioning why he was given the disease, Dyess said God brought to his mind all of the scriptures he had preached from the pulpit at the three churches he had served. “It was as if he was saying, ‘You’ve preached these scriptures, now live them out in this season of your life.’”

As he learns to live on the other side of the pulpit, Dyess said he can no longer visit folks in hospitals and nursing homes as he did as a pastor, careful to avoid exposure to illness. “I am learning to be satisfied with praying for folks on the prayer list of the church.”

From John 5:1-9, Dyess described learning to live in a handicapped world, a passage he said speaks loudly of the value of a friend. “Like him, I am totally dependent on others. I can’t dress myself, feed myself or bathe myself. I can hold on to a handicap bar and pull myself up to stand, but because I have no balance, if I let go I make a greasy spot on the floor,” he wrote.

“Every day God reminds me to be thankful for his provisions,” Dyess said, claiming Phil. 4:11-13 for this season of his life.

In learning to preach without speaking, Dyess finds the testimony of Peter and John reassuring, citing Acts 4:19-20. “I loved preaching, singing and playing the piano,” he wrote. “Since God chose to close this chapter in my life, I’ve had to find new ways to preach. God is not limited in his abilities to provide the means to those willing to be used for his glory.”

Dyess closed his testimony with Prov. 3:1-13, describing the process of “learning to use what I’ve got while I’ve still got it.” He remembered a plaque hanging on the wall of his grandmother’s house which read, “’Soon this life will all be past, and only what’s done for Christ will last,’ then added, “If only I had adopted that motto when I was a child.”

Praising those who had led in worship and preaching, as well as the church family that had welcomed he and his wife, prayed for and encouraged them. “May you continue to be God’s catalyst in loving folks that he brings to Lake Fork Baptist Church as you use what you’ve got while you’ve got it.”

Special legislative session yields pro-life victories but Privacy Act dies

Texas capitol building image

AUSTIN—Texas lawmakers passed only a portion of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priority pieces of legislation during the special session that gaveled to an abrupt end Aug. 15, one day earlier than scheduled. As with the regular session, ideological difference between and within political parties thwarted efforts to pass bills supported by the SBTC and faith-based advocacy organizations.

As of Aug. 17, Abbott had not indicated whether he would call a second special session to address the unfinished business.

Lawmakers had 30 days to pass 20 bills Abbott declared as priorities. Ten passed muster. Legislation passed included education budget, some pro-life measures and funding extensions for the Texas Medical Board and research into Texas’s maternal morbidity rate. But bills addressing privacy, property tax reform, school vouchers and additional pro-life measures died in committee or in irreconcilable debate. Some ministry leaders and conservative lawmakers lay the blame for legislative failures at the feet of Speaker of the House Joe Straus.

Straus, who called Abbott’s special session legislative priorities a “pile of manure,” appoints committee chairpersons, who control what bills will be debated and voted on by the House. The Senate passed 18 of Abbott’s 20 priority bills within the first week of the special session and sent them to the House only to have some of them, like the Privacy Act, die in House committees without even a hearing.

That kind of power, critics contend, proved fatal for bills that would have prohibited taxpayer funding of abortion facilities and provided school vouchers for disabled children.

In the special session lawmakers refiled pro-life bills that could not get a hearing during the regular session. As of Aug. 17 Abbott had signed into law:

HB 13: Expands reporting requirements of complications due to abortions.

HB 214: Avoids taxpayer-funded abortions by removing elective abortion from Texas health insurance plans.

HB 215: Improves reporting requirements regarding minors and permission to receive abortion.

SB 11: Requires patient or patient advocate approval before hospitals or doctors can place a Do Not Resuscitate order on a patient.

But HB 14, which would have prohibited municipalities from contracting with abortion facilities, was held up in the Calendars Committee and never sent to the House for debate and vote.

Last minute tit-for-tat disagreements between the two chambers over property tax reform and school financing saw the latter sent to the governor for his signature but only after the House grudgingly accepted major cuts made by the Senate. Property tax reform died for lack of agreement between the two chambers—both sides agreed the two tax issues are in need of major overhaul.

Probably the most contentious bill, the Texas Privacy Act, failed to get a hearing in the House State of Affairs committee chaired by Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, after the Senate passed the bill. The Privacy Act would have established a statewide policy that requires persons use the public restroom and changing room that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate or driver’s license.

The law would have applied only to government facilities, including school districts. Some cities would have been forced to rescind or rewrite existing nondiscrimination laws that allow transgender persons to use the restroom and locker room that corresponds with their preferred gender identity. Private businesses would be allowed to establish their own policies for those facilities.

“It is disgraceful that even though the majority of Texans want a privacy act that the Texas House leadership gave into the scare tactics and intimidation of corporate lobbyists trying to dictate our public policy,” said Cindy Asmussen, advisor to the SBTC Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee.

San Antonio pastors who, in 2013, fought the kind of nondiscrimination ordinance the Privacy Act sought to overturn added their voices to over 1,000 pastors who in letters and personal visits tried to convince lawmakers to put the bill, HB 46, to a vote after it became clear the Senate version would not get out of Cook’s committee.

But transgender activists testified against the bill calling it “discriminatory” and warning that the suicide-prone transgender teens could be pushed to the brink if the bill passed.

While sympathetic to the emotional struggles of gender dysphoric persons, some pastors called the LGBT tactics “emotional manipulation.”

“Teens go through so many emotional struggles, and adding the sexual issues to their lives only complicates the emotional state that some of them face,” Steve Branson, pastor of Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio, told the TEXAN. “Allowing them to pick the bathroom or dressing room they want to use will in no way ease the emotional pain that they are encountering, and I honestly believe the emotional pain will increase with the reactions of other teens placed in that situation.”

Renewed efforts to unseat Straus, who represents the 121 District in San Antonio, in the 2018 election could be in the works. In an Aug. 16 meeting called by Straus’s most vocal opponents, the House Freedom Caucus, about 80 of the 95 House Republicans, including Straus, discussed changing the procedure for electing the Speaker of the House in order to allow for a selection from a broader field of candidates. Following the meeting the Freedom Caucus posted on its Facebook page:

“Honest perspectives were shared, and it was the best Republican family meeting many of us can remember. The take away is that the discussion will continue at the next Caucus meeting, which will be held in late September.”