Month: January 2018

First Rockwall’s missions offering climbs

ROCKWALL  Members of First Baptist Church in Rockwall gave $1,206,000 for their annual World Missions Offering at the end of the year.

Seventy percent of the offering is sent to the International Mission Board, 20 percent to the North American Mission Board, and 10 percent to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for its Reach Texas state missions offering.

In addition to its World Missions Offering, First Rockwall allocates 18 percent of its operating budget to missions through the Cooperative Program.

“It’s a big world, and it takes lots of money to even try to reach it for Jesus,” pastor Steve Swofford wrote in a Baptist Press column. “God blesses the church that tries to bless the world. I know of no better way to do that than the Cooperative Program.”

In 2005, when Swofford received the M.E. Dodd Award at the SBC annual meeting for his efforts in supporting Southern Baptist missions, he said he felt the strong leadership of the Lord that he had to be one of the guys on the home base who helped to support missions. “I just believe very strongly in missions, both at home and abroad,” he said.

First Rockwall’s budget is about $70,000 a week, and the Sunday of the missions offering people gave $120,000, so the one doesn’t affect the other, Swofford said, adding that about 1,500 people gather in one of three worship services each week.

“Our people are in that kind of giving mood,” he said. “They don’t rob Peter to pay Paul. They just give.”

Beyond giving, their hands-on missional approach includes a variety of local and regional activities, such as the work of the Yarn Angels, who make hats, scarves, mittens and more for NAMB’s Appalachian Regional Ministry and a local hospital. Church members go on several national and international and mission trips each year.

Church programming includes support groups such as Grief Share for those who have lost loved ones. Mosaic is an inward and outward ministry that promotes adoption. The group visits orphanages in other countries and makes day trips to area shelters and children’s homes. Mosaic also promotes hands-on ministries to those who have adopted or foster children.

“Can’t go? Can’t give? Take a meal, mow a lawn, host a shower, write a card, PRAY,” are suggestions given on Mosaic’s page on the church’s website,

Reviews on Facebook and Yelp attest to members’ appreciation for the church.

“The pastor has a way of letting you know exactly what he believes,” wrote Dala Harvick Reick on Facebook. “He’s not afraid to give his opinion about the state of our country, either. Refreshing to hear someone who is not afraid to say the things that need to be said.”

Cathy H. wrote one of 26 reviews on Yelp: “Ya wanna know something? This place rocks! We by far have the most amazing, loving, non-condemning, straight-talking pastor this side of the Mississippi. You wanna come here and hear something about God that you can take with you for the rest of the week.”

Swofford preaches in all three Sunday morning services and Wednesday evening. Swofford has served as president of the SBTC, as a trustee for the International Mission Board, and currently serves on the SBTC’s Executive Board.

When Swofford came to the church, he led them to combine the three seasonal missions offerings into one World Missions Offering, as he had at two other churches he pastored. Rather than promoting one offering three times a year, he wanted to make a huge thrust for one early December offering.

That first year, the offering was about $13,000. Last year was the first time the offering exceeded $1 million.

First Rockwall also has been in a building project for the past five years, which receives designated offerings by church members.

But it’s the steadily-increasing World Missions Offering that grabs the most attention.

“It’s amazing that our people are doing what they’re doing,” Swofford told the TEXAN. “It’s a big deal to them. It’s a big deal for us. It’s one of the biggest days of the year for us. It’s special that they’ve caught the vision.

“I try to be very careful to show our people where the money goes,” he said. “I think it’s just an educational process. … I’m very grateful to have a church that has people who are willing to give.”

REVIEW: “The Greatest Showman” is toe-tapping fun ¦ and family-friendly

Phineas is a hard-working husband and father who has a flare for creativity and innovation. Right now, though, he’s unemployed and just needs a job to feed his two daughters in 1800s America.

Desperate, he risks everything and borrows $10,000 to open a downtown museum of “oddities.” It’ll have everything not seen in other museums – even wax figures and the world’s tallest giraffe (stuffed, of course).

Sadly, though, no one comes. His young daughters think they know the problem.

“You have too many dead things in your museum,” one says. The museum, they tell him, needs “something sensational.”

So Phineas hangs posters up throughout the city searching for “Unique Persons and Curiosities.” He soon finds them: a bearded woman with an incredible singing voice, a man with hair all over his face, an obese person dubbed the “world’s heaviest man,” and a short man the size of a child. Soon, they’re part of a circus-like show that is drawing thousands of fans. Phineas, also known as P.T. Barnum, is now world famous.

It’s all part of The Greatest Showman (PG), a musical now in theaters that is loosely based on the life and career of Barnum. It stars Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, Logan) as Barnum; Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea) as his wife Charity; and Zac Efron (the High School Musical series) as his business partner Phillip Carlyle.

Movie buffs who enjoy history and musicals – like me – will fall for The Greatest Showman. I did. The music is a different genre than what was featured in the 2016 hit La La Land, although it and the choreography are just as catchy. Perhaps that’s not surprising, as two of the men who wrote the music for The Greatest Showman (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) also worked on La La Land.

The Greatest Showman also features a solid pro-family message as well as plenty of fodder for a worldview discussion.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!


Minimal. We see a couple of fights, including a brawl between a drunk mob and the circus performers. We also see a man slap a teen boy.


Minimal. The movie begins with a courtship of a teen boy and girl; they eventually marry. The bearded woman wears several low-cut dresses that exhibit a significant amount of cleavage. An opera singer named Jenny Lind puts her head on Barnum’s shoulder in a train scene and they seem destined for an adulterous affair, but he rebuffs her advances. Later, we see an unmarried couple kiss a couple of times.  

Coarse Language

Minimal. Misuse of “God” (3), the word “d—n” is heard several times in a song, although it’s easily missed.

Other Positive Elements

Barnum’s love for his wife and daughters is admirable. He takes his show on the road and misses several important family moments – such as his daughter’s ballet performances – but repents by the movie’s end. The family-like bond among the circus performers also is inspiring. (See below.)  A white man and black woman fall for one another, despite society’s negative reaction.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Barnum stretches the truth in his marketing. People also protest his show as “indecent.”

Two of the lengthy musical numbers take place in bars, with patrons/performers continuously drinking.

An unforgiving Barnum rudely tells his in-laws to leave a post-performance party because his father-in-law never wanted Barnum to marry his daughter.   

Also, this is another “follow your dreams” movie. I’d rather follow God’s will.

Life Lessons

The Greatest Showman gives us lessons on overcoming bullying/stigmatizations (the circus performers), standing up for the downtrodden (as did Barnum, Carlyle), doing what is right – in love and business (Barnum, Carlyle) and prioritizing your family (Barnum).


Lettie Lutz, the bearded woman in the film, summarizes the movie’s theme when she tells Barnum: “Our own mothers were ashamed of us [and] hid us our entire lives. … You gave us a family.” The Lutz character is based on a real-life bearded woman, Annie Jones, who had a condition that caused her to be born with facial hair and then progress to a mustache and sideburns at age five. She soon had a beard.

It’s easy to feel sorry for many of the movie’s so-called “freaks” (as they’re labeled in the film). Due solely to genetics, many of them were born with something that would make them societal outcasts. Barnum – in his strange way – gave them companionship and hope.

God’s intent, though, isn’t to send society’s outcasts to a circus. His desire is to see them loved within the body of Christ, and within a church.

No doubt, The Greatest Showman’s theme will be interpreted differently by others. It’s not hard to imagine lyrics such as “I make no apologies … this is me” being borrowed by the LGBT movement.  

Christian families, though, should know that the film contains no gay characters. The movie’s catchy music and solid lessons make this one worth watching with children – especially older ones.  

What I Liked

The music. No, the genres don’t fit the historical era, but that’s OK. When the credits began rolling, I was ready to watch the film again.

What I Didn’t Like

I would be nitpicking to include anything.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Which of the circus performers would make you most uncomfortable if you were around him/her? Does your stance align with what Scripture requires?
  2. Do you agree with Barnum’s mode of making money off the performers?
  3. Compare and contrast a church and a circus in how they reach out to the downtrodden. Which is more successful?
  4. Have you ever seen someone making fun of or bullying someone else? What did you do? What should you have done?

Entertainment rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Greatest Showman is rated PG for thematic elements, including a brawl.

Talking to your children about …

passed through the living room of our house as a group of newsy TV people were talking about how to approach your kids about sexual harassment in the news. This came in the wake of talking to your kids about Sutherland Springs, talking to your kids about Hurricane Harvey, talking to your kids about Donald Trump, talking to your kids about police brutality and so on. In many of those cases there were counselors standing by to help your kids (even college kids) deal with things ranging from an election that made college professors sad to murderous evil. Although I do think it is the right and responsibility of parents to prepare your kids to live in a chaotic and fallen world, and I do think those outside your family can offer some good advice, perhaps we talk to our younger kids about too much. 

I remember over the course of the past 35 years—those years when I’ve been most interested in parental behavior—hearing of second and third graders who “spontaneously” wrote letters to only conservative presidents expressing worry about nuclear proliferation or climate change. Third graders have really changed since I was one. In reality I suspect that either teachers or parents “talked to their children about” the things that had the adults in their own echo chambers stirred up. Of course the kids will worry about things adults find important enough to stress. But I don’t think this is done to the children’s benefit. 

In the mid-1960s, when the U.S. was becoming more involved in the Vietnam War, the pastor of my church was on a mission trip somewhere in Southeast Asia. My mom went to the globe and showed me where he was and where the increased fighting was. I understood that it was serious and that Mom was worried about him. I also understood that she wasn’t worried about her own safety or mine. So I went back to what I was doing. I was a kid. Without really strategizing, it’s how Tammi and I handled 9/11 with our older kids. It was on the news and we talked about it a lot as details rolled in. They understood that it was serious, perhaps even that many things would change, but they were not afraid because we didn’t give them any reason to think that we were personally and imminently threatened.

So there’s talking and there’s talking. My grandchildren are 8-months old to 8-years old. Their parents are pretty watchful of the kids’ screen time. That means my 8-year old granddaughter is not subjected to a constant stream of lurid news TV or hysterical talk radio (including NPR). Our grown kids are alert and aware citizens but they are committed to protecting their own children from pointless worry. Why should minor children care about Roy Moore or Charlie Rose or Al Franken or Matt Lauer or John Conyers? Why should some nitwit adult give them the idea that it matters to them here and now? The slow motion train wreck of celebrity reputations exhausts me but my grandkids can understand safety and danger without me grinding every detail into their minds. 

Most parents have enough sense to know what’s appropriate to intentionally tell their children at various stages of life. I wonder sometimes if this common sense is applied when it comes to what kids hear from the 24-hour news cycle or radio diatribes. This is a good argument against young children—I mean under 16 but fill in your own number—having a smart phone. Sensible parents must extend that extraordinary care to protect their kids from those who get paid to war against common sense. Without getting personal, I’d consider them to be adversaries as you try to raise happy and secure children. Keep your adversaries away from your kids’ eyes and ears by any means necessary.

You may need to turn down your own stress. Children look to adults, particularly parents, to help them decide how to respond to events. Maybe you’ve seen a child bump his head and then look at you to decide if he should cry. If you go into full comfort EMT mode, he’ll provide the siren. If you act unruffled by the minor bump, he may rub his head and continue the mission. That’s a good reason to not let events distant from your family control your general attitude. In the face of everything alarming thing you know that our God is in heaven, not surprised or confounded by what’s happening. That’s a testimony you can wear on your face, in the tone of your voice and in the content of your dialog.

We need the wisdom to know what our children need to know. They won’t need to know every dire possibility that enters the minds of pundits or the habitually worried. Especially when they are still dependent, and usually regardless of the question, children need to know that Mom and Dad are dependable and depending on God. Talk to your children about that.  

Entrusted: A Gospel Legacy for the Coming Generations Part 1

The title of my column is the theme for the 2018 Annual Meeting, held November 12 and 13 at Second Baptist Houston’s Kingwood campus. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is celebrating 20 years of missions and ministry. It is a time to look back and look ahead.

It is hard to think that an SBTC church pastor who is 30 years old was 10 when the convention was started. We have a new generation of leaders who need to know why we exist. Here’s my perspective. 

After World War II the Southern Baptist Convention saw the seeds of theological liberalism begin to sprout in the seminaries and agencies. Ralph Elliott, a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a book, The Message of Genesis, in 1961 that denied a literal Adam and Eve as well as a literal worldwide flood. The neo-orthodoxy of European Christianity and the northern U.S. denominations had bubbled up in the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptists were outraged but the encroachment of liberalism had only begun. 

By 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention in annual meeting voted to essentially call for abortion on demand. With the support of SBC agency heads, the resolution called on Southern Baptists to “to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” 

A president of an SBC seminary had written a commentary pointing to miracles in the Bible as “legend and saga inextricably interwoven in the text.” 

By 1979 the situation in the SBC was dire. The leadership in many agencies was theologically detached from the people in the pew. It took 15 years of struggle for Billy and Betty Baptist to regain the SBC from those who had taken it down a path of theological liberalism. By the mid-1990s the SBC agencies had been reclaimed for biblical inerrancy.

State conventions are not farm clubs of the SBC. Each state convention is autonomous just like each local church is autonomous. The SBC system operates on voluntary cooperation. State conventions would have to decide whether or not they were going to reflect the conservative theology of the SBC. All state conventions to varying degrees reflected the SBC’s return to sound doctrine with the exception of two–Virginia and Texas. In 1995 many Virginia Southern Baptists formed a new state convention.

Loyal Southern Baptists in Texas tried to elect presidents to the state convention through the 1990s but to no avail. The presidents would have been able to effect change in the state agencies and schools. After losing elections and votes on issues, it became apparent that a new convention would have to be formed in Texas. 

There were five defining differences between Texas convention leadership and disaffected Southern Baptists. The foremost point of contention was biblical inerrancy. Those who wanted change were calling for a confessional fellowship of churches based on a doctrinal statement. The office of pastor being reserved for a man was the second matter of concern. There were several churches with women serving as pastors. The third reason for disagreement was that the Texas convention allowed churches to support liberal or SBC competing groups while calling the contributions “Cooperative Program” giving. These three issues continue to make the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention unique in Texas as a state convention. Another issue was an agency of the Texas convention that endorsed justifications for abortions, which included fetal deformity and the emotional state of the mother. Finally, there were cooperating churches with the Texas convention that endorsed homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. The SBTC founders spoke loud and clear that they wanted a different type of convention.

Twenty years later the SBTC stills stands for the principles it was founded upon. The Bible is the inerrant word of God. The convention is a confessional fellowship. The statement of faith states that churches will work together, agreeing that life begins at conception and ends at natural death, that the office of pastor is reserved for a man and that marriage is between one man and one woman. The Cooperative Program is defined as an undesignated giving channel in an exclusive partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention. In twenty years we have remained faithful.      

It has been my privilege to be with the SBTC from the very beginning. Next month I will share with you my personal journey in coming to the SBTC.

Have a great start to the New Year as we work together to Reach Texas and Touch the World!  

10 reasons you can’t miss the 2018 Empower Conference

As Empower Conference 2018 is quickly approaching, I wanted to share with you 10 reasons why you should be a part of this great two-day event at the Irving Convention Center on February 26–27.

1. 18 million lost people. This is how many people live in Texas who don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is imperative that we return to what is closest to the heart of God—him being glorified, lost people being found and disciples being made.

2. Only evangelism conference in Texas. There are a lot of great conferences out there, but what sets Empower apart from the others is that it’s returning to a true evangelism conference. I’ve asked every speaker and breakout leader to speak on something under the umbrella of evangelism.

3. It is for everyone. A common misconception is that this conference is preachers preaching to preachers. However, this year’s conference is for everyone. It is sure to be a time of refreshing for pastors, staff, volunteer leaders and frankly everyone in the church. I am confident that you will be challenged, inspired and encouraged.

4. Opportunity to network. This the conference that provides you an opportunity to network with a convention, other ministries, churches and people who are passionate about the gospel going forth so people can know Jesus.

5. Applicable breakouts. There will be 10 breakouts offered on Monday afternoon led by experts in their particular areas of ministry. Without a doubt, you’ll grab on to some things you can take back with you to your mission field.

6. Shane and Shane. No, I won’t be singing. Not from the stage anyway. But, two other men with the same names will be leading us in worship. Shane and Shane are incredibly anointed worship leaders who connect with all ages.

7. Historic Monday night. We’re looking to fill up the Irving Convention Center on Monday night! In addition to having Shane and Shane lead worship, Robby Gallaty, Bob Goff and J. D. Greear will be speaking. Our main session will be followed by a time with NY Times bestselling author Bob Goff. It will be a conversation on reaching the next generation with the gospel.

8. A Classic Luncheon and session to remember. The Classic Luncheon kicks-off Empower at 11:45 AM on Monday, and will feature nationally known Christian author, encourager and comedian Dennis Swanberg, followed by a Classic session from 1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., featuring southern-gospel group, The Erwin’s, and speakers – Junior Hill, Herb Reavis, and Tom Elliff.

9. Jam-packed goodness on Tuesday. Tuesday is a full-day and evening of some of the best evangelistic speakers in the country, such as Robert Smith Jr., O.S. Hawkins, Jim Richards, Dennis Watson, Jon Akin, Ryan Fontenot and D.Z. Cofield.

10. Free iPads. Registration is open now. We want to help with networking opportunities for attendees and registration will help us do just that. In fact, the first 1,500 to pre-register and check-in at the conference will be eligible for a drawing to win one of four iPads. So, go register now at

Can’t wait to see you there. Please, join me in praying now for an evangelism movement that will spark at the Empower Conference and spread across the world for the glory of God. We can’t stop until everyone knows the name of Jesus.