Month: February 2019

Tuesdays are jail days for Rusk church

RUSK Tuesdays mean going behind bars for volunteers with First Baptist Rusk’s Freedom with Christ jail and prison ministry. The groups meet with men and women held in the Cherokee County Jail each week, leading Bible studies and praying with inmates. 

Freedom with Christ also provides Bibles and study materials to prisoners in other correctional facilities in Texas and six surrounding states. 

FBC Rusk is continuing a work pioneered by Terry Neid who until his death last year came weekly to the jail. His widow continues to volunteer.

One Tuesday morning last fall, the Freedom with Christ ladies team greeted TEXAN photographer Andrew Pearle, whose photos appear in this issue, at the county lockup. Jail personnel escorted the group through security checkpoints into a small room with a desk and chairs arranged in a circle. 

Miss Sue* of FBC Rusk introduced the female inmates to Pearle as they filed in for a Bible study, which is limited to six inmates, per jail regulations, Sue told the TEXAN.

“They came in with a hunger for God’s Word that was so unique it was humbling,” Pearle said of the inmates, two of whom were preparing for baptism.

“We’re going in the paper for something good, not bad,” joked Martha, a former Jehovah’s Witness who took the lead in the day’s discussion. 

Conversation about the movie “War Room” arose as Sue mentioned the prophet Daniel’s faithfulness in prayer. Some inmates said they had “war rooms” in their cells, corners with Scripture adorning the walls where they prayed.

The day’s main lesson concerned Jonah, with volunteers using the biblical account as an analogy to help the women see their time in jail as preparation for how God would use them when they get out, Pearle said.

For homework, the inmates had been assigned to write their own stories in booklets. This day, they were given time to decorate their stories with colored markers.

“Kathy, who was scheduled to be baptized that day, drew the process of God’s leading her out of darkness into light,” Pearle recalled. “Others drew crosses with colorful rainbows. Some drew families.”

From the Bible study, the group moved to another part of the jail where a water trough had been set up as a baptismal font. FBC Rusk pastor Brian Givens baptized Kathy, who rose from the waters crying joyful tears. Jeff Carroll, church worship leader, led the group in “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” 

During the earlier Bible study, one woman indicated her brother had also recently been jailed there. Volunteers assured her they would get him a Bible if needed.

The church’s ministry of distributing Bibles to inmates across Texas and neighboring states started in 2016 after a letter requesting a copy of the Scripture arrived from a male prisoner who had heard of the church’s Tuesday ministry.

Many who are incarcerated in the county jail go on to complete their sentences in other correctional institutions where they join or begin prayer groups and Bible studies. 

“Without question we responded and sent a Bible,” Sue said. To date, FBC Rusk has distributed more than 6,000 Bibles, none more significant than the first one in confirming the value of the work.

A letter from the cellmate of the young man who had requested the first Bible described how God was working in his friend’s life.

“We have spent countless hours together reading and studying God’s Word, praying and sharing our faith,” said the cellmate, adding that the young man now preaches in the prison, even to inmates not allowed at regular services.

“He has permission to preach to the darkest of the dark, the highest security prisoners,” Sue said. 

FBC Rusk sends New King James Version, Life Recovery and Spanish-language Bibles. Included with each Bible are handwritten letters with Scripture, prayers, materials explaining the plan of salvation and baptism, information on how to follow Jesus, Bible reading and prayer guides, devotionals and lists of shelters and churches.

Each Bible comes with an invitation to pray for the ministry. Many prisoners write to say they are praying.

“I want you to know that D.M. and I and the rest of our brothers here on the Faith Base dorm (64 of us) have been praying for you and the ministry, praying that the Good Lord will send you help in providing money for you so that you will be able to keep on blessing people with Bibles and materials,” wrote one inmate, concluding by quoting 2 Corinthians 9:10.

Freedom with Christ documents every Bible distributed and letter received. Volunteer letter writers work to prepare the Bibles and materials for sending. Around 100 letters from inmates expressing thanks or requesting Bibles arrive per week, many including inspiring anecdotes.

“I saw a young fella here who was very lost, scared and by himself,” one recently transferred inmate wrote. “I watched him take his Bible out of an envelope and I recognized your letterhead on it. So I asked him if he knew you and the Tuesday ministry. He said yes, and as he looked up, it was as though fear left him and hope filled his day. We now visit and study together.”

The church budgets for the prison ministry, Givens said, but demand has exceeded the budget. God’s provision for Freedom with Christ arrives in sometimes unexpected ways, Sue noted, adding that preparing and sending Bibles can cost $5,000 per month. 

On one occasion volunteers were praying over Psalm 50:10, the passage stating the Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills. A gentleman arrived with a check, explaining that he had sold his “best heifer” to donate money for Bibles.

Another time, the number 153 became significant as volunteers studied John 21, where the disciples catch 153 fish in their nets. The next week, a pastor from Frost, Texas, called to say he had received a letter with a check and note that said, “Buy 153 Life Recovery Bibles.”

As volunteers were unloading a car full of Bibles at the post office, a couple stopped to ask questions. Before they drove off, they handed the group a check that totaled the amount of postage due.

“They had no idea that all those Bibles were being mailed on faith. There were no funds to pay for postage. But we knew that if God provided the Bibles, he would put the stamp on them,” Sue said.

The ministry’s greatest needs are for prayer and the provision of Bibles, she said. Some 500 inmates are awaiting Bibles.

As Sue told the women at the jail that Tuesday, “No matter what jail we find ourselves in, God can change our whole future.”

Through Freedom with Christ, God is doing just that, one inmate and Bible at a time.

The church’s ministry to prisoners also includes joining with the Rusk Ministerial Alliance to offer Sunday services at the jail, a task FBC Rusk once did solo, said Givens, praising all his church’s prison and jail volunteers. FBC Rusk also joins with the Dogwood Trails Baptist Association to send helpers to the nearby Skyview and Hodge state correctional units, Givens said. 

—last name withheld for security reasons

SBTC launches sexual abuse awareness initiative

During the Monday, February 25, session of the Empower Conference, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards announced a multi-faceted response to sexual abuse in churches. The convention’s primary partner for these responses will be MinistrySafe, a company that offers training and resources for ministries and services that work with children.

An allocation approved by the convention’s Executive Board will fully fund training for as many as five people per church in as many as 1,000 SBTC churches. The training can be either certification through the MinistrySafe Institute, a 16-hour course primarily aimed at ministry leaders, or the more basic Sexual Abuse Awareness training for ministry volunteers.

Also in partnership with MinistrySafe, the convention will host five regional training events during 2019. These events will be held in major cities across the state and the cost will be covered by the Cooperative Programs gifts given by churches through the SBTC. The convention will employ a ministry consultant to assist churches in accessing training resources.

Richards indicated the SBTC Executive Board will be exploring “other steps” as they work with staff and church leaders to implement appropriate responses to the problem.

“Business as usual is not acceptable,” Richards concluded, before leading the crowd in prayer for victims and churches as the convention commits to “do more” to help.

The same night, after the scheduled session concluded, MinistrySafe conducted a training event at the convention center that was open to all Empower attendees.

Greg Love and Kimberlee Norris, a married couple, law partners and the co-founders of MinistrySafe, believe that the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention are beginning to understand the problem of sexual abuse in churches. But the problem is bigger than most people think.

Describing the importance of the partnership with the SBTC, Love said, “…the partnership between MinistrySafe and the SBTC is so valuable as we get to both leverage our strengths: Baptist churches trust the SBTC leadership and MinistrySafe provides cutting edge training and resources.”

At the late-night gathering Monday evening, Love and Norris shared with church leaders a little about the urgency of the situation. Their statistics showed:

  • Most abusers (90 percent) never encounter the legal system and would thus not show up on criminal background checks.
  • Because abusers have scores, even hundreds in some cases, of victims, the size of the abuser population should be more of a concern than most press coverage has made it.
  • Most churches do a far better job protecting children from abduction (a relatively rare occurrence) than from “inside the fence” abusers (church volunteers, peers and ministry leaders).
  • Abusers rarely “look” like abusers. They can be winsome and appealing to even those assigned to safeguard children. This is part of the “grooming” behavior of abusers.

The presentation returned frequently to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on sexual abuse (which SBTC messengers also adopted in November, 2018), describing it as correctly identifying “three ‘must do’ items for Baptists.” The items were identified as: 1) creating cultures of communication, “which includes reports to appropriate authorities,” 2) “receiving well and caring for those who have been abused,” and 3) the implementing of “the necessary systems to protect children from abuse in church programming.”

The SBTC is ramping up its 10-year relationship with MinistrySafe with these new initiatives. The training can be accessed at sbtexas.com/sexualabuseawareness.

Houston”s First pastor: “The Word of God always calls us to something great”

IRVING—The second of Tuesday morning’s Empower speakers, Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, reminded attendees in the Feb. 26 general session that sharing the gospel is part of the DNA of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Using Acts 17:16-21 as his text, Matte exhorted the audience to follow the model of the apostle Paul, who, deeply distressed by the idols in intellectually-rich Athens, “waited “ for Timothy and Silas to join him as he prepared to share the gospel.

Matte challenged the group to cultivate “a life that slows down enough to care,” cautioning against being “too busy to be burdened.” He offered the example of Rufus Burleson, among First Houston’s early pastors, who consecrated his life to sharing the gospel in Texas in the 1840s. “Give me Texas for Jesus or I die,” prayed Burleson as he knelt on the sand after landing at Galveston as a missionary.

As with Paul among the Athenians, “sin should break us instead of entertain us,” Matte cautioned.

Acts 17:16-21 presents four types of people needing of the gospel: the potential, the passersby, the pleasure seekers and the prideful, Matte explained.

The Jews and God-fearing Greeks in Acts 17:17 represent the potential. These are “good, moral people” who show “exterior obedience” but not “interior change,” Matte said, urging prayer for the eyes of such people to be opened to truth and recommending emphasizing relationship over rules when sharing Christ.

A second group, the passersby, are those who happen to be there, like the people in the marketplace in Acts 17. “Pray for opportunities and let God open the door,” Matte advised.

Pleasure seekers or Epicureans comprise the third group in the passage. “Pray that they will be dissatisfied with life,” Matte said, referencing the prodigal son.

The prideful, represented by the Stoics mentioned by Paul, constitute the fourth group. “Pray for brokenness,” and respond with “love and kindness,” Matte said.

“The Word of God always calls us to something great,” Matte closed, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln’s one-time response to a sermon.

Church planter D.A. Horton describes evangelism in a pre-Christian_x009d_ age

IRVING—Church planter D. A. Horton spoke to a full house at the mission luncheon of the SBTC’s 2019 Empower conference Mon., Feb. 25, challenging the audience to embrace generosity, diversity and partnerships in spreading the gospel among rising generations increasingly unaware of Scripture.

Horton, 38, is pastor of Reach Fellowship, a church plant in North Long Beach, Ca. He formerly served as a national coordinator of urban student ministries at the North American Mission Board.

Horton spoke from Philippians 4:14, where the apostle Paul commends the Philippians church for its generosity.

Calling the passage “a thank you note” from the apostle Paul to the Philippians for their “faithful, constant support,” not only in the city itself but in sponsoring Paul’s ministry, Horton stressed that not all were called to accompany the apostle on the field. Some were called to support the work while staying behind and experiencing the “reciprocal blessing” of involvement in spreading the gospel.

“God blesses both the gift and giver,” Horton said. A “culture of generosity” results in “flourishing” churches and Christian homes that will “turn the world on its head,” he added.

Horton summarized his experiences as a church planter with the acronym ABC: attitude, Bible, context.

Regarding a church planter’s attitude, Horton recalled doing evangelistic outreaches in his native Kansas City, where the question, “Where do I go to church?” often arose from new believers.

Horton said he often saw “red flags” regarding churches typically within walking distance of new urban converts to Christianity who could seldom distinguish between orthodox, Bible-teaching churches and Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim or even Nation of Islam congregations.

The Kansas City experiences also made Horton realize that many urban dwellers had never heard of Jesus, that they were not “post-Christian,” but “pre-Christian” in theological awareness and knowledge.

“They don’t know the Sunday school narratives,” Horton said. Even fifth and sixth generation Americans have not been taught Scripture.

“There has not been the passing down of God’s Word from generation to generation,” Horton said, admitting that his wife and he began realizing the need to start churches.

Horton confessed his initial arrogance as a church planter in Kansas City until he began to engage with other pastors and God “began to break me.” The result was a “flourishing” revitalization work in the inner city.

Called to plant a church in Long Beach, Horton said he entered that work in a more humble manner, recognizing the need to depend upon the wisdom of others and seek supportive partnerships with other churches.

Today’s church planter probably cannot expect to be “full time with benefits and a retirement plan,” he said, noting that planters must “learn to be co-vocational, learn to integrate our faith with our passion, our talents, our gifts and the jobs that God provides us with.” Contemporary church planting must be team effort, since the pastor cannot “do all that and fundraise” while costs of living rise.

Planting must also include an emphasis on the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.

“In this new generation rising up that is pre-Christian in America, speaking to them in a way that is introducing Scripture for what it is, God’s love letter and God’s story, allows us to naturally explain the gospel,” Horton said, calling the gospel “the bridge that connects our personal stories to God’s story.”

It is also essential to remember context, Horton added, challenging partnering churches to allow church plants the “freedom” to minister with a view to local culture.

Among his closing challenges, Horton called for reliance on the authority of God’s Word , awareness of the business or economic realities of a community, and the development of biblical responses for movements now “snatching people of color out of the church.”

Horton also urged institutional engagement–evangelizing in schools, prisons and elder care facilities. Lastly, he called for the development of a “biblical theology of beauty” amid human brokenness.

In a Q & A with SBTC Director of Missions Doug Hixson that followed, Horton discussed the changing demographics of California and, by extension, of the U.S., cautioning that “an American philosophy of ecclesiology is not going to go very far in a majority world context” and calling for the engagement of majority world scholarship, pastors and missiologists to see what is working.

Audience member Patrick Knowlton, director of missions for the F.I.R.M. Baptist area in Central Texas, concurred with Horton’s emphasis on cultural context.

“Cultural context is important,” Knowlton told the TEXAN. “We are right in the middle of a dying part of the state…the rural area… there are still cultures in our area that haven’t been reached.”

Travis Leamon, pastor of Eleventh Street Baptist in Shamrock, Tx., echoed Horton’s encouragement to minister to the elderly. Leamon’s church conducts monthly services in two area nursing homes and only last week, a patient accepted Christ.

“It’s easy to assume older folks are saved. The gospel is relevant to all people,” Leamon said.

REVIEW: “How to Train Your Dragon 3” packs solid lessons about love

He’s called “Hiccup,” and despite his quirky-sounding name, he’s the best dragon-tamer anywhere.

That’s an essential skill in a Viking-centric world where humans and dragons have, historically, battled to the death. But that was years ago. Hiccup, now 20, has brought peace between the two worlds, proving that dragons are misunderstood, friendly creatures. In Hiccup’s Viking village—called “Berk”—Vikings and dragons even live alongside one another.  

But not all Vikings agree with Hiccup. In fact, many of them still trap and poach dragons, wrongly believing they are evil beings that randomly steal and kill.

That’s OK, though, because Hiccup and his band of peaceful Vikings often travel the countryside to free those caged dragons, who then are given the option of moving in with Hiccup.

Yet with all these new dragons, Berk is getting crowded. It’s also becoming an easy target for Grimmel the Grisly, a mean Viking who kills dragons and is hunting for a special one known as a “night fury” that has unique powers. Hiccup’s pet dragon, Toothless, is such a creature.

So Hiccup concocts a plan. The people of Berk (and their dragons) will move to a place where no one will find them. It’s a hidden world, across the ocean, that is the ancestral home to all dragons. If they can find it, the two sides can escape the dragon hunters forever.

DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (PG) opens this weekend, properly concluding a trilogy that began with How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014). They are based on the book series of the same name by author Cressida Cowell.

The film follows the story of Hiccup as he and the Vikings try and escape Grimmel. It also follows two love angles: Hiccup and the dragon-loving Astrid, and Toothless and the white-colored night fury known as Light Fury.

Actor Jay Baruchel returns as the voice of Hiccup and America Ferrera as Astrid. It also stars Cate Blanchett as Hiccup’s mom, Valka, and Kristen Wiig as the annoying Viking Ruffnut.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World may be too intense for small children but still stays in family-friendly territory—minus a few, well, hiccups.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. Vikings have sword fights and dragons breathe fire, but it’s largely cartoonish and kid-friendly. That is, no one dies, and we never see blood. The scariest character, in fact, is not a dragon but the eerie Grimmel, who sneaks into Hiccup’s house and threatens him in the middle of the night, claiming to be a “night fury killer.”

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. Two characters kiss on the cheek and—at the end of the film—on the lips when they are married. Toothless becomes giddy about Light Fury. They go on a “date” (Hiccup’s description) and become partners.

Coarse Language

Minimal. The Vikings of old believed in multiple gods (Odin, Loki and Thor, among them), so the filmmakers updated today’s language: “gods no” is heard once, as is “oh my gods” and “for Thor’s sake.” We hear “gods” used twice alone as an exclamation. I could have done without it. We also hear the misuse of “God” twice (although it’s garbled). Others: “butt” (2), “screwed” (1) and “barf” (1)

Other Positive Elements

We see Hiccup having flashbacks several times about his childhood and his father (who is deceased). All are sweet memories. One of them shows a young Hiccup asking his father, Stoick, if he is going to remarry and give him another mom. The father says he will not remarry. She was the “only woman” for him.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Vikings drink. Drunkenness is implied, including by Hiccup (although he quickly sobers up.)

Life Lessons

For an animated film, this one has multiple positive messages. We learn about the bond between a parent and child (Hiccup and Stoick), the long-lasting legacy of parents (Stoick), and the love between a husband and wife (Stoick and his wife). The film teaches us about leadership, as Hiccup discovers he can’t “go it alone” while battling the dragon hunters; he needs help. We learn about courage in the midst of self-doubt. Hiccup has trouble “letting go” of Toothless in a scene that will cause empty nesters to reminisce. If we’re paying attention, the film even urges us not to arbitrarily kill wildlife (poaching for rhino horns, for example).

Worldview/Application

The How to Train Your Dragon series is a cartoonish world of Nordic myths and gods. Marvel’s Thor would fit right in.

Yet that’s just the backdrop for a message about love, especially in this third installment. Toothless falls for Light Fury. Hiccup and Astrid finally consider marriage. And in a scene straight out of a Hallmark movie, a tearful Stoick thinks back to the love of his life—the only woman for him. “There’s no greater gift than love,” Stoick says.

Yes, Hiccup has to say goodbye to a friend (Toothless), but he welcomes a new chapter in his life while looking back at his father’s model example of marital dedication. Not bad for a cartoon.

What Works

The animation. The messages. The story. It’s a fun film.

What Doesn’t

The “gods” exclamations. My son kept whispering to me, “Is that a curse word?”

Discussion Questions

  1. Was Hiccup’s father a good example for his son? Why or why not?
  2. What does the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless teach us about life? About parenting? About letting go?
  3. What did Hiccup learn about being courageous? About leading?

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

Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor.

REVIEW: Faith-based “Run the Race” is authentic and uplifting

Zach Truett is a high school quarterback with a big smile and a strong arm.

He’s also a confident young man who believes his football talent is his ticket out of the small town, Bessemer, that is home to so many bad memories.

His mother died in that small town. His father, an alcoholic, abandoned them there.

Zach and his brother, Dave, live alone under the watchful eye of a surrogate mother. Each day is a fight for survival.

“I’m gonna get that scholarship. I’m gonna get us out of here,” Zach tells his brother.

But when Zach gets injured, his plans for a brighter future take a turn, and he is faced with questions about God and life that he’s been ignoring.

The faith-based film Run the Race (PG) opens this weekend, telling the story of two brothers—one a skeptic (Zach), the other a Christian (Dave)—who must depend on one another, instead of their parents, during life’s trials.

The film was executive produced by Tim and Robby Tebow and stars Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) as Coach Hailey; Frances Fisher (Unforgiven) as their surrogate mother, Louise; Tanner Stine (NCIS) as Zach; and Evan Hofer (Kickin It) as Dave.

Run the Race is a sports-themed movie—All-Pro Dad and the National Coalition of Ministries to Men are partners—but the story is for a broader audience. It has a love angle. (Zach’s girlfriend, Ginger, is a Christian). It has a faith angle. It has a tragedy angle. Above all, it’s uplifting.

It also has a different feel to it. It’s believable. Let’s put it this way: I watch dozens of Christian movies each year. This is one of the best I’ve seen.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. We see high school boys throw punches in a fight. We see a character have a seizure.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None.

Coarse Language

None.

Other Positive Elements

Coach Hailey is the type of coach you’d want leading your own children. He cares for Zach. He even says a few pointed words to Zach’s father, urging him to become the dad Zach needs.

Ginger’s family, particularly her father, handle Zach’s skepticism about faith with grace. It’s a model for all Christians.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Characters drink. One or two scenes take place in a bar. The interaction between Zach and his father might trouble young viewers. “You’re some guy that walked out on us when mom died,” Zach tells him. Zach refuses to acknowledge him as family.

A character dies.

Life Lessons

Run the Race is packed with life and biblical lessons. Among them: Support and encourage one another (Zach and Dave); invest in someone’s life (Dave, Coach Hailey); and display grace and mercy to unbelievers (Ginger and her family). The film’s themes of overcoming tragedy, loving your brother, and forgiving and reconciling also resonate.    

Worldview/Application

Scripture tells us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and to display humility, gentleness and patience in our interactions with others (Ephesians 4:2). But we’re often too busy to get involved. Other times, we’re more interested in winning an argument than winning our friends and relatives to Christ.

Run the Race shows how an investment in someone’s life can end — with that person coming to faith. It takes patience and humility. Sometimes, it even takes teamwork.  

What Works

The script and the ending.

Acting is another bright spot. I didn’t find a weak link among the cast.

The football action is impressive, too. It looks real.  

What Doesn’t

The actors don’t always look like high school-aged kids.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why didn’t Zach accept his father as a family member? What changed his mind?
  2. Should Ginger have dated Zach?
  3. How did Zach and Dave react differently to life’s trials? Why did they react differently?
  4. What did Dave and Ginger do to encourage and walk alongside Zach?
  5. Is there a “Zach” in your life who needs encouraging — and who needs to hear about Christ?

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

Run the Race is rated PG for thematic content and some teen partying.  

What can churches do to prevent sexual abuse?

For some of us, anticipating the series last week in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News was a grueling experience. We wondered what the reporters would dig up and whether they would be fair. On the whole, it comports with what many of us know to be true. Too many of our churches have been slack in vetting or overseeing staff members and volunteers, and some churches have allowed accused offenders to move quietly into another ministry—trying to handle the problem in-house for the sake of the ministry’s reputation. Lord, have mercy on us. The newspaper articles showed us the people who were harmed by these realities, and also showed us that ministry reputations were not, in fact, spared.

This week, SBC President J.D. Greear proposed some actions to close the door against predators and what looks like indifference on the part of some of our churches. Some of his initiatives were not prompted by the news stories last week; he’s been working on this issue since he was elected last June. But the urgency and timeliness of his leadership against sexual abuse in churches was magnified by the recent publicity. He proposed for example that churches should do background checks on the men they consider for ordination. I hope this is broadly adopted, even that ordination councils will again become thorough, grueling examinations. We should know the people we endorse very well. One of the startling things he proposed was to investigate the churches mentioned in the articles to see if they have been willfully indifferent to sexual abuse victims. Six of the 10 churches he mentioned are in Texas—naturally, since both the investigating papers are in Texas.

We know our ministries have not been generally as diligent as our commission warrants. Even the majority of negligent ministries that did not blow up in sexual abuse are riddled with unqualified leaders. Those ministries languish whether anything horrible happens or not. So, let’s use this moment of stress to consider some responses. What can happen as we take seriously the consequences of our inattention, or even our sinful denial of real human catastrophes?

  • Greater urgency to do prudent things: When we hire staff, enlist volunteers, supervise ministries or even call a pastor, there is a better way to do it. Talk to pastoral ministry experts (at the seminary, associational office, SBTC Pastor/Church Relations) about what to ask and where to look when calling a ministry staff leader—even bi-vocational or volunteer leaders who will be operating in a pastoral role. Approach the search or enlistment as if the work is crucial and the cost of failure is high.
  • Greater awareness of the consequences of failure: Even when the church doesn’t get sued, there are lives broken when a ministry leader violates his spiritual trust. If no crime takes place, even still a ministry can fail by depending on immature, unspiritual or even lost leaders. If you’ve been around a couple of decades, you’ve seen it.
  • Greater use of available resources: After the tragedy at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in November 2017, hundreds of people clamored for better training in church security. That’s good and hopefully our churches are generally more aware of how to safeguard the physical safety of their ministries. After this revelation of the decades-old tragedy of sexual abuse by spiritual leaders, I hope that same desperation can apply to protect from internal threats those who come to our church. We partner with MinistrySafe to help churches recognize warning signs of predators and to harden their ministries against those who move from church to church seeking victims. As I mentioned above, there are also wise and experienced leaders who will talk with your church about its particular needs in this regard. It’s time to ask for help.
  • Greater awareness of sin: We are called to “believe all things and hope all things.” To me that means that we desire and work to effect God’s best in everyone we meet. We pray and work God’s best on those around us. It doesn’t mean that we assume the best about everyone we meet. It especially means that we cannot assume the best about new leaders we don’t know well undertaking ministries for which we are all responsible before God. We of all people in the world believe in redemption and restoration. But we of all people also believe that all of sinned, and do sin, and will continue to sin until the end of our lives. That’s not paranoid or even cynical. We work for the Good Shepherd as under shepherds, some have said. A shepherd’s sling and staff were used to protect the sheep from wolves and lions. That’s not mean or dark; it’s loving and it’s the model of the Great Shepherd.

These actions and attitudes will save lives from ruin. I believe this improvement in the leadership and oversight of our ministries will also bear other fruit. Although some monsters are winsome and effective communicators—some have learned from them or been won to Christ through them—generally they are ineffective charlatans that “didn’t seem quite right” from the start. They do little good at best. Our ministries will bear fruit if they are led by saved, spiritual, qualified people who get the benefit of more mature believers from the start of their ministries. Do you know that about the ministries of your church?

Whether the number of lives that are saved is great or small, the number of churches and ministries being under-led and under-supervised is huge. Greater diligence to these things we consider important enough to do in the first place might well result in the fruit that has eluded us for decades.  

E Pluribus Unum

E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One) was the national motto adopted by Congress in 1782. This Latin phrase, inscribed in the Great Seal of the United States, referred to the formation of one nation from 13 colonies. Although diverse people from various ethnic backgrounds were citizens of our little nation, “out of many, one” described a united America. Today, the thought behind E Pluribus Unum extends beyond the citizens of the United States. Two particular biblical passages, Acts 17:26 and Genesis 1:26-27, point to how all of humanity can claim “out of many, we are one.” “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (Acts 17:26).

Many nations, tribes, cultures, languages and ethnicities dot Earth’s landscape. Our differences and diversities are not a cause for disunity. As a matter of fact, we all belong in one racial category—the human race. Out of the many billions of people on planet Earth, we’re one because of Adam.

Not only does the creation of Adam unite humanity, but every human being bears God’s image and likeness. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:26-27). The negative biases, stereotypes, and labels should fall flat when we think or speak them about another human being. From continent to continent, humanity is one because our God is creative enough to make us all different, yet the same—stamped with his image and likeness.

While all of humankind share a physical bond, there’s an even greater bond Christ-followers share — spiritual unity. Both the local and universal church, comprised of many people, are united as one through Christ Jesus. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28). Our race, station in life, or sex should never give us cause to snub anyone and/or view them as less than. Instead, we would do well to remember that we are family—brothers and sisters in Christ united together through his precious blood.

When the world peers into the local or universal church, do they see a family of brothers and sisters loving each other as commanded by our Lord in John 13:35? First John 4:20-21 reminds us a love-hate relationship has no place in the body of Christ: “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” Love is so important in uniting believers that John uses some form of “love” 27 times in 1 John 4 (NKJV). And a sure sign of unity in the family of God is the love we express toward one another.

The adoption of E Pluribus Unum was a noble goal. However, over 200 years later, it seems America (and the church) is more divided than united. Is it possible to regroup and work toward realizing this 1782 act of Congress? Yes! Christ-followers can take the lead by first acknowledging every human being is a descendant of Adam and a member of one race—the human race. Second, we have an obligation to treat every human being with dignity and respect because God has created us in his image and likeness. Third, we must sow love and not hate. In 2019, may the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention adopt the spirit of E Pluribus Unum. Although there are many churches within our convention, we’re one family. May we stand together and love each other—united in spirit and purpose.

SBTC churches set record for Cooperative Program giving in 2018

SBTC churches contributed a record $27.27 million through the Cooperative Program in 2018, with 55 percent (just over $15 million) funneled to the national Southern Baptist Convention and its entities and 45 percent ($12.27 million) retained in Texas for state ministries.

The SBTC’s percentage of CP giving to the national SBC exceeds that of any other Southern Baptist state convention. The SBTC ranks among the top CP givers in total dollars as well.

From its beginnings, the SBTC has been committed to Cooperative Program giving. 

In 1999, SBTC messengers approved a $903,500 budget, with half of all undesignated receipts earmarked for the SBC. Actual receipts that year were nearly $1.4 million, and $763,315 was forwarded to the SBC. The year 2016 marked the second highest CP total for SBTC churches, with total giving at $26,795,000. 

The SBTC’s 2018 CP receipts were under its budgeted $28.52 million, but the convention had a net overage due to underspending in some areas. The SBTC Executive Board approved allocations from overage to Jacksonville College, Criswell College and disaster relief in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Four Texans among 19 missionaries commissioned; Chitwood installed as IMB president

RICHMOND, Va.  Before the installation of Paul Chitwood as the 13th president of the International Mission Board on Feb. 6, four missionaries with Texas ties were among 19 commissioned in a sending ceremony at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond.

The four Texans joined the more than 3,600 Southern Baptist international missionaries.

SBC leaders from national entities, seminaries and state conventions attended the celebration, which included remarks by SBC President J.D. Greear, a charge by former IMB President Tom Elliff and a response by Chitwood. WMU Executive Director Sandy Wisdom-Martin and IMB President Emeritus Jerry Rankin also participated in the service, which featured testimonies from the 19 new missionaries. 

Andy and Kesiah Morris, with their daughter, Olivia, are being sent by Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth to serve in South Korea. 

“As an international couple, it always seemed like we were caught between two different worlds,” Andy Morris said. “While our marriage was strong and our lives filled with reasons to be content, there was something deeper happening in our relationship. It was God who was calling us to go out into multicultural ‘in-between’ spaces.”

“One day last summer, we finally recognized this and made peace with the idea of uprooting ourselves and moving overseas,” Kesiah Morris said. “A few days later, with a divine appointment, [God] opened up the door and gave us a clear and unexpected call upon our lives to go as missionaries.

Arc and Rachel Crownover met as students at Southwestern Seminary, where Rachel was pursuing the study of missions.

“While I was in East Asia on a hands-on assignment, Arc went to missions week at Southwestern and learned about the lostness in Germany,” Rachel said.

“Burdened deeply by that lostness, I knew that we had to help, so when [Rachel] came back, I married her, and when we finished our degrees we spent almost three years in Germany with the IMB,” Arc said.

“We felt God call us to long-term service, so with our four children, we will be headed back to Germany to fulfill this calling,” Rachel added.

The Crownovers are being sent by NewBrook Church in Fort Worth.

The calling to go to the nations is one that Southern Baptists have sought to support since the Southern Baptist Convention’s beginnings. Unity around the Great Commission is core to Southern Baptist identity, Tom Elliff said in his charge to Chitwood and the new missionaries. 

“I sat there and cried thinking about how wonderful it is that we have the privilege of joining in this incredible mission of God of sending these people around the world,” Elliff said. “That’s happened thousands and thousands of times as the International Mission Board has, by the grace of God, had the privilege of doing that.”

Preaching from Philippians 2, Elliff reminded those gathered that Southern Baptists share a sacred mission, a solemn mandate that should not be taken lightly, and a specific manner in which we are to live our lives. 

Reminding the new appointees that the earliest Southern Baptist missionaries packed their belongings in caskets knowing they would never return, Elliff stressed the importance of the word “together.” 

“From the outset, there were people who realized that we can do better together than we can apart,” Elliff said. 

In 1925, Southern Baptists came together again to form the Cooperative Program, Elliff said. 

“That’s when we realized that if we really wanted to exponentially multiply the ability to send people around the globe, this was going to be the best way to do it. The best way is to do things together.” 

Chitwood responded to Elliff’s charge by asking the newly appointed missionaries and members of the home office staff to stand, acknowledging that they, with missionaries around the world and state and denominational leaders, have “made room” for him “in their hearts.” 

Concerning lost people around the world “who most of us will never know until and unless we see them around the throne,” Chitwood added, “thank you for making room for them in your hearts, your prayers, your giving, going and sending.”

The Sending Celebration service took place during an IMB trustees meeting in Richmond, Va., that also included the election of Todd Lafferty as the 173-year-old entity’s executive vice president and the affirmation of Roger Alford as vice president of communication. 

—with reporting by Ann Lovell