Month: July 2018

Reaching the nations in your own backyard

HOUSTON  James Miller (not his real name) loved being an elementary school teacher, a natural fit for the Houston native and Baptist pastor’s son who had majored in theology in college.

Then God used a podcast and an online dictionary to change his life.

While eating lunch at his desk at school and listening to the podcast, Miller was struck by the speaker’s description of hearing God’s voice, not an audible declaration but a clear impression. Miller prayed, “God, how have you called me? What is my identity for you?”

The word “emissary” came to mind. He turned to an online dictionary, where the example sentence, “The emissary was sent to a faraway land to proclaim a peace treaty was signed,” seemed portentous.

“Did God just speak through” Miller thought, eyes tearing.

Before long, he had joined an effort launched a decade ago by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to engage unreached people groups, after being trained by Houstonians working among the local Muslim community. Through that, he heard accounts of God moving in powerful ways.

“I sat at the feet of guys seeing fruit in ministering to the Muslim world,” Miller said. Eventually, mentors recommended developing relationships with Muslims.

He befriended a Saudi student, Ahmed, who welcomed him to his apartment for refreshments. Miller began using an evangelistic “tool” with Ahmed, only to be told, “Oh, I see what you are doing. I am not interested in spiritual conversations.”

Deflated, Miller asked mentors if he should look for someone else to invest in, only to be gently reminded that he must not view Ahmed as a project.

“What if I just be his friend?” Miller asked, and he did so for the next three years, even taking his wife to Ahmed’s apartment where they were greeted by offers of tea, coffee, juice and a plate heaped with candy.

“He is just a regular person,” Miller’s wife observed, noting the threatening stereotypes some Christians have of Muslims.

Months passed. Spiritual conversations grew more significant. One day, Ahmed told Miller, “You are like a brother to me.”

“That reminds me of my favorite psalm,” replied Miller, quoting Psalm 133:1-2a: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head.”

Ahmed checked the Bible reference, then bolted upstairs, returning with a tiny vial of oil. “We make this in my hometown,” he exclaimed, explaining that the quarter ounce of oil was worth hundreds of dollars.

“This guy is teaching me about ancient Hebrew Scripture because he grew up in the neighborhood,” Miller mused, adding that two months later, another Muslim whom Miller met through Ahmed, remarked, “Ahmed is telling me you have our oil in the Bible.”

Ahmed’s discussing Scripture with other Saudis is remarkable, Miller said, admitting that evangelizing Muslims remains “a slow, hard road.”

After several years of training, the Millers moved to the Middle East as language students and missionaries. But when geopolitics forced them back to Houston after a year, Miller adapted, continued his calling to Muslims right in his hometown.

“God has brought the nations to us. There are 250,000 Muslims in the greater Houston area. If they come to the kingdom and go back to their closed countries, they will be a thousand times more effective at reaching those tribes than I would ever be,” said Miller, who since returning to Houston in 2014 has been a fulltime missionary to Muslims.

“Most Muslims think the Christian agenda is to change their culture, get them to switch teams and forsake parents, but if the agenda is love, they are OK with that,” Miller said.

Sharing the gospel with Muslims begins with relationships, easily cultivated from a single friendship, Miller added, noting that Ahmed introduced him to dozens of Saudis. He offered advice, paraphrased here.

Don’t be afraid. Muslims aren’t the enemy. Muslims, Christians and all humanity share a common enemy: Satan and his fallen angels. Islam is not a threat because we serve a King who will never be usurped. Muslims have been coming to Christ in increasing numbers over the last 30 years. You likely won’t even strike up a conversation if you are intimidated.

It’s not up to you to make something happen. Just be open to what the Lord leads you to do. He has pursued these folks long before we met them. Jesus is showing up in dreams and visions. Muslims are seeing healings and other miracles. One friend has a recurring dream in which Jesus Christ, “Isa al Masih,” appears, destroys the powers of darkness, judges the world and takes his followers into paradise with him. I have prayed with Muslims who have heard God speak to them in real time and observed an elderly Pakistani man healed from chronic pain following my prayers for him.

Pray. God does the work. He causes the growth, new life and transformation. Talk to God about your Muslim friends. Tell them you’re praying for them. Offer to pray with them. I’ve never been turned down for prayer.

With his language skills, Miller’s strategies include speaking Arabic to anyone who looks Middle Eastern.

With a quarter of a million Muslims in the Houston area, and almost as many Hindus and Buddhists, opportunities are vast. Many SBTC churches have answered the call to engage, evangelize and plant churches among these groups.

Bay Area First Baptist and Houston First Baptist are among congregations supporting workers like Miller and hosting SBTC Texas Missions Initiatives trainings. Houston’s First has sponsored SBTC Reach the Nations and People Group Discovery and Engagement trainings in English and Spanish.

Metropolitan Baptist and Champion Forest Jersey Village have also held People Group Discovery and Engagement workshops while others such as Emmanuel Baptist, Willow River Church and International Victory Christian Church of Pearland have sent members for training. Braeburn Valley Baptist welcomes a Nepali-speaking house church to conduct baptisms, weddings and Christmas events in its facilities. Houston’s First, Champion Forest and Second Baptist offer vibrant ESL programs.

The harvest is ripe, the methods many, the work ongoing.

Skyler Womack, missionary liaison at Houston’s First, told the TEXAN, “The Lord is bringing the nations to our backyard and is positioning the church to respond.” He praised the work of Miller and other global workers who have returned and remain to help churches reach their multicultural neighbors in the heart of Texas.

“God is calling us to reach out to as many people groups as we can in Texas,” added Dan Acharya, the SBTC missions strategy associate who leads the Texas Missions Initiatives. There are over 421 people groups in Texas who are speaking over 300 languages. Through Texas Missions Initiatives, over 1,000 people in over 100 churches are trained each year to reach Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other groups with the gospel.

For more information on training contact Dan Acharya at 817-552-2500 or email

FBC Pampa team sees God work after protests delay return home

PAMPA The First Baptist Church in Pampa has done mission work in Haiti for years.

“Our church has been involved with a ministry called Back to Life that helps to support an orphanage, school and church in Gilbert, Haiti,” said Kathy Cavalier, a church and mission team member at First Baptist Church.

Most recently, a mission team of 17, including 12 adults and five youth, went to the country to work.

“We’ve had a Vacation Bible School for anywhere from 400-600 children from the surrounding area,” said Cavalier. “There are only 20 at the orphanage itself, but the children come from all over.”

However, when a part of the group went to another region to help another church, they got caught in roadblocks after protesters took to the streets following a government-ordered fuel price hike.

“We had gone out to be a part of a new church plant that had taken place in a village a couple of hours away from where we were staying,” said Zackary Greer, associate pastor of missions and administration. “On the way back, we encountered some roadblocks, it was a pretty volatile situation.”

During the intense situation, Greer says the Haitian people, in turn, helped them.

“When we got trapped by one of the roadblocks, we went back into a town and the people were gracious and took us in,” said Greer.

The team was originally set to return earlier but because of the roadblocks in capital Port-au-Prince and a U.S. Embassy shelter-in-place notice, they were not able to fly home until July 13.

Greer says the experience has inspired them to go back to the country even sooner to work.

“We’ve come to a point where we are more excited and have more urgency and have more desire to go back and work with the Haitian people than we ever have and we’re excited about that,” said Greer. “We had some young team members, we had some teenagers, and they are so excited about their opportunity in the future to go back and work with the Haitian people.”

Greer later told the TEXAN, “Because of the way things went down, we stayed another five days.” He spoke of the chaos during the night as the group heard gunshots and individuals trying to disassemble cars to break through the roadblocks. 

“Those were the times when the group drew closest to the Lord,” Greer said. “The Bible studies, prayer and fasting were extremely powerful. God strips us of things sometimes to speak to us.”

This article is reprinted with permission from KFDA-TV’s online report by Jami Seymour with additional reporting by the TEXAN in the closing paragraphs. 

REVIEW: “Mission: Impossible “ Fallout” provides a hero with a moral compass

Good guy Ethan Hunt has never been one to run from trouble, but even he may have doubts about his latest assignment.

It began when he agreed to try and stop a terrorist group – the same one that already sparked a regional smallpox outbreak – from acquiring plutonium for nuclear weapons. But when Plan A went awry, he had to resort to Plan B, which involved infiltrating the terrorist network and pretending to be the lead buyer of plutonium.   

Ethan Hunt – a terrorist who purchases nuclear bombs? Say it ain’t so! Of course, it’s for a good cause: saving humanity and keeping the weapons from the bad guys.   

And somehow, he’s still hoping to maintain his ethics and morals, which includes his No. 1 rule: no innocent bloodshed.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt,  Ving Rhames as his partner Luther, Simon Pegg as his other partner Benji, Henry Cavill as CIA operative August Walker, and Alec Baldwin as IMF secretary Alan Hunley.

It is the sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible film series, which launched in 1996 and tells the story of Hunt, an agent within an anti-crime U.S. government body known as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) who is given only the most difficult of assignments.

In Fallout, Hunt discovers that the only way he can prevent a nuclear holocaust is to pretend to be a murdering terrorist.

It’s one of the most entertaining action films I’ve watched – with wall-to-wall chases and cliffhangers (some literal ones) around every corner — but it’s marred by strong language and more violence than I’d want my ‘tween son to see. Hunt, though, provides us an example of an action hero with a solid moral compass.  

Let’s examine the details

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: Minimal, moderate, extreme)

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 33 words: s—t (7), h-ll (7), SOB (4), d—n (4), OMG (3), misuse of “God” (2), misuse of “Jesus” (2), a— (2), f-word (1), misuse of “Jesus Christ” (1).     


Extreme. Expect a gunfight or hand-to-hand fisticuffs every five minutes, with plenty of bodies on the ground, although it stays somewhat bloodless. We see Hunt and his sidekicks get into a gun fight underground with the bad guys. Hunt tasers someone in the neck. Minutes later, Hunt and Walker get into a bathroom fight with someone. Mirrors are broken. Sinks are broken. A plumbing pipe is used as a weapon. A man is shot in the face–we don’t see it, but we do see blood on the floor. Hunt and a woman stab several people with knives when attacked. A woman is run over by a motorcycle but survives. Terrorists plot to kills cops to help a friend escape. A man nearly drowns in a vehicle. Helicopters crash; we see a victim with a mutilated side of his face. A man nearly dies while hanging. Another man is strangled to death.


Minimal. Two people kiss.

Other Positive Elements

If only Jack Bauer of 24 fame were as driven to do the right thing. Hunt saves someone who tried to kill him. He refuses to let a friend get killed – even though the action might have saved millions of lives. When he learns the bad guys may kill a dozen or so people, he does everything he can to stop it – despite the fact that doing so might blow his cover.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We see men (from behind) using the restroom.

Life Lessons

Most of us are able to sleep at night in peace without worrying about crime or terrorism. That’s because brave men and women – law enforcement and military personnel, for example — put their lives on the line for our safety. Sure, the Mission: Impossible series is all about action and excitement, but it’s also about self-sacrifice and putting others first – two things Hunt and his teammates do on a regular basis. For families who enjoy the series, that’s a topic worth discussing.


Ethan Hunt has a weakness. Or is it a strength? He refuses to let anyone die – especially innocent people and his teammates — if they can be saved. That gets him in trouble with his bosses early in the movie when he opts to save his friends instead of capturing the plutonium. Does the world need people who “care about the one life as much as they care about the millions,” as his boss describes it? Of course it does. But is that a good trait for counter-terrorism officials? In the television series 24, Jack Bauer was known to take drastic actions – even killing friends — when multiple lives were at risk. In Fallout, Hunt does just the opposite and tries his hardest to save everyone. It’s the film’s dominant theme. I enjoyed watching Jack Bauer on TV, but Hollywood needs more action heroes like Ethan Hunt.    .        

What Works

The action. The cinematography. The chase scenes. Fallout has some of the most exhilarating car chase scenes I’ve witnessed. The fact that it all takes place in Paris and London only adds to the enjoyment.

What Doesn’t

The movie’s final scenes. There’s no way they got all that done in 15 minutes, as presented. Still, it was fun to watch.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it always right to “care about the one life” as much as you “care about the millions”? How does that play out in government? Law enforcement? The military? Was Hunt always right?
  2. What did you think about the arrangement Hunt and his wife had made? How does that square with Scripture?
  3. What can you do to encourage any military personnel or law enforcement officials you know?

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language.  

SBTC en Español: enfoque mas unificado del ministerio hispano

GRAPEVINE  A medida que la población hispana sigue creciendo en Texas, la SBTC está cambiando para desempeñar mejor las necesidades de las iglesias a través de un enfoque más unificado del ministerio hispano.

Históricamente, muchas de las conferencias y oportunidades de capacitación de la convención para pastores y líderes de habla hispana y miembros de las iglesias han sido independientes de los ministerios en inglés. Pero esa dinámica cambiará pronto, a medida que el departamento de Ministerios Hispanos realiza su transición en 2019 a un nuevo formato como “SBTC en Español”.

Con el nuevo modelo, los eventos en español, incluyendo las conferencias de hombres y mujeres, las conferencias regionales, la conferencia EQUIP, el retiro de pastores y esposas, y la cumbre de liderazgo hispana, se  realizarán en un esfuerzo concertado con los eventos de inglés de la convención, con varios talleres disponibles en español.

“Agradezco el cambio porque nos unirá más”, dijo Mike Gonzales, director de los Ministerios Hispanos. “Nos convertirá en una sola familia, y podremos trabajar juntos como un solo cuerpo”.

A medida que se produce la transición, las iniciativas anteriores de los Ministerios Hispanos se incorporarán a varios departamentos de la SBTC para que el liderazgo de los ministerios de inglés y en español trabajen juntos para ofrecer oportunidades más diversas.

“Nos ayudará a tener más comunicación entre nuestros departamentos, y podremos atender mejor a nuestras diferentes iglesias hispanas con sus diferentes necesidades”, dijo Gonzales. “El próximo año, cuando las personas hispanas en estos ministerios vean nuestra nueva composición, la forma en que vamos a ser remodelados, dirán: ‘Ahora  sí podemos conectarnos con la convención'”.

Debido a que las comunidades hispanas difieren en todo el estado, Gonzales dijo que la iniciativa en español se adaptará, especialmente para las conferencias regionales, a la demografía local, con una variedad de opciones de idiomas disponibles.

“Sólo  depende de la situación. Si ministramos en la frontera en el sur de Texas, todo continuará en español. Si ministramos en la área del oeste de Texas como Lubbock u Odessa, podríamos tener talleres en inglés o bilingües dado a la mayoría de hispanos que suelen ser bilingües en esa área”.

Además de aumentar la unidad en toda la convención y abrir más oportunidades para los miembros hispanos, el cambio está dirigido a alcanzar y servir a una comunidad hispana cambiante, en la que la segunda y la tercera generación se están convirtiendo en la mayoría.

“A medida que las personas jóvenes (hispanas) en la iglesia continúan creciendo, prefieren el inglés. Para que la iglesia hispana pueda retener a los jóvenes, muchas de ellas deben comenzar a ofrecer por lo menos cultos bilingües o tener un servicio en inglés. Para nosotros, como una convención, eso es vital,” dijo Jesse Contreras, asociado del departamento de los Ministerios Hispanos.

Al combinar todas las conferencias y eventos de la convención, Contreras espera ver a los futuros líderes hispanos mejor equipados para servir y tener la capacidad de liderar a los demás.

“En el pasado, las conferencias eran un poco limitadas porque todas eran ofrecidas en español. Ahora las iglesias podrán traer a sus jóvenes y estudiantes universitarios, y pueden participar en toda la conferencia,” dijo Contreras. “Espero poder conectarnos con algunos líderes futuros, hombres y mujeres hispanos que pueden manejar ambos idiomas, ambas culturas, y continuar su desarrollo de liderazgo porque hay una necesidad de estudiantes sólidos y teológicamente astutos que puedan ayudar a nuestras iglesias para las próximas generaciones”.

El modelo en Español será algo nuevo a nivel de la convención, pero Gonzales dijo que muchas congregaciones grandes de la SBTC ya han comenzado a adoptar este modelo. 

“Varias iglesias predominantemente anglo están considerando el modelo en Español, y la razón es porque ayuda a que los dos grupos se conviertan en una sola iglesia, no en dos iglesias”, dijo Gonzales. “Esa es la realidad. Creo que este será el futuro de la iglesia Bautista del Sur, ministrando a todas las personas en todas las ciudades en sus diferentes idiomas y en sus diferentes trasfondos”.

EQUIP tackles cultural challenges churches will face

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS  The Leadership track of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Aug. 11 EQUIP Conference will feature sessions on two ‘hot topic’ issues challenging churches today: the foster care crisis in Texas and human sexuality.

Saturday morning, Cindy Asmussen, the SBTC’s Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee advisor (TERLC), will conduct a two-part workshop, “Foster Care: How Can Your Church Be Part of the Solution?”

Asmussen has served for more than 10 years in legislative and director roles with Concerned Women for America in Texas. Mother of two adult sons, and recent adoptive mother to a 7-year-old daughter, she will share her and her husband’s story of fostering and adopting, explain the urgent need for more foster homes in Texas. She will also share how to be sufficiently prepared for foster/adoption care.

In April 2016 more than 31,000 children were in foster care in Texas. In January 2017, 3600 children were waiting for adoptive families. More than 1,000 each year “age out” of the foster system, losing state care without ever having a permanent place to call home. The shortage of foster homes results in many Texas children being relocated hundreds of miles from their communities, and some have had to sleep in Child Protective Services offices, Asmussen said.

Attendees will also learn ways to establish ministries that undergird foster and adoptive parents and to advocate for foster children. “It is a full-time mission field, but the rewards are eternal and this is the mission of Christ,” Asmussen said. “It’s messy and sometimes overwhelming, but we are called to bring order into chaos, light into darkness, and minister wholeness to the distraught and broken-hearted. Together, we can do this.”

Brooke Stembridge of Texas Baptist Home for Children will address how to foster or adopt children through the Waxahachie-based ministry.

During the Saturday afternoon EQUIP Leadership track, Benjamin Wright, TERLC chair and pastor of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church in Houston, will moderate two sessions on ministry challenges related to human sexuality.

“I do think there’s a real possibility that our churches are going to be pressured into compliance with the agenda of absolute sexual freedom. And I do think there’s a real possibility that our churches are going to be pressured to conform with our culture’s confusion on gender,” Wright said.

He added, “People who have lined up as our cultural opponents are fundamentally people we need to love . . . so our sessions at EQUIP are designed to take a step forward in helping our churches understand the issues in light of Scripture, anticipate the future, respond biblically, and advance our mission.”

Evan Lenow of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will present the first afternoon workshop entitled “Gender Identity and Human Sexuality.”

Lenow, an associate professor of ethics, teaches the courses Christianity and Human Sexuality and Ethics of Marriage and Family. He said, “[Gender identity] is where conversations are going—what people are talking about. I am covering what ‘gender’ means biblically. Gender is part of who we are. It is the biological reality of creation.”

He added, “Then I’ll address the cultural reality we are in.
I want pastors and leaders to understand that the Bible is actually our friend. I want them to be proactive in their understanding of what gender is, and know how to speak positively.”

Lenow hopes to build awareness in pastors and leaders of the questions they need to be prepared to answer, and the policies they may need to think through regarding this issue.

“What do you do with your bathroom policy? How do you address where kids are sleeping at youth or children’s camp? These are questions we have to ask,” Lenow said, adding, “I’m wanting us to not live in fear but to use these opportunities to proclaim who God made us to be.”

In the fourth breakout session attorney Ray Kaselonis from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will present “Gender Identity: Engaging People with the Mind of Christ.” Kaselonis serves as senior counsel for Church Alliance with ADF.

According to the ADF website, “Kaselonis represents and advises churches belonging to the ADF Church Alliance to protect their right to minister freely and to engage in defense of religious liberty.”

Hosted by North Richland Hills Baptist Church, EQUIP will offer 21 ministry training tracks including: age-group ministries; men’s, women’s and family ministries; ethnic specific ministries; worship, technology, evangelism, and more.

The wide variety of breakout sessions within each track aims to strengthen, inspire, and educate any church leaders in their specific roles.

“Every church wants more leaders. Every church wants to see their current leaders develop into better leaders,” states the EQUIP 2018 web page. The conference is open to anyone. The registration fee which includes lunch, is $10 per person through Aug. 6 and $15 thereafter.

For a complete conference agenda, and to register, go to

God working through our efforts together

God has been on the move in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He has showered his favor on us. Let’s give him praise together. Here is my praise report.

The summer began with staff retreats. The senior staff met separately, followed by all ministry staff having a time of discussion and deliberation. Planning consisted of 2019 calendaring, preliminary budgeting for ministry and personnel evaluations. We are always seeking to make the SBTC staff better in order to serve the churches.

The Southern Baptist Convention was held in Dallas and allowed the SBTC to be front and center before the messengers. The SBTC was able to secure a coveted spot directly behind the registration desk in the exhibit hall. Everyone who came through the main entrance passed by our booth. We were able to connect with people who wanted more information about the SBTC or needed assistance. SBTC was a headline partner with the ERLC in the Global Hunger Relief Run. This gave us an opportunity to connect with younger pastors. The SBC Executive Committee allowed the SBTC to direct the prayer room for the annual meeting. Ted Elmore led this effort as we sought to keep the focus on spiritual matters. I believe the prayer involvement allowed a more positive outcome to the annual meeting than otherwise would have been the case.

The SBTC staff has worked overtime this summer in numerous student camps. The final numbers are not in but at this time hundreds have made professions of faith and scores have answered God’s call to ministry. This summer is the largest registration for student camps in SBTC history. Next summer the SBTC is expanding camp opportunities. We are grateful to God that he has given us the privilege of investing in the next generation. 

On a personal level, I had 32 preaching events in the first 26 weeks of 2018. My fourth book was released at the Southern Baptist Convention. The title is Hard Hat Area: Building Biblical Families. Families live in a construction zone. Prayerfully this book will help strengthen lives. It was my privilege to serve on the SBC Evangelism Task Force appointed by President Steve Gaines. Our report was given at the annual meeting. Once again Southern Baptists are challenged to make gospel conversations a high priority. In addition to these activities, I have attended various denominational meetings, SBTC events, directed staff and had one on one conversations about ministry with pastors and staff. 

The preceding paragraphs were part of a report I gave to the SBTC Executive Committee and later to the Executive Board. It is important to remember that the denominational headquarters is the local church. Each local church has a say in the direction of our shared work through the convention. Messengers elect members to the Executive Board. The Executive Board is tasked to represent the convention between the annual meetings. The Executive Committee, comprised of the officers of the Executive Board, acts for the Executive Board between board meetings. All of this organization enables the churches to have a constant presence in the life of the state convention. Transparency produces trust. The SBTC Executive Committee and Board have sought to keep the churches apprised of our mutual mission and ministry. The churches, through their messengers, have the final say at the annual meeting. Neither the Executive Committee nor the Executive Board can overturn a decision of the convention. The local church remains the headquarters.

This fall, messengers from the churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will meet at Second Baptist Church, North (Kingwood). Our theme is, Entrusted: A Gospel Legacy for the Coming Generations. I will give my report to those who gather. I look forward to thanking God for his blessings of the past 20 years. I join with you looking to the future as we continue to promote unity around the BF&M 2000 to accomplish cooperative work through the Cooperative Program. 

Seven Dangers Facing Your Church

It’s a dangerous time for the church. There’s no denying it. There’s no point burying your head in the sand. Every church is in danger—and that includes yours.

In Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, we read about seven churches and the dangers they faced—the very same dangers that we still face today. It’s both a warning that we need to be on our guard and—much more importantly—an encouragement that we can trust fully in our all-powerful, all-conquering savior.

As you read through these seven dangers that could be facing your church, don’t forget that God is with us, God is for us, and God guides us by his Word and Spirit.

1. Loveless Orthodoxy

The church in Ephesus battled false teachers and their false doctrines. By the time we get to Revelation 2, though, the Ephesian church had righted its doctrinal ship. Sadly, in their battle for doctrinal purity, they forgot about love. Right doctrine and right church practices, while important, do not in and of themselves make a church a healthy community or a faithful witness. As Paul reminds us, if we do not have love we are “a noisy gong or clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). Is your church in danger of fighting for doctrinal purity apart from love. 

2. Fear of Suffering

Persecution is the world’s rage against God’s king (Jesus), and Christians always get caught up in it. However, it’s easy to forget or overlook the fact that God permits Christian suffering for his glory and our good. We must learn to endure all things, safe in the confidence that we will be conformed to the image of Christ. However, there’s a real danger that instead, we will do our best to avoid suffering and live a comfortable Christian life. If we do this, we’ll miss out on God’s refining work in us. 

3. Compromise

In this hostile world, the temptation to compromise our biblical convictions in order to “fit in” is strong. When our faith is challenged, will we continue to believe that Jesus’ words are true and good, or will we turn to the words of someone else? We must not compromise on the truth. Is your church in danger of having its faith chipped away—whether by the opinions of society or through false teaching?

4. Tolerance

In the name of “love,” the church is tempted to not address sin and not practice church discipline. Love, after all, “is patient.” So when it comes to speaking the hard truths of the Bible to those we love, we are far too often willing to tolerate sin. Could this be true of your church?

5. A Good Reputation

Even in these dangerous times, though, some churches still appear to flourish. They have “good reputations” in their communities. Consequently, they may be tempted to think they’re OK, healthy, out of danger from the world’s rage. When we’re tempted to trust in our “good name,” we must ask ourselves, “Do we care more about what people think of us or about doing and saying necessary hard things in love?” Too many churches have chased name recognition, but not cherished the gospel. What about yours?

6. Self-doubt

The majority of churches in the world, though, are not large. They’re quite small and unimpressive in the world’s eyes. If you’re tempted to compare your church to other churches of “good name” and large influence, you will be in danger of becoming discouraged because of a lack of visible success. We must continually remind ourselves that God values our faithfulness to him. He looks at our hearts, not the size of our congregations, the number of our baptisms, or the amount of our budgets.
Don’t be discouraged! Remain faithful!

7. Self-sufficiency

Sadly, in many cases, today’s church is no different than the world. Just like the world, we depend on our ingenuity, wealth and resources. Our affluence so easily deceives us into believing we don’t need anyone else: not even God. We’re in danger of relying on our prosperity. When we do, we will stop relying on the risen Christ for everything we need. Who or what is your church relying on?

How is your church doing?

We are all weak in some (or many) ways, but we have a mighty Savior who cherishes us, graciously warns us of pitfalls, and who has won the ultimate victory on our behalf. In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus not only exposes these seven dangers facing every church, he also provides the answer—look to the risen Christ and long for his return.

I wrote Seven Dangers Facing Your Church for every church leader and member committed to playing their part in helping their local church thrive in an increasingly hostile environment. I pray this book will be a great encouragement to you and your church.  

You may order a copy of Seven Dangers Facing Your Church on Amazon. Download a free chapter at

SBTC en Español: Hispanic Ministries adopting more unified structure

GRAPEVINE—As the Hispanic population in Texas grows, the SBTC is changing to better meet the needs of its members through a more unified approach to Hispanic ministry.

Historically, many of the convention’s conferences and training opportunities for Spanish-speaking pastors and church members have been independent of their English-language counterparts. But that dynamic will soon change, as the Hispanic Ministries department transitions in 2019 to a new format as “SBTC en Español.”

With the new model, Spanish language events, including the men’s and women’s conferences, regional conferences, the Equip Conference, the pastors and wives retreat, and the Hispanic Summit, will merge with the convention’s English events, with an “en Español,”—or Spanish language—track available.

“I welcome the change because it’s going to unify us,” said Mike Gonzales, director of Hispanic Ministries. “It’s going to make us one family, and we will be able to work together as one body.”

As the transition takes place, former Hispanic Ministries initiatives will be incorporated into various SBTC departments so that leadership from both English and Spanish language ministries are working alongside each other to offer more diverse opportunities.

“It will help us have more communication among our departments, and we’ll be able to better minister to our different Hispanic churches with their different needs,” Gonzales said. “Next year, when Hispanic individuals in these ministries see our makeup, the way we are going to be reshaped, they are going to say, ‘Hey, we can connect with the convention now.’”

Because Hispanic communities differ throughout the state, Gonzales said the en Español initiative will be tailored, particularly for the regional conferences, to the local demographics, with a range of language options available.

“It just depends on the situation. If you go down by the border, everything will continue to be done in Spanish. If you go to Lubbock or Odessa, we might have an English track because lots of Hispanics there are bilingual.”

In addition to increasing convention-wide unity and opening up more opportunities for Hispanic members, the shift is aimed at reaching and serving a changing Hispanic community, one in which second and third generations are becoming the majority.

“As young (Hispanic) people in the church continue to grow, they do prefer English. In order for the Hispanic church to retain young people, a lot of them are having to start providing at least bilingual services or have an English service. For us as a convention, that’s vital, I think,” said Hispanic Ministries associate Jesse Contreras.

By combining all of the convention’s conferences and events, Contreras hopes to see future Hispanic leaders better equipped to serve and lead others.

“In the past, the conferences were a bit limited because they were all in Spanish. Now, they can bring their young people and college-aged students, and they can take part in the whole conference,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can connect with some future leaders—Hispanic men and women who are able to handle both languages, both cultures—and to continue their leadership development because there’s a need for solid, theologically astute students who can help our churches for the coming generations.”

While the en Español model will be new at the convention level, it’s one Gonzales said many larger SBTC congregations have already begun adopting and one he predicts will become more prevalent with time.

“Most of our bigger Anglo churches are moving toward the en Español model, and the reason is because it becomes one church, not two churches,” Gonzales said. “That’s the reality. That’s going to be the future of the Southern Baptist church, ministering to all the people in all cities in their different languages and in their different backgrounds.”

REVIEW: “Mamma Mia 2” is a lesson on how NOT to live your life

Sophie is a free-spirited woman just like her mom, Donna. She sings. She dances. She throws parties.

And just like her mom, she’s opening a hotel — the Hotel Bella Donna on the Greek island of Kalokairi – and planning a grand-opening bash. Her friends are invited, and her family, too. But most of all, she wants her “three dads” to come – that is, the three men who might be her father. No one knows which one is the real dad, but for now, that’s OK. She views all of them as family.

Of course, she would love it if her fiancé Sky could come to the grand opening, too, but he’s in New York City for six weeks learning more about the hotel business. Once that’s complete, he’ll return to Kalokairi and manage the hotel with Sophie. Or so she thinks.

Sky phones and tells her he’s been offered a full-time job in New York City – a job he really wants. Can a romance survive if two people who are an ocean apart refuse to give an inch?

The musical Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (PG-13) opens this weekend as a sequel to the 2008 film Mamma Mia!, which grossed $144 million in the U.S. and finished 13th on the domestic chart that year. The newest film serves as both a prequel and sequel, going back and forth between scenes from Donna’s younger years to scenes of Sophie preparing for the grand opening. It stars Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables, Mamma Mia!) as Sophie; Lily James (Cinderella) as the young Donna; Meryl Streep (Out of Africa) as the older Donna; Pierce Brosnan (James Bond film series) as Sam, one of the three dads; and Cher as Sophie’s grandmother.

The movies are based on the Broadway play Mamma Mia! and feature music from the 1970s group ABBA as well as new songs by ABBA member Benny Andersson. They’re also very popular among teen girls and women. (The female-to-male ratio in my theater was 10-to-1.)  

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a mixed bag. It features plenty of catchy tunes and fun choreography to accompany its thin plot, along with a decent message about parenting and a horrible message about romance.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: Minimal, moderate, extreme)




Moderate. No nudity, but plenty of bedroom/sex talk and inuendo. Young Donna is seen in a bikini top and displays her midriff and cleavage in several scenes. The opening scene includes ABBA’s “I Kissed the Teacher,” with the song referencing a female teacher and Donna, at the school’s graduation, seen pretending to kiss a female teacher. Later, Donna meets a man over lunch and he discusses the “advantages and disadvantages of spending the night together.” She had met him that day, but we then see them in bed, post-sex. Donna meets a second guy, who takes her across the water to an island on his boat. They don’t sleep together, but apparently only because of a lack of time. Donna meets a third man, and they kiss outside his house at night. The next scene shows them in a boat the next morning, with him wanting to talk about “last night.” (It’s implied they slept together.) We then learn he was engaged to another woman. Later, we see her hop in the bed with the man who pilots the boat. Sex is implied, but we don’t see anything. Other characters kiss during the movie, too. Some of the dancing is sensual, but most of it is OK.

Coarse Language

Minimal. About six words: h-ll (2), misuse of “God” (2), misuse of “Jesus Christ” (1), OMG (1)

Other Positive Elements

The three dads – even though they don’t know which one is the biological father, truly care for Sophie as a daughter. One even walks out of an important business meeting to make her grand opening. “Family is all that matters,” he says.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

The death of a parent is a central part of the plot. Characters drink wine.

Life Lessons

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again displays the consequences of a free-spirited, carefree attitude toward romance and sex while also teaching us it’s never too late to reconcile. Mostly, though, we’re stuck with a ton of songs about falling in love after a 24-hour relationship that often includes sex. That’s not much different than many popular songs on the radio today, but in Mamma Mia! we see it played out on the big screen.

“I have absolutely nothing mapped out [and have] no idea what the future holds” a young Donna says, as she falls for another man.

The film offers us lessons on how not to confront a romantic relationship and about what not to do before you’re married. Sure, it’s fun to watch Donna sing about “romance” and Sophie sing about her three fathers, but in the real world, it’s not fun and games. No kid deserves to grow up like that, wondering which man that her mom slept with is her real dad. Sleeping around is easy. Parenting a child at a young age – the consequence of this care-free attitude — is hard work. Too often, young adults aren’t ready for the latter. In the real world, we don’t break out in song and dance to make everything feel better.   


ABBA’s hit song “Waterloo” – which is part of the movie – includes this lyric: “[I] promise to love you forever more.” Unfortunately, few if any people in the film do that. Sophie’s mom had sex with so many men that she doesn’t know the identity of her daughter’s father. The three fathers themselves are no picture of virtue. An elderly woman in the movie was divorced three times. Even Sophie is unmarried, having called off the wedding at the end of the first film to sail around the world with Sky.

At one point in the film, a depressed young Donna says, “I don’t know how to sing about love when I’m not feeling it.” Therein lies the problem. Love isn’t just a feeling. The biblical definition of love involves sacrifice and selflessness. It includes action. It includes loving a person even when you don’t “feel like it.” “Mamma Mia! love” is fleeting. Real love lasts a lifetime.   

Thankfully, Sophie does show a little more responsibility than her mom, especially at the end.     

What Works

The music and the dance. There aren’t many genres of music I don’t enjoy.

What Doesn’t

The story contains a few major plot holes and unanswered questions.

Discussion Questions

  1. Define “love.” How does the biblical definition of love differ from Donna’s definition?
  2. Why couldn’t Donna ever find true love? What was she doing wrong?
  3. What is the problem with sex before marriage? How did it blind Donna and her boyfriends?
  4. Do you think Sophie learned from her mother’s actions?
  5. Why do songs impact us so much?

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

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material.

SBTC DR teams serve victims of Rio Grande Valley floods and Colorado wildfires

McALLEN and LA VETA, COLORADO—A week after Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief (SBTC DR) volunteers deployed to the Rio Grande Valley in late June to assist victims of flooding caused by torrential rains, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice received a request for crews to feed volunteers, National Guard troops and fire fighters responding to wildfires sweeping Colorado.

SBTC DR mud-out and clean-up crews completed about 70 work orders in McAllen before temporarily standing down July 14. Teams of SBTC volunteers are scheduled to redeploy to the area the week of July 22, to work in conjunction with Texas Baptist Men.

Mike Jansen, who followed George Yarger as SBTC DR incident leader in McAllen, praised First Baptist Church of McAllen for hosting volunteers and supplying interpreters. “Interpreters are always a great need,” Jansen said of work done with Spanish-speaking populations.

Over 100 spiritual contacts were made over the three-week initial Valley deployment, Jansen said, noting that 26 salvations occurred.

One mud-out group shared the gospel in informal conversations with the homeowner, who came to faith by the end of the day’s work. “One would share, then another would come through and share,” Jansen said of the seamless evangelism possible in the worst of conditions as DR crews offer both physical help and spiritual hope.

While crews labored in the Valley, Colorado wildfires spread. When Stice called for a team to travel to Colorado to provide relief for DR feeding crews, Beth Wilbanks of Diboll replied that she was already there.

Wilbanks and her husband, Gerry, were already travelling to Wyoming to work with Volunteer Christian Builders when the call came.

“I am headed that way. I will go,” Wilbanks told Dewey Watson, SBTC DR task force supervisor for feeding. Her husband drove six hours to drop her at La Veta in southern Colorado on July 12, where she worked through the weekend, joined Saturday by two additional SBTC volunteers from Texas. A second three-person SBTC DR feeding team is scheduled to deploy to Colorado July 22-31, with a six-person team rotating in the following week, Watson said.

SBTC DR and disaster crews from Colorado and other states are conducting feeding operations using trailers from the North American Mission Board. Volunteers are staying in both the church parsonage and the SBTC DR bunkhouse, parked at Mountain View Baptist Church in La Veta and taken to Colorado by Glenn and Terri James, Watson said.

Wilbanks, who accompanied Colorado assessors on a run following her feeding shift one day, described the ongoing ash-out work that promises to occupy crews for months. The effort requires heavy equipment to remove twisted metal debris, volunteers to sift through ashes for valuables, and skid steers to move mounds of ash, Wilbanks noted.

Ash-out is “a hard job” and “also dangerous. You cannot breathe that ash,” Watson added, confirming that SBTC DR efforts will continue to focus on feeding volunteers and first responders as relief and recovery efforts expand in Colorado.