Month: December 2018

Why go to church?

A few of my hometown friends decided to stop going to church while I was in college. They had been on mission trips with our college group, attended faithfully for years and seemed to love our pastor. But, for various reasons, they decided to start staying home. They didn’t leave behind their friends or change the way they lived at first. One of them even had a short-lived Bible study at her house. Their arguments were familiar in that day—“The church has flaws”; “The older people don’t get it”; “The music stinks,” and so on. Since that time I’ve seen others who faded away after being faithful for years.  

But I’ve never seen someone grow spiritually by himself. Believers who neglect assembling with other believers slide morally, doctrinally and spiritually until they are not easily distinguished from “decent” pagans. Externally, I’ve seen their slide rear its head first in doctrine. “Did God say?” becomes “What I think is …” followed by something that is not at all what the Bible says. Bloggers and celebrities and scholars who “feel” what the Bible says or who contradict the witness of the ages are very easy to find. It’s hard to avoid ending up in error because a church, the assembled body of Christ, is the repository for things that are essential for our spiritual development. 

Church is the place where we discern God’s will. Individuals can talk to God without a human intermediary. We can also read the Bible for ourselves. But corporate discernment is too important to ignore. Look at the last bit of Acts 1, where the disciples are seeking a replacement for Judas. “They” put forward two men, “They” prayed, “They” cast lots, and God showed them Matthias. About 200 years later, leaders in churches across Asia and Mediterranean Europe came to the same conclusions as they sought God’s will about the makeup of the canon—which books belonged in the Bible. God did not just speak to a man and a group of Christians did not just vote. He showed church leaders in different places the same thing; the canon was recognized by churches and by the church. 

Church is the place where we learn doctrine. Acts 15 gives us an example of corporate deliberation of a doctrinal matter. The apostles and elders gathered to consider the ministry to Gentiles. Verse 7 says there was “much debate.” Again, God could have just told one man all he wanted to say and given that man the authority to make it stick. He did not. Granted, this was not a church, but neither was the answer given in solitude. Titus 1:9 says that a pastor should “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” This is done in the context of the assembled body, often in the preaching ministry of the pastor. It is not effectively done via television or livestreaming. Those experiences are less personal, less pastoral. 

Church is the place where our behavior is reproved. In his second pastoral letter to Timothy, Paul describes the Bible as “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Who is it who knows you and trains you in righteousness? If you can answer that question, it is likely someone at your church—maybe your pastor. Who corrects you when you have no pastor or church? No one does. Yet the Bible says we need it. In 1 Corinthians 5 we learn that a person in that church had fallen into deep immorality. Paul says that the goal of the discipline was “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Then in verse 13 he says to “purge” or “cast out” the immoral brother. He tells them to do it—the church—the ones who know him and his sin. 

The church is God’s temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit. Ephesians 2:22 echoes the idea of 1 Corinthians 3:16 when it says that we (the church) “are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Both verses call to mind the temple by which God dwelt in the midst of his people. The Spirit dwells within individual believers, but he also dwells within us corporately. This is crucial as we consider discernment, doctrine and teaching in righteousness. We are rejecting a significant portion of the Spirit’s work in our lives when we reject, even passively, the church for which Christ died.   

A Pew Forum report puts the number of professing evangelicals who attend church “more than rarely” at about 58 percent. Of that 58 percent, fewer still are actually involved in any kind of ministry or personal relationships in a church. These absentee, or near absentee, folks are less happy in the Lord, assuming they are in the Lord to begin with. They do not spend significant time each week in prayer, Bible reading or talking about spiritual things with others. Is this you? 

Assuming you are not physically unable to meet with your brothers and sisters and sit under the ministry of the Word, it is God’s will that you do so. You will grow in spiritual maturity as you never will apart from a Bible-believing church. Your community could benefit from the salt and light you become. Your loved ones will know your happiness and love in a new way. And your church, that imperfect thing that you scorned for a while, will be less imperfect because you are once again in your place. 

Generosity Fueled by Love

hate talking about money. Most people hate hearing pastors talk about money. Still, how we handle money falls under Jesus’ command to “teach them everything I have commanded you.” So, talking about how Christians and churches handle money is a discipleship issue. As we begin a new year, then, let’s consider four principles of generosity we observe as the Christians in Antioch responded to the financial need of the Jerusalem church.

Principle 1 | They gave willingly & deliberately (Acts 11:29)

Once the need was known, the disciples in Antioch determined that they would send a relief offering—no one asked them to. That word determined may also be translated “decided” or “resolved.” In other words, knowing the need, they resolved to be generous. And notice that the determination was both individual (“every one” v.29) and corporate (“the disciples determined” v.29). 

There could be any number of reasons one might determine to give. Some people give out of obligation or obedience, others out of shame or guilt. But the greatest fuel for generosity is love. Think about it! We’re all generous with whom or what we love—generous with our time, our resources, and our money. If we love self, we lavish ourselves with what makes us most happy. If we love others, we lavish them with what makes them most happy. Because I love my wife, I delight in showering her with generosity, even to the point of personal sacrifice. And that’s no surprise, because love by definition and example is sacrificial. God demonstrates his own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). And Jesus’ love for us is such that he laid aside his wealth in heaven to become a poor servant on earth, so that through his perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, we who are poor in spirit may share in his heavenly inheritance through repentance from sin and faith in him. That’s good news!

Jesus cares for his people through the generosity of his people, and he gives us both the definition and example of what that generosity looks like. Let us love others as Jesus loved us and resolve to be generous.

Principle 2 | They gave proportionally (Acts 11:29)

We cannot give what we do not have, and Jesus never asks us to do so. Instead, the Christians in Antioch resolved to give according to their ability—literally, according to how each prospered. The question we need to help our people ask is ‘What do we have to give’? Truth be told, as Americans, we have a lot more to give than we realize. We need to help our churches understand that everything we have comes from God, and that we are merely God’s managers of what he gives us. God provides for us that we may live and care for our family, and he blesses us in ways that allow us to be his instruments for the care of his people.

It’s possible that our people’s love for self has driven them into strangling debt. As a result, they feel they cannot give. Encourage them to get help getting out of debt so that they may be free to be generous. Then encourage them to begin giving generously according to what they have, not what they do not have.

Principle 3 | They gave purposely (Acts 11:29)

The disciples in Antioch gave for a particular purpose—to send relief to the saints in Judea. They didn’t collect a general offering for general needs; they were purposeful. And so should we be. At most churches, the purpose of giving is outlined in their annual budget. Use your budget as a teaching tool. Help your church understand the purposes for which they should give generously. Then, use the budget as a prayer guide—praying for your pastors, ministries and gospel partnerships throughout the world. And as the Lord prospers your church, remember the Cooperative Program. Together, we are giving to advance the gospel in Texas and beyond.

Principle 4 | They gave wisely (Acts 11:30)

You want your church to be purposeful in their generosity, but you also want to provide accountability. The church in Antioch wisely chose trusted men (Paul and Barnabas) to take the offering to Jerusalem. And Paul and Barnabas wisely delivered the offering to the elders of the church, not just anyone.

If we want to cultivate a culture of generosity in our churches, then we should follow the example of the church in Antioch. Because of their faith in Christ, they were labeled Christians—Christ-followers. Because of their generosity, they displayed the unity of the one church, made up of Jew and Gentile, and they displayed the promise that Jesus cares for his people through the generosity of his people. May the Lord grant our churches to grow in generosity that we may bring him glory and show the world that we are Christians. 

10 reasons you can’t miss the 2019 Empower Conference

As Empower Conference 2019 is quickly approaching, I wanted share with you 10 reasons why you should be a part of this great two-day event at the Irving Convention Center on Feb. 25–26.

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

2. Only evangelism conference in Texas. There are a lot of great conferences out there, but what sets Empower apart from the others is that it is a true evangelism conference. I’ve asked every speaker and breakout leader to speak on something under the umbrella of evangelism and making disciples. In 2018, over 2,800 people were a part of it. We cannot wait to see what the Lord does in 2019!

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

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

5. Two days of breakouts. This year, for the first time we will have breakouts on both Monday and Tuesday afternoons led by experts in their particular areas of ministry—over 25 to choose from. Without a doubt, you’ll grab on to some things that you can take back with you to your mission field.

6. A diverse lineup. Personally, I am so proud of the intentionality that we have put into the Empower Conference to be incredibly diverse in race, age and gender. We’ll have speakers, worship leaders and breakout teachers who will identify with each of us.

7. A powerful Monday night. We’re looking to fill-up the Irving Convention Center once again on Monday night! In addition to having Jimmy McNeal and Austin Stone Worship lead worship, Trip Lee, Lee Strobel and D. A. Horton will be speaking, followed by another session with Trip Lee on reaching the next generation with the gospel.

8. A Classic Luncheon and session to remember. The Classic Luncheon kicks-off Empower at 11:00 am on Monday, featuring nationally known Christian author, encourager and comedian Charles Lowery. After the luncheon will be a Classic session from 1 pm–4:30 am, featuring the nationally known southern-gospel group, The Hoppers, and speakers—Junior Hill, T. C. Melton and Ronnie Floyd.

9. A historic Tuesday to remember. Tuesday is a full-day of great changes and some of the best evangelistic speakers in the country. We’ll start out the morning with Nathan Lorick, Gregg Matte and Noe Garcia. Tuesday afternoon is for practical breakouts. Then, we’ll end the conference earlier this year with preaching from New York Times bestselling author and pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, Jim Cymbala preaching. (Be sure to check out to see the full list of personalities and the schedule of events.)

10. Free gift bag. Registration is open now. In 2018, we had record attendance. We want to guarantee your spot at the conference, and provide a FREE gift bag of resources to every attendee, and registration will help us do just that. So, go register now at

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

SBTC leader says churches must balance evangelism and discipleship

PORTLAND, Tenn. — Churches that don’t balance discipleship with evangelism will likely struggle to grow sustainably.

That’s what a Texas Southern Baptist leader recently told a room full of Kentucky and Tennessee pastors. On Dec. 3, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary sponsored a RevTalk at First Baptist Church of Portland, Tenn. Kenneth Priest, who serves as the director of convention strategies at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and an adjunct professor at SBTS, coordinated and spoke at the event.

Steve Rice, who leads the church consulting and revitalization team at the Kentucky Baptist Convention, and Steve Holt, the church services director at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, also spoke during the RevTalk. Revitalization leaders from a number of other state Baptist conventions attended as well.

Priest regularly hosts RevTalk events throughout Texas. When he realized he’d be at SBTS around Dec. 3, he worked with the seminary to host a nearby talk for Tennessee and Kentucky churches.

“RevTalk is a revitalization conversation for pastors, to raise the level of awareness for the need of church revitalization. These are conversations I do all over Texas,” Priest said.

During his talk, Priest drew from his book, Rubicons of Revitalization, to share about the Great Commission Code, the idea that churches must evenly balance evangelism and discipleship to fulfill their Great Commission mandate effectively.

“Historically, as Southern Baptists, we provide an emphasis on evangelism or an emphasis on discipleship,” Priest said. “In doing that, we’re out of balance. The Great Commission is perfectly balanced between evangelism and discipleship. By separating the two we’re actually not accomplishing the Great Commission. That is my hypothesis as to why churches are in a state of decline because they are doing one or the other and not providing a balance.” 

Priest says the balanced approach means that everything the church does should answer the questions, “How is this discipleship and how is this evangelism?”

“That means if you’re going to have an AWANA ministry or a benevolence ministry then you actually have to have an evangelism strategy for it and a discipleship strategy,” Priest said. “If you can’t do both, it’s probably something the church isn’t supposed to be doing because the church is supposed to be accomplishing the Great Commission.” 

He adds that this is a plan he has taught about and encouraged throughout Texas. He can point to examples of this in churches around the state who are baptizing and discipling more people because they’re focused on balancing these two aspects.

Rice focused his talk on the marks of godly leaders, based on the book of Nehemiah. He noted how godly leaders demonstrate care, face opposition, live an exemplary life, prioritize prayer and commit themselves to God’s Word. He also noted that Jesus focused heavily on developing leaders and the church grew as a result.

“We have discovered that a godly leader is still the key for his church to experience renewal and fresh growth,” Rice said. “It starts at the top. [In Kentucky,] we are focusing on helping the pastor be the leader that he can be and part of that includes how he can recruit and develop leaders around him.”

Holt shared about “The Power of Fear,” centering his talk around Luke 12:32.

“I believe that it is God’s will that his kingdom grow and he wants the human expression of that kingdom—the church to grow as well,” Holt said. “Consequently, if we are actively seeking to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples, we know God will bless our efforts. That knowledge should encourage us and drive any fear from our lives and ministry.”

Holt notes that often what pastors fear in church life are byproducts of focusing on human strength and perspective.

“We allow circumstances and people to unduly influence our willingness to step out in faith when God leads,” Holt said. “This creates ‘fortress’ or survival-type thinking that paralyzes growth and ensures decline and death.”

To learn more about upcoming RevTalks throughout Texas, visit

REVIEW: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is all about family … and fighting

Miles Morales is a teenage boy who simply wants to fit in at his new high school and find his place in the world.

It hasn’t been easy. He misses his old friends, his old classes and his old neighborhood. His parents moved him to the new school — which is across town and academically superior — after he passed the entrance exam and won an application lottery.

Miles, though, hates it. In fact, he’s trying to fail. Thankfully, his teachers refuse to flunk him. They want him to be prepared for life.

But nothing can prepare Miles for what is about to happen. It all started when he got a seemingly innocent spider bite. Then his hands started sticking to objects. Then he started walking on walls.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think Miles was, well, Spider-Man. Yet that role is taken.

“How could there be two Spider-Men?” he asks.

Good question.

The animated Sony movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (PG) opens this weekend, following the story of Miles Morales as he steps into the role of Spider-Man and discovers that there are multiple “Spider People” in this “Spider Verse.” That’s because the evil villain Kingpin is creating a machine that permits travel into multiple universes so he can resurrect his wife and child. He also wants to kill every Spider-Man.

It stars Shameik Moore (The Get Down) as Miles Morales/Spider-Man; Luna Lauren Velez (MacGyver, 2017) as his mom, Rio; Hailee Steinfeld (Pitch Perfect 2) as Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman; and Jake Johnson (Jurassic World) as Peter B. Parker.

The plot sounds complicated in print but works well on the animated big screen. At one point, there are six different Spider characters, including Spider-Ham, a pig who doubles as Peter Porker.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has plenty of animated violence but otherwise stays mostly in the family-friendly realm. It has plenty of funny moments, too. I’m not the target audience but I did enjoy it.  

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Moderate. It has the bloodless punching and fighting found in most live-action superhero films (that is, a lot), but it seems tamer in cartoon format. We also see someone get shot and killed. Major characters die. The movie ends — not surprisingly — with a big fight. Parents uncomfortable with the violence in Marvel and DC movies likely will find this film uncomfortable, too. It’s more violent than — for example — the Incredibles film series. It also has some scary moments, led by the shadowy villain Prowler, who looks like a masked creature from a horror flick and is accompanied by eery music.  


None. We see one brief kiss.

Coarse Language

Minimal. One coarse word (h-ll, said by a villain) and two or so instances of “oh my gosh.” Also, one “geez.”

Other Positive Elements

Miles’s parents are good role models. His father is a police officer who isn’t afraid to express affection and tell Miles he loves him — although Miles rarely returns the favor. Miles’ teacher refuses to give up on him. When he makes a “0” on a lengthy true/false test, she gives him a 100; it’s impossible, she says, to get every answer wrong unless you already knew the right answer.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We learn that Peter B. Parker — who is from another dimension — split from his wife because she wanted to have children.

Life Lessons

We learn lessons on courage (Miles), self-sacrifice (several characters, including Miles) and love for family (several characters, more on that below),  


Who knew that a superhero cartoon could provide such a family-centric message? Sometimes it’s even funny, as when Miles’ policeman father drops him off at school and tells him he loves him. When Miles refuses to say “I love you” back, his father gets on the police car loudspeaker and makes Miles say “I love you” — in front of all his friends. Embarrassing? Of course. Hilarious? Yes.

Yet this family theme extends to the villains, too. Kingpin is driven by a desire to see his family, even if he wants to kill everyone in the process. Later, one of Kingpin’s henchman refuses to kill someone during a fight because they are related. Kingpin subsequently shoots the villain.  

Families, of course, are one of God’s greatest gifts, created before the Fall. And long after Adam and Eve sinned, God repeated his desire to see the Earth be filled with — you guessed it — families (Genesis 9:1).

Hollywood films often include a family-centric theme. It’s nice to see it, though, in a film our kids will want to watch.


Get ready for Happy Meals with a Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse theme, because McDonald’s is a sponsor. General Mills also is a partner.

What I Liked

The story. The jokes. The family bond between Miles and his parents.

The film incorporates elements from comic books — such as speech balloons — to give it a unique feel. It works.  

What I Didn’t Like

I saw the 2D version. But it sure looked like it had 3D elements in it — as if I were in the wrong theater. I wasn’t; that’s just the way it looks. (Other moviegoers on Twitter reported the same issue.) Some fans will love this form of animation. I found it a bit distracting.  

Discussion Questions

  1. Was Miles’ father overbearing? Describe his parenting style in three different words.
  2. Why didn’t Miles want to say “I love you”? Why are we sometimes hesitant to say those words to family members? What would God want us to do?
  3. What did you think about the movie’s violence? Was it just the right amount … or too much? How does violence in the media impact us?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements, and mild language.

REVIEW: Joshua Harris” new film explores flaws in “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”

I was a single, 20-something seminary student in the early 2000s when Joshua Harris’ bestselling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was still popular.

The book had its critics, but I found its core message refreshing. It questioned the motives and goals of the traditional dating model. It even encouraged single men and women to stop dating. Instead, they would “court.” Yes, “courting” was dating by another name, but courting had a different goal. The goal was marriage.

The result: Men and women would no longer hop from one relationship to the next, simply for fun. The big bag of broken relationships would be a thing of the past. Singles would find their fulfillment in Christ, and in time, He would introduce them to their future spouse.    

Of course, I Kissed Dating Goodbye also encouraged abstinence. It even urged singles to save their first kiss for the wedding.

I had seen multitudes of college friends enter and exit unhealthy dating relationships. Thus, it was easy for me to embrace the message of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, even if I didn’t agree with everything Harris said. Harris—I believed then and now—promoted a model that was spiritually and emotionally healthier for the single person.  

Within two years of reading Harris’ book, I found my future wife.

Harris’ story was similar. Shortly after the book was published, he was married.

But not everyone’s interaction with I Kissed Dating Goodbye had a happy ending. Harris discovered as much in recent years when he moved his family to Vancouver, B.C., so he could become a graduate student at Regent College. Students who had read his book had mixed reactions. Some loved it. Others, though, hated its message. A few even said it had caused them pain.

A new documentary, I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, follows Harris as he interviews fans and critics of the book—most of them via Skype. He also travels around North America to interview Christian and mainstream experts on relationships.

In the end, Harris concludes that his book missed the mark on a few key points. The documentary is streaming for free on Amazon Prime. A DVD copy can be purchased, too.

“There were ways that I added to God’s Word that really didn’t help people and actually hindered people and hurt people,” Harris says.

Among his regrets: the book’s overemphasis on virginity. Harris still believes in abstinence, but he thinks the book devalued the worth of people who aren’t virgins. The message became one of “do I have this badge and this identity of being a virgin?” instead of the person being in a “relationship to God who loves and relates to sinners and shows grace to sinners,” Harris says.

“I’m seeing how the focus of the purity movement overshadowed the Bible’s central message of grace,” he says in the documentary.

Harris also believes the book overvalued the importance of sex in the married Christian’s life. By extension, that gave singles unrealistic expectations about their future spouse. Dale S. Kuehne, a professor at Saint Anselm College and the author of Sex and the iWorld, tells Harris that prior to the sexual revolution, society didn’t believe sex was the key to fulfillment. Instead, it was romance.

The sexual revolution impacted the church, Kuehne says.  

“We were advocating saving sex for marriage,” Harris says, “but we had bought into the idea that sex was essential for fulfillment and happiness, and so the implication for Christians is that marriage is also essential for fulfillment and happiness.”

Harris interviews several critics of the book who say courtship places too much pressure on the relationship between single males and females — whether or not they are courting. A mere casual conversation, these critics say, could give the wrong impression to a member of the opposite sex. Churches and parents made the situation worse by adding rules that weren’t found in Harris’ book.

“My book hurt people. My book helped people,” Harris says. “The tension of both of those things being true … reflects the complexity of reality. My thinking has changed since I wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I think that its premise is flawed. I don’t agree with a lot of my own book.”

Harris isn’t abandoning Christianity or Christian ethics. He says he’s simply rejecting rules not found in Scripture.

I remain a fan of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Its core message about singleness and sexuality is closer to Scripture’s teachings on relationships than anything the world offers.

Still, it had its flaws, as Harris discovered.

We should listen.

Content warnings: The documentary contains no language, although it does contain non-graphic discussion about sex. One scene at a nightclub shows a performer throwing condoms to the crowd.

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

My seminary and my convention

My seminary and my convention

The first few years of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention were pretty tumultuous in Texas. The Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence was pretty much completed in 1995 but in that day several state conventions thought the wave of theological reform would bypass them. It didn’t. This “second wave” resurgence put before state conventions the question of Cooperative Program and the support of the ministries funded by this means. The six SBC seminaries were the dividing line in this debate. For our state the firing of Southwestern President Russell Dilday in early 1994, by trustees representing churches all across the nation, was considered a personal affront by less conservative leaders in Texas. Baptist General Convention of Texas President Jerold McBride said that the SBC had “messed with Texas” in firing Dilday and used the firing to justify the state convention’s decision to redefine the Cooperative Program in a way detrimental to the SBC.

Support for the ministries of the SBC was a significant reason for the founding of the SBTC. Southwestern, though not “our” seminary so much as the seminary of the entire SBC, was of particular interest to Texans. Texas Southern Baptists founded the seminary and then later deeded it to the SBC. Of course the faculty and staff of the seminary attend churches in our convention (now conventions). Southwestern grads are all over the world but they are particularly present in small and large churches all over our state, as would be expected. The seminaries in every corner of our SBC have had a great influence, sometimes more positive than others, in the state conventions of their locations—their home conventions. I care about Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina because I want that part of the country to be seeded with God-called, missionary, conservative pastors. I care about Southwestern to a greater degree because it almost immediately impacts (through two student staff members) the church Tammi and I attend. In that sense, Southwestern is our seminary. If we lived in New Orleans or Kansas City, we’d say that about New Orleans or Midwestern.

But we are also Southwestern’s state convention. Since our founding we have praised and supported two presidents and now two interims at SWBTS. We have made Southwestern welcome, throughout the entire history of our convention, to display their materials at our meetings and advertise their programs in our paper. We have hosted alumni events during our annual meetings. We are the only state convention in Texas that has done these things consistently throughout the last 20 years. We have participated in at least one building project at the Fort Worth campus and supported efforts to start a seminary program in the Texas prison system through the seminary’s Houston campus. The SBTC has funded a scholarship at Southwestern in honor of Rudy and Lucy Hernandez—Rudy was the second president of the SBTC. There is also a scholarship in honor of June Richards housed at the seminary. While we also support the work of our other five seminaries as we have opportunity and invitation, no SBC entity has been more frequently on our hearts than Southwestern. And no state convention has more frequently had Southwestern on its heart than the SBTC.

That will not change with the next president. Those I know on the search committee and board will elect a new president who is different than all the others, but he will not be anti-missionary or liberal. He will be a Great Commission leader and a Baptist Faith and Message 2000 man—an SBTC sort of seminary president.

SBTC and SWBTS are made for each other in this era. Southwestern turned back toward biblical integrity when it hired Ken Hemphill in 1994. Nine years later, Paige Patterson began to more strategically solidify the gains of the Resurgence at Southwestern. These two transitions strengthened the churches of the SBTC and the convention in turn supported the seminary financially and morally when it came on the scene. We agreed with each other from day one, and we do now.

I’m happier now to be an alumnus of Southwestern than I was in 1981. I should have been more grateful then but I have been enthusiastic about my seminary for about 24 of the past 37 years. I’m thankful for trustees who made hard decisions at crucial moments, presidents who faithfully led, faculty members who became Texans and committed to train Texas pastors, and churches that enabled it all. One of the ways Texas Southern Baptist churches have added strength to the seminary born here was by forming a state convention that would consistently be its friend. That partnership has been fruitful.

I’m in. Are you?

No doubt the 120 believers in Jerusalem’s First Downtown Church Plant, in Acts Chapter 1, were uneasy. The commission Jesus had given them was completely impossible. Unless, of course, God wanted to do something fresh, new and maybe even a little bit unconventional.

Enter Acts Chapter 2—fresh, new and definitely a bit unconventional. Ten days earlier, Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem. “Don’t do anything, until you’ve been baptized with the Holy Spirit.” For the rest of Chapter 1, these 120 believers were in a 10-day prayer meeting together, laboring intensely before the throne of grace over what exactly this promise of God would look like when it came.

When it did, there was no question it was from God. The church could have set all the systems and structures in place. It could have had the best worship leaders, the most gifted expositors, the most dynamic children’s and youth ministries, and the trendiest technology but unless God breathed on it nothing would happen. So He did.

These 120 church members were completely overcome by the presence and the power of God when the Holy Spirit came over them. Then Jesus unleashed His Holy-Spirit-filled church on the world.

As Southern Baptists organized in the 19th century, God was stirring the waters. There was a fresh wind blowing through Christendom. Churches across the United States would lock arms together to take the name of Jesus around the globe. They formed associations. They sent missionaries. They trained local pastors. In 1925, with the formation of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists were poised to be the most operative mission-sending body in modern history. They had the systems and structures in place, and God breathed on it. In the decades to follow they would plant churches, send missionaries, advocate in Washington for biblical justice and storm the gates of hell for the sake of the Gospel to the glory of God. 

But is God done with the Southern Baptist Convention? 

We have all heard the reports of declining baptisms. There is an ominous political tension lurking between us. Racism and classism have begun to threaten our fellowship again. Moral failures have been exposed from within the ranks.

But, ultimately, who is writing this narrative? Are Southern Baptist churches not still churches of the living God? Are we not still baptized in God’s Holy Spirit and sent with power and purpose to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth? Even in our uneasiness, is not the Gospel-centered local church still God’s only plan to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the nations? 

God is not done with the Southern Baptist Convention. 

I don’t know how you feel about the future of the SBC, but I get the feeling that right now in Southern Baptist life we are gathered together in an upstairs room in prayerful expectation that any day God could breathe on us and unleash us on the world anew. I honestly believe that God is getting ready to do something fresh, new and maybe even a little bit unconventional through our fellowship of theologically conservative, missionally driven, Gospel-centered churches.

Our recent past should serve to remind us that we can have all the right systems and structures in place, but unless God breathes on it nothing will happen. Without the breath of God, churches and groups of churches lay lifeless in the dirt like a valley full of dry bones. But when the Holy Spirit moves in us and through us, we are filled with the power and the presence of God. I’m on the edge of my seat in prayer today, brothers and sisters. It could come at any moment. There’s a fresh wind blowing through the SBC.

I’m not exactly sure what God’s new thing is going to look like in this generation, but I’m laboring in prayerful expectation. We’ve got some great systems and structures in place. God has gathered the nations at our doorstep. But we need Him to breathe on us again. We need the Holy Spirit to saturate us with the power and presence of the Almighty.

I know this thought makes us nervous. I recognize it is a bit unsettling to pray with supernatural expectation without knowing exactly what supernatural things to expect. But I just want to get this out there today: I believe in God’s work in and through the SBC. Whatever God wants to do through our fellowship of churches today and tomorrow, as long as it’s God’s thing engulfed in God’s presence and fueled by God’s power, I’m in. Are you?

Migrant crisis a way of life for Brownsville church

BROWNSVILLE For Carlos Navarro, pastor of West Brownsville Baptist Church, the human need seen in migrant caravans moving from Central and South America toward U.S. borders is nothing new. Navarro, once an illegal immigrant himself, has been ministering to migrants in the Texas Rio Grande Valley for a quarter century.

The TEXAN interviewed Navarro and Diana, his wife of 36 years, in Brownsville this fall as the couple celebrated 25 years at their church while preparing for what was anticipated as the latest migrant emergency.

Navarro said his biggest needs are not monetary but practical: clothing, toothbrushes, sanitary supplies and Spanish-language Bibles—preferably 1960 King James versions with black covers.

“In summer, any kind of t-shirts will do,” Navarro said, holding up shirts from a 2014 political campaign as a reminder that people who have nothing are grateful for anything. Hoodies are needed in winter, he added. 

Navarro distributes such goods at a local immigration center and sends volunteers with West Brownsville Baptist Church’s own Golan Ministries across the border to offer humanitarian assistance in Matamoros. Golan teams carry backpacks of supplies and clothing into Mexico, careful not to take too much, lest the material be confiscated.

West Brownsville also gives monthly financial assistance to its church plant in Chiapas, Mexico, on the Guatemalan border, where migrants have been flocking to the church for help.

Golan Ministries—its name a reminder of the pastor’s support of Israel—“where my Lord and Savior will one day return,” he emphasized—was formed last April after the Mexican Consulate in Brownsville contacted Navarro for assistance with the summer 2018 border crisis.

The consulate’s request for Navarro’s involvement was not surprising. Certificates of appreciation and photos with dignitaries—including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and President George W. Bush—adorn the walls of his church office, recognition of his years of service among the region’s under-served. Cameron County recently acknowledged the silver anniversary of his ministry in an official ceremony.

When Navarro moved to Brownsville in 1993, a retiring pastor who had taught detainees at a local immigration center asked him to take over the volunteer ministry. Navarro did so until that facility closed, then moved in 2006 to the new Southwest Key Casa Padre Center where he still preaches most Saturday mornings. Although Navarro is not the only faith representative, some 1,500 of the approximately 2,000 young men and boys at Southwest Key choose to attend his weekly Bible study, and he estimates 150-200 people trust Christ each Saturday.

His messages resonate with those from Central America, where evangelicalism is much more widespread than in Mexico, Navarro said.

“The boys know me. The guards know me. I am from Guatemala. I came to the states illegally. I speak their language,” Navarro said of the background he shares with the young detainees.

Necessity brought him to the U.S., he said.

Following a military coup led by General Efrain Rios Montt in 1982, Navarro, a reservist, fled his country to save his life.

“I was 18, with no chance to stay in Guatemala,” he recalled. While friends opted for Australia, Navarro headed for the closer sanctuary city of San Francisco.

He accepted Christ as Savior the day he left Guatemala City, carrying a Bible from his mother, a believer who sent him to evangelical school as a youth for a Christian education, which became real as he left home forever.

“I understood the plan of salvation, the Roman Road, all that,” said Navarro, admitting that he had “hated chapel time” and Bible class at school.

Believing “every single door was shut” and that God had plans for him, Navarro told the Lord, “I am leaving my country. I am leaving my family. I don’t want an easy life. Just give me a chance.”

In San Francisco, he started reading through Scripture, finding this note from his mom: “Read the Bible. You will be amazed what God can do for you.”

“Something inside me told me I needed to worship and to go find a place,” Navarro said. The first church he encountered was Primera Iglesia Bautista de San Francisco.

“It’s a good thing it wasn’t a Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or a Mormon church,” he mused.

Navarro lived in the church basement for nine months. His application for political asylum was denied and the Reagan administration had yet to issue its amnesty proclamation, so Navarro worked with an immigration attorney for permission to stay. His status changed when he met and married Diana, a San Francisco native. After Reagan’s amnesty proclamation, Navarro went through the long process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Even though he was in the country illegally for years, he obtained a Social Security card and worked for a major candy company and a department store. He even cleaned bank vaults as a janitor. He attended Golden Gate Seminary.

Then the Navarros traveled to El Salvador, where he completed seminary and the couple served with the IMB (then the Foreign Mission Board) as journeymen missionaries in the early 1990s.

“My mother said we would get killed there,” Diana said, explaining that the El Salvador experience made her empathetic toward those fleeing danger, particularly mothers desiring to protect their sons from recruitment by the notorious MS-13 gang. Diana remembers living amidst rampant criminality and being asked if she preferred to be robbed “with pain or no pain.”

On furlough from El Salvador, the Navarros accepted the call to West Brownsville in 1993. Carlos became the eighth pastor in 10 years of a church averaging 65 in attendance.

Today, with 18 church plants—11 in the Valley and others in Mexico—some 2,500 attend West Brownsville or an affiliated church each week. The church holds five services each week, including three on Sundays.

Most members are Spanish-speaking, from Catholic backgrounds. The congregation is active in soul-winning. The church calendar is filled with ministry opportunities. A monthly outreach at a local flea market typically results in more than 100 commitments to Christ. West Brownsville invites new believers to the church, but encourages them to find any Bible-teaching church.

Other ministries include the Seminario Biblico Bautista de Brownsville, a Bible school founded by Navarro in 1998. The seminary, with extensions in Spain, has graduated 24, 18 of whom are in full-time ministry.

The church supports churches or missionaries in 20 countries. Displays highlighting West Brownsville’s international focus fill its facility, which also features large, colorful graphics of Israel.

Although a November trip to Chiapas convinced Navarro that the caravans headed toward Texas have diminished, there remain significant migrant populations in Matamoros, many from Bangladesh, Cameroon and Nigeria. Their plight is one Navarro has seen before, starting with Cuban refugees seeking asylum in 1997. 

When asked about a solution to the current crisis, Navarro shook his head.

“This is not only a U.S. problem. It is a continental problem. The U.N. may have to do something,” he said.

Meanwhile, Navarro will continue preaching at Southwest Key and sending teams into Matamoros to places they know migrants will be found.

Groups are scheduled to come and assist, such as an entourage of professors and students from the University of San Francisco with an 18-wheeler full of clothing and water bottles. A contact from Navarro’s San Francisco days arranged the group’s help.

A grant from the SBTC facilitated the purchase of 1,500 Spanish Bibles.

Migrant ministry is a “roller coaster,” Navarro said, adding that Golan has just received the opportunity to manage a 40-bed Brownsville shelter no longer subsidized by the city. The shelter will temporarily house migrants as they enter the U.S. from Matamoros to apply for political asylum.

“I cry when I think of all the Lord has done,” Navarro said. 

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George H.W. Bush, friend to Southern Baptists

In June of 1987, Adrian Rogers was elected to his third, non-consecutive term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention at the annual meeting in St. Louis. Just four months later, then-vice president George H.W. Bush announced his candidacy for president of the United States.

While an internecine war was coming to a close within the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cold War continued to rage. Many evangelicals threw their initial support behind evangelist Pat Robertson, whom they saw to be one of their own, during primary season. Robertson came in second in the Iowa caucus behind Bob Dole, and Bush placed third. It wasn’t until the next month when Bush swept all 16 primaries on Super Tuesday that he was seen as the presumptive nominee.

Southern Baptists were faced with a choice in 1988: Bush, the Republican, or Democrat Michael Dukakis. According to Richard Land, who took the helm at the SBC’s Christian Life Commission (now the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) that same year, Bush was the clear choice for Southern Baptists.

“Politics and public policy is a comparative business, and you can’t make the perfect enemy of the good,” Land said. “You have to evaluate George H.W. Bush and his importance to Southern Baptists in comparison to the alternative, and clearly, compared to Michael Dukakis, he was a fantastic president. He was pro-life, pro-religious freedom, and he helped turned back the invasion of Kuwait in the Gulf War. All of those things had significant Southern Baptist support, and none of those things would have happened if he had lost to Dukakis.”

According to Land, much of Bush’s legacy stems from the furtherance of positions and continuation of policies enacted during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

“He continued the Reagan legacy, and in many ways was the keeper of that legacy throughout his term,” Land said. “His chief importance was, he became more pro-life because of his association with Reagan and more sympathetic to the issues important to Southern Baptist during the eight years he served under Reagan.”

As liaison to evangelicals during his father’s campaign, George W. Bush ensured Land that he was pro-life, his father was pro-life, and that Southern Baptists would have a friend in the White House in George H.W. Bush.

In addition to overseeing the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, one of Bush’s greatest contributions as president was his assertive leadership after Saddam Hussein led Iraq to invade Kuwait in August of 1990. In a speech delivered to the National Religious Broadcasters January 28, 1991, just a week and a half after the beginning of Operation Desert Storm, Bush assured evangelicals that the basis for the war stemmed from classic just war doctrine.

“The war in the Gulf is not a Christian war, a Jewish war, or a Muslim war; it is a just war. And it is a war with which good will prevail,” Bush said. “The first principle of a just war is that it support a just cause. Our cause could not be more noble. We seek Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait—completely, immediately, and without condition; the restoration of Kuwait’s legitimate government; and the security and stability of the Gulf.”

Daniel Heimbach, who currently serves as senior professor of ethics at Southeastern Seminary, worked at the time as deputy executive secretary of the Domestic Policy Council. He wrote the memo which prompted Bush to utilize just war doctrine to gain support for military intervention in the Gulf amid a sea of moral questions.

“I was very conscious at the time of the Lord’s hand and had a very strong sense that I was [at the White House] not to pursue my own career but to make a contribution to the Kingdom of God,” Heimbach said. “The Lord knew what he was doing.”

Later that year, convention president Morris Chapman welcomed President Bush to address the the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta.

“On behalf of Southern Baptists, I want to thank you for your commitment to cherished beliefs that we hold in common. Thank you, Mr. President, for giving high priority to your personal family and to family values and for your leadership in advocating parental choice in education and child care. Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up for the unborn, who cannot stand up for themselves. Thank you, Mr. President, for setting an example of spiritual commitment by attending public worship,” Chapman said.

Bush’s address included a call for Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow students to pray voluntarily in public schools, an endorsement of school vouchers, and a commitment to religious liberty.

“Let’s put people first and allow them the freedom to follow their faith,” he said. “Putting people first also means making sure government allows people to make their own decisions, and that means giving parents and families the right to choose the kind of child care they want for their kids.

“Every family should have the freedom to choose a school for a child,” he said. “Our efforts for choice in schools seek to put power in parents’ hands. We trust them to make the right decisions for their kids. I’m confident that choice will make bad schools better.”

Come 1992, a few things stood in the way of Bush’s reelection. For one, many Americans perceived Bush to have reneged on his promise of “no new taxes” when he struck a deal with Congressional Democrats for a budget agreement in 1990 that required raising existing taxes. For another, the Democratic base was energized by Bill Clinton, his youthful, charismatic opponent in the general election.

“Sadly, I and most Southern Baptists wish he had won reelection because he would have been a much better president than Mr. Clinton was on the issues that were important to us,” Land said. “He was a man of tremendous moral rectitude, and it sets a tone that’s important. He was a gentleman’s gentleman. Most Southern Baptists lamented that in his successor.”

Southern Baptists can be grateful for the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush, a president who stood firm in protection of religious liberty, maintained a solidly pro-life stance throughout his administration, and conducted himself in a way that brought honor to his family and his country.

Chris Osborne serves as pastor of Central Baptist Church in College Station, Tex., just around the corner from the elder Bush’s presidential library.

“We love having his library here because of the integrity he showed in his life,” Osborne said. “He had no scandals, and was a man who lived well in a number of areas of service.”

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