Month: November 2019

Vindication: Retta Baptist filmmakers produce faith-based crime series now streaming on Amazon Prime and worth watching

BURLESON  Filmmaker Jarod O’Flaherty didn’t intend to produce a television series for streaming on Amazon Prime.

O’Flaherty, who wrote, directed and produced the award-winning faith-based 2013 film My Son with the talented congregation of Retta Baptist Church in Burleson, planned to use funds designated for video and film ministry left from My Son DVD and ticket sales to create a short film for the festival circuit.

O’Flaherty did that, writing, directing and producing a film using as many professional actors and crew members as possible, supplementing the budget with private donations. Michael Dennis, a minister then on staff at Retta, served as a co-producer.

“We wanted to take the production quality of My Son up a notch, enter the short in festivals and see what God would do with it,” O’Flaherty told the TEXAN in a recent interview.

The result, a 26-minute film called Vindication(its name would be changed to “Alibi” for the series) was accepted into a dozen secular and faith-based film festivals across the country, garnering nominations and awards, including best short film of the 2017 Christian Worldview Film Festival.

With the film’s success, the distribution company Vision Video reached out to O’Flaherty and Dennis, who had planned simply to post the video on YouTube and end the project.

Distributors asked about the film’s main character, Gary Travis, a police detective in the fictional town of East Bank, Texas. They wondered if he might have more cases.

With the demand in place, O’Flaherty and colleagues started creating new cases for Detective Travis, played by Dallas actor Todd Terry.

They scraped together funds to shoot episode 2. The production quality, acting and writing convinced additional donors to come aboard, and financing for a full 10-episode season was arranged, although O’Flaherty admitted that the budget per episode was a “fraction” of what Hollywood would spend on a similar show.

Hence, there are few bells-and-whistles, no frantic car chases or fiery explosions. Compensation for actors and professional crew was generally above industry standards, but some volunteers were not compensated and other crew members were “undercompensated,” O’Flaherty said, adding that if there is to be a season 2, he wants to see all involved receive proper compensation.

“We wrote the stories to fit our budget,” O’Flaherty said, adding that story arcs involving the main characters begin largely with Vindication’s third episode.

Low budget did not mean low quality. Producers used proven industry professionals including cinematographer Ron Gonzales and his camera, sound and lighting crews. Gonzalez’s resume includes projects for ABC, FOX, HDNET, DISCOVERY, TRAVEL, BIOGRAPHY and the DISNEY Channel.

Veteran actors Terry, alum of Breaking Bad, and Peggy Schott (Fear the Walking Dead) lend believability to their roles as the nominally-Christian detective and his devout wife. Emma Elle Roberts (Unplanned and I’m Not Ashamed) flew in from Los Angeles to play the couple’s troubled daughter.

Many cast and crew are believers, O’Flaherty said.

AlthoughVindication features professionals, volunteers from the church and area helped, appearing as extras or supplying homes for location shoots or meals for cast and crew. The church let filmmakers use its vans.

Connor Watkins, a law school student and graduate of Boston’s Berklee School of Music who scored My Son, wrote original music for the series.

Church member Tammy Ricketts, whom O’Flaherty called “extraordinarily creative,” handled all the props and set designs. “Most shows have entire prop departments. We had Tammy,” he said with a chuckle.

The Retta congregation and pastor were “100 percent” supportive, O’Flaherty added, noting that the Retta Vision name first used for My Son appears at the beginning of each episode of Vindication. Ed Lowe, Retta’s pastor, served as executive producer of episodes 8-10.

“The series reflects real life scenarios, offering hope that Jesus is enough to make a difference,” Lowe said, praising the professionalism of O’Flaherty, cast and crew.

 “Being faith-based, the series does not focus on heinous crime scenes,” O’Flaherty said. While gory autopsies are absent, episodes do explore serious crimes and their consequences: date rape, substance abuse, pornography and teenage sexting, human trafficking, even murder, achieving a level of good taste and a notable absence of cursing. O’Flaherty’s brother-in-law, a Burleson policeman, gave technical advice as did a licensed counselor who attends Retta.

The characters ring true. Travis is not as religious as his wife and he experiences no “come to Jesus” moment when he miraculously transforms into an all-wise Bible-quoter. The gospel comes across in conversations and actions, not in overt proselytizing.

“Weshowfaith to you,” O’Flaherty said.

Vision Video negotiated streaming deals and the entire series premiered on Prime in August, although episode 1 had been on Amazon since March 2018 and on PureFlix since March 2017.

The streaming deal was one of the many “miracles” of production, O’Flaherty said.

When a downpour threatened as a key outdoor scene was shot, the rain held off till after filming, although cast and crew dodged lightning. Schedules meshed as actors and crew came from across the country. An area hospital agreed to the use of an empty floor as a set at the last minute.

Ricketts’ husband became severely ill and eventually died three days before an episode was to be shot. Not wishing to bother her, O’Flaherty started scrambling for items, only to receive a call from the prop lady herself, assuring him that all was ready to go.

The casting of Austin actress Venus Monique as Travis’ trainee/partner in seven episodes occurred after O’Flaherty and Dennis met her as she hosted Austin’s Christian festival, the Attic Film Fest.

As for the future of Vindication, O’Flaherty, cast, crew, producers and Retta Baptist hope for a second season. The next six months will prove pivotal, as people watch. Or not.

When episode 1 appeared on Amazon Prime as a solo short, viewership soared to 100,000 after Amazon promoted it. O’Flaherty hopes a similar bump will occur for the series.

“Every few months, a new Christian movie comes out,” O’Flaherty said. “Binge-able faith-based TV series are very, very rare.”

The series DVD was released Oct. 15. Negotiations have been concluded for airing in Australia, the Middle East (including 25 Muslim countries), South and Central America and some parts of Europe. The series has been translated into Spanish, Farsi, Arabic and Turkish.

“We’re just a little country church, not a multi-million dollar church,” Lowe said. “This is exciting for our congregation.”

WithVindication, Retta’s congregation of around 200 is poised to make a worldwide impact in a “new” old genre: Christian television.

Buy a book for Christmas!

This year I asked my co-workers to send me the name, along with a short commendation, of a book that has been special to them, and that they would recommend others might give as a Christmas gift. Here are the responses I received:

Paul Anderson: Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace, by Dave Burchett. You’ll laugh, cry and be moved by this tale of a dog who knew the way to live and showed her master how.

Kylie Badgley: It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, by Lysa TerKeurst. I would give this book to someone I love because we all suffer. Her book provides answers to why God allows things in life to go the way they do, even when we want to cry, “but it’s not supposed to be this way!”

Jessica Calley: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. I recommend this book to almost everyone who loves sci-fi and fantasy. It’s a great example of how love conquers evil and how to accept our faults and in turn, grow from them.

Dave Carroll: How The Mighty Fall, by Jim Collins. An organizational leadership book to help you avoid decline and flourish in the future.

Jesse Contreras: The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer. Challenges you to think deeper about the mysteries of God. God’s Words, by J.I. Packer. Foundational studies of key Bible doctrines and themes.

Wesley Eaton: The Mortification of Sin, by John Owen. This 16th century work opened my eyes anew to the vileness of my sin and the greatness of our perfect and holy God.

Amanda Kennedy: Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms, by Tim Challies. For any faithful mom on a shopping list. It’s interesting, encouraging, and convicting.

Karen Kennemur: CSB Read to Me Bible. The Read to Me Bible is a wonderful gift to give a family with preschoolers because of its realistic pictures and parental helps.

Tammi Ledbetter: Calm My Anxious Heart, by Linda Dillow. Wisdom for every season of a Christian’s life.

Bart McDonald: The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer. Read and consult this more than any book in my library and am blessed every time by these timeless truths.

Micah Meuer: Walking on Water When You Feel Like You are Drowning, by Steve Leavitt and Tommy Nelson. Two testimonies of mental health struggles.

Joshua Owens: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, by Jon Krakauer. Besides being masterfully written, there is, as my Mom would say, ‘a sermon illustration in there somewhere.’

Marsha Nance: A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Van Auken (contemporary and friend of C.S. Lewis). Beautifully written biography of a couple deciding to follow Christ and the price they were willing to pay to follow him. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. Everyone should read at least one Dickens work, shouldn’t they? I think this is the best one.

Kenady Shope: The Next Right Thing, by Emily P. Freeman. Start the new year with practical steps in making decisions from a Christian’s perspective. The Meaning of Marriage, by Timothy Keller. A great gift for married and single people alike.

Gayla Sullivan: A Thankful Heart, by Carole Lewis. Encouraging, a 158-pg easy read, a great reminder of Romans 8:28.

Laura Taylor: Jotham’s Journey, by Arthur Ytreeide. A children’s book about a little boy who lived in Bethlehem and his journey to the manger. Read as an advent story.

Tony Wolfe: Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald. In the pressured busyness of life, here is a timely word toward cultivating a healthy soul.

Mark Yoakum: The Way of the Shepherd, by William Pentek and Kevin Leman. Everybody is a leader in some form. This book gives excellent tips on how to lead those God has given you.

Happy reading!

Heart of the Child Conference comes to SWBTS March 6-7

One of the nation’s top conferences for preschool and children’s workers will be held at Southwestern Seminary in March when hundreds of leaders descend on the campus for the biennial Heart of the Child Conference.

The March 6-7 event in Fort Worth is geared toward those who work with children from birth to sixth grade, although sessions for family ministry have been added to this year’s event. A Korean language track also will be featured.

Between 500 and 800 workers and leaders are expected.

Karen Kennemur, SBTC children’s associate and Southwestern Seminary’s associate professor of children’s ministry, calls it “the best preschool and children’s family conference out there.” She’s been attending for about 15 years.

“It’s a great time to network with children’s ministers from all over the U.S.,” said Kennemur, who is serving on the conference’s leadership team.

The event will feature pre-conference and breakout sessions, as well as four keynote speakers:

David Thomas, a child and family counselor with 20-plus years of experience and the co-author of eight books, including Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys and Are My Kids on Track? The 12 Emotional, Social & Spiritual Milestones Your Child Needs to Reach.

Sissy Goff, a child and family counselor with 25-plus years of experience and the author or co-author of 11 books, including Raising Worry-Free Girls and Braver, Stronger, Smarter and Intentional Parenting: Autopilot Is for Planes.

Mark Jones, children’s pastor at Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City and the founder of “Mr. Mark’s Classroom,” an online leadership development and teacher-resource company.

Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth and co-editor of The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time.

The conference is jointly sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources and three state conventions: the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

Kennemur said financial underwriting by the three conventions and LifeWay has made the conference very affordable.

This year’s theme verse is Psalm 78:4: “We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed.”

Other speakers will include: Brian Housman, executive director of the 360 Family Conferences; Stephanie Chase, Kids Minister at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston; Larry Dan Melton, children’s pastor at Fielder Church in Arlington; Rob Tayne, discipleship pastor at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving; Jennifer Musgrove, lead kid keeper at The Village Church in Flower Mound; Bill Emeott, children’s minister at First Baptist in Houston; Carla Greenway, a speaker and the wife of Southwestern Seminary President Adam Greenway; Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids; Delanee Williams, ministry specialist with LifeWay Kids; and Landry Holmes, manager of LifeWay Kids Ministry Publishing.

Learn more at

REVIEW: “Frozen 2” isn”t as memorable, but is it family-friendly?

Elsa is the young magical queen of a peaceful kingdom, Arendelle, where no one is lacking and where everyone seemingly is happy.

It’s such a perfect kingdom, in fact, that few people care to venture far outside its borders. 

Elsa, though, is no ordinary person. She can create an ice palace with a simple twist of her hands. She can start a snowstorm with a snap of a finger. She can repel an army while sitting down. She has powers that her sister, Anna, never had.

Not surprisingly, Elsa begins to wonder: Why was she born with these powers?

Then she remembers a story her father told about an enchanted forest to the north protected by the spirits of air, fire, water and earth. Unfortunately, though, a mysterious mist now covers that forest, preventing anyone from getting in—or out.

But now Elsa is hearing a siren’s voice from the forest. It calls to her during the evening. It wakes her up at night. Perhaps—just perhaps—this voice holds a clue to her past. Then again, maybe that voice is setting a trap to harm her.

The Disney musical Frozen 2 (PG) opens this weekend, starring Idina Menzel (Ralph Breaks the Internet) as Elsa, Kristen Bell (The Good Place) as Anna, Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, 2017) as Olaf the snowman, and Jonathan Groff (The Conspirator) as Kristoff. All four voices were in 2013’s Frozen.

In Frozen 2, Elsa tries communicating with the siren but accidentally wakes the forest’s spirits—sparking a series of natural disasters in Arendelle that force the citizens to evacuate. Elsa then joins Anna, Kristoff and Olaf in a journey to the forest in hopes of reversing the damage to Arendelle—and perhaps finding answers for Elsa.

Frozen 2 includes the same type of magic in the first film—a topic that divided Christian families in 2013—and introduces animism, too. (Details below.)

In addition, Frozen 2 simply doesn’t have the, well, magicof the first film. The plot isn’t as fun and simple. The music is good, but not as memorable.

Even so, it does have plenty of laughs and emotion-laden moments—just like its predecessor.   

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Minimal. We see a flashback to a battle with swords. (It’s bloodless.) Characters run away from a fire (it’s really a “fire spirit”) in the forest. “Earth Giants”—rock-like monsters bigger than hills—roam through the woods at night. Later, during the daytime, Anna and Olaf canoe down a river past the Earth Giants. Elsa and Anna get separated. It’s learned that one of their relatives killed someone.


Minimal. The Kristoff-Anna romance includes a couple of short kisses on the lips. Olaf jokes that he finds clothes “restricting.” 

Coarse Language

None. (Although we do hear a “butts” and an unfinished “what the ….”)

Other Positive Elements

The sibling love between Elsa and Anna can be a model for movie-going brothers and sisters.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

We see a flashback to Elsa making ice sculptures as a young girl. Trolls come out of the forest; they say of Elsa’s powers: “We must pray they are enough” to save the kingdom.

Life Lessons

Life is all about change: But as Anna and Olaf learn, some things are priceless and even permanent.

Everyone needs encouraged: Elsa has constant doubts, but Anna encourages her: “When will you start seeing yourself like I see you?”

Self-sacrifice is a virtue: Both Elsa and Anna put their lives on the line for the betterment of each other and the kingdom.

Wrongs need to be righted: It’s at the heart of the plot. Still, we must ask: Is there a statute of limitations on such a belief?


Frozen 2 will divide Christian families. Some will see it as innocent fun that even can be used to educate children about unbiblical worldviews. Others will point to the film’s animism and plot and choose to sit this one out. 

More than likely, families who enjoyed Frozen, Moana and Coco will enjoy Frozen 2.

For parents who want to explore the worldview, here’s what you need to know about the movie’s animism: We meet a heroic people of the forest who “only trust” nature. We hear that water is a living organism that has a “memory.” We learn that the spirits of air, fire, water and earth are the “most powerful” spirits on the planet. We also learn of a “fifth” spirit that is a bridge between people “and the magic of nature.” Additionally, Elsa mentions how she’s seen her “power grow.”

The movie, like its predecessor, gives us a good example of sibling love. It also introduces a major ethical question: Does every “wrong” need to be “righted”?


Ziploc, Google Home, JC Penney, Nature’s Own, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Enterprise, Juicy Juice, McDonald’s, Icebreakers and Glade.

Discussion Questions

1. What can Frozen 2 teach us about the relationship between siblings?

2. If you could explore deep into your past and uncover family secrets, would you?

3. Should every “wrong” in history be “righted”? Are there limits?

4. Name three positive character traits of Elsa—and then of Anna.

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

Frozen 2 is rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements.


Even Niagara needs water.

Niagara Falls is more than water drops, but it isn’t less. And global missions is more than you and I, but it isn’t less. When we all work together our cooperation enables what happens downstream in global missions.

Wave after wave rushes over the brink of Niagara with the thunder of a river falling, and all that water comes from somewhere. It comes from farther upstream and farther still, from raindrops and small streams. Even Niagara can’t run on its own. Even Niagara needs water.

And even global missions needs you and me. During Lottie Moon Christmas Offering season we talk a lot about our Southern Baptist missionaries and their work—and we should. I just spent two years overseas with them and in my short time I saw our brothers and sisters faithfully sharing the gospel from Spain to Ethiopia in the face of serious challenges. I’ve spent some time downstream in global missions, and I have seen young families and 20-something singles and retirees struggling to learn a new language, to find where the grocery store is, to make friends—and all this while searching constantly for opportunities to share Jesus.

This Christmas season your church might play a video or hand out brochures from the International Mission Board, filled with colorful stories about how God used this person to plant a church in a hard place or how he used that person to lead someone to Jesus. But mud huts and megacities are pretty foreign to most of us in places like Tyler and Toyah, and the edge of Niagara can feel very far away indeed. And yet even Niagara needs water.

You and I from all the way over here in Texas fit into God’s good plan for global missions the same way all the waters above Niagara fit into all the waters at Niagara. We are a part of global missions by nature and by action.

When you give to Lottie Moon, if you want to picture the kind of people that your money goes to, the kind of people who are missionaries, you might start by looking around your church on Sunday morning and picking someone who is fun to be around and who loves Jesus. Missionaries might be superheroes, but probably not in the way we normally think of them. They’re often very normal folks whom God in his planning just decided to relocate overseas. It turns out that healthy missionaries look an awful lot like healthy church members. We are a part of global missions by nature because the stuff at the edge of the falls is the same stuff upstream, water—it’s just in a different place.

And we’re a part of global missions by action because when we decide to give to Lottie Moon and to pray for our missionaries—and when we don’t—we’re really affecting what happens downstream with all the crashing waters and blowing mists. What we do upstream changes what happens at the edge of the falls. God in his good plan has set up global missions so individuals and churches can take part, not just way downstream in distant and exotic places, but even right here at home. When you give, 100 percent of your Lottie Moon dollars goes to our missionaries. Praying and giving are just two ways that right now, today, before you go to bed tonight, you can join God’s good plan for global missions.

You and I are upstream from global missions, and it doesn’t matter if you’re from a little lake or a rushing river—all the water in a waterfall comes from somewhere. You might be from a big city or a farm, in a church with 50 people or a church with 50 staff. It doesn’t really matter where we’re at or where we’re from, because God’s design is for all of us to join him in global missions.

You can learn more about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and give online at:

Why I believe the Bible (and why it still matters)

In 1976 when evangelical leaders were beginning to contemplate what would eventually become The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, I was far from God, far from the Bible and far from Chicago. However, by 1978, when more than two hundred Christian theologians and pastors, including some prominent Southern Baptists, met for three days at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare to draft the groundbreaking document, I had been walking with God for about a year. Back then, I had never heard the word “inerrancy.” But as a college student, fresh out of the Jesus Movement, I was being exposed firsthand to what inerrancy isn’t.

For instance, in January 1977 I took my first college Bible course. I had been walking with the Lord about three weeks, so I was eager to learn. It was an Old Testament survey, and on the first day of class the young professor began eagerly teaching us the documentary hypothesis, a tenet of the school of 19th century German higher criticism. For those not familiar, there is no way to reconcile Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch with the documentary hypothesis, which insists the Pentateuch was pieced together over centuries by various authors and schools of authors. The theory, and related theological positions, decimated the faith of Europe and emptied its churches.

I attended a Baptist college. The professor was a recent Ph.D graduate from one of our seminaries. He wasn’t just teaching something he wanted us to know about; he was teaching us something he wanted us to believe. The Old Testament class wasn’t an isolated event.

For the next four years, all the students who took religion courses, including me, were constantly exposed to that theological perspective.

Fortunately, we had strong student fellowships, a few solid religion professors, our churches and hopeful news of a surging new emphasis on biblical authority growing in our denomination at that time. These resources helped reinforce our belief in the grammatical reliability and historical accuracy of Scripture. In other words, we had places to turn for encouragement and instruction where credible leaders still believed “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Now, more than 40 years after those college days, I still appreciate having places for fellowship where convictions about the trustworthiness and reliability of Scripture drive our confession and cooperation. It is primarily for this reason our church affiliated several years ago with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The inerrancy of Scripture still matters. The conviction that God inspired Scripture, that the Bible was not patched together by competing and unreliable religious ideologies, that it “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article I) must always be the foremost doctrine upon which all others rest.

Ultimately, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy matters because it’s true. For numerous reasons, therefore, it carries significant, practical implications for our ministries. I thank God the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is unambiguous concerning the bedrock truth of biblical inerrancy—identifying it as “the foundational element” of its core values. I know I’m among friends in the SBTC. Knowing the convention believes the Bible without equivocation gives my church, and me, a place to call home.

Jim Richards: The boots “still fit” after 21 years leading the SBTC

Editor’s note: This draws to a close our year-long series on many of the SBTC’s founders.

GRAPEVINE — Gerald Smith presented Jim Richards with a pair of custom-made cowboy boots when Richards was confirmed as the first executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention at its inaugural meeting in Houston in 1998.

Smith said later that he and other founders figured Richards, a Louisiana native, needed a pair of cowboy boots, a necessity in Texas.

“After 21 years, my boots still fit,” Richards told the TEXAN in a recent interview. “I still love jambalaya and LSU football, but Texas is in my heart like no other place.”

Richards discussed a few of the issues surrounding his original candidacy.

The fact that he was not a native Texan almost derailed Richards’ chances for the job. Some members of the board of directors of the Southern Baptists of Texas, Inc.—the organization that preceded the then-unchartered SBTC—felt the job belonged to someone from the Lone Star State.

Others charged with recommending someone to lead the new convention were concerned about Richards’ extensive involvement with the national Southern Baptist Convention. Would choosing an SBC stalwart mean Texas was ceding control to the national entity?

Richards’ long SBC involvement included serving on the SBC’s Tellers Committee and chairing the Committee on Nominations, Committee on Order of Business, and the trustee board of the ERLC (formerly the Christian Life Commission) at various times.
Some on the board of directors preferred other candidates.

Richards himself had reservations. He had spent more than two decades pastoring churches in Louisiana and, since 1995, had been comfortably filling a role he loved as director of missions for the Northwest Baptist Association in Rogers, Arkansas.

“I loved where I lived. It was on the side of a mountain in the Ozarks. This was no perk for me to move to the concrete jungle,” Richards said of the 1998 decision that would take him from the mountains to the DFW Metroplex.

Nonetheless, when Richards finally gained assurances of support from the directors of the old SBT and the potential officers of the new SBTC, he agreed to fly down to Houston, where he was elected to lead the new convention on Nov. 9, the day before the SBTC was formally constituted.

A more thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding Richards’ selection appears in Gary Ledbetter’s history of the convention, SBTC: 20 Years of Reaching Texas and Touching the World.

When asked how he feels 21 years after taking the helm of the SBTC, Richards said with a chuckle, “I feel older.”

He admitted to having found a few surprises in his new job in 1998. He was told there were 300 affiliated churches originally; instead there were 120. Criticism from the other state convention came steadily, too.

“In the early days, there were internal forces that could have caused the convention to have been stillborn. Godly men and women stood for principles of integrity and would not let the convention go down the wrong path,” Richards said, adding, “God protected us from making poor decisions when we were very capable of doing so.”

Richards also praised SBTC staff: “God sent leader after leader to serve on staff. They provided sacrificial service to the churches of the SBTC.”

Richards’ threefold vision of the SBTC’s core values remains the hallmark of the convention today. The SBTC was to be a confessional fellowship, with affiliated churches affirming the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. The efficient use of resources was another core value, with missions and evangelism at the forefront. Finally, the new convention would cooperate in friendly partnership with the SBC, contributing significantly to the national Cooperative Program.

The 2020 SBTC budget continues this practice: 55 percent of undesignated CP receipts are forwarded to the SBC while the SBTC invests 45 percent in Texas ministries.

Richards admitted he had a goal of seeing 3,000 churches and a $30 million Cooperative Program budget by 2020.

“We came close. By God’s grace, those numbers will be reached in a few short years,” he said.

As for the SBTC’s future, Richards said much will depend upon the next generation. “The rising generation will have to hold the convictions of the founders for it to be blessed of the Lord,” he said, expressing optimism by adding, “I’m excited about the young leaders in the SBTC. I believe they will hold true to our confessional fellowship, kingdom focus and missional drive.”

Richards confirmed the SBTC must continue its commitment to the primacy and inerrancy of Scripture. “There can be no compromise relative to the Word of God,” Richards said. “God blesses his Word. He blesses those who honor his Word.”

Honoring God’s Word is something Richards has done since he was saved and called to preach at age 17. The distinguished alumnus of both New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Mid-American Baptist Theological Seminary (D.Min.), and his wife, June, have three children and four grandchildren.

Today, even some of Richards’ former detractors have been won over as they’ve seen the new convention flourish.

“You live long enough, you get to see some of these things happen,” Richards said.

New missionaries start “great works” among the nations

OKLAHOMA CITY — Two Texas couples answered the call of ministering to the nations. They are among the 29 total missionaries who took part in the International Mission Board’s Sending Celebration on Nov. 12 at Quail Springs Baptist Church, Oklahoma City.

IMB President Paul Chitwood told the new missionaries that they had been called to “the greatest work” because it’s the Great Commission work.

“Like Nehemiah, these new missionaries are called to a great work,” Chitwood said. “They might not be sent to rebuild the city but they are sent to share the gospel, make disciples and churches among the nations.”

This work is done by people like Joshua and Jennifer Armstrong, who both from a young age felt called to minister to internationals.

“We’ve seen the Lord be faithful time and time again in us and in those around us,” Josh said. “Throughout our lives God has continually drawn us to internationals and to those who are desperate to see the Lord work in their lives.”

The Texas couple worked with people who had immigrated to the States, and are now continuing their ministry among the people of Europe. First Baptist Church, Dallas, is the Armstrongs’ sending church. Kevin Batista, minister of missions and single adults, affirmed the Armstrongs’ love for internationals.

“They have been active and key volunteer leaders in several ministries at First Baptist Dallas,” Batista said. “The Armstrongs are family to First Dallas and now the church will have a family member in Europe.”

Gregg and Donna Fort will return to Sub-Saharan Africa where they previously spent 30 years serving God in Zimbabwe. The Texas couple will work among the peoples of Durban, South Africa. Gregg’s passion for challenging churches will help local believers make God known in their new city. Donna is excited about teaching and discipling believers.

“The fields are truly ready to harvest,” Donna said. “Will you join with us in praying…that God’s glory will be made among the peoples of Durban, South Africa?”

The Forts’ sending church of First Baptist Church, Round Rock, plans to walk alongside the veteran missionaries. Jared Allen, lead pastor, said the church is honored to be a part of God’s global plan.

“We believe partnering with IMB missionaries is the right way for us,” Allen said. “The Forts will be living in context on the ground and they will know the best way for us to support them—whether that is through multiple trips, prayer or anything else.

“Sending the Forts and other missionaries fills us with a purpose,” the pastor said.


In recent years I have heard many who remark that Thanksgiving has been forgotten. Stores go from marketing Halloween to marketing Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is ever present at my house but we always pause to make Thanksgiving special. President George Washington made a proclamation to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. Eventually it became institutionalized as a national holiday known as “Thanksgiving.” What is Thanksgiving? “Turkey Day”—good food and lots of it—family day—time to be together—football and parades; or is it more than family, food, football, and festivities?

Thanksgiving demands a recipient. If we are thankful, to whom are we thankful? As believers in Jesus we know to turn our attention to the one who provides for our needs. The Bible says in Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all of your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Thanksgiving is gratitude toward someone who has provided all things for us.

Thanksgiving is more about peace than prosperity. It is so easy to get caught up in the routine of being thankful for God’s provisions. Truly, God has blessed us materially; the poorest people I know in America are rich compared to most countries. But, my “Thanksgiving” should not be caught up in my prosperity rather than in God’s peace. “Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, 7).

Thanksgiving is more about satisfaction than success. We get caught up in achievement. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to accomplish good and serve God in this life. However, to be driven by unbridled devotion to good things at the expense of the best is empty. What about the godly baseball player who strikes out with the bases loaded? What about the pastor who labors in obscurity with little earthly appreciation or the committed believer who struggles in his business concerns? Can they be thankful? Our satisfaction comes from being in the center of God’s will not the ladders we climb to get to the top. Paul spoke of his satisfaction in following God’s leadership, Philippians 4:11.

The Bible shows that thanksgiving is more attitude than action. Thanksgiving is giving praise to God by looking to the source of all blessings. It is giving beyond ourselves to the needs of others. Have you thanked God for most important blessing, his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Family, food and football are things we enjoy around the Thanksgiving holiday. This Thanksgiving let’s focus on the One who is the blessing!

Cypress church plant reaching souls, strengthening families

CYPRESS — As God was nudging Joseph Ogletree toward church planting, he also was burdening Ogletree about the need in today’s culture for strong families. A result of that dual vision is Image Church in Cypress, a new congregation partnering with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

About four years ago, “God really started putting on my heart church planting and family,” Ogletree said. Beginning with telling Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, “the family was essential to God’s advancement of his will,” he said.

Yet families today are broken. “In order to restore that, we believe that the gospel is a great place to start,” Ogletree said.

He started talking with mentors about possibilities and ended up serving in a residency program at CityView Church in Pearland. “That’s how I got connected with Southern Baptists,” Ogletree said.

“God gave me some clarity of the vision,” he said. “I learned more about church planting, and in November 2016, we were officially sent by CityView, and we just basically had small group Bible study for an entire year.”

During that year, God sent people to form the core team, and Image Church launched in October 2017.

“Our mission was always centered around the family and growing the family of God,” Ogletree said. “We centralize it on two aspects: making disciples and building families. That’s been our mission since day one.”

Much like its attention to the family, the church’s name came from Genesis.

“God made us in his image. We are to be the image bearers of God,” Ogletree said. “In Colossians, Paul said that we would be conformed to the image of his Son. Wherever we go, we are to be the image bearers of Christ. We are his representatives on the earth.”

The predominantly African-American congregation meets at Black Elementary School in Cypress and averages about 75 people. Though the journey is still new, lives have been changed already, Ogletree said.

“One that comes to mind is a guy who’s really just blossomed and grown. He shares that he was lost and he didn’t know how to be a man and lead his family. His marriage was not in the best place. He and his wife came to us, and he got connected, and now he’s serving. He’s leading our men’s ministry, and he smiles every Sunday,” Ogletree said. “His testimony is about how the church has changed his life.

“It keeps you going, stories like that.”

Ogletree is a bivocational pastor, retaining his full-time software sales job while serving as a church planter. His secular career gives him opportunities to share his faith, he said.

“I’m in customers’ offices. I get to demonstrate to everyone who I am as a believer, my journey. From that aspect, I really enjoy the bivocational role,” Ogletree said.

At the same time, being a bivocational pastor is “extremely difficult” because of time constraints. He and his wife, Sherrell, have three sons: Jaiden, Josiah and Jaxon, ages 12, 10 and 6.

“Family is my first ministry, so I do my best to cut out time for family and be available to them, be at football games and basketball games and have our time. I try to make sure ministry and work doesn’t interfere with that,” Ogletree said.

Ogletree is thankful for the relationships he has developed in the SBTC and the resources available. “They’re very missions-minded, and that’s what our church needs,” he said, adding that he appreciates that the convention is supportive of Image Church’s vision.

He wants to encourage other church planters who have to work full time to provide for their families in addition to leading ministries.

“Maybe it’s for a season, but it’s where God has you and you’ve got to manage it to the best of your abilities,” Ogletree said.

Interested in church planting? Contact Doug Hixson at the SBTC.