Month: September 2017

REVIEW: “A Question of Faith” a solid film about grief, regret & forgiveness

David Newman is a middle-age associate pastor of a booming megachurch who lives with one motto: Trust God in all circumstances. And thus far, it seems God has blessed him for his faith. Newman has a beautiful family. He has a nice home. He even is set to take over for his father as senior pastor.

Then, tragedy strikes. His 12-year-old son, Eric, is injured badly after being hit by a teen driver who was texting. Newman blames himself because he was late in picking Eric up from school, but he also blames God. Why didn’t God protect his son? After all, hadn’t Newman lived a faithful, Christ-centered life worthy of God’s protection?  

It’s all part of A Question of Faith (PG), which opens in about 660 theaters this weekend and follows the stories of three families whose lives intersect when all of them are faced with trials. It is being released by the Christian film company Pureflix and features a multicultural cast with several mainstream actors and actresses, including Richard T. Jones (Godzilla, Judging Amy) as Newman; Kim Fields (The Facts of Life) as Newman’s wife, Theresa; and C. Thomas Howell (The Amazing Spiderman, E.T.) as John Danielson, the head of a construction company. Actor T.C. Stallings of War Room and Courageous, and Christian recording artist Jaci Velasquez also have roles.

A Question of Faith is a good-but-not-great faith movie that delivers several significant themes and lessons rarely seen on the big screen. The only problem: It’s impossible to discuss them without spoiling the plot.

So if you want to watch this one and be surprised, stop reading now!

Warning: Major spoilers

Violence/Disturbing Images

Minimal. The screen cuts away before Eric is hit by the car, although it is obvious what happens. We then see him in the hospital hooked up to tubes. We also see the teen driver, crying and scared, in jail. Eric eventually dies, and we experience his funeral and his family grieving.    

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None.

Coarse Language

None.

Other Positive Elements

A Question of Faith gives us several examples of devoted parents, including Newman, his wife, and Velasquez’s character (the mom of the teen driver). Early in the film when Newman is trying to get out of a meeting to pick up his son he says, “I know to most people a kids’ basketball game is not as important as a huge construction project, but to a father, it should be.”

Newman is an African-American pastor of a predominantly black church, and the spirit-filled music provides one of the film’s highlights (more on that below).

Additionally, the filmmakers should be applauded for weaving together a story that includes a black family, a Latino family and a white family—the three main families in the story.    

Negative Elements

None.  

Life Lessons

A Question of Faith gives us three major themes/lessons: texting while driving, organ donation, and dealing with the loss of a child.

No doubt, some critics will laugh off a faith-based “anti-texting film,” but it’s tough to do so when looking at the on-screen consequences: a dead child and a grief-stricken family. And it’s not just in the movies. I did a quick Google search and found multiple examples of deaths by drivers who were texting. It made me never want to text and drive.

Other lessons involve prayer, regret, forgiveness, compassion and racism.      

Worldview

Trusting God is easy when life is great, when you’re on the mountaintop. But when you’re facing tragedy, especially following the surprising death of a loved one, it can be a lot tougher. That’s what Newman discovers.

“This can’t be God’s plan. He’s only 12,” he says.

He is angry at God and wants specific answers, but they never come. As the father of four young children, I cried while watching him grieve.

Thankfully, though, those around him don’t give up on him. His wife counsels him, and his parents do, too. He does learn to trust God again, even if it is tough. And they do discover purpose in Eric’s death.

Family-Friendly?

A Question of Faith is family-friendly, although little ones may be troubled by the death of a child and the father’s doubting of his faith.

What I Liked

Actor Richard T. Jones is solid as Newman, and actress Kim Fields turns in a nice performance, too. Stallings also does a fine job. This doesn’t mean that all the acting is great (it’s not), but for most of the lead roles, it’s pretty good.

I also enjoyed the solos and the church choirs. Music plays a prominent role. The church services seem real, not fake.

What I Didn’t Like

A Question of Faith tries to make too many points and touch on too many issues. Simpler would have been better. There also are a few awkward moments, including the movie’s final scene, which was either powerful, or odd, or both. I’m still not sure.   

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

It’s not a great film, but it’s not a bad one, either. Thumbs up.  

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the “recipe” for peace in the midst of grief? How do we achieve it?
  2. Do you ever text and drive? Do you think it’s dangerous? Did the movie change your opinion of texting while driving?
  3. What is your view of organ donation?
  4. Would you have forgiven the driver, as Newman did?  
  5. Are businesses always blessed if they put God at the center?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

A Question of Faith is rated PG for thematic elements.  

3 Keys to Effective Christian Parenting

Parenting under the curse of sin is hard work, but our Lord has poured out his grace on parents with the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. We can trust his parenting principles to actually work. I’d like to share some quick thoughts about parenting from Ephesians 6:4, a verse common to many of us: “Parents, do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” 

Above all else, your child needs a parent with a sincere faith in Jesus Christ. The macro-level context of the verse is Ephesians 4:1, where parents are called to “walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” This refers to a parent’s personal walk with Christ in response to the glorious truths of chapters 1-3. There is simply no substitute in the spiritual formation of a child for a parent who genuinely walks with the Lord across all environments—the home, workplace, community and church. Children know a compartmentalized relationship with the Lord is an insincere relationship with the Lord. A sincere faith doesn’t mean a perfect faith; in fact, sincerity is often more clearly seen in failure. The number one way to become a more effective parent is to work on your personal relationship with Christ. 

Next, if you are married, your child needs you to sincerely love your spouse and pursue marriage by God’s design. The immediate context of Ephesians 6:4 is God’s design for marriage in chapter 5:22-33. The parents’ marriage is the foundation for stability and security in a child’s life. So, the second most important way to improve your parenting is to strengthen your marriage. 

If you are a single parent or married to an unbeliever, please know God’s grace is for you … you are still in the running for effective parenting! One of the most encouraging verses for single parents is 2 Timothy 1:5, where there is no mention of any spiritual influence from Pastor Timothy’s father, only his mother. It seems he either had an unbelieving father or grew up in a single-parent home. Yet Timothy grew up to love Christ and even became a pastor. 

Finally, your child needs a whole lot of you and the Bible. Ephesians 6:4 tells parents to be present in their child’s life and to raise them in the training of the Scriptures. First, be physically and mentally present in your child’s life. Show them lots and lots of affection—hug, kiss and cuddle. Tell them every day that you love them and your life is so much better with them in it. Find ways to have fun with them. And be patient with them—they don’t know everything you know. Just because something is minor in the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean it isn’t a mountain to them when they are 8 or 13. Their world is tiny, and in a tiny world, even the tiny things are big. Be fair. Show grace. And take on the responsibility of exposing them to the Bible. There are so many fantastic resources today for exposing children to the Bible. Don’t think you have to deliver complex Bible teaching to your child; throughout the week you can discuss the Sunday morning sermon with them, read and discuss key Bible stories with them, or share with them what the Lord is teaching you in your personal walk with him. 

These are three big keys to parenting. And the good news is, any parent can decide at any time to start doing these three things. You can choose to follow Christ, love your spouse Christ’s way, be present in your child’s life, and open the Scriptures to them. None of this requires a certain level of spiritual maturity or Bible knowledge as a prerequisite. Literally, these three big keys to parenting are readily available to any parent who wants them. Isn’t the Lord good to us? If you need mentoring in any of these arenas, turn to your local church—another gift of Christ’s grace for your growth in godliness. “Parents, do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” 

Texas churches prepare for massive rebuild effort

HOUSTON – Southeast Texas has weathered the storm but can it survive—and even flourish—in its wake? The task is incomprehensible. But local, state, and national SBC churches and ministries are planning the next phase of Hurricane Harvey recovery – getting people back into their homes and churches. And they are depending on God to move in the hearts of their brothers and sisters across nation to accomplish the impossible.

Estimates of the damage are hard to comprehend Terry Wright, pastor of Vidor First Baptist Church, told the TEXAN. Just in Orange County, where his church is located, 80 percent of the homes went under water—some up to the eaves. Throughout the storm’s 54-county path of destruction an estimated 270,000 homes sustained flood or water damage and 80 percent had no flood insurance. Nearly 800 SBTC churches are in the affected zone, and about 250 have indicated they might be in need of some assistance. Many of those were underinsured or had no insurance at all.

Churches don’t qualify for Federal Emergency Management Administration grants (see related story on Gov. Abbott’s request to President Trump). And the maximum $33,500 payout to qualified homeowners only covers a fraction of repair and replacement costs. So without donations of construction materials and volunteer skilled laborers many Texas homeowners face incomplete or insufficient repairs and cash-strapped churches may be forced to close.

But in the midst of the overwhelming disaster God has already been at work. The wayward are returning to church and the lost are coming to faith in Christ. Wright said he knows why.

“They’re looking for something bigger than the storm,” he said.

And thousands have found it in church people acting outside of the church walls.

Texas Rebuild, launched last week by the SBTC, will focus recovery efforts on the “lighthouses of hope for a community”—churches, said Kenneth Priest, SBTC convention strategies director. By assisting in the repair of church buildings and pastors’ damaged homes the convention hopes to shore up what should be the source of spiritual and material aid in a community.

Jim Richards, SBTC executive director, on Wednesday tapped Kyle Sadler to coordinate the Texas Rebuild effort. Sadler, a wealth management advisor and investment property owner, is no stranger to floodwaters. His own home in New Caney has flooded three times in the past 18 months and First Baptist Church Humble, where he and his family are members, took on two feet of water during Hurricane Harvey.

“The church has to take care of the church. That’s biblical,” Sadler told the TEXAN.

With its church building shored up, a congregation can more confidently and effectively minister within the community he said. Inspecting the hundreds of damaged churches from Rockport to the Sabine River is Sadler’s first task as Texas Rebuild coordinator has put out the call for donated supplies and skilled and unskilled laborers.

Complementing the Texas Rebuild effort will be Nehemiah’s Vision the ministry birthed in the Texas Golden Triangle in the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Ike (2005 and 2008, respectively). When it became apparent that some residents, particularly widows and the indigent, could not afford to repair their homes.

Nehemiah’s Vision has been dormant for six years but between 2005 and 2011 ministry crews repaired or completely rebuilt 1200 homes with the aid of 35,000 volunteers from across the country. The call has already gone out to those former volunteers to return. The ministry reboot will also assist with church repair.

In an interview with the TEXAN two years ago marking the 10 anniversary of Hurricane Rita, Wright told the TEXAN he hoped they would never have to relaunch Nehemiah’s Vision.

“It’s obviously not anything anyone wants to do. It’s a lot of work,” he said Thursday. “But when the board met to consider doing this again [the vote] was unanimous—to help churches and help citizens. We want to do this for the kingdom’s sake.”

And 95 miles east of Vidor, in the heart of Houston’s flooded west side, leadership from Houston’s First Baptist Church met this week to discuss its disaster relief transition from rescue to recovery. After clearing almost 700 homes, deployment of their mud-out crews ended September 22 and a head count of the church’s skilled laborers, electricians and plumbers came up wanting.

“We can’t get into all of that,” Eric Reed, HFBC men’s minister, told the TEXAN. “We’re going to find a dance partner for that.”

But that won’t keep the HFBC from continuing the ministry that Harvey began. As their talents allow, repair crews, teamed with out-of-town volunteers, will continue to work in the city. And donations, including $6,000 from a church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for sheetrock, keep arriving at the church. Contributions like beds and furniture are being warehoused until selected homes are ready to receive them.

Mickey Caison, NAMB disaster relief executive director, agreed. Any rebuild effort requires knowledge of local building and permitting codes, inspection requirements and skilled labor. Long-term rebuild efforts will take the coordinated efforts of state and local non-profit organizations, including both Texas Baptists conventions, whose primary focus will be assisting the communities’ most vulnerable populations.

Caison said last time he checked there were about 700,000 applications for FEMA assistance. And if 6-10 percent of those have no means of repairing their homes that could mean at least as many as 70,000 will need volunteer aid and donated supplies.

“Those are staggering numbers when you begin to look at it,” he said. “And we haven’t even considered Florida, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.”

Because the need is so overwhelming, Mike Ebert, NAMB PR director, said the agency is trying to create more opportunities for people without formal disaster relief training to assist. National and state SBC disaster relief coordinators say the recovery efforts can only continue as long as volunteers and financial support continue.

To date about 1,000 volunteers from churches across the nation are scheduled for Send Relief weekend and week-long projects through the end of October. Caison said NAMB is considering coordinating work crews of college students over Thanksgiving break.

Texas Rebuild has begun receiving requests for assistance while Nehemiah’s Vision has received 100 applications and 800 requests for more information.

As Southeast Texans seek to replace what they pitched to the curb, SBC volunteers will continue to step into the void and share the good news. Sadler believes the storm will bring revival. For some it already has.

For information on applying for assistance from Nehemiah’s Vision assistance go to https://www.nehemiahsvisionrecovery.org/media

For information on applying for assistance from Texas Rebuild go to: www.sbtexas.com/txrebuild

Panel: Parents must take intentional lead on sports, media and technology

NASHVILLE Parents and pastors on a panel at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s national conference advised parents to exercise their God-given authority to guide their families to honor the Lord with their involvement with extracurricular activities and technology usage. The panel explored the joys and benefits of family schedules, sports and electronic devices during an afternoon breakout session, Aug. 25, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. 

Noting that busy schedules and life’s demands can often overwhelm families, Nicole Lino, a pastor’s wife from Humble, Texas, said husbands and wives must be deliberate in order to protect their marriages.

“To make protecting your marriage a priority, you really have to plan and be intentional,” said Lino, whose husband, Nathan, pastors Northeast Houston Baptist Church. “Communication is essential. … We’re going to talk about our schedules and build in some margins in our time when we’re expecting stressful seasons in our marriage, when we know things are crazy busy at the church.” 

Lino also said parents must assume the role as the leaders of the home rather than let their children rule. 

“In our house, we don’t let anyone hijack the family, as we call it,” Lino said. “You can hijack the family with your schedule, your emotions and your demands on finances.” 

Rather than let one child’s schedule, activities or actions dominate the life of the family, the Lino’s simply tell their kids, “God gave you a mom and a dad to know what’s best for you, and he’s going to give us insight and wisdom to how to best grow in godliness, to help you navigate the world you’re living in.” 

Parents must also take the lead in their children’s spiritual discipleship, she said.

“You cannot, outside the home, find a substitute for what a parent sincerely in their faith with Jesus Christ can do in the spiritual formation of that child,” Lino said. “They are looking through the microscope at the slide of your life and your walk with Jesus Christ, and they can see all the nitty-gritty details. They can see your joys and successes and how the Lord is working in your life and where he provides. They can also see you struggle in your faith. You want them to see that. … They need to see it working outside your home as well. They need to see your faith being applied in your community, in your church, and in your home the same way.”

Parents should beware of allowing passivity to affect their family’s technology usage, said Tony Reinke, a father and senior writer at Desiring God Ministries.

“[My kids] pick up patterns that I’ve given them over the years,” said Reinke, author of the book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. This recognition caused him to re-evaluate his own use of technology. 

Applying the gospel to technology usage, Reinke said, “The advantage that Christian parents have is that we realize that the struggle against the smartphone and all of these impulses that get us to grab our smartphone every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives is this idea that we want to be loved, we want to approved, we want to be validated, and we people to matter. 

“We want to take the carefully selected images of our lives and put it in front of other people to be told that we’re doing things right, that we’re succeeding. All of these things are deep, deep, deep heart issues. This is not superficial stuff. … What we’re engaged in is a fight over the affections. … My job is to raise the spiritual affections of my children as high as possible because if I don’t do that, porn will. If I don’t do that, self-validation will. If I don’t do that, the hyper-Google culture that they cannot escape will do that. As Christians, what we see is that we are in a worship war; our kids are in a worship war [between pleasure in God and the allures of the world].”

Referencing C.S. Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters, a fictional story about a senior demon giving advice to a rookie demon on how to trip up Christians, Reinke said the book introduces Satan’s “nothing strategy” 

“The nothing strategy of Satan is this idea that if he can get us hooked into doing things which we are not called to do and things that do not satisfy our souls, that is the “dreary flickering” … if he can keep us there, we’ll waste our lives.” 

Reinke noted the irony of Lewis’ phrase “dreary flickering” and the glow of smartphones. He advised parents to thoughtfully manage their children’s electronic devices, including smartphones, computers and tablets. He and his wife created a timeline from ages 0 to 18  for how their children will use media and technology, which they adjust as needed and based on each child’s natural tendencies.

David Prince, pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., and a preaching professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also addressed the issue of sports.

“We have to acknowledge that sports can become an idol,” Prince said. “It can become something in your life that you’d be better off pushing to the side. But, like everything else, the issue is not sports, the issue is you. The issue is that you’re corrupting what God has given as potentially a good gift and using it in an unhealthy way. … Sports is not where you get your identity. Sports is something that you enjoy.” 

Prince, an avid sports fan, said sports give children opportunities to fail and learn from their mistakes. While many parents want their kids to avoid failure, Prince noted, “All of us are managing failure. …. Most of us are role players in life, we’re not stars. … But do role players matter? Yes. 

“Failing in these small areas like sports is an incredible opportunity for personal growth. It’s not a disastrous thing. … It’s a great opportunity to talk about life and work ethic and this is not the end-all, be-all when your kid misses the game-winning shot.”

SBC evangelism task force holds first meeting

FORT WORTH How to increase Southern Baptists’ passion for personal evangelism and encourage preachers to include evangelistic invitations in every sermon were among the topics discussed Aug. 14-15 at the first meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s task force on soul winning and evangelistic preaching.

“I cannot remember a meeting that encouraged my heart as much as this one,” task force chairman Paige Patterson said in a statement released to Baptist Press. “We had a large portion of the task force who were able to attend, and they seriously and humbly pursued the convention-assigned task.

“Fully one-fourth of our time was spent on our faces before God asking for his guidance and for an outpouring of his blessings upon our churches and institutions,” said Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “This task force is under no illusion that we have the ability to speak wisely to our convention. We know well that any contribution we make will have to be the wisdom of God.”

Appointed by SBC President Steve Gaines, the task force stems from a motion made and approved by messengers at the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix that a committee be established to suggest how Southern Baptists might be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching.

While the group was not given a name by the convention’s official action, Patterson has referred to it as the “SBC Task Force on Evangelism.”

The inaugural meeting—hosted by Southwestern Seminary—featured a variety of presentations by task force members and initial discussion of the group’s report to be presented at the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Gaines told BP the task force “had a great two days together.”

“We talked about the decline in baptisms in our Southern Baptist Convention,” said Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. “We discussed various possible reasons for that. We talked about the need for increasing people’s passion for personal evangelism, and we discussed various ways to do that.

“We also discussed the fact that we believe every sermon should present the gospel message and also appeal to people to respond—whether that’s a come-forward invitation or encouraging someone to pray and invite Christ in their hearts then and there … or inviting them to go to a room after the service where they can counsel with someone,” Gaines said.

Task force member Jimmy Scroggins told BP discussions were “informative,” “wide-ranging,” at times “intense” and always “saturated with a spirit of camaraderie and friendly cooperation.”

“People were passionate,” Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., said in written comments. “At times it was emotional. And we don’t all see everything the same way—there is a diversity of opinion, experience and practice on that committee. Fortunately Dr. Patterson created an environment where every person had freedom and opportunity to speak their mind.

“Our committee has a lot of work to do going forward,” Scroggins said, “but I think the contours of next summer’s report are already emerging. There is a powerful sense of unity, purpose and prayerfulness in our group, and we are all hoping and praying that God is going to use this report to help propel the churches of our convention forward in our evangelistic strategy and efforts.”

Meeting attendees included Patterson; Gaines; Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary; pastors Jordan Easley, Nick Floyd, James Merritt, Doug Munton, Garcia and Scroggins; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Robert Matz; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Jim Shaddix; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Adam Greenway; and Southwestern Seminary professors David Allen and Matt Queen.

Gospel vital to parenting, speakers at ERLC conference say

NASHVILLE Christian parents need the gospel and grace-powered effort to rear children faithfully, a capacity crowd heard on the first day of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s 2017 national conference About 1,300 people gathered Aug. 24 for “Parenting: Christ-centered Parenting in a Complex World” at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. 

Parents are powerless without the gospel, said J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh/Durham, N.C.

“The Bible teaches us our kids have more than an information problem,” Greear said in an address based on Psalm 127. “They’ve got a heart problem. They are spiritually dead. Their loves are disordered. … Only the power of God can change that.”

After sharing an illustration contrasting a helium-filled balloon with one that is not, Greear said, “The gospel is the helium that transforms the heart.”

The wise parent is not seeking just obedience but “a heart that obeys God because it craves God,” he told the audience. “There is no technique that can guarantee the right heart to be developed in our children. That is something that only the new birth can do.” 

“It is faith, not technique, that is the most important element in parenting.”

God “does not give you success as a parent because you did everything right, but it’s because you hoped in his grace,” Greear said. “The well of his grace never runs dry, never.”

Dean Inserra, lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., told the crowd, “A grace-driven, gospel-fueled effort is essential in the war on pornography.”

While filters and warnings “are wise, they are not enough,” he said, adding that Christians need a different approach.

“[A] gospel-centered approach is the only way to truly have teens who are not resembling the world,” Inserra said, noting that a “gospel-centered home” fosters a deep respect for women is learned and practiced.

Parenting is about cross bearing, ERLC President Russell Moore said. 

“Parenting shows that the only way we can gain our lives is by losing them and the only way we can win is to lose,” Moore told attendees, “so we have the freedom to pour ourselves out for the next generation not because we want everyone to see how successful we were as parents, not because we feel the obligation to always do the right thing but because we love and in that love we have the ability to risk.”

Greear also urged parents to recognize their goal.

“Our kids were given to us for the purpose of sending them into the mission, and that changes how we think about rearing them,” he said. 

If Christian parents treat children like furniture or art to be kept in the home instead of arrows to be sent out, they discourage them from discovering God’s plan, Greear said. “The ultimate mission of the family is not to protect children from all harm but to mobilize them for the mission of God.”

Bible teacher and author Nancy Guthrie shared four ways God uses the hard seasons of parenting in Christians’ lives:

  • To train them to trust God in new ways.
  • To turn their focus toward what really matters.
  • To make them desperate for God to do what only He can do.
  • To persist in prayer.

“Nothing has put my claim of trusting God to the test quite like parenting,” Guthrie said. While two of her children died after six months because of a rare condition, “it’s trusting God with my living child that I have found so very hard,” she said.

Guthrie told the audience, “Give up fixing, but never stop praying. Give up worrying, but never stop praying. Give up despairing, but never stop praying.”

Focus on the Family President Jim Daly encouraged parents to allow their children to experience failure.

“Give your children the chance to fail … the chance to walk through adversity, and when you do it when they’re young, you can control it,” Daly said. “Love your kids, let them fail … and train them up in the faith.”

Videos of all sessions are available at erlc.com/resource-library.

Rick Warren counsels Southeast Texas pastors amid Hurricane Harvey relief efforts

BEAUMONT—The losses that are going to hurt the longest after Hurricane Harvey are the invisible ones, pastor Rick Warren told a group of Southeast Texas pastors at Calvary Baptist Church in Beaumont as he counseled them on how to help people recover in what could be “the church’s finest hour.”

“If unbelievers like what they see in the mud-outs and all the stuff we’re doing, then they will listen to what we say,” Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., said Sept. 18. “Many times outreach to people starts with a hand and then moves to the heart and the head.”

Southeast Texas holds a special place in his heart, Warren said, because First Baptist Church in Lufkin was the first sponsor of Saddleback when it began, and he spoke to the pastors from his experience ministering in the aftermath of more than 30 different natural and man-caused disasters throughout the world and over the years.

Life is filled with loss, and the Book of James says not to be surprised when it happens, Warren reminded the pastors. “This is not heaven. This is earth, and everything on this planet is broken because of sin. The weather’s broken, the economy’s broken, our bodies are broken, our minds are broken, our relationships are broken.”

People want to look at a natural disaster such as Hurricane Harvey and pronounce God’s judgment, but Warren said, “Never use a disaster to make political or theological points. Just help people!”

The hardest part, he said, “is going to be what happens in the minds and the hearts of people after we’re already cleaning up the property and the possessions.”

“We can see the devastation of property and we can see the devastation of possessions, but what is not seen is, for instance, the loss of the glue that was holding a marriage together that was very fragile and about ready to come apart,” Warren said.  “A crisis often doesn’t cause a problem in a relationship, but it reveals a problem.”

Some people will not get over Hurricane Harvey; they will only get through it, he said. “That’s a phrase that you’re going to want to say over and over again to people. … Right now all you can think about is surviving, but at one point you will be thriving. You’re not going to stay in survival mode. The surviving will become thriving over time.”

The problem with grief, Warren said, is people get in a hurry with it.

“We don’t like grief, so we often try to resume without reflecting. That’s a mistake,” he said, adding that there is no expiration date on grief and life may never return to normal for many people.

“Nobody can tell you how soon you’re to get over it,” Warren said. “The fact is you’re not going to get over it but you will get through it, and it’s going to take as long as it takes. Recovery takes time. It’s different for every disaster and it’s different for every person in that disaster.”

Warren has been asked thousands of times how to find the strength to go on, he said, and he points to Romans 8:28.

“Anybody can bring good out of good. God specializes in bringing good out of bad,” Warren said. “He loves to turn crucifixions into resurrections. That’s the kind of God we serve.”

The Apostle Paul said in Romans, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” Warren noted. 

“People who come out of it are going to come out because they know certain things, and when they know certain things then they’re going to have greater stability in their lives,” Warren said.

Nathan Cothen, pastor of Calvary Baptist in Beaumont, thanked Warren for being there to “stand with us in our hour of need.”

Warren reported that Saddleback has already given about $1 million in disaster relief funds for Texas, and he wanted pastors at the gathering to fill out forms letting him know what their churches needed. He also is making available to them six months’ worth of crisis-related sermons because “when you’re doing mud-out you don’t have time to do sermon prep.”

Jeremy Bradshaw, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Bridge City, told the TEXAN he watched Warren walk around the room giving hugs and handshakes to pastors who have been laboring in disaster relief. Bradshaw said what Warren shared with them was good for his soul and helped him think through how to help his congregation.

“For a lot of us pastors that know each other, it was the first time we were able to sit down and catch up,” Bradshaw said. “It was a good break.”

TX Gov. Abbott asks President Trump to authorize FEMA assistance for churches

AUSTIN—In a letter sent to President Trump, Sept. 20, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton called for churches and other religious organizations to receive equal treatment with other nonprofits and to be included in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster funding for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

“Churches have opened their doors to feed, shelter, comfort and rebuild their communities—even hosting FEMA operations in the process—but this policy has made those very same churches ineligible for assistance because their primary use is, by nature, religious,” Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton wrote in the letter.

According to a news release from Abbott’s office, FEMA’s Public Assistance Program and Policy guide was revised during the Obama Administration and offers assistance to private non-profit organizations—including zoos, performing arts centers and museums—but excludes facilities established or primarily used for religious activities. Trump has made statements recently indicating he believed churches should be entitled for FEMA funds.

“The policy of denying relief funds for churches discriminates on the grounds of religion and is nothing more than the relic of an administration that preferred rewriting laws to faithfully executing them,” Abbott and Paxton wrote.

“Excluding churches and houses of worship from FEMA disaster relief not only makes for bad policy, as you acknowledge, but also risks the federal government violating the constitutional rights of those who are playing an instrumental role in getting Texans back on their feet after Hurricane Harvey. In light of this, we urge you, Mr. President, to move with alacrity and define ‘private nonprofit facility’ in FEMA’s Policy Guide to include churches and other faith-based organizations.”