Month: April 2018

Crossover to bring an “army of reinforcements” to area churches

It’s been said that “everyone loves evangelism as long as someone else is doing it.” Shane Pruitt of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has heard that adage, too, and he believes churches are ready to prove it wrong.

On June 8-10, Southern Baptists from across Texas and the U.S. will descend on the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for Crossover, the annual evangelist outreach initiative that takes the gospel to the local community and precedes the Southern Baptist Convention meeting. It is the 30th year for the event, which began in Las Vegas in 1989.

The Friday-Sunday event will conclude with a Harvest America rally at AT&T Stadium featuring musical acts and an evangelistic message by Greg Laurie.

Pruitt, the SBTC’s director of evangelism, said Crossover is a unique opportunity for churches. It will be the first Crossover and SBC meeting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1997.

“We bring thousands of people together for a convention,” Pruitt said, “so why not come together as the church to really impact the city with the gospel? What I love about Crossover is it’s not just saying that we love the gospel, but we’re actually sharing the gospel and doing it by practice.” 

Crossover organizers have divided the Dallas-Fort Worth area into nine regions, with “launch” churches in each region taking the lead and serving as launch sites for activities. For example, Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington will use the “Can We Talk?” evangelism model for door-to-door witnessing.

Baptists from within and without each region can sign up online——to volunteer and serve at a specific launch church. Churches will promote two types of outreach: compassion ministries and direct evangelism.

“When we talk about direct evangelism, we mean things like door-to-door sharing of the gospel,” Pruitt said. “Compassion projects would be things like building houses, painting the fence and other hands-on projects—and then hopefully through that there’s some opportunities for people to share the gospel.”

Crossover will conclude Sunday night with Laurie’s Harvest America and musicians Tedashii, Trip Lee, KB, Phil Wickham, Switchfoot, David Crowder and Chris Tomlin. Crossover volunteers on Friday and Saturday will invite unbelievers and new believers to the Laurie event, Pruitt said.  

“Maybe during door-to-door evangelism the person says, ‘Hey, you know, that’s not for me right now.’ [The Crossover volunteer could respond,] ‘Well, would you come join us at this crusade?’ But we’re also using it as a celebration. Maybe the person, right there on their porch, surrenders and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. We’re saying, ‘Come celebrate that with us at the rally.’”

Local churches, Pruitt added, are the heart of Crossover.

“Those local churches know how to reach their neighborhood,” he said. “Those local churches will be there for follow-up. And so basically, we’ve asked the local churches, ‘Hey, come up with evangelism efforts to reach your surrounding neighborhoods for Christ and mobilize your people to do it, and then let an army of reinforcements come in from across the state, across the nation to help you do it.’”

For more information or to sign up, visit

REVIEW: “Avengers: Infinity War” has tons of fun, with a few curveballs and caveats

Every villain has a plan, but Thanos – the armored, ogre-like monster in the Marvel universe – has one for the ages.

His goal: search the cosmos for the six mysterious Infinity Stones, which are said to give their possessor god-like powers when brought together as one. His ultimate goal: eliminate half the universe’s population because – he says – there just aren’t enough resources to support all of us. If half of us don’t die, then all of us will die, presumably from starvation.

Don’t worry though; it will be painless. And it’s for a good cause.

On second thought, maybe Thanos isn’t as altruistic as we thought. At least we have the Avengers to save the day. Right?

Sadly, though, the Avengers have split up, and Thanos subsequently whipped the few superheroes that were left, including Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

Thanos is destined to rule the universe. Unless, of course, the Avengers can get the band back together, and perhaps draft the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Black Panther, too.

Avengers: Infinity War (PG-13) opens this weekend, bringing together the various strands of the Marvel universe in what is one of the most anticipated movies in recent history. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is in it. The Avengers are in it. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is in it. The jovial Guardians of the Galaxy made the cut, too.

It’s the 19th Marvel movie and, I think, one of the most entertaining. I was skeptical that Marvel could weave this many elements into a coherent plot, but they did a pretty good job – although it took them two hours and 40 minutes to do so. A jaw-dropping ending helped make up for the length.  

Further, I was worried that the low-brow humor found in the Guardians films would pollute Infinity War. Thankfully, the writers left most of those types of jokes out.

It’s funny and fun, but this doesn’t mean that it’s kid-friendly. Let’s examine the details.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers ahead!

(Scale key: Minimal, moderate, extreme)


Extreme. It’s mostly bloodless, but the body count is quite high and the body blows from punches even higher. We see a space battle and bodies all over the ground. Three characters in the film are tortured; it’s intense but mostly bloodless. A man is stabbed with a spear and dies. Another character is stabbed and dies. Thanos invades a city, and the citizens flee. We see a character who has had both hands chopped off (it’s bloodless). A character “sacrifices” another character in Abraham-and-Isaac-like fashion, but in this instance the character dies. Thousands of four-legged alien creatures attack the Black Panther’s homeland. A huge hand-to-hand combat battle ends the film, with plenty of punching and shooting.  


Minimal. On three separate occasions, we see couples kiss.

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 25 coarse words: s—t (5), OMG (5), a—(5), d—n (4), misuse of “God” (3), pi—ed (2) and ba—ard (1). Two instances of “sucks.”   

Other Positive Elements

The playboy Tony Stark and his long-time romantic interest announce their engagement.

The superheroes set aside their differences and past grievances to team up and fight Thanos.  

Additionally, the diversity on-screen is evident throughout the film, with several ethnicities represented among the superheroes.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We’ve always known that superheroes have special powers, but Dr. Strange and his partner Wong conduct sorcery – something that may trouble families. One of the bad guys conducts sorcery, too.  

Life Lessons

The superheroes give us lessons on forgiveness, setting aside differences, and working as a team. One character gives us a great example of self-sacrifice. Thanos, though, provides the most obvious lesson with his insatiable hunger for power. It serves as a warning (see Worldview, below).   


The danger of the lust for power and knowledge is seen throughout Scripture. Satan was an angel who wanted to be like God, and for his rebellion was cast from heaven. Adam had the perfect life but wanted more knowledge and was subsequently cast from the Garden. John told us that the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” come not from God but from the world (1 John 2:16).

Infinity War gives us a character in Thanos who wants power at all costs – even if it means that those he loves must die in the process.

Incidentally, we are told that the six Infinity Stones – which stand for “power,” “space,” “time,” “mind,” “soul” and “reality” – were created by the universe following the Big Bang. The “universe depends” on their survival, Dr. Strange says. Jesus is briefly mentioned in the film – as part of a joke – but the God of the Bible is missing from Infinity War. In His place are gods and sorcerers and a hodgepodge worldview that is difficult to define.    


Among the film’s partners are Coca-Cola, Geico, Ziploc and Go Gurt.

What Works

The ending. It’s not as shocking as Darth Vader saying he’s Luke’s father, but it’s still surprising.

The humor stays mostly out of the gutter, which is good.

What Doesn’t

Yes, it’s a Marvel movie, but it was a little too long for me. By the end of the film I was ready to stand up and stretch.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think Thanos regretted his decision? What can we learn about the lust for power by studying him?
  2. Thanos wanted to eliminate half the population so the other half could survive. Why is that not ethical?
  3. Are you comfortable with sorcery in a movie? Why or why not?
  4. Did you like the ending? Why or why not?

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

Spring break volunteers break in new SBTC DR “food truck” kitchen

ROCKPORT “It’s a groundswell,” exclaimed Wally Leyerle, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief (DR) associate, of the spring break 2018 response of student and church groups from across the nation to Texas areas still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Between NAMB’s GenSend and other church and student groups, at least 700 volunteers came to help rebuild at sites from Rockport up to the greater Houston area to Beaumont.

“It’s been largely a church-to-church or student organization-to-church response,” Leyerle said, adding that SBTC DR has stepped in where necessary to facilitate the effort.

“It was happening on its own, and we said, OK, let’s organize this so it can happen better,” he said, admitting there was “a ton of stuff” going on, more than could be readily tracked.

“It’s definitely a God thing, not a man thing,” Leyerle said.

In one example, Coastal Oaks Baptist Church in Rockport reported that an expected 80-100 volunteers from several churches were coming to work in March. Meal preparation would be a challenge, one that Leyerle and Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director, decided could be met by using the newest SBTC DR kitchen, a design also utilized by Oklahoma DR crews.

“It’s a Cadillac,” said SBTC DR volunteer Ronnie Roark, praising the self-contained trailer unit that resembles a food truck. Roark supervised the kitchen’s inaugural deployment at Coastal Oaks, where volunteers cranked out breakfasts and dinners for crews staying at the church and working on rebuild efforts.

The new kitchen functions well with three to six volunteers and can produce from 300-700 meals per day, Leyerle said. It features a grill, stove, oven, and is designed for people to walk up and get their food.  

The DR “food truck” arrived at its home—Roark’s church, Salem Sayers Baptist in Adkins, 20 miles east of San Antonio—only a few weeks before the Rockport deployment. Members kept “pretty busy outfitting it with the basic stuff,” Roark said, adding that 8-10 Salem Sayers members underwent training in DR feeding March 10 in Pflugerville.

“They got their training on a Saturday and were put to work the next week,” Roark said. 

The team and trailer “served well,” said Andy Barlow, Coastal Oaks associate pastor. “It seemed like they had done it a hundred times.”

The churches bringing volunteers reimbursed Coastal Oaks for food, which the Roarks and crew cooked and served, their duties demanding daily runs to the nearby H.E.B. grocery store.

“It never failed that someone at the store would come up and give us their thanks and appreciation, in our yellow DR shirts,” Roark said, calling it a “humbling experience to know what we are doing is making a difference.”

“It was a blessing through and through,” Roark’s wife, Connie, added.

The March 12-16 Rockport effort, where volunteers cleaned out structures, rebuilt fences, replaced drywall, repaired interiors and did yard work, involved groups from Glenview Baptist in Haltom City, Collision Church in Alpine, Murphy Baptist in Murphy, LifeWay Fellowship of Killeen and Central Baptist of Round Rock. 

God”s Word for Families

May always brings thoughts of home to me. Mother’s Day is the centerpiece of the celebration. May is graduation month for many. Students leave home for college or begin a vocation at this point. When I pastored I tried to set aside a six-week span from the beginning of May until Father’s Day to have a family emphasis. We addressed singleness, senior living and everything in between. 

The circumstances surrounding family life have drastically changed but the basic needs have not. There has never been a time in our culture when the nuclear family was under attack like today. Marriage has been redefined by the Supreme Court to include same-sex couples. Cohabitation is acceptable to many. Divorce continues to plague us. Yet the very foundation of our future existence as a society depends on the recovery of a biblical ethic for the family. 

Valentine’s Day 2018 was marred by a mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that took the lives of 17 people. Finger pointing immediately began. Some blamed law enforcement agencies for their lack of response to warning signs. There were calls for stricter gun laws. Others said mental illness played a part in the tragedy. School officials were under scrutiny for their handling of the student’s disciplinary problems. Finally, someone pointed out that the unfortunate home life of the shooter was the real underlying cause. We may never know all of the factors behind this heartbreaking incident. We can be certain that a strong home life can prevent much deviant behavior and provide a nurturing environment. God’s plan for the home is the hope for a well-adjusted coming generation. 

In Christian circles, marriage and family conferences are abundant. Sometimes neophytes without life experience or a scriptural basis write books on the family. We have one true guide for all things family, the Bible. Scripture gives us the answers to life’s hardest questions. Someone has said the Bible is the mind of God deposited in a book, delivered to the church to be dispensed in the world. When we listen to the Word of God, we hear a clear voice speaking into our current needs.

There is no quick fix. There is no panacea. We are all flawed people. Only a life that is committed to Jesus Christ can begin to experience the blessings God intended for the home. I have long been an advocate of family worship. Just as an individual believer must have a personal devotional time daily, the family needs regular family worship time. This worship time is the foundational element of family discipleship.

Regardless of whether you are single, widowed, an empty-nester or have a house full of kids, home is still where the heart is. Life’s guidebook, the Bible, gives us clear direction in every area of relationships. Only Jesus can produce joy in your life. Our spouse or children are not to be our fulfillment. God’s presence can enable us to have the type of home we all desire. By following the biblical principles in those family relationships you see God move in lives.

Let’s do something about it. The SBTC Family App for your phone that can assist you. There are also many online resources for families at The hope of the next generation is today. Join me in redoubling our efforts to strengthen our homes. Pray for a revival of family worship as described in Deuteronomy 6. Let’s let God have his rightful place in our homes.

REVIEW: “Rampage” has its fun moments, but parents beware

Davis Okoye is an outgoing and athletic-looking primatologist who could have pretty much any woman in the world. But he prefers to hang around gorillas.

As Davis sees it, gorillas don’t let you down. They also don’t commit senseless crimes like Davis once witnessed in the jungles of Africa, where poachers killed several primates and nearly killed Davis, too. The only gorilla that got away – a baby albino he named George – is now one of his closest companions. Davis even taught him sign language.

George seems to be the picture-perfect primate — the kind you’d see on the cover of National Geographic. Until something strange happens. George turns uncharacteristically aggressive. Then he starts growing, from seven feet to nine feet overnight. His growth spurt continues, and soon he’s breaking out of cages and bursting through walls at his home, the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. Next thing you know, he’s bigger than most buildings.

What happened? We learn that George’s bloodstream was contaminated by a genetic editing sample from a not-so-innocent Chicago corporation, Energyne. Even worse, a wolf and a crocodile have been contaminated, too, and they’re headed for the Windy City, where thousands of citizens could die at the hands of the monstrous animals. Can they be stopped?

It’s all part of Rampage (PG-13), which is currently in theaters and stars Dwayne Johnson (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the Fast and the Furious series) as Davis; Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) as his companion, Dr. Kate Caldwell; and Malin Akerman (Watchmen) as Claire Wyden, the head of Energyne.

The movie is loosely based on a 1980s-era video game. Genetic editing (according to the plot) previously gave scientists the hope to cure diseases but has since been labeled a “weapon of mass destruction” due to its abuse. Energyne cares little about the ethics and hopes to make billions from its advancement.

Rampage is fun as an action movie but has several content problems that may concern parents.   

The details:

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: Minimal, moderate, extreme)


Extreme. With lots of mayhem and destruction. We see a giant rat lead to the death of a woman. A gorilla nearly kills a man before another gorilla saves him. A giant animal smashes cars. Another animal kills several men in the woods as they try and shoot it. Davis beats up two men. A boat is capsized, and people fall out. Someone is shot in the leg. We see a character fall into George’s mouth; he eats the person. Missiles and bullets rain down on the huge animals. Another character gets crushed by debris; we see the blood splatter. Animals battle one another in the city in Godzilla-vs.-King Kong-like battles. A skyscraper falls to the ground, resembling a scene from 9/11.


Minimal. Davis turns down a date from a colleague; a male co-worker makes a joke to Davis about “submission.” George uses his fingers to make a vulgar sign for sex. 

Coarse Language

Extreme. Dwayne Johnson’s movies often have been heavy on bad language, and it continues in Rampage with about 70 words: s—t (22), h-ll (18), a—(7), d—n (6), misuse of “God” (4), misuse of “Jesus” (4), GD (3), SOB (3), ba—-d (1). George gives the middle finger, too.   

Other Positive Elements

Davis’ desire to protect animals from abuse and slaughter is commendable. (See Worldview, below.) But he has compassion for people, too, such as when he saves a person from death who had been opposing him.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

The movie includes images of a skyscraper collapsing to the ground in a scene that somewhat resembles the Twin Towers on 9/11. 

Life Lessons

Davis puts his life on the line to save his animal friend and the people of Chicago.

He also rejects the advances of a woman who seemed to want more than just a date and a conversation. That’s rare for any movie hero, especially one rated PG-13. And it was welcome.  


Moviegoers who enjoy digging for the overarching theme and worldview – like me – will view Rampage differently. Some will see it as a mindless popcorn flick that shouldn’t be analyzed. Others will be troubled by the movie’s insertion of human-like emotions into animals like George. Still others will argue that the film has elements similar to Planet of the Apes – that is, “humans bad, apes good.”

But I think that despite its flaws, Rampage has a worldview message for us. Consider: Energyne is a company that views the abuse of animals as the means to wealth. A top-level official brags that money – and not the betterment of society – is their sole goal. By contrast, Davis is someone who views animals as something special that should be protected.

Here, Davis’ position is closest to the biblical position. God made mankind caretakers over Earth and the animals. We shouldn’t abuse them, but we shouldn’t over-protect them, either. This means we shouldn’t hunt them to extinction, even though God says we can eat them (Genesis 9:3). Animals were created for the glory of God and for our enjoyment and use. If they’re gone, none of that is possible.   


For children, Dave & Buster’s is the most well-known movie partner.

What Works

Johnson is magnetic, as always. His chemistry with Harris works well, too.

What Doesn’t

The bad guys are annoying and cartoonish. I cringed when they were on screen. The coarse language is over the top, too. Most people don’t talk like that. Perhaps immature middle schoolers are impressed. Parents aren’t. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the Bible say about animals? Why should we not abuse them? Does the Bible say we can eat them? If so, where?
  2. Where does the Bible say mankind is to have “dominion” over the Earth? What does that mean?
  3. Did Davis have a balanced view of animals? Of George?
  4. What, if anything, did you not like about the film?

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

Rampage is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, language, and crude gestures.

Mike Gonzales to be nominated SBC first vice president

DALLAS—Mike Gonzales, director of Hispanic Ministries for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, will be nominated for first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Texas pastor Juan Sanchez announced April 18.

Gonzales served as a missionary to Spain for 15 years with the International Mission Board and later became an IMB trustee from 2005 to 2013 with committee assignments relating to the regions of East Asia, Europe, South America, American Peoples and European Peoples. Gonzales led mission and crusade trips to Australia, Mexico and Cuba.

Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin and SBTC president, said of Gonzales, “Mike has been a faithful brother and faithful missionary; he has a daughter on the mission field. I think that speaks volumes, not just of the character of someone but of a basic parenting commitment.”

His pastoral experience includes Primera Iglesia Bautista of Pleasant Grove in Dallas and Primera Iglesia Bautista in Cameron. He also served as a minister of music and youth for La Loma Baptist Mission in Fort Worth, Mision Bautista el Calvario in Dallas and Primera Iglesia Bautista in Wichita Falls.

Gonzales served as an ethnic consultant for the Baptist General Convention of Texas Evangelism department, area director of retirement services and church marketing at GuideStone Financial Services and director of missions for Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association in Weslaco before joining the SBTC staff in 2004.

Noting the relatively rapid growth of Latin American Christianity, Sanchez continued, “I have a real concern for equipping pastors in North America. That is what Mike is doing through the SBTC. The Hispanic pastor in North America, in Texas, has a very hard life. My relationship with Mike has grown as we try to encourage these Hispanic pastors on the front line as they pastor their churches, care for their families and face [a wide variety of ministry challenges]. That’s why I think the work Mike is doing is important work.”  

Gonzales served on the Board of the Baptist Spanish Publishing House Foundation from 2000-2004 and 2015-2018, having just completed a year as president. Gonzales was tapped to serve on the national Hispanic Task Force for the North American Mission Board from 2004-2005 and the SBC Executive Committee Hispanic Advisory Council from 2011-2015. He also served as a trustee of Howard Payne University from 2002-2004.

A member of First Baptist Church of Colleyville, the church reports baptizing 80 in 2017. FBC classified 2.6 percent of its undesignated receipts for 2017 as Great Commission Giving, including 1.3 percent through the Cooperative Program.

Gonzales earned two degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, including the M.Div. and M.A. in missiology. He was awarded a B. A. from Howard Payne University and also received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from HPU.

He also serves as a frequent Spanish language columnist for Baptist Press, the news services of the SBC Executive Committee.

Gonzales and his wife, Dalia, have one daughter and two granddaughters. Their daughter serves with her husband in Spain where they are IMB missionaries. 

Politics, civility and SBC leadership

The 1989 Southern Baptist Convention meeting was remarkable. We met in Las Vegas and had more than 2,000 people participating in a massive witnessing effort in that city. Before the evangelism push, Southern Baptists prayed for every name in the Vegas phone book. Evangelists contacted 120,000 homes and recorded more than 470 professions of faith. It was a vigorous political year as well. Florida pastor Jerry Vines was up for his second one-year term as convention president and his challenger was Texas pastor Dan Vestal. That year was my first in the SBC pressroom. An unprecedented thing happened that year in the presidential race: Dan Vestal’s supporters bought time on local television stations to support his candidacy for SBC president.

It still sounds odd to me, but that effort shows how intense the political climate was in the 11th SBC meeting of the Conservative Resurgence. That was an era of mass mailings, rallies, endorsements by SBC entity heads and a lot of back and forth in the media in hopes of winning the presidency. Vestal lost the 1989 election and the 1990 election in New Orleans before leading a few hundred Southern Baptist churches to form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

When you read of those years and the decisions convention messengers made at very large gatherings, the political intensity of our day seems tame. But this year’s presidential election has its own drama—so much that the two candidates have urged their followers to tone it down a bit, to keep the debate civil. I agree with Ken Hemphill and J.D. Greear in urging a more kindly tone in our Baptist discussions. Two reasons make me compare it with the hard-fought years of the resurgence: First, the issues between this year’s candidates and their followers are neither as distinct nor as basic as the issues we debated in the 1980s and ‘90s. Clearly, both Greear and Hemphill are inerrantists and both are evangelistic. Second, many, me included, have had to repent of intemperate language we used in trying to win important points. In the heat of debate, the issue sometimes became about victory rather than about the truth. This second point remains valid more than 20 years after the resurgence was complete.

I tremble to think what the years between 1979 and 1995 would have been like if we’d had social media. This year’s presidential election has been elevated in volume by our ability to say it immediately in a few words. Accusations have flown back and forth about who is being more political and who is being inappropriately endorsed. These activities and complaints are not new, even if they are magnified by media unavailable in 1989. In this and in other potentially divisive discussions within our convention of conservative evangelistic churches, here are some things to remember.

We do not broadly disagree about the nature of the gospel. Some talk as if we do. I’ve heard comparisons between those of one tribe and another in the SBC described in terms of who’s more committed to the gospel. This week I saw a blogger refer to his fellow Southern Baptists who preach a “truncated” gospel. The accusation was not specific enough to avoid painting most of us with the brush. It’s unhelpful posturing.

When two people “agree to be nominated” for a position, they both want it. They may not have the same vision for the role or even the same methods for telling their side of things, but the reluctant and noble candidate thrust into the spotlight by surprise is still a willing candidate. Some of the divisive language I’ve seen during this particular SBC presidential race has to do with one candidate “politicking” while the other candidate—what, just stands above it all? As I said, it’s divisive and untrue to speak this way.

“Politics” is a neutral term. It refers to how people in community make decisions. It can popularly refer to a self-centered willingness to deceive for the sake of winning. That would rarely be a fair way to speak of our fellow Southern Baptists. Advocating for your view of our common work can be done in a God-honoring way. This is also politics.

Name-calling and its ugly cousin, self-exaltation, are not politics. They are simply sin. When a decision at the SBC or in your church or in your family has been finalized, make sure you can still look at those who voted another way without guilt for what you said about them.

That’s where I’ll leave it. As I said during the 2016 U.S. presidential race, we still need to work together and live together at the end of this. Unless you plan to leave if you don’t win a vote, don’t do anything you’ll regret in service to even a noble cause. Winning that vote will seldom be as impactful as you hoped. Losing will almost never be as bad as we fear. The relationships you hazard are going to last a lot longer than the consequences of most things we’ll decide at one vote.

Bluebonnets and the Resurrection

This year’s bluebonnets have nearly gone. Families got their photos, passersby took in their beauty, and then like the Easter Bunny, the bluebonnets left without a trace. Even I couldn’t help but be excited over the three flowers that sprouted in my yard. But after the hard rains, they are now gone. But their departure got me thinking.

The Bible is lush with plants. The Scriptures utilize floral imagery all throughout its pages to reveal God’s message and truth to His people. Even in the earliest passages, we find God utilizing trees, fruit, and vegetation to portray life, fertility, and prosperity (See Genesis 1–2; Psalm 1; John 15; and Revelation 22). Yet, we also find counter-images such as famine and infestations that portray death, infertility, and poverty (Genesis 3:17–19, 4:12; Leviticus 26:14–20; James 1:10–11). Even now, the flowers of the field proclaim God’s message if we would listen. So consider the bluebonnets.

Did you know that our state flower is an annual bloom? This means it goes from seed to flower then back to seed again in preparation for a future bloom. It is always a pleasant surprise to see the flowers emerge to life in the spring. Sprouting in the month of March, they cause us all to pause for a second and admire their beauty. By mid-May, the plants form seed pods that start green, but gradually turn brown. Around that time seed pods release the seeds to the earth, and then you and I forget about them until they surprise us expectantly unexpected again next spring.

Herein is the theological beauty of the bluebonnet—those seeds go to the ground and stay dormant for a season of nearly 10 months and then they spring forth from their previous shells, arrayed in beauty. This is God’s reminder for us concerning the Resurrection—it will happen expectantly unexpected and will be gloriously beautiful.

Easter has come and gone like bluebonnets, but the resurrection of Christ is not simply an annual celebration. The fact that Jesus is the firstborn of the Resurrection provides us with a daily hope that the seeds planted in the ground will one day spring forth in full bloom. The initial seed of the gospel brings about sweet life to any who turn to Jesus and follow him (Matthew 13:23). And while those blossoms demonstrate the active power of God to create beauty, those blooms will eventually grow from life to death and then seeds will return to the earth where they began. The summer comes and scorches the ground; the fall marks the coming of winter, which then brings death. But spring is coming.

It is easy to grow tired and weary and to allow the fiery trials of life to discourage our efforts. Death is a constant enemy and Satan is an ever-present threat, but because of the resurrection of Christ, they operate as those already defeated (Hebrews 2:14–15). This is why Paul encourages us, after proclaiming death’s defeat, that we are to “be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). The work we do is difficult. Proclaiming the gospel and following Christ comes at a great cost. But remember, while seeds sown will eventually give way to death, they will also expectantly unexpectedly burst forth to glorious life and to a spring that will never end.

So be encouraged and encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18), for while the grass withers and the flowers fade, God’s Word will remain and accomplish what it says. Then it will be as George Herbert so beautifully put it, “Death used to be an executioner, but the Gospel has made him a gardener.” Eternal spring is coming.

Houston”s Sojourn Church Network: Building from the “Bottom up”

HOUSTON—In 2009, a group from Humble answered God’s call to begin a new work in urban Houston, where the evangelical influence was lacking and the percentage of residents connected to a church was in the single digits.  From their efforts grew Sojourn Houston–a family of church plants in urban Houston.

The original group, led by church planter Joseph Turner, focused their efforts on The Heights neighborhood. Covering about six square miles, The Heights is the oldest suburb of Houston. The area has experienced some revitalization as young professionals are moving from outlying Houston communities to be closer to their jobs.

Sojourn Heights Pastor of Preaching Brandon Barker said, “In urban Houston where we live, we leave the Bible Belt.  Our neighbors that we know and love and want to see come to know God are not searching.  Our approach to ministry has to be living it out, and being available to people who are not searching for it.”

Marshall Dallas, pastor of preaching at Sojourn Montrose, spent much of his youth as a missionary kid in several European countries.  His friend, Sojourn Church Planter Joseph Turner, approached Dallas about coming to help at The Heights church with the goal that he would eventually plant a church somewhere in Europe. 

But Sojourn leadership began to envision, “What would it look like if we were multiplying churches in Houston in areas that no one is really taking responsibility for?”

As they considered where to plant, the Montrose area rose to the top. “Montrose is the most progressive community—politically, philosophically, and in world view. Montrose is like Europe in that they are a little ahead—a lot of progressive thought develops in this caldron,” said Dallas.

From that moment, things changed rapidly for Dallas and his family. He sensed that his time in Europe had prepared him for ministry in the Montrose area of Houston. In Oct. 2011, he left his position at Second Baptist Houston and got a job at an Apple store in a Heights mall.  In March 2012 Dallas moved his family from Katy into The Heights, and in Nov. 2012 they moved again into the Montrose neighborhood. 

A group of Montrose families attending Sojourn Heights joined Dallas to establish a Sojourn presence in Montrose. 

“Immediately we began gathering with the smaller group of 10-15 people. Over the course of the year we developed relationships with people in the neighborhood and shared the gospel in word and in deed,” Dallas said. The group grew to about 40 people meeting in two homes. 

In October 2013 Sojourn Montrose launched their Sunday morning worship gathering in the loft of a restaurant. Now with 178 Sunday morning worshipers, the Montrose congregation meets in a historic 1935 movie theater. 

John Mark Yeats, dean of students and associate professor of church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, co-authored a book in 2009, Franchising McChurch, Feeding Our Obsession With Easy Christianity. Commenting on current church planting models, Yeats compared Sojourn’s methods to a northwest church planting model called SOMA. “Their whole system was catalytic church growth through the house church—catalytic meaning ‘to move to the next level’.” 

Yeats added, “It can be an effective way to rapidly move within a given context.”  Rather than a corporate approach to multi-campus ministry, Yeats noted that this is a “bottom-up, working together to build, grow, win and reach the lost” approach.

The stories of other Sojourn Houston campuses echo that of Montrose. A group of individuals or families commuting to an established Sojourn gathering organized a “parish” in their own neighborhood.

“Parish” is the term Sojourn uses for groups meeting in homes. They are the neighborhood level gatherings, doing life together, serving their communities together, and “manifesting the redemptive presence of God to their neighbors,” according to the Sojourn Heights website.

Each parish has a trained leader who resides in the target neighborhood. Barker said, “[Parish leaders] must be parish members first, who serve their parish well.  They are identified by their parish leader, then we assess them—their head, their heart, their hands and feet.”  A six-week training class follows the assessment.  

Unified Teaching and Values, But Unique Opportunities for Ministry

The Sojourn family of churches adheres to a uniform set of core values: strategic church planting, justice and mercy, redeemed family, integration of faith and work, and artistic expression. Those core values may be exercised differently at each campus, according to the needs and unique traits of each neighborhood.

Situated in an arts district near a famous museum, Sojourn Montrose has opportunities to encourage and support artists and their craft. Dallas said, “There are some significant challenges for professional artists—affordable studio space, cost of supplies, and the high commissions charged by galleries to do a show. These artists would have to price their art out of the range of potential customers to make a profit.”

Sojourn Montrose provides space in their facility for an “artist in residency” program for three months and a stipend for art supplies. At the end of the term, the artist in residence conducts a show, keeping 100 percent of the proceeds.

“You get to talk [to them] about the rich history of patronage in the church and how creativity is part of exhibiting the image of God. It is a means to an end—building relationships in the community to share the gospel,” Dallas said.

Sojourn Heights ministry opportunities are currently being influenced by exploding numbers.  Andrew Martin, executive director at The Heights, reported that about 400 attend Sunday worship services at The Heights, and 48 infants were added to their nursery in 2017. 

In response to that challenge, they have purchased a vacant historic building adjacent to their present worship center. After much renovation, the new building will become the worship center, and the current building will be converted to space for children.

While building ownership typically is not a priority of church planting efforts, Sojourn Houston felt the need to accommodate additional children’s ministries and men’s and women’s discipleship ministries, as they have established roots in The Heights.

Yeats commented, “We see it all the time for churches who desire to remain flexible.  As God establishes them, they root into their community for the long term—either through a purchase or a lease.  It works.  In our area we have churches meeting all kinds of places, but ultimately will be rooted in the community and have their own space.”

Martin said, “It was really incredible that God opened the door for this particular building.  Even the real estate agents were flabbergasted that we were able to get this building.  God laid the groundwork—it was so unlikely that it had to be the Lord. We are really excited about this project.”

God’s Call and Trained Leaders Determine ‘Next Plant’

Future Sojourn church planters might come into Sojourn already called to plant and already equipped with seminary training, or they might be called to plant a church while serving at Sojourn. Regardless of the circumstances, all serve residencies while working through courses in partnership with the Houston Church Planters Network (HCPN).

Barker said, “It takes a lot of time in the oven to become a Sojourn Church planter—a long slow residency to learn our Sojourn culture and what makes us tick as a family of churches.”

At Sojourn Montrose, a church planter in residence, Carlos Rebollar, came to faith shortly before joining Sojourn. Dallas said, “He has now arrived to the point that he heard a call and now wants to express that call in the context of Sojourn.” Carlos is training to plant a church in Houston’s east end.

Taylor Ince, who earned a doctorate in Old and New Testament, also completed the required church planter training prior to leading the Galleria plant. He described his first semester of HCPN training as relationship-focused: “Your relationship with the Lord, loving your wife and kids and family well, and taking care of your home—maintaining long term health.”

The second semester of HCPN training consists of more “nuts and bolts” of being a church planter, such as learning how to lead teams. Ince began leading a parish while in his second semester, and “soaked up the Sojourn DNA” while being mentored in the work of a pastor.

Dallas added, “I’m amazed by what has transpired over the last seven years, and what we see in the plans for the next seven years.  We’re more along for the ride. But not in the pandering sense—I’ve got no other explanation for it.  Knowing who we started with and our level of maturity—these things by our own powers are outside the realm of possibility.”

Yes, You Should Feel Guilty About Slavery “ But Not For the Reason You Think

Racial reconciliation has become a hot topic in evangelical circles over the last few years. While some things seem to be universally agreed upon—for instance, the evils of slavery, the oppressive inequality of Jim Crow—it seems that we are still out of sync as believers when it comes to how we should think about and deal with the sins of previous generations.

Some would argue we are innocent, just so as long as we did not personally own a slave, hang the sign for a “colored” water fountain, or pull the trigger of James Earl Ray’s rifle. To those who take this stance, I would simply ask you to consider the implication of the prayer we find in Daniel 9.

Daniel—one of the righteous venerated in Ezekiel 14:14, and arguably one of the most blameless characters found in Scripture—confesses as a participant in the corporate guilt and shame of his people:

4 I prayed to the LORD my God and made confession, saying…5 we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. 7 To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. 8 To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you…

Notice the repeated instances of the first-person as Daniel intones his confession, one he makes again and again up through the 15th verse of that text. As an individual, he expresses corporate contrition on behalf of his fathers and the rest of his people for what they had done generations prior. Though he was “technically” innocent, he confesses personally, acknowledging his responsibility for sins committed decades before he voiced this prayer.

The contrast between Daniel’s shame and the rebuttal of my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ is remarkable. While Daniel includes himself as a participant in the sin of his fathers, the attitude of so many believers is, essentially, “Why should I feel guilty about what I did not personally do?” The distinction between these attitudes becomes even more apparent when we notice the remarkable juxtaposition of Daniel 9 with Ezekiel 14.

The Ezekiel passage introduces the idea that the righteousness of an individual can spare them from a corporate judgment, but even these most righteous examples (Noah, Daniel, and Job) appear to be exonerated, so to speak, by the skin of their teeth. God’s judgment against the entire land is so inescapable that even the most righteous representatives imaginable—men who had demonstrated their faithfulness surrounded by everyone else’s turpitude—would have escaped with their own lives, but only their own.

We might be tempted at this point to think that, because they would have been spared because of their own righteousness, we should conversely not be judged because of someone else’s guilt. That erroneous thought misses the actual meaning of that text, which is not that Noah, Daniel, and Job are representative standards of righteousness. Rather, Ezekiel is using these paragons of righteousness to make the point that no one would be spared the judgment of a land so condemned.

The more important point, however, is this: the man whose righteousness sets him in such a rarified position of blessing is one who, far from pushing back against his corporate guilt, embraces and confesses it. The blamelessness that sets him apart is the very thing that compels him to acknowledge that he, too, is guilty of his ancestors’ shame and treachery.

So why should we take responsibility for what we did not personally do? I suppose my answer to that is based on the only understanding I’ve found for Daniel’s prayer: we should feel a sense of guilt about our ancestors’ participation in slavery and the Jim Crow south for the same reason we feel a sense of pride about our ancestors’ participation in creating a country with the liberties we love. You can’t take one without the other.