Month: March 2018

Why attend denominational meetings?

When the Southern Baptist Convention comes to Dallas this summer for its annual meeting, it will do so for the second time since 1985. That 1985 meeting was the largest convention meeting ever, the high water mark of our movement to return the SBC to its commitment to biblical authority. It’s been 20 years since the convention came to town so some of us in North Texas will have an opportunity to attend for the first time ever. You should make it a priority if you’re a Southern Baptist. 

I’ve attended SBC meetings regularly since 1982. I was 27 when I started and the convention was run by guys my dad’s age. It took a while to figure out how things work but I was part of a movement unique in church history for its scope and impact on American Christianity. Adrift as I was, and surrounded by people twice my age, I’m glad I was there as my denomination turned from its support for abortion (the reason I was most likely to leave the SBC) and took another hard-fought step toward biblical integrity. Since then, small and large issues have arisen during the business and hall talk at the convention, but something important happens every year—even when the important things are predictable and tedious. Here are a few reasons you should attend: 

Ownership This is not the most fun reason for attending but it is the essential reason we meet every year. The messengers from the churches, gathered during two days each June, have authority over everything our institutions and missionary boards do for the remaining 363 days. We approve their budgets, assign them trustees and give instructions though motions that provide marching orders for those who serve our churches. It’s not easy, the work of a couple of years, to make a big impact, but I have seen it done over the course of decades; I helped it happen.

Education If you’re a Southern Baptist, you learn things at our annual meeting that won’t learn elsewhere. Sure, you’ll hear good preaching and even get some free books if you plan your week right, but also you’ll see some things that will challenge you. The reports of our institutions are the stories of people—pastors, widows, church planters, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, choir members and others enriched and trained by the work you support. The Cooperative Program is not just a boring fundraising effort in this narrative; it is the lifeblood of a broad and effective missionary enterprise. You’ll also see, as I did at my first meeting, a fellowship of pastors and church members who are diverse racially, culturally and generationally. Few niche meetings you attend will hit all those marks. It’s hard to maintain some prejudgments of your brother and sister Baptists after seeing us together. There are a lot of meetings you can attend where your particular affinity or interest is the entire agenda. I find it enlightening to occasionally hang out with people I don’t understand very well. 

Encouragement This is a big reason for most conferences. The SBC always features solid preaching, chances to talk with ministry specialists and even a health screening station to encourage you avoid Tex-Mex and barbecue. It’s hard to come back from the SBC without being spiritually and professionally challenged at least once. 

Fellowship Hallway meetings, alumni meetings, side meetings, luncheons—we have those in abundance. I always see friends from my former ministries, as well as people who live across town but whom I see only at the convention. This benefit is not unique to our Southern Baptist meetings but you won’t miss out on chances to make and renew friendships as you attend our meetings. This aspect has grown in recent years with the addition of different affinity group meetings and meals. For many of us, fellowship is the most memorable aspect of Southern Baptist meetings.

Do you find other Southern Baptists, or the general collection of us, uninteresting? I get it; most of us are not very cool. But do you love the seminary that trained you or your pastor? For most of you, that seminary wouldn’t/won’t be here without the SBC. Do you love the International Mission Board more than you do the rest of the convention? Not even the IMB would/will be around without the SBC. You can be conservative, an expository preacher, missional as all get out and lead your church well without being a Southern Baptist, though it would be hard. But you probably are a Southern Baptist if you read this column. Join us in Dallas on June 10-13, or some portion of those days—especially if you’ve never been before. You’ll come away understanding a bit more of what “Southern Baptist” means for your ministry; I guarantee it. 

REVIEW: Newest “God’s Not Dead” is different from its predecessors “ and that”s good

Dave Hill is co-pastor of a thriving, historical church that’s a lot like any other congregation today. It stands firm on God’s Word. It reaches out to the downtrodden. It provides hope for a lost world.

Sunday after Sunday, Hill tells his members that “God is good, all the time,” but lately, he’s struggled with his faith.

Those doubts began creeping in when his co-pastor and good friend was killed in an accident. Then, the church building caught fire and was condemned. Soon thereafter, the university where the church resides decided to boot the congregation from campus, all in the name of eminent domain. 

Pastor Dave wants to fight the college in court – with the help of his atheist attorney brother – but that only adds to his stress when divided residents start picketing the church.     

“I think it’s time for Christians to stand up for themselves,” he says.

The growing controversy has made him famous and placed him on the talk-show circuit, but he has begun wondering: Is the legal battle helping or hurting the cause of Christ?

Pure Flix’s God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (PG) opens in the theaters this weekend, picking up where God’s Not Dead 2 left us: with Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) being held in contempt of court for not handing over his sermon transcripts to the government in a separate legal battle. 

But even though A Light in Darkness is the third movie in the God’s Not Dead series, it has a different feel and message. It is more evenhanded in its portrayal of atheists, thanks to the back-and-forth between Pastor Dave and his brother, Pearce (played admirably by John Corbett – My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The movie also has an ending that likely can be embraced by both sides – something that could not be said of the first two films.

In addition to White and Corbett, it stars Ted McGinley (Do You Believe?) and Oscar winner Tatum O’Neal (The Runaways) as university officials, and Jennifer Taylor (Two and a Half Men) as Pastor’s Dave’s romantic interest. 

I didn’t care for the first God’s Not Dead film but enjoyed God’s Not Dead 2. I liked the latest one even more. It’s the best God’s Not Dead movie yet. 

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. One character punches another one in the face. They roll to the ground before the fight ends. A brick is tossed into a house. Later, we see another character punch someone in the face. We see a character arrested and in jail.  

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None. The movie follows a pair of romances. A college student kisses another student on the cheek. They eventually break up. We see a college girl swim in an indoor pool in a one-piece swimsuit.  

Coarse Language

None

Other Positive Elements

See Worldview, below. 

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

If you bring children, then be prepared to discuss atheism and church dropouts. Some of the college students describe how they stopped going to church after leaving home. Others openly question the existence of God. We see a college party with some students drinking.

The movie’s plot is also worth mentioning. Perhaps you’ve wondered: Why is a church located on university property in the first place? Answer: Its location preceded the university’s founding. They had co-existed harmoniously until now. 

Life Lessons

A Light in Darkness gives us solid lessons on humility, forgiveness, civility, hope, healing and unity. 

Worldview

Our culture thrives off divisiveness. Television’s top-rated talk shows are the ones where one side blasts the other side. It’s the same on radio, too. It seems everywhere we turn – from our email inbox to our Facebook timeline – people are trying to drive “clicks” by angering and dividing us.  

Are humility and unity a thing of the past? God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness tells us they’re not. That’s good news, because Scripture commands Christians to “count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) and the church to have “unity of mind” (1 Peter 3:8) with “no divisions” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Of course, we also are to “stand firm in the Lord” (Philippians 4:1) with courage and strength (1 Corinthians 16:13). We’re not to compromise God’s Word. 

How, then, do you find the balance? Perhaps this popular-but-anonymous quote sums it up best: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” In the newest God’s Not Dead, we see that on display.

What I Liked

The interaction between the two brothers. It’s entertaining. Corbett is impressive. The legal drama is engrossing, too. 

Most simulated TV broadcasts in movies look fake. In this film, they look quite believable.

I liked the ending, too.  

What I Didn’t Like

One of the movie’s fights seemed odd and out of place. I wrote in my notes: “That fight was dumb.”  

Discussion Questions

  1. Should Pastor Dave have continued his legal battle?
  2. List five issues in which Christians should never back down. List five issues in which there is room for disagreement.
  3. Have you ever doubted God?
  4. Is our culture too divided? What’s the cure?    

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5. 

Rated PG for thematic elements including some violence and suggestive material.

REVIEW: “Ready Player One” has a great message ¦ and tons of content problems

Wade is a technology-crazed teenager living in a technology-crazed world. 

Sound familiar? 

This world, though, is much different from modern-day America. The year is 2045, and Wade is fighting for survival in a depressing, dystopian world where people have forgotten how to work.  

He lives with his aunt in a rusted, high-rise trailer park in Columbus, Ohio, and he passes his time doing what most Americans do: playing in an interactive virtual reality world called the OASIS, where people can be who they want to be and where the limits are – you guessed it – your imagination.

In 2045, this is what people do when they’re not eating or sleeping. They don a virtual reality headset and explore a fake world. Everyone has an avatar, but – here’s the catch – no one knows whose avatar is whose. The reason for the secrecy is simple: They are racing to find a hidden “Easter egg” within the game that was placed there by OASIS creator James Halliday – a find that would net the winner ownership of OASIS and presumably wealth, too. If someone is getting close to finding the Easter egg – and if other players know who that person is – then he or she might be hunted down and killed in the real world.

For Wade (avatar: “Parzival”), the race to find the Easter egg is going great. In fact, he’s in first place. But then he falls in love with a female avatar. And then he unveils his real-world name. And then a bad guy who heads a company called Innovative Online Industries tries to locate him in the real world and kill him.

It’s all part of Ready Player One (PG-13), which opens in theaters this weekend and is based on the 2011 bestselling novel by Ernest Cline. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) as Wade/Parzival, Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) as his romantic interest Samantha/ Art3mis, and Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) as the head of Innovative Online Industries.

Ready Player One is a modern-day parable with a great message for of all of us: Get off your high-tech devices, spend time with your friends and family, and live life in the real world. Sadly, though, much of the content is not family-friendly. 

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate/Extreme. It’s not as bad as modern-day violent video games – there’s not as much shooting — but it could be quite intense for children. The movie begins with scenes of Fast and the Furious-type cars racing and crashing in city streets. King Kong and a T-rex try and smash the cars. Later, we see the boyfriend of Wade’s aunt punch him. One specific avatar has a skeleton for a chest. The family of one of the main character dies in an explosion. Guns are pointed and often shot. A massive war-type battle takes place. We see more punching and fighting. We see lots of zombies. We see an alien-type monster explode out of an avatar’s chest. Perhaps the film’s most disturbing scenes involve a re-creation from parts of the horror film The Shining. We see the spooky girls, blood spilling down the hallway, and zombies chasing and trying to eat the good guys. Much of it is played for chuckles, but I’m not sure children will be laughing. 

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Moderate. Art3mis wears a skin-tight virtual outfit that shows her back. Later, she wears a quite-revealing dress when she and Parzival dance provocatively in a nightclub. The most concerning scene involves a real-world woman getting out of a bathtub and walking toward a male character (she turns into a zombie). She’s nude, although due to camera tricks the viewer only sees her head, back and legs. In the film’s opening scene, we briefly see an overweight, dressed woman wearing a virtual reality headset and dancing on a pole.    

Coarse Language

Moderate/Extreme. About 36 coarse words: s—t (14), h-ll (8), a—(3), d—n (1), f-word (1), d—k (2), GD (2), G-d (1), OMG (2) and p-ssed (2). That’s a lot for a movie aimed at an audience that includes tweens and teens. It also seemed the writers placed some of the words in scenes just for effect – to make the characters sound “cool.” They seem out of place. 

Other Positive Elements

Samantha was born with a birthmark on her eye and uses her hair to cover it. Wade sees her in the real world and tells her he likes the way she looks – birthmark and all.

Life Lessons

Ready Player One gives us lessons on the dangers and pitfalls of technology, the limitations of a virtual reality world, and the need to stay grounded in reality.    

Worldview

Technology has one primary purpose – to make things easier and convenient, and above all, to improve our lives. Washing machines did that. Dishwashers, too. The list is long.

But if we’re honest, can we truly say that the latest wave of technology – smartphones, tablets and high-tech video games – has been a net-plus for society? Consider: A 2015 study by Microsoft showed that our attention spans have fallen in recent years, from 12 seconds to eight seconds. This means we’re more distracted than ever from the more important things in life: Nature. Friends. Family. God. We don’t want to deal with real-world problems. We’ve got to check Facebook! And we haven’t even discussed the addictive nature of these devices. Some researchers argue they can be as addictive as drugs. 

The Bible tells us to “be still” and worship him (Psalm 46:10), but is that possible when our smartphones are constantly beeping with alerts and texts – and we’re engrossed in social media? Nielsen tells us that the average American stares at a screen 10 hours a day.

Wade said it best at the end of the film: We need to spend more time in the real world.     

Discussion Questions

  1. How long could you live without your smartphone? What would you miss most?
  2. Do you think smartphones have been a net-plus or a net-minus for society?
  3. Do you think the future of America and the world will resemble the world in Ready Player One?
  4. What steps can we take to ensure we’re not addicted to technology?  

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.

Q & A with SBC presidential candidate Kenneth Hemphill

TIGERVILLE, South Carolina—The TEXAN interviewed SBC presidential candidate Kenneth Hemphill by phone three weeks following the Q & A with J.D. Greear.

Priorities as president: The IMB, NAMB & the Great Commission

TEXAN: What will your priorities be as SBC president, including fulfilling the Great Commission? Will you encourage this through agencies, churches or a combination?

HEMPHILL: I think it has to be a combination. It always starts at the local church.

Revitalization has been the theme of my life… I want to talk about attendance, baptism and Cooperative Program (CP) giving which impacts our missional force as well.

Church revitalization is a spiritual matter before it is a practical one. We must continue the emphasis on prayer and revival that Steve Gaines initiated. It’s important we restore trust and vitality in our partner relationships. The local church, association, state conventions, national convention are strategic partnerships that we need not to ignore, but revitalize.

We must renew our commitment to biblical literacy … knowing the Word of God and fulfilling his will.

I am going to focus on small group Bible study or Sunday school. [Hemphill cited statistics indicating a decline in church attendance, stating he would produce resources to help churches facilitate small groups].

Our emphasis on church planting must continue. That’s been a real function of NAMB. It’s important that we establish new churches for different ethnic groups, strategic groups in [unreached] communities and new housing developments.

I want to focus on the revitalization of existing churches. Churches with a worship attendance of 250 of less give more than 60 percent of our CP resources…. We need to help [legacy churches] in revitalization. They need to know they are important and that we are as committed to helping them as we are to planting new churches. It’s not an either/or strategy; it’s both/and.

I have plans for a total revitalization initiative called Together We Can to encourage growth in baptisms, attendance and giving.

TEXAN: Do you see a need for ethnic and racial diversity in the SBC and the increased involvement of the next generation?

HEMPHILL: This is critical. The value of diversity is spoken of so often in Scripture: 1 Cor. 12, the whole body imagery there … speaks to diversity. We need each other.

The denomination must reflect the diversity we see in heaven as every tribe, tongue and nation gather. It would be naïve for me to suggest I know how to resolve this issue. People in our state and national conventions are already working toward this end, and I would cooperate with them, sit down, listen and talk to them. I would listen and pray with those we need to hear from … ask them how we can help. What can we do as a denomination to assist? In my preaching and sharing, I plan to be open as invitations occur.

[Hemphill confirmed he would make minority appointments so that SBC committees will “start looking like heaven.” Regarding the next generation, he said he has contacted young pastors he regularly mentors at North Greenville University for recommendations].

The Wide Tent

TEXAN: You affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. About what non-essentials do Baptists disagree?

HEMPHILL: We signed the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 at Southwestern when I was president.

Non-essentials might include style of worship, how we organize small groups…. We get into too many unnecessary methodological arguments.

We’ve got to embrace every style of church and worship, ethnic diversity, all generations…. We need everybody in this thing to work together.

Religious Liberty

TEXAN: How do you balance the constitutional right of freedom of religion with the church’s response to LGBTs?

HEMPHILL: If gender identity and sexual orientation are grouped under the discrimination classes, and the historically Christian university or church is not allowed an exemption [at NGU] that would mean things like allowing the open expression of same sex affection. We would be required to recognize gender dysphoria [affecting] dorms, locker rooms….

If this is already being brought out over the design of wedding cakes, we would be foolish to think that it could not affect churches in their right to practice marriage based on their biblical convictions. We are facing a real issue here…that any religion upholding a traditional definition of human sexuality based on biblical convictions could be boxed out of the system. That could be a violation of our first amendment rights… [Hemphill recommended vigilance, cautioned against compromise for the “sake of the gospel,” and confirmed he preached the “biblical standard of purity for everyone”].

Funding the Mission

TEXAN: Do you support the Cooperative Program?

HEMPHILL: The reason I allowed my name to be placed in [nomination] is because I am such a strong advocate of the CP.  [Hemphill cited statistics reflecting a decline in overall CP giving from over 10 percent in the 1980s to 5.16 percent today].

That is a serious issue…if we don’t address it, we aren’t going to just be bringing hundreds or thousands of missionaries home, we will be addressing the whole missional enterprise of Southern Baptist life.

We need to renew our commitment to a cooperative mission strategy and the giving mechanism.

I believe CP giving follows a biblical pattern. [Hemphill cited 1 Cor. 16, and 2 Cor. 8-9].

There was a volitional decision against societal giving at a critical moment in our history, when societal giving was found to be inefficient and ineffective…. [Asked about Great Commission Giving, Hemphill cited a 2008-2017 decline from $542 million to $475 million].

Part of GCG is really a neo-societal method of giving. I don’t think we’ve turned back to a societal method, but we have gone to where churches select budget items they like or … go outside the SBC and give to some entities, ignoring others. GCG may have inadvertently inspired that.

I do recognize in the autonomy of the local church, that every church has the right and responsibility to make decisions as to how they will give their mission dollars. That is part of SBC life and heritage, but the default method should be the regular CP.

TEXAN: Are state conventions important?

HEMPHILL: I am an advocate of the strategic partnerships. They all begin at local church, then association level, then the state and SBC. For many smaller churches, the local association is their lifeline. I spend so much time speaking for DOMs at associations to see the value in terms of evangelism and outreach in that local area. The state convention also has an integral relationship with those associations and churches, forming a bridge to the national convention.

Related to church revitalization and church planting, in cooperation with NAMB, a state executive or staff probably has better insights on where to plant churches in their locale than somebody sitting in an office or somewhere in Atlanta. We’ve got to learn to trust the states to make wise decisions concerning needs and budgets….

Rather than attempting to redesign the wheel, we need to affirm our commitment to all of these partnerships and revitalize them for the sake of the kingdom.

TEXAN: Any comments on the influence of Calvinism?

HEMPHILL: We have always had those whose theology was reformed or Calvinistic. They have always felt welcomed. It’s not an issue in that way. I am not sure that, at least in our recent history, we have had as many well-placed and visible leaders who endorse that theological position….

There’s always been a healthy tension in our denomination, and it’s been good for us, causing us to consider the incomprehensible mystery of God’s grace. I personally believe his atonement is unlimited. I am eternally grateful that he died for a sinner like me.

TEXAN: What is your stance on alcohol use?

HEMPHILL: My wife and I practice total abstinence. This has always been our posture… from generation to generation. My reasoning is that alcohol is a drug, one of the most abused because of its wide acceptance… My issue has always been my personal testimony and possible impact on a weaker brother. Now that I have 10 grandchildren, it’s even more important to me. I am glad to belong to a denomination that has stood steadfastly against alcohol use. I agree with the many resolutions the SBC has passed concerning the use of alcohol.

Laredo pregnancy center helps women see hope beyond crisis

LAREDO Every day, the Laredo Life Pregnancy Center receives calls from women, some as young as 12-years-old, facing unplanned pregnancies. Many of them feel as though they have no good options, and for some, access to support could make the difference between choosing life or abortion for their unborn child. 

“Believe it or not, I have sat down with many women who, just because they can’t afford diapers, they want to abort,” said Sandy Nava, LLPC executive director. “At that moment, they only see that problem. They can’t see the future. … We’re here to open up their eyes and help them see a little farther down the road.”

After experiencing the loss of her own baby through a miscarriage, Nava sensed God calling her to help pregnant women in crisis. She began volunteering at the center in Laredo in 2009, and the following year, she was named director. 

Today, through her leadership and the teamwork of local volunteers, the organization is able to provide expectant mothers with emotional and practical support, beginning with education. 

“It takes us as Christians to educate women about life, to share that what is in them is a person’s life that the Lord has put there,” Nava said. “We teach them, first of all, what an abortion is. They just think it takes care of the problem, but they don’t know the risks involved. They don’t know what harm is coming to them and the child.”

Open for appointments three days a week, the LLPC also offers free pregnancy tests, as well as parenting classes that help mothers and fathers move toward independence while maintaining a strong support base. Additionally, clients can shop the center’s monthly Beloved Boutique, which is stocked with a wide range of donated items to help meet the physical needs of new moms and their babies. 

For those individuals who have abortion as part of their past, the center is also a safe place to receive support through counsel and Bible study. 

“Even in our churches, there are women who are struggling and suffering from that decision they made. We want to help them be set free, so they can also be advocates for protecting life,” Nava said.

Above all else, the center’s primary focus is sharing the hope of the gospel in the midst of brokenness. 

“People are broken, and they’re coming into the center in a crisis,” said Sandy’s husband, Jose Nava, who serves on the LLPC board of directors. “We are able to share with them love and God’s forgiveness through this. We want to make sure they understand we are there to help them and point to Christ, always.” 

Despite a growing need for resources such as those offered at the LLPC, Sandy Nava said pro-life ministries have taken a backseat in churches and often get overlooked among so many other outreach opportunities, but she hopes to see that change through more support and more prayer from fellow believers. 

“Life is precious, and we cannot think that we’ll wait until tomorrow or volunteer someday … Time is of the essence when lives are at stake,” Sandy Nava said.

One Laredo-area church engaging on the frontlines of this ministry is Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida En Jesus, which has given financially over the years and also has several congregants volunteering regularly. 

The church’s pastor, George Levant, got involved with LLPC through his friendship with Jose and Sandy Nava and is now a member of the center’s board of directors. 

“The Laredo Life Center is a wonderful ministry that the church ought to be able to tap into and help. The focus is on the physical life of the baby but also on the spiritual life of the mother, and sometimes, even the father,” Levant said. 

In Laredo, as in many cities across the state, the need to educate and aid women in crisis is great, but instead of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of that need, Levant said his hope for LLPC is that the impact would come one woman and one family at a time. 

“I believe if we work on a personal basis, eventually we’ll see the results,” Levant said. “If we can help one person come to know Christ, and we can save one baby, the impact that I see is not so much community-wide, but family-wide.”

To learn more about Laredo Life Pregnancy Center or to donate to the center’s ministry, visit support.laredolifecenter.org.  

Q & A with SBC presidential candidate J.D. Greear

Editor’s Note: After speaking at the Empower Conference in Irving on Feb. 26, J. D. Greear granted a few minutes for an interview with TEXAN writer Jane Rodgers. The North Carolina pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, is one of two candidates for the office of president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The annual meeting will be held in Dallas this summer with the vote taking place June 12. 

DALLAS—SBC presidential candidate J.D. Greear was interviewed by the TEXAN and SB Voices two years ago, before he withdrew from the 2016 race. The TEXAN recently asked Greear to update his positions for 2018.

The IMB, NAMB & the Great Commission

TEXAN: In 2016, you said your priorities as SBC president would focus on fulfilling the Great Commission. As president, will you encourage this through agencies or churches or a combination?

GREEAR: It’s got to be a combination of both. The SBC exists to facilitate local churches in the execution of the mission. In church planting, evangelism … the tip of the spear [must] be the local church. As a pastor, I want our pastoral team to get behind members in ministry and I think our agencies ought to get behind local churches, enabling them to do ministry. I don’t mean churches need to take over theological education. That’s why we have seminaries.

The IMB does a great job equipping and sending people overseas. They can do that in such a way that leads the local church instead of doing it for the local church. I always say good parachurch—that’s what the denomination is—works through the local church; bad parachurch takes ministry from the local church.

I’ve been encouraged with the directions the IMB and NAMB are going. It’s been [their] priority to engage local churches. Specifically with the IMB, there are far too many local churches that aren’t engaged [meaningfully] in church planting. The IMB wants to raise the level of church planting engagement in all of the churches, something we should all want.

TEXAN: Your church—The Summit—plans to plant 1,000 churches?

GREEAR: By 2050. Each of the churches we’ve planted thus far has been Southern Baptist. We have gone through NAMB for domestic church plants in SEND Cities. NAMB [is] our preferred training partner because the training and networks are excellent.

Ethnic and Generational Diversity

TEXAN: Do you still see a need for ethnic and racial diversity in the SBC and the increased involvement of a “new generation”?

GREEAR: Preferably we have leaders who lead everyone and not just part of the convention. Many of my mentors and [staff persons] are from the older generation. I value them. We need to move forward together. We need to see younger people stepping up into leadership, and if I can trigger … those guys getting engaged, that is my desire. Some of this younger generation are involved in the SBC, but too many are sitting on the sidelines.

As for ethnic and racial diversity, almost half of the campus pastors and worship leaders at The Summit are non-Anglo: mostly black, also Latino and Asian.

There needs to be a sensitivity in tone in the diversity conversation. Sometimes I feel like a lot of our efforts at diversity are done for minorities rather than with them. God has placed [many] ethnic leaders in our midst …. God has already raised them up. We just need to give them opportunities to lead.

The SBC president has the power to make appointments and establish the platform…. Minorities are not represented in leadership the same way they are represented in the [SBC’s] constituency. Rome was not built in a day, but we want to move in that direction because, especially now … we need their wisdom and leadership with the diversification of America.

The Wide Tent

TEXAN: In 2016, you affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 while cautioning against in-fighting. About what non-essentials do Baptists argue?

GREEAR: For one, the finer points of Calvinism. There are evangelistic, gospel-loving, non-reformed people in the SBC and they need to feel at home here. There are evangelistic, gospel-loving, reformed people in the SBC, and they need to feel at home here. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is broad enough to give us freedom on areas that are non-essential but narrow enough to keep us united on the essentials. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in it.

[The “eschatology war”] once separated a lot of people. Fifteen years ago there were worship wars…. All doctrinal discussions are important, but the BFM 2000 is what we must agree on to go forth in mission.

Religious Liberty

TEXAN: How do you balance the constitutional right of freedom of religion with the church’s response to LGBTs?

GREEAR: At The Summit, we try to be clear. We signed the Nashville Statement [https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement] on what the Bible teaches about gender. If churches are not clear, they’re not doing anyone any favors, but we also know that gender issues aren’t necessarily something you lead with. Let’s deal with the lordship of Christ first. If [certain positions] define us, we’ll never get to have the conversation about Jesus with any of our gay or transgender friends. So it doesn’t mean we deny those ethical issues or put them away, but we try not to make them the first thing.

[Greear offered an example of a gay couple attending The Summit who became Christians: “Bottom line, we told them they could not become members until the marriage was dissolved, but we embraced them as part of the community while they were working through it.”]

The LGBT debate is a microcosm of the whole religious liberty issue. CEOs of companies at our church are unsure how to lead. Many have gay [employees] and have no problem with that. There’s a difference between having gay employees and being actively involved in the promotion of that lifestyle. Some threats to religious liberty are governmental, some societal.

It is more difficult to live out the Christian confession consistently in the public square today. I don’t want to compare that persecution to what our brothers and sisters are going through around the world because it’s not the same …. but Christians are no longer seen in our society as having the moral high ground.

Funding the Mission

TEXAN: Do you support the Cooperative Program?

GREEAR: Absolutely. One of my goals is to increase the Cooperative Program level of giving in the SBC. There are several ways this can happen. First, churches ought to be giving more to the Cooperative Program. Second, we want to encourage our state conventions to give more of the money, to be more efficient with the money to get it overseas [Greear expressed gratitude for state conventions that give large percentages through CP].

A third category we must recognize is that some churches will choose to give cooperatively but not through traditional CP structures. We need to give them the freedom to do that and recognize that is their prerogative.

It wouldn’t be good to go back to what is called societal giving— which is where everybody picks their favorite entity. We don’t want that.

If your church is not involved in a state convention, it may be wisest to give separate from a state convention. Ultimately, I believe a rising tide raises all ships; the more we celebrate all of the Great Commission giving we see in the SBC, the more we’ll see CP giving rise.

TEXAN: Are state conventions important?

GREEAR: Our church is involved in our state convention. Of the churches we have planted in North Carolina, one of the pastors is on the state board of directors, and yes, such involvement is great. I would encourage it. I also recognize there are some that may choose to get involved in other things.

TEXAN: Any comments on the influence of Calvinism?

GREEAR: The Bible teaches about God’s priorities in salvation, that he draws people to him. There are also things we do in evangelism that make a real difference. The Bible teaches that, also. These are tensions to be managed, not contradictions to be resolved. Some of these reformed doctrines are in that category. God is sovereign in the salvation process, but what we do really does make a difference. That’s the tension.

TEXAN: Lastly, what is your stance on alcohol use?

GREEAR: I choose not to use alcohol. To me, it’s not an issue. I choose not to drink for reasons of wisdom and witness. I have Christian friends who don’t hold that conviction. I consider them full brothers and sisters in Christ.

REVIEW: “Paul: Apostle of Christ” is a masterful picture of the apostle”s final days

The year is A.D. 67, and Emperor Nero – the cruel Roman ruler you read about in history books – is on a rampage. 

At night, his soldiers tie up Christians on street posts and set them ablaze. During the day, the soldiers round up the other Christians and take them to the arena, where they are eaten by lions to appease the blood-thirsty oligarchy.   

If that weren’t bad enough, the Christians’ wisest leader – the apostle Paul — sits in a dark and dirty prison awaiting execution.

“His work for Christ has come to an end,” says Luke, Paul’s young and courageous close friend.

Christianity’s future seems bleak, but Luke has a plan. He will visit and interview Paul to make a written record of the apostle’s incredible life. This document (Acts) then will be copied so that it can encourage the persecuted church and help spread Christ’s message to the ends of the earth. 

Luke’s idea is a risky one – he faces death if it’s discovered he’s a Christian and not simply a concerned physician – but it just may be worth it.  

The movie Paul: Apostle of Christ (PG-13) opens in theaters this weekend, starring James Faulkner (Downton Abbey) as Paul, Jim Caviezel (The Passion of The Christ) as Luke, British actress Joanne Whalley as Priscilla, and Irish actor John Lynch as Aquila. 

The film follows two narratives: 1) Paul’s recapping of his life to Luke, and, 2) Priscilla, Aquila and the other Christians debating how to respond to Nero’s persecution. (Should they flee Rome? Stay in Rome? Take up arms and rescue Paul and the other believers?)

It is part biblical fact and part biblical fiction, although the film’s writers did a masterful job of weaving together a believable narrative that’s full of scriptural references. For example, we know from Scripture that the churches in the New Testament took up collections to help one another, and they did in the movie, too, as Luke hands Aquilla a bag of coins from a sister congregation. We know from Scripture there were false teachers in the church, and in the film we hear that Titus and Timothy have “straightened” them out. We also know the New Testament church cared for widows and orphans, and in the movie we hear Priscilla assert that the Christians should remain in Rome solely to care for those vulnerable groups. 

Faulkner, though, is the heart and soul of the movie, delivering a powerful performance that is sure to inspire moviegoers to live boldly for Christ.

“Everything I have done, I have done for Christ,” he says.     

Faulkner’s character quotes Scripture often, but it always sounds as if it’s being said for the first time in history – and not read dryly from the pages of the New Testament. 

Paul: Apostle of Christ is one of the best Bible movies I’ve seen. Let’s examine the details. 

Warning: minor spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Moderate. We see charred bodies on street posts. Later, we see a soldier douse a Christian with a liquid, then set him on fire. A soldier kicks Paul – who is lying on the ground — in the back. We see bloody scars on Paul’s back. We hear a mom reference how a soldier took and killed her baby. Paul discusses how he hunted down and killed Christians. We see drops of blood on the ground from Stephen’s martyrdom. A Roman official grabs a woman by the throat. A soldier gets stabbed. Luke performs a medical procedure and drains blood from a patient. We see Christians walking into the arena, but we don’t see them eaten or killed. We see a character preparing to be beheaded; we see the sword raise, but nothing else. 

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None.

Coarse Language

None/minimal. Luke calls the prison a “h–lhole.”   

Other Positive Elements

The Christian love between Luke and Paul is admirable. 

Luke and Paul oppose violence against the Romans. “We cannot repay evil with evil,” Paul says. “Even can only be overcome with good.” Says Luke, “Love is the only way.” 

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Priscilla and Aquilla have a disagreement over whether the Christians should flee Rome (the disagreement never reaches an argument). The movie references Roman gods and sacrifices to gods. 

Life Lessons

The movie is full of spiritual lessons, including: generosity (multiple characters), brotherly love (multiple characters), standing firm in your faith (Paul, Luke, others), redemption (Paul), forgiveness (multiple characters) and risking your life for the gospel (multiple characters). 

Worldview

God calls us to live life with an eternal focus (Colossians 3:2; 1 Peter 4:7-11), but few of us in the 21st century do that. On most days, we’re focused on – and stressed out over – the temporal.

Paul’s focus was on heavenly matters. When told that he faces certain death, he continues preaching the gospel, knowing that such an action will only hasten his execution. Later, when he has a chance to escape the prison, he refuses to leave. He also expresses dismay over his “thorn” in the flesh and his sinful past, but then adds that Christ’s “grace is sufficient.”

As he says, his goal is to do “everything” for Christ. May that be our goal, as well.  

The church father Tertullian (AD 155 to 240) famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” He was referencing a paradox: The Christian faith grew despite that fact that Christians were beaten, tortured and killed for their faith. In Paul: Apostle of Christ, we see this paradox on the big screen – and it is inspiring to watch.     

What I Liked

The screenplay. Faulkner’s performance. Watching minor biblical characters interact on the big screen. Seeing Christians debate – in a mostly gracious manner – their strategy. 

What I Didn’t Like

Not applicable. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What gave Paul and Luke such a bold faith?
  2. Would you be willing to die for the gospel?
  3. How has your faith been challenged lately?
  4. Should the Christians have fled or stayed in Rome?
  5. Why did the gospel continue to spread, despite persecution?  

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Paul: Apostle of Christ is rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images.  

College groups minister to Harvey victims over spring break; Alabama volunteers stay on task in spite of EF-3 tornado back home

HOUSTON—Even after an EF-3 tornado—one of 13 tornadoes to strike northern Alabama March 19—ripped through their college campus, tearing roofs off dorms, downing trees and damaging cars, Jacksonville State University students elected to remain in Houston to help hurricane victims rather than returning to assess their own damaged living spaces.

It was not the spring break most expected. Then again, perhaps it was, at least in terms of mission and camaraderie. 

The 28 JSU students and sponsors deployed to Houston with the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief/GenSend initiative. They joined 320 college students from across the nation to spend one of three spring break weeks in Texas rebuilding neighborhoods devastated last September by Hurricane Harvey.

While Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency back home, the JSU students learned of their state’s plight. Gary Brittain, JSU Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) director, asked the group what they wanted to do. They voted to stay in Houston, while Brittain and three students returned to Alabama to check on the college.

Peggy Colbert of Calhoun, Ga., marveled at the students’ determination to finish the job. She served as NAMB site director at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Northwest Houston where the GenSend volunteers were housed.

“Some had lost everything in their dorm rooms. Most knew nothing about their cars from the hailstorm, and they stayed working every day,” Colbert said.

Their work involved replacing sheetrock, and taping and mudding seams. Few students had prior construction experience, but they learned on the job, supervised by experienced disaster relief (DR) construction crew chiefs.

“They don’t know what they are going back to,” Colbert said of the group’s scheduled March 23 departure.

The students’ story has not gone unnoticed by the media, Colbert added, noting that members of the group had been interviewed by local news outlets.

“They are an incredible group of students, committed to God,” she said.

The JSU students were not the only ones sacrificing their vacations,” Colbert noted, explaining that over the three-week GenSend initiative, 31 crews of 10-12 college students worked out of Champion Forest. Colbert served as site director all three weeks.

 “To think they would pay to come sleep on the floor of a church to work on houses during their spring break, incredible,” Colbert said of the students from 15-20 colleges from the Pacific Northwest to New York and New England.

“Some didn’t know what a hammer was before they came, and they most certainly did not know what a trowel was or a T-square,” Colbert chuckled.

“We were quick learners,” said JSU sophomore Olivia Willoughby of Huntsville, Ala., whose crew worked on two houses. Willoughby said staying in Houston was an easy decision.

“The city [Jacksonville] has a curfew. If we went back, there was really nothing we could do to help. Here we can be productive. It really helps take our minds off what we will confront when we drive back,” Willoughby said.

“We had seen the pictures [of JSU]. We knew how bad it was. We all realized there was nothing to do there. It was pointless to go back when there’s people who need help,” said JSU freshman Elizabeth Rains of Scottsboro, Ala., whose dorm was damaged.

Caleb Howell of Alexandria, Ala., said he lives at the BCM and confirmed the property had suffered uprooted trees, roof damage, interior water damage and the loss of a tool shed.

Brandon Stevens, from Alexander City, Ala., is a JSU sophomore on his second mission trip despite dealing with cerebral palsy. He said such experiences will continue to figure in his future.

“I want to be able to help Jacksonville every way I can,” Stevens said, calling his “new skills” of sheetrock installation and mudding both useful and “interesting.”

Colbert said she overheard Jacksonville students remarking how their newfound abilities will allow them to help restore their campus and town.

Steve Turner, NAMB’s senior director of next generation mobilization, called the overall Houston effort, “a wonderful partnership between churches, SBDR, the SBTC and Send Relief to bring students to the city bringing help and hope to those affected by Harvey.”

DR feeding crews from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention prepared meals for the Houston GenSend volunteers.

NAMB GenSend spring initiatives also deployed students to Puerto Rico and Immokalee, Florida. For more information, visit https://www.sendrelief.org/disaster-response/collegiate-disaster-response/.

GenSend volunteers were not the only collegians to assist Harvey victims over spring break, said Brandon Reed, SBTC DR consultant who coordinated operations out of FBC Humble. 

In addition to the student volunteers at Champion Forest, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship groups from the Northeast sent 150 students to Humble, north of Houston, where they were housed at FBC Humble. Members of the church prepared and served meals for the volunteers.

InterVarsity brings non-Christians on outreaches, Reed said, explaining the organization seeks a “50 percent believer to non-believer ratio for the purpose of discipleship so non-Christians can see life lived out.” 

Some of the non-believers accepted Christ, Reed said, describing Stephanie, a New England coed who saw something different about “these Christians, the way they operate and do things,” that drew her in.

“As a result of seeing God work through this rebuild process and sensing God at work in her own heart, she accepted Christ,” Reed confirmed.

InterVarsity groups completed 37 work orders, helping the helpless and hopeless, such as Yvonne Price, a 78-year-old widow who contacted Reed for help months earlier. Finally, this March, sufficient resources and student labor were in place to fully insulate and drywall Price’s home, which had been stripped to the studs.

“For most of these homes, if the students and volunteers aren’t available, the work won’t be done,” Reed said. “These folks don’t have the funding or resources to do it on their own. It’s a tough thing to watch but a beautiful thing to witness: we are part of a religion that is undefiled, serving widows and orphans.”

Pat Brightwell, a Humble-area widow in her mid-sixties thought she was out of options and planned to sell what was left of her home. 

“Something told her not to,” Reed said, explaining that students reconstructed Brightwell’s kitchen and painted, enabling her to again occupy the house she thought was lost forever.

“This is home again,” Brightwell told volunteers.

“A walk of faith”: Church’s building, destroyed in 2011, now rebuilt

LANCASTER Seven years ago, the Jordan Missionary Baptist Church congregation lost their worship center when a violent storm destroyed the roof. But God compelled several Texas Baptist ministries to provide aid, and the 125-member congregation now has a reconstructed facility.

On Feb. 28, 2016, the members and many who had helped them celebrated and worshiped together in the rebuilt sanctuary. In 2017, JMBC completed Phase II—a family life center with a kitchen and classroom space.

“This has been a walk of faith,” JMBC pastor Sinclair Royal told the TEXAN.

In an SBTC video recorded in 2017, Royal recalled seeing the building after the storm: “It was the most heart-felt, heart-wrenching thing I had ever seen.” Then he added, “Unbeknownst to us, God had already made a way.”

The morning after the April 2011 storm, members were boxing items to store when an old pickup truck wheeled into the parking lot. Royal said, “I thought it was another contractor. But it was a pastor.”

Kevin Prichard, the pastor of Rolling Hills Baptist Church, told Royal, “God has laid you on our hearts.” The nearby Anglo congregation offered to share their building with the JMBC African American congregation, and Rolling Hills became their interim home starting the very next Sunday.

During the rebuilding process, the congregation faced multiple challenges. But JMBC repeatedly witnessed God’s provision.

Through their affiliation with the SBTC, the church’s leadership connected with the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation. The congregation, determined to continue worshiping together as an independent group, looked to the Foundation for options, and requested a loan for renovation.

Bart McDonald, the Foundation’s executive director, met with Royal at the church, intending to explain that the Foundation would not be able to help.

“But,” McDonald said, “I’ll never forget [when] one of the senior saints put her hand on my forearm, looked me straight in the eye, and said, ‘I’ve been praying that God would send us help, and I believe that you’re the answer to that prayer.’”

McDonald knew then he should not say “no.” He sensed God prompting Foundation to come alongside JMBC.

“I told them that I would do everything I could within my power to find a solution to their predicament,” McDonald said.

God’s solution involved several ministries filling key roles in the rebuilding process.

The Foundation helped with planning and funding. The River Builders Ministry of First Baptist Church Forney adopted the church as a mission project, sending volunteer teams of construction experts and laborers over two consecutive summers. Ritchie Dailey, a contractor recommended by the Foundation, picked up where the River Builders left off, helping identify cost-effective options and completing the facility’s renovation.

“This has been a refreshing experience for us,” Royal said, before adding, “Sadly enough, Sunday is still the most segregated day of the week. It has been a refreshing experience working together with brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of race.”

JMBC has since become involved in other support and training ministries of the SBTC, such as the Church Revitalization project and evangelism training.

Royal expressed the congregation’s gratitude for all the resources God supplied, saying, “We are so thankful because nobody but the Lord made a way. We thank God that he used the Foundation [and FBC Forney] as an instrument of blessing, but also we thank him that he’s the kind of God that makes ways out of no ways.”

Echoing Royal’s sentiment, McDonald said, “This is the testimony of Jordan Missionary Baptist Church—the body of Christ working together, everybody doing their part and getting the impossible done because we have a God who knows no impossibilities.”

5 ways to be ALL IN through the Cooperative Program

SBTC President Juan Sanchez issued a challenge in the last TEXAN. He sent out a video with the same message. He wants every church to be “All In” through the Cooperative Program during our celebration year of 2018. The SBTC will be 20 years old this November. The Cooperative Program makes it possible to reach Texas and touch the world together. Church plants, evangelism strategies, revitalization, over 100 local church ministries and much more are accomplished through the CP.

Although Hurricane Harvey and a downturn in the oil economy have impacted some churches, God has sustained the ministry efforts through 2017. There are ways for more churches to be involved to help with the work in Texas and beyond. Let me suggest five ways for Southern Baptists to be “All In.”

1. Pastors, please speak about the Cooperative Program to your congregations.

By explaining what it is and how it accomplishes Great Commission ministry, you will motivate your people to become more generous. Sunday morning has become the one major gathering of churches in most Southern Baptist contexts. People know what the pastor values. If he endorses the Cooperative Program on Sunday morning there will be greater participation by church members.

2. Laypersons need better education about the Cooperative Program.

This includes an understanding of how CP works and to know what it does. Lay involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention has reached an all-time low. If laypersons fully grasp what the CP does in reaching the nations, more will participate. Since the CP is not a direct appeal to wealthy donors, there is no threat to the local church’s ministry. It seems reasonable that church members will give more through the church if they are invested beyond their community. Small groups, one-on-one instruction or involvement in convention life at a state or national level would expose church members to the greatest missions funding tool ever devised.

3. Debt is one of the greatest hindrances to gospel advance.

Building costs are exorbitant. Sometimes a church funds its building program by reducing missions giving. The Cooperative Program seems impersonal, making it the easiest target for reductions. The Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation can help with loans and provide stewardship resources to assist a church in making good decisions without harming mission work through the CP. The Cooperative Program is people. There are over 3,000 international missionaries, 15,000 seminary students and 100-plus SBTC church planters depending on the CP. To each one of them, the CP is personal.

4. Unashamed identification of churches as Southern Baptist is essential. 

Even without “Baptist” in the name of the church, there needs to be an honest expression of theological affinity to the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). Southern Baptist churches should participate in the Cooperative Program. The SBC is like a bicycle. It has two wheels, doctrinal agreement and shared funding. A bicycle has to keep moving or it will tip over. Both wheels have to turn. The SBC will cease to exist if either element disappears. Before the Conservative Resurgence the liberalmoderate faction wanted to make the SBC solely turn on one wheel, the Cooperative Program. Doctrinal compatibility took a back seat if present at all. Now, with biblical inerrantists in SBC leadership, doctrinal affirmation is expected but we hear less emphasis on the Cooperative Program as a shared giving plan to assist each church in carrying out the Great Commission. Unless there is a return to cooperative giving, the SBC will be nothing more than the Baptist Bible Fellowship.

5. Continue to give CP while you go!

Before the creation of the Cooperative Program, churches were constantly bombarded by ministries requesting funds. This approach is known as the “societal” method. Larger churches and wealthy members were called upon to undergird the work of the convention. We have seen more direct mission efforts by churches in the last 25 years than in all the years preceding. There are wonderful benefits to the mission trips with hands-on involvement. My doctoral project and paper were about establishing a mission trip ministry in the local church. It is not either/or but both/and. Yet some churches have chosen to give to direct mission projects by omitting or reducing the Cooperative Program. There are not enough large churches or wealthy individuals to sustain the Southern Baptist system of cooperative giving. Local churches give through the CP to enable ministries in North America and around the world. Without local churches investing in Great Commission ministries through the Cooperative Program, the greatest mission and ministry force the evangelical world has ever known will unravel.

Generosity is not about keeping the Southern Baptist Convention alive. It is about reaching 18 million lost people in Texas. It is about planting churches across North America. It is about training the next generation of leaders. It is about sending missionaries with the gospel to the hardest-to-reach places on the planet. April 8 is Cooperative Program Sunday. If this date does not work for you, plan to observe CP Sunday on another date. Join with other SBTC churches and be “All In” with the Cooperative Program.