Month: January 2020

One story behind the pro-life Super Bowl ad you won’t see this year

MESQUITE—Josiah Presley, one of the abortion survivors featured in a 30-second ad that Fox Sports chose not to run during the Super Bowl, is a Criswell College graduate and a youth pastor at Galloway Avenue Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas. 

“Can you look me in the eye and tell me that I shouldn’t be alive?” Presley asks in the ad made by Faces of Choice. The group’s founder said she repeatedly met additional terms set forth by Fox and in the end was not given a suitable reason why the ad was rejected. 

“We are the survivors of choice. We are the faces of choice,” abortion survivors say in the ad. 

When she was two months pregnant, Presley’s mother in South Korea had a curettage abortion, which “is the type of abortion where a doctor goes into a mother’s womb and rips the baby apart and brings him out in pieces,” Presley told the TEXAN. 

The woman was sent home, but a few months later she realized the abortion “had actually failed and I was still very much alive,” he said. Presley was born in 1995 and placed with a foster home in South Korea. At 13 months, Randy and Kathy Presley of Norman, Oklahoma, adopted him and raised him along with nine other adopted children and two biological children. 

Presley has a deformed arm, which is believed to have been caused by the type of abortion attempted. Throughout his childhood, he struggled secretly with low self-esteem, thinking he was less than others because of his deformity. “I thought I wouldn’t go anywhere in life,” he said.

When he was 13 years old, Presley’s parents told him he had survived an abortion. Though he was grateful to know his story, the news sent him deeper into darkness. 

“It became apparent to me at that time that my life actually was worthless because the people who should have loved me the most thought my life was so unvaluable they tried to take it,” Presley said. 

As a young teenager, Presley developed hatred toward anyone who was pro-choice, including abortion doctors, post-abortive women and Planned Parenthood workers. “I thought they were the scum of the earth because it was people like them who made me the way I was, so broken,” he said.

All the while, he continued projecting a good church kid façade at Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, where his father was a worship pastor. The summer after his sophomore year of high school, God got Presley’s attention at Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center in Oklahoma. The camp pastor that week talked about the Greek word dunamis and how God imparts in the believer the power to overcome the trials of the world. 

“I remember thinking I didn’t have that in my life,” Presley said. 

He accepted Christ as his Savior that week and started seeing changes in his outlook. He realized his value was not in what he did but in the fact that he was created in the image of a God who had a purpose for his life, he said. 

“He has proven his love to me by dying on a cross for the punishment of my sins when I was far from him,” Presley said. 

As God worked in his heart, Presley was convicted of the hatred he had toward his birth parents for the choices they made. “He has forgiven me of so much, the least I can do is forgive them for the wrongs they committed against me,” he said. “I found forgiveness there, and I found healing there.”

Presley graduated from Criswell College with a psychology degree in 2018, is married to Bethany and works as a student success manager at Criswell while serving as a youth pastor. 

He lamented the 60 million lives lost to abortion in the United States since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. 

“We live in a culture that tells women, ‘If you want to get ahead in life, if you want to go anywhere in life, you have to take a life,’” Presley said. “We live in a culture that tells men, ‘Fulfill the passions of your flesh, and you are not held responsible for your actions.’ 

“We live in a world that applauds evil as seen by its support of the taking of the most innocent of human beings’ lives. That’s a culture of death.”

The only light strong enough to overcome that kind of darkness, he said, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

“If you’re a follower of Christ, that light has been placed within you, and it is your calling and your duty to take that light into the world,” Presley said, pointing to Matthew 5. 

The task starts with loving neighbors, those who are born “so that the world believes it when we say we love our unborn neighbor,” he said. 

It also means caring for and loving the abortion doctor, the Planned Parenthood worker, the abortion-minded woman and the post-abortive woman, Presley said. 

“Why? Because they’re people created in the image of God.”

Though he was disappointed, Presley said he wasn’t surprised Fox Sports chose not to air the Super Bowl ad that Faces of Choice submitted. He hopes the chatter that has followed the decision will still get the message into American homes, especially as pro-life people direct others to the various abortion survivor videos at facesofchoice.org. 

“Our prayer is that it still has an impact and it still shows people the truth of what abortion is,” he said. 

Though some people may want to boycott the Super Bowl because Fox chose to run a Sabra hummus ad featuring drag queens and not one with a pro-life message, Presley said an additional response could be to watch the game with unchurched friends or family and use what happened to the Faces of Choice ad as a springboard to talk about the value of every human life. 

“They might not go to church with you, but they might watch the Super Bowl with you, and you might just in that moment have that opportunity to start a conversation about life,” he said. 

People inspired by the ad’s message can get involved in the pro-life movement by looking for crisis pregnancy centers in their cities where they can get involved or by joining pregnancy help or adoption support ministries in their local churches, Presley said. 

“Get involved in those ways. If there aren’t those ministries in your church, maybe God would call you to start those,” he said. 

“Love your neighbor in a tangible way so that as we speak for truth, as we affirm the value of human life, the world knows it by the way we value the lives of the born.”

West Central Texas church revamps Wednesday nights

COLEMAN—First Baptist Church has been one of the strengths of Coleman, Texas, since the church was established in 1877, and now in modern America it’s finding its place again as a light drawing people from all corners of its sparsely populated county, partly by emphasizing Wednesday night gatherings.

“It’s an old church, but we’re reaching new people and doing new things here,” said Chas Shira, the church’s pastor. First Baptist recently affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Coleman County, in the West Central region of the state, is one of the older counties in Texas, Shira said, and First Baptist’s sanctuary—though renovated within the last year—was built around 1916. 

“We’re a county seat church, and we have people who come from all edges of the county. That’s our mission field,” Shira told the TEXAN. 

To frame the mission, Shira said he tells the congregation, “There are about 8,000 people in the county, and if we are one of the largest churches and on a good Sunday we have 150, then that means there’s at least 7,000 in the county that aren’t in church. Some of those people might identify themselves as Christian, but they don’t attend church regularly.

“I expect to run 8,000 someday,” Shira said. “That should be our goal if we’re trying to reach this county. There are a lot of unchurched, nominal Christians. The fields are white in Coleman County.”

Last fall, First Baptist launched The Gathering, a revamping of Wednesday night to include the whole family. 

“Wednesday nights weren’t heavily attended when I got here,” said Shira, who arrived in April 2018. “What we wanted it to become is a chance in the middle of the week for Christians to gather.”

The Gathering starts with a meal in the Family Life Center at 6 p.m., and then youth and children split off for age-graded Bible study and other activities. Adults stay in the room where the meal was served and study the Bible, Shira said, tackling even difficult passages and applying them to life.

“It’s a chance for the entire family to gather on a Wednesday. We’ve seen a lot of growth,” he said. “It’s been great. Our youth numbers have been up. Our children’s numbers are up. Our adult numbers have creeped back up.”

The church has a youth minister and a children’s director who is a former principal of the local elementary school.

One reason First Baptist emphasizes The Gathering is “there are a lot of churches in our county that don’t even have Wednesday night activities. They’ve just gotten so small,” Shira said. 

Without trying to take members from other churches, First Baptist invites people to take advantage of the ministry space and offerings they have midweek. Partnering with smaller churches in the community is a priority for Shira, and the day he spoke with the TEXAN he had met another Baptist pastor for lunch. 

First Baptist has been a strong supporter of the Cooperative Program all along, Shira said, and in the years ahead he hopes to lead them to participate in missions by identifying, with the International Mission Board’s help, a place in the world where they can make repeated trips for long-term involvement. 

For now, they’re focusing on personal contacts in Coleman. Last fall, Shira led the church in the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism emphasis, and he plans to continue that each year. 

In an effort to be a good community partner, First Baptist has been part of the local fall festival for the past couple of years. 

“We have a neat downtown area that’s kind of being revitalized. Coleman’s a neat place. It’s a pretty part of Texas, so there’s some growth here and some storefronts and some things coming back. So we’ve been partnering—doing sidewalk games, passing out candy,” he said.

A graduate of Hardin-Simmons University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Shira said one of the appeals of affiliating with the SBTC is being on the same page theologically.

“Partnering with people that affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is huge, to know that whatever ministry SBTC helps fund, it’s funding a ministry that has already agreed to the same Baptist Faith & Message that we do here.”

A Texas native, Shira is married to Katie, and they have three children, ages 4, 1 and four months. Their oldest son was adopted through foster care. Recently they bought a hundred-year-old house near the church and are renovating it as their new home. The house had been vacant for 60 years, Shira said, and when they bought it all of the windows had broken out. 

“We love Coleman and love being a part of the community,” Shira said.  

Austin Rally for Life Pray for an End to Abortion

AUSTIN—Karen McDaniel was one of thousands of pro-life activists to march to the Capitol steps on Jan. 25 to make their voices heard; to pray, and give glory to God for limiting abortion in Texas; and to hear how the pro-life movement’s goal is to stop abortions nationwide.

McDaniel marched in the Texas Rally for Life with members of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, carrying a sign that read “Pray to end abortion.” She said abortion harms women, but the clinics and media work in tandem to hide the evil side of the industry.

McDaniel said she founded the Champion Forest Coalition for Life in 2008, after attending a church-sponsored Roe v. Wade conference, where she met women with testimonies about the horrors of abortion. Until then, she said the media had her believing pro-life activists were the bad guys, and abortion was a viable healthcare option for women.

Since then, in hopes of ending abortion, McDaniel has worked at her church, and in the community to educate women about the abortion industry. She also organizes prayer at abortion clinics, trips to pro-life rallies, and group participation in the Life Chain. “We need to seek God, rise up against abortion, and pray that the Lord will overturn Roe v. Wade,” she said.

Speakers at the Texas Rally for Life, commemorating the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, included GOP State Rep. Jeff Leach, Claire Culwell, an abortion survivor, and moderator Sylvia B. Johnson-Matthews, of the Houston Pregnancy Help Center.     

Leach said the 2019 legislature approved more restrictive laws against abortion, but the number of abortion clinics in Texas doubled to 10 in the past year, with most opening in West Texas. He said nationwide, many recent laws banning abortion and protecting the unborn cannot be enforced due to court challenges. The good news, he said, is these new laws may also force Supreme Court challenges to Roe v. Wade, and a woman’s legal right to an abortion.  

Culwell, who survived an abortion that took her twin sister, said she was adopted, but located, and forgave her biological mother for her part in the failed abortion.  “Abortion hurts us, but life, and motherhood empowers us,” she said.

Johnson-Matthews said since Roe v. Wade more than 60 million babies have been aborted, and their “spilled blood is crying out to God,” but the Lord is hearing their cry. “We are winning the battle against abortion thanks to the Lord, science, and you taking a stand for life.”

Symphony Brown, another member of Champion Forest attending Stephen F. Austin University, participated in her first Rally for Life carrying a sign that read “Defund Planned Parenthood.” Brown said she recently joined Lumberjacks for Life, and became more educated about abortion. She now believes unborn children have a right to life, and is sharing her beliefs with family, and friends.

Others carrying signs reading “I regret my abortion,” shared testimonies of how they were pressured into having an abortion, and then became suicidal and drug-addicted before meeting Christ. They now educate about the negative impact of abortion, and minister to those wounded, and hurting after their abortion.

David Krauss of Austin rode a scooter to the rally, and others marched to the Capitol using walkers, and canes. “I am here to defend the unborn,” Krauss said. “I believe a baby is formed at conception, and that abortion is murder. I believe that what God has created, man should not destroy.”   

SBTC Disaster Relief volunteers more than 48,000 hours in 2019

GRAPEVINE  Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, homelessness, mass shootings and migration crises—storms of all kinds—saw Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief workers donate thousands of volunteer hours throughout the Lone Star state, the Midwest and the South in 2019.

The year was characterized by unusual deployments. SBTC DR crews served along the Texas/Mexico border as thousands sought entry to the United States, ministered in the wake of tragic shootings in El Paso and Odessa, helped victims of unprecedented October tornadoes in Dallas and prepared meals for Austin’s homeless.

SBTC DR crews crossed Texas, serving in Alto, Austin, Bastrop, Beaumont, Borger, Brownsville, Brownwood, Bryan, Dallas, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, El Paso, Hamshire, Harlingen, Kilgore, Kountze, League City, Madisonville, Mineral Wells, New Baden, Odessa, Pflugerville, Port Arthur, Robstown, Sargent, San Augustine, Raymondville and Vidor.

Outside Texas, volunteers ministered in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The Quick Response Unit, a mobile food truck, saw significant use in 2019, including serving meals near a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in tornado-ravaged Dallas and moving rapidly to feed fire victims in Madisonville this fall.

SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice praised the efficiency and flexibility of the QRU and the volunteers manning it, telling the TEXAN that SBTC DR added two more QR kitchen units to its fleet this year.

The response to the migrant crisis at the border proved to be “the most evangelistic ministry we had this year,” Stice said, noting that the ministry provided opportunities to build relationships with government agencies and further partnerships with Samaritan’s Purse and the Salvation Army. 

“God really blessed SBTC DR ministry this year. We praise God for the great results. Personally, I thank God for SBTC DR volunteers. They come from churches from all over the state and give their time and their love to those in need,” he added.

The statistics to the left tell the story. The ministry of churches along the border such as West Brownsville Baptist saw more than one thousand salvations. 

Although SBTC DR has over 6,000 trained volunteers, the number of total volunteers refers to days deployed rather than to separate individuals. Over 4,800 deployed means 4,800-plus days in the field. Many volunteers faithfully served repeatedly in 2019.

For more information about online and site-based SBTC DR training to become a DR volunteer, visit sbtexas.com/dr.  

“The SBC is built on relationships, and we have weakened that,” Albert Mohler on BF&M 2000, nomination, Twitter

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary since 1993, will be nominated for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention when it gathers June 9-10, 2020, in Orlando. Mohler, who served on the committee that drafted the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, recently spoke with the TEXAN about his nomination and his view and vision of the SBC. 

TEXAN: How would you define a successful presidential term, should you be elected?

Mohler: I think we’re at an interesting and strategic moment for Southern Baptists, and I would define success as helping Southern Baptists to move in unity and in theological health towards a future that will be even more faithful, even more evangelistic, even more committed to missions. At this particular moment I think there’s a tremendous need for the affirmation of Southern Baptists and for affirmation by Southern Baptists of the convictions that shape us, and I think this is a moment of generational transition in the SBC where we’re in a season of enormous cultural challenge and I think Southern Baptists need to think and talk very openly and honestly about these issues, and to do so in the right spirit. So, I would consider that to be success if I could help to facilitate those conversations and help Southern Baptists move forward.

TEXAN: What other challenges or opportunities do you see facing the convention today?

Mohler: We’re looking at an unprecedented cultural challenge to the SBC. The SBC is accustomed, as a fellowship of churches, to being rather at the center of our own culture. And candidly, we are now in a situation in which all of the major cultural forces now present a significant challenge to us. Southern Baptists face challenges to our faithfulness that no previous generation has had to consider. When you just take into account the moral revolution pressing so many issues on us, there is a great need for Southern Baptists to have a united front and a united heart, but there are challenges to that unity. There are issues that have arisen over the course of the last several years that have probably sown seeds of unnecessary disunity, in one sense because Southern Baptists evidently have forgotten how to talk to one another and even how to discuss issues. So, I’m just hopeful that Southern Baptists are up to this kind of conversation. And what I hear from Southern Baptist pastors and denominational leaders and lay people is that they want this kind of conversation, and that they don’t want it to take place on Twitter. They want it to take place face to face.

TEXAN: Could you give an example of what you see are some of the greatest opportunities facing the convention?

Mohler: I think of the generational transition that Southern Baptists are now experiencing as itself a great opportunity. Let me give you the best news I can think of about that transition. Virtually every other denomination has had an effective loss of biblical fidelity in the current generation of young adults. The statistics, denomination by denomination, are catastrophic. Here’s the great good news: we have six seminaries populated by some of the most conservative, convictional and gospel-minded young pastors and preachers you could imagine. We have a rising generation just as committed to the Great Commission as their forefathers and foremothers, and in one sense even more so, given the opposition they will face. I just want to tell Southern Baptists, look, we have one shot at this generational transition and we’re starting out with an enormous blessing when you look at the generation of pastors now serving the SBC.

TEXAN: You mentioned unnecessary disagreement on Twitter. In the face of these and other serious disagreements, how do you plan to lead us as a convention toward unity?

Mohler: Well, I do think Southern Baptists are far more united than divided right now. I don’t think we’re suffering a crisis of disunity. But, there are issues that clearly have come up again and again on the floor of the SBC. All you have to do is listen to the denomination conversation after our meeting in Birmingham to know there are some real issues that Southern Baptists want to talk about. And look, just to be candid, the only reason we’re able to have this conversation is because Southern Baptists experienced a great theological reformation in the period of the late 70s, the 1980s and the 90s and beyond. We are the inheritors of that reformation. And we dare not lose it. When you look at every other denomination that has been in precipitous decline, generally accompanied by theological apostasy, we just need to be really thankful for what unites Southern Baptists. And I don’t have a doubt about that, by the way. I don’t doubt that if these major issues were to come up on the floor of the SBC that the Southern Baptist Convention would be enormously united, on the integrity of the gospel, on the inerrancy of Scripture, on the exclusivity of the gospel of Christ, you go down the list—that’s unprecedented in any major American denomination. And not only am I unspeakably thankful for that, I’m determined to perpetuate that. 

TEXAN: Why you? Why should Southern Baptists select you in 2020 at the Convention? 

Mohler: The folks who have come to me over the course of the last several years and asked me to do this, and in the last several months more pointedly, have convinced me to do it because they have been looking for someone they know who loves the Southern Baptist Convention and is committed to it with a lifelong commitment, someone who has lived through the last several decades of Southern Baptist life and knows what must not be lost, and someone who loves Southern Baptists at every level and will give Southern Baptists and the state conventions and our denominational entities encouragement. And I mean convictional encouragement and encouragement for leadership and understanding of how the SBC works. I will simply say that I don’t have anything to stand on but three decades of service to the Southern Baptist Convention and people by now have pretty much figured out who I am.

TEXAN: We’re meeting in the same city, 20 years after the BF&M 2000 was adopted. Is the current version of the Baptist Faith & Message sufficient for the challenges facing the convention today?

Mohler: I’m an enthusiastic proponent of the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith & Message and I would not encourage the revision of that confession at this time. I think what you see in the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message is a very powerful statement of Southern Baptist conviction. My job is to be a theologian, and as a theologian and as a confessionalist I’m very worried about revisiting the confession too often. That just does not represent theological health. I’m not saying that Southern Baptists should never revisit the Baptist Faith & Message, but there will be the temptation on the part of some to revisit it at every meeting of the convention, and that’s not how a confession of faith operates. Theological health is having an ongoing conversation about Southern Baptist convictions, but I think right now—and here’s another piece of really good news—the Baptist Faith & Message really does represent what Southern Baptists believe, what is taught in our seminaries, and what is affirmed by our state conventions. And when you consider the denominational landscape around us, that’s just incredibly good news. 

TEXAN: Highlighting the areas in which we are unified and agree—is that going to be a major theme as you lead us as president?

Mohler: Well, if the Lord gives me that opportunity, I think that’s the most important thing I can do. The Southern Baptist denomination is not a hierarchical denomination. The president of the SBC doesn’t have much control, but he does have some influence, and I hope to use that influence to help Southern Baptists to move into this new decade with convictions intact, with Great Commission passion, enthusiastic, and with honest hope. And honest hope means it’s not a hope based on avoiding some hard conversations, but actually having those hard conversations. And I’ve been at this for a very long time—I know Southern Baptists are capable of having real conversations, but we have made it very difficult to do so in our current denominational climate. 

In the first sense, we’ve cut our meeting time down so that there’s very little time for either formal or informal conversation at Southern Baptist meetings. And I know this was all done in the name of efficiency, but it’s kind of like a family reunion right now where everyone flies in, has a meal, and leaves without talking to one another. We need to have those conversations, so I’m concerned about the fact that we’ve lost the formal conversations that we used to have, but also the informal conversations. We just have lost a lot of the connective tissue in the SBC where state convention executives and pastors and Southern Baptist leaders and lay people were together even just to have a meal and to have a coffee after a meeting. The SBC is built on relationships, and we have weakened that tissue of relationships. That’s not healthy.

The second thing is the rise of social media means that some people are trying to have ongoing conversation and debate 280 characters at a time. No denomination, in fact no church, of course, could exist trying to move its conversation onto the combat of Twitter. Now, that’s not say that real issues do not arise there and it’s not to say that nothing good could be said there, but it is to say Twitter is a very bad place to go to the Southern Baptist Convention. You actually need to go to the convention. We need Southern Baptists to be actively involved.

TEXAN: What are some of the serious issues that you believe we should learn to talk more healthily about?

Mohler: The good news is those issues [of the Conservative Resurgence]—such as the inerrancy of Scripture at the very center of that debate—they’re not up for question in the SBC, nor, I think, is a basic commitment to complementarianism. But there are new issues that have arisen in relationship to the appropriate roles for men and women in the church and in the Christian life that really were not a part of the picture even in 2000 when the Baptist Faith & Message was revised. They really weren’t very much a part of the picture when the Danvers Statement was adopted. So, I don’t fear those conversations. I don’t worry that Southern Baptists are tempted to go liberal on these issues, but I do think Southern Baptists have a basic commitment to complementarianism and are going to need to figure out what constitutes an adequate basis for our cooperation. There’s something going on in the SBC right now, or at least in some public conversation about the SBC, and that’s the assumption that the Southern Baptist Convention is to take a position on every theological question. That is not, and never has been, true. The Southern Baptist Convention is not a monolithic denomination. It’s got different traditions, it’s got churches with different worship styles, and it has from the beginning. And so what the Baptist Faith & Message has represented is an adequate basis of our theological cooperation. We are, as a denomination, centered in those common beliefs, but the SBC has never been monochromatic.

TEXAN: Some seem inclined to divide the SBC over issues about which the BF&M 2000 would indicate no need for division. Can we move on without settling such issues?

Mohler: I do not believe that health and integrity is ever found in avoiding a conversation. So, I am quite convinced that Southern Baptists are up to having a good, honest conversation about any of the issues that might be brought forward. And, we should not see the fact that those issues are brought forward as a threat or as an assault upon the SBC. But, at the same time, Southern Baptists don’t have a position on any number of issues that some people would like the denomination to speak to. There, I just count on the great wisdom and the conviction of grassroots Southern Baptists. 

TEXAN: Specifically, Critical Race Theory and women preaching have become flash points in some quarters. Are these among the serious conversations you envision?  

Mohler: I have spoken to these issues as clearly as I know how and Southern Baptists know exactly how to find out what I think about anything because you can Google and for good or ill find what I have said and thought about anything, and I certainly hope for good. My life has been committed to trying to help the Southern Baptist Convention and to serve the SBC in this way. So, just to take that one issue [women preaching in SBC churches]: I do not believe that the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are open to having a woman to preach in the worship service, and I do not believe that they are wrong. I believe that’s an appropriate and right reading of Scripture. I believe that’s an instinct and an intuition that’s driven deeply into the Southern Baptist Convention by conviction. It’s not, however, an issue to which the Baptist Faith & Message directly speaks. Now this is complicated, because I would argue that when the Baptist Faith & Message says “pastor,” it means both office and function. But there are Southern Baptists who argue that it means office and not function. I think Southern Baptists should not be reluctant to have this conversation. I don’t worry that Southern Baptists are going to fracture over this question. I think that there will be some Southern Baptists who will hold a position different than my own, and I do not sense that the Southern Baptist Convention has the will to define these issues differently or beyond what is in the Baptist Faith & Message.

TEXAN: What will be your guiding criteria when you make appointments to the Committee on Committees?

Mohler: I would pledge to make appointments by the very same criteria used by faithful Southern Baptist Convention presidents ever since the election of Adrian Rogers in 1979. I will seek to find the most judicious Southern Baptists and responsible Southern Baptists to fulfill that responsibility and I will do so, I can pledge to you, in a way that Southern Baptists will feel confident when they would see such a list.

TEXAN: Imagine a small town church in East Texas running about 50 people on an average Sunday morning. What’s your case for why a church like that should be a part of the SBC?

Mohler: Well, from my heart, that’s the easiest case to make. Cooperating with Southern Baptists is the way a church like that can reach to Zimbabwe and Zaire and Miami and San Francisco and, for that matter, within their own association and their neighboring associations, with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every single church in the Southern Baptist Convention, by the miracle of the Cooperative Program and our cooperative work, is at work right now for the gospel of Christ, taking the gospel to the nations. And no one of our churches, no matter how large, can do that alone. But we’re able to do that together. And, that church can have the assurance that the missionaries being sent by our International Mission Board are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the sufficiency of Scripture. And they can be assured that when they are training missionaries through six seminaries, they know what’s being taught at those seminaries and that it’s consistent with the Baptist Faith & Message. They know that when the North American Mission Board is planting churches, it’s doing so on behalf of not only that church in East Texas, but almost 40,000 other Southern Baptist churches. Making the case for the Southern Baptist Convention or for our state conventions is just about the easiest case I know how to make.

TEXAN: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Mohler: I think this is an issue of importance, too, when you consider the sex abuse crisis and the issues that confront the SBC. I just want to say that that crisis is real and is going to call out the very best of Southern Baptist conviction and compassion and honesty, and that Southern Baptists are going to have to figure out, as the world is watching, how we’re going to respond to this challenge in ways that befit the gospel of Jesus Christ, what we know the Bible to teach about the protection of the vulnerable, what we know the Scriptures to teach about the integrity of ministry, and what we believe about Baptist polity. If resolving these issues were easy it would have been done long ago. But, under the leadership of President J.D. Greear, the Southern Baptist Convention has begun the process of responding to these issues, and this is going to take a lot of work by the Executive Committee, and a lot of investment by Southern Baptists. But we have one opportunity to show the world, based upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, how this denomination will respond to this challenge. 

Editor’s Note: On Jan. 14, a group of pastors announced their intention to nominate Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, as SBC president. The TEXAN will include coverage of Adams’ nomination in a future issue of the paper.

Developing a culture of evangelism

Just a few miles south of Fairbanks, Alaska, is the town of North Pole, Alaska—not the North Pole—the town of North Pole. There, on St. Nicholas Drive, you will find the Santa Claus House. Picture a Christmas superstore where everything on sale in the huge facility is about Christmas. Millions of tourists from around the world, and even local residents, have visited the Santa Claus House to purchase ornaments and Christmas decor of every conceivable kind.

Would you like to see 5,000 years of art ranging from Egyptian statues and a pharaoh’s sarcophagus to paintings by the Dutch Masters? If so, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. One of the largest art museums in the world, the Met boasts a main building of more than two million square feet, located on some of the most expensive real estate in the country, devoted exclusively to thousands of years of the world’s most famous art.  

What does the Santa Claus House have in common with the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Not much really, except for one obvious thing—they both intentionally create culture. Once you enter either place, you are immediately aware of their particular focus. Can our churches be as intentional about creating culture as the Santa Claus House or the Met? 

We can all be more effective in evangelism if we decide to intentionally develop an evangelistic culture in our churches. How can that be done? There are many ways to create culture. Here are a few: 

First, evangelism is a spiritual battle; therefore we must pray! We can never hope to find the favor of God if we attempt to separate the supernatural element out of evangelism. Evangelism is, after all, more than a series of well-reasoned propositions punctuated with understandable illustrations. Those things are certainly important; but, ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can convict and transform a soul. Prayer connects us to the spiritual power source necessary to save the lost. That’s why Paul, as he pushed farther west to evangelize unreached people, urged the Romans “to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (Romans 15:30). 

The ministries of evangelistic intercession may take on a variety of expressions. For
instance, a pastor friend of mine has built an impressive prayer room in his church where intercessors gather regularly for hours every week to pray. One entire wall is a nearly floor-to-ceiling blackboard where names of lost family members and coworkers are written with fluorescent chalk in bright colors. Those names are the central focus of hundreds of man-hours of prayer every month. One by one, as those prodigals come home and the lost come to Christ, they are individually invited into the prayer room to erase their own names from the prayer board! Prayer is essential to creating a powerful evangelistic culture.

Next, evangelism is a discipline and requires action; therefore, set the example by doing it. We’ve frequently heard that evangelism is more “caught than taught,” and I believe it. If the pastor and staff don’t set the example, the people are unlikely to lead themselves. A simple principle for pastors to consider, related to leading an evangelistic church, is this: “If we don’t—they won’t.” In other words, pastors and staff must lead by example when it comes to sharing Jesus if we expect the people of our churches to do the same. That’s one reason why I encourage pastors and staff to attend the Empower Conference at the Irving Convention Center, Feb. 24-25. Pastors need motivation, encouragement and the tools to lead the way. Our SBTC Empower Conference provides all of that and more. 

Finally, evangelism is for every believer, so train the people! To be most effective, churches should offer multiple training opportunities every year. In addition to the frequency of your training, don’t be afraid to mix it up a little. Train the people in different methods, because people are different. Give them options. The message of the gospel remains the same, but the delivery system should be flexible, just as the settings where we present the gospel are frequently unpredictable and always unique.  

Evangelism training is actually a leading indicator of how effective a church will be in reaching people. In 2016 the North American Mission Board analyzed evangelism practices in the SBC and found a direct link between evangelistic effectiveness and training. For example, in the Georgia Baptist Convention only 23 percent of churches offered evangelistic training, but among the most highly effective evangelistic churches, an astounding 87 percent of them provided personal evangelistic training. The evidence is undeniable. Evangelistic culture is created, in part, through training. An effective schedule of training helps fulfill Ephesians 4:11 where Paul encourages us “… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

Creating culture doesn’t happen overnight or by accident. These suggestions are clearly not exhaustive and much more can be said, but churches can create a culture where evangelistic passion permeates the church. When evangelistic culture gains traction in a church, we should expect more people to be saved as a result of that church’s ministry. So let’s pray; let’s train; and let’s go! 

While tensions with Iran boil, IMB field leader sees “prime” gospel opportunities

As hostilities escalate yet again in the Middle East, Christians must ask themselves how such events affect missions in high-risk areas. For Southern Baptists in particular, whose cooperative work is centered on getting the gospel to all people in all nations, these are delicate and important questions. Regardless of the headlines, the gospel remains at the center of missions.

And in the face of troubling news from places like Iran and Iraq, IMB mission field leader Don Allen* says that “God is still at work, and he is evidencing more work today than I have seen in the last three decades.”

“Don’t believe all the news,” says Allen, who has worked with teams in the Middle East region for several years guiding day-to-day operations. “God is at work in ways you cannot comprehend or see, and we hold on to that.”

According to Allen, God has a plan to reach Iranians and Iraqis. “He’s not going to let anyone thwart his plan,” he says. “Even in times of great upheaval, God is at work.”

Times of Great Upheaval

The nature of the current conflict is old and complicated, and it is affected by a variety of factors: multiple countries with overlapping and historical relationships; competing sects of Islam with different interpretations and understandings of the Quran; intersecting alliances with foreign governments; and an extensive history of violent extremism, radical uprisings and armed rebellions.

Recent headlines regarding relations between the United States and Iran, as well as with its neighbor Iraq, stem from a series of events beginning in late December when an American contractor was killed on an Iraqi military base. The U.S. retaliated against the aggressors, a Shia militia group backed by the Iranian government, with airstrikes at facilities in both Syria and Iraq. Thousands of Iranian-backed Iraqis gathered at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve to protest the U.S. retaliatory strikes, which many feared would pin Iraq between its North American ally and its neighbor to the east.

Three days later on Jan. 3, President Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Iranian leader Qasem Soleimani, who had headed a branch of the Iranian military known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. According to the Pentagon, Soleimani was in the middle of planning an imminent attack against the U.S.

Soleimani’s death sparked outrage from Iranian leaders, who announced the country’s intent to withdraw from its commitments to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In retaliation, Iran fired missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops. The rising tension sparked fear that open conflict might erupt between the U.S. and Iran, but in a Jan. 8 address to the nation, President Trump said Iran “appears to be standing down.”

Tensions, however, remain high. And while much is unclear regarding the future of the region, one thing is certain: this is a place filled with people who are desperately in need of the hope that only the gospel can bring.

‘We have a God better than scary’

When Jesus commanded his followers to go into all nations, making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey his commandments, he gave no caveats regarding personal safety. For thousands of years Christians have heeded the call to obey, sometimes being persecuted in their homeland for their beliefs, and other times being persecuted for entering areas where their safety was at risk.

Allen describes an unrest tracing back to the Arab Spring uprisings that began nearly a decade ago as something that, surprisingly, has created greater opportunities for the spread of the gospel.

“As far as the greater scheme of what God is doing, the shaking of the whole Middle East region has not really stopped since 2011 when the Arab Spring broke out, and what we see is a continual shaking. What it’s doing at a personal level with Arabs across the region is that it’s causing them to question and seek hope where there’s not been hope offered before, to seek peace that the world can’t offer,” Allen said. “And of course you know this is the message of Jesus Christ, hope and peace and love.

“I think they look at the wars being fought—many of them Muslim on Muslim violence—and it really raises deep existential questions about who we are and what do we believe, and that’s prime area for the gospel to move forward across the region.”

Muslims in the region are desperate for hope, Allen said. Many report having dreams or visions of Jesus—often clad in white—which cause them to seek out a believer or begin reading Scripture.

“We have regular stories of men and women who have dreams that stir their interest, that pique their desire. One lady dreamed she was drowning in a flood and she saw somebody with the gospel who could pull her out of that flood, and she sought her out and asked, ‘What does this mean?’” Allen said. “People have the vision and haven’t heard of Jesus, and when they hear of Jesus say, ‘That’s the man I saw in my dream!’”

According to Allen, Arabs have a greater sense than do Westerners of the spirit world because their religion and culture are so integrated.

“Americans in general, we have a lot of access to the gospel. So much access to the gospel. A lot of these places, there is no gospel access,” he said. “That’s what drives me to do dangerous things, go to dangerous places, because these people need to hear.”

Allen zeroed in on the reason he and others like him do what they do, despite safety risks in such an unstable region where the gospel is often unwelcome.

“The reason we work in these hard places and in high-risk situations is because we firmly believe the hope is the gospel of Jesus Christ, that seeing people come to faith is the peace they need. When we look at countries like these, having massive protests across the country against the regime, when we look at those kinds of protests, it’s made up not just of hundreds of thousands or millions of people, it’s made up of individuals, and each one has a name,” Allen said. “And each one has been called by God to follow him.

“The real question is, do they know who they’re being called by? Are we being faithful to share this good news with each individual so they can hear this great, good news for themselves?”

And while the call to go and share is undeniable, Allen shared that he often encounters believers with a desire for safety that seems to be based more on fear than obedience.

“The first question I’m often asked is, ‘Is it safe?’ It’s not a bad question, but the better question is, ‘What is God telling us to do?’” Allen said. “I’ve got children, and it’s really easy to want what is safe for them. A friend of mine, Nik Ripken, who works with a lot of persecuted believers, talks about our Heavenly Father being a sending father. Could that be the model that we as parents and grandparents should model, to be the sending ones, which is just as important as going?

“It’s hard, but when we’re caught up in the reality that Jesus is worth it all, that everything I have is worthy of him—Revelation’s vision of tens of thousands of people putting everything they have before him and saying, ‘Worthy is the Lamb’—then it really becomes secondary what I feel, because he is worthy. He is going to do better with my child, my grandchild, than I can ever dream or think of.

“We must ask God what is our part in this series of events that is unfolding. Is it to pray? To give? To go? I’ve been really impressed with this newer generation that are willing to go to some of the hardest places on the planet to engage in lostness. We need more like that. We need grandparents and parents to release some of their children to go.

“As we think about responding to these kind of things, the temptation is to batten down the hatches and close the doors and stay at home, when in reality the only answer is if we open the doors wide and say, we will go and compel them to come to the gospel. We will go and share with them until my last dying breath.

“This is an exciting time to engage in the Middle East. A scary time, yeah, but we have a God better than scary.”

*Name changed

The gospel above all

The theme for the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando has been announced, and for the first time ever the theme will be a repeat from the previous year. “The Gospel Above All” is worthy of a second year. Actually, this should be our continual focus.

The SBTC Empower Conference is Feb. 24 and 25 in the Irving Convention Center. It is the largest state convention gathering for evangelism in the SBC. Great worship music, anointed preaching, training workshops and fellowship meals are all on the schedule. It is a highlight of the year for church staff and laypersons. This event should be the catalyst to propel us into another year of sharing the gospel.

“Who’s Your One?” was successful in 2019. The challenge was to find one person you would pray for and witness to. Many stories were told about people coming to know Jesus. People will respond if we will tell them about our Lord and Savior. It is just a tool, but it works. We have to work to make it work. Stay focused on the gospel.

The apostle Paul told the Corinthians the gospel was about Jesus’ death according to the Scriptures, his burial and his resurrection according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4). Through repentance and faith a person receive eternal life that is in Christ. It takes place at a moment in time, then lasts forever.

Recently, some important topics have surfaced that needed our attention as a group of churches. We have formed task forces, appointed committees and passed resolutions. Some of these topics have been described as “gospel issues.” The gospel is about the transforming power of God to move a person for death to life. While we have moral and biblical matters that relate to the gospel we must remember that it is The Gospel Above All.

The political and cultural climate clamors for us to trade the best for the good. While we are to be involved, informed citizens we are to remember it is The Gospel Above All. Let us never surrender biblical convictions. In doing so, may we always remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). 

There are 29 million people in Texas, and some say there are 19 million Texans without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. There are over 3,000 people groups and 4-5 billion people in the world who are lost without our Savior. We need to be engaged on many levels, but there is one place imperative for us to focus: The Gospel Above All.

We need each other. We need a confessional fellowship of churches. We need a fresh breath from the Spirit of God. Join me at the Irving Convention Center to be encouraged, challenged and equipped to live a life that puts The Gospel Above All.   

Good News People

“Is there any good news?” a pastor once asked me. I was taken aback for a minute. “I don’t know of a church or a family that’s really doing great. Do you?” he continued. I did know some good news, as it turned out, but I was struck by his earnest hunger for something that wasn’t depressing. We all know some good news, but there are times we’re not thinking of it because our personal situation seems unbearable. And sometimes it is unbearable. The stories we see in the news today of cruel parents, loutish husbands, violent dictators and just plain local meanness often drag us down. Our near-instantaneous access to news of every sorrowful event in every place makes tragedy seem more imminent and common than it may be. 

I’ve seen TV stations try featuring one “good news” or “happy news” story during a broadcast. The result often looks like a slow news day with a camera crew showing us a policeman playing street ball with some kids or a new baby giraffe at the local zoo. Of course, they’re trying to make their newscast less overwhelmingly negative, but it looks to me like they’re whistling past the graveyard.

It’s a little different for believers. We know things don’t always go well, but we are convinced we have some answers. When we hear about the threat of war in the Middle East we know it’s serious, but instead of clucking our tongues or despairing we pray for those making decisions and those who will be at the pointy end of diplomacy. We see to missionary workers in that part of the world, grateful to have the resources and the plans to keep them out of harm’s way. We think of chaplains and pastors in military towns who will be offering real help to those who might deploy and the families they leave behind. Those are good news responses, gospel responses. 

Disaster relief has been the easiest good news story to track. No one rejoices when a hurricane or wildfire or tornado ravages a community, but neither do God’s people stand idly by, watching our neighbors suffer. The first thought of local churches is, “How can we help?” 

We see again and again churches housing people and feeding people and sharing the good news of salvation in Jesus. As this response begins, our brothers and sisters across the state, and across the country in many cases, are packing their gear in preparation to show up and help. The result is encouraging rather than discouraging; it is hope rather than despair; it is very often life-changing for those who earlier considered themselves victims.

People who staff children’s homes are good news people. Their work has to be difficult and discouraging at times. They deal with families at their neediest, children at their most vulnerable. If you’ve heard the stories of children removed from their homes by police or abandoned by their parents, you know the daily work of our child placement agencies. But what drives them? What gives them joy? What stories do they most enjoy telling? 

What I hear are stories of kids who are no longer homeless, or kids who have found a “forever home” with a family that loves them. These folks get excited when they tell of a kid or a parent who has believed in Christ. They know what darkness looks like, but they know that the darkness does not overwhelm the light. 

Some of my favorite good news people are volunteer staffers at pregnancy resource centers. They see tragic situations as well. While it is disheartening to hear the situations of young women who have been abused, deceived and neglected, they also see some of those women redeemed and joyful. They get to see families and grown children come out of impending tragedy. Their willingness to enter dreadful situations with love and hope bears fruit as God gives the increase. 

Pastors and church people are good news folk. We join together each week because our Lord was dead and is no longer dead. Our commission is to love our neighbors in ways that have eternal consequences. Our churches feed the hungry, clothe the naked and comfort the afflicted because we know that our neighbors are eternal souls, beloved of our God. That is an optimistic view of the world: that this present darkness will give way to eternal life for all who believe. That’s why we give our neighbors the good news of the gospel along with the temporal aid we provide. 

As I said, we know that bad things happen. We see the news like everyone else. We grieve at gravesides and in hospital waiting rooms. But we know that this is not the whole story, the last word. Our message is not that everything is rosy—far from that. Our message is that there is hope in this life and of the next life. 

Being good news people is quite apart from wealth and circumstances, though we share our wealth in awareness of circumstances. Those who see only external things—and we are often tempted to see things this way—are prone to despair in the midst of grievous events. But even when we grieve, we grieve as those who live in the hope of eternal life. That’s the good news that drives us.    

“Dub” Jackson, partnership missions “pioneer,” SWBTS distinguished alumnus, dies at 95

William “Dub” Henry Jackson Jr., the “pioneer” of partnership missions that would result in one-half million professions of faith in Christ, died on Jan. 19 in Fort Worth after an extended illness. He was 95 years old.

The 1998 distinguished alumnus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary began his life on the school’s campus, where he was born in 1924 while his father was a student, and his last years were spent on Seminary Hill, where he lived investing his passion for missions in students.

A World War II P-38 fighter pilot who saw combat in the Pacific, Jackson would later go on to become a missionary to the Japanese people he once fought and develop a new strategy of missions work – partnership missions, in which lay people were encouraged to become short-term missionaries themselves, rather than only those called to full-time missions.

Southwestern Seminary leaders offered praise of Jackson as news broke that the longtime “Southwesterner” had passed away.

“Dub Jackson was one of God’s choice servants who was mightily used to bring the hope of the gospel not only to his beloved Japan and across Asia, but literally around the world through his work,” said President Adam Greenway.

Mike Morris, associate professor of missions and also a former IMB missionary, published an article in the Southwestern Journal of Theology in 2014 noting Jackson’s pioneering missions work.

 

“Dub’s most amazing and effective partnership campaign was in April 1963 in which 549 Americans went to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Singapore at the nationals’ invitation, and they witnessed more than 45,000 people praying to receive the Lord during the six weeks of the campaign. About 25,000 of them were Japanese,” Morris wrote in the fall 2014 issue of the journal. “Through partnership missions as an FMB [Foreign Mission Board] missionary and as leader of World Evangelism Foundation, Dub led one hundred nationwide campaigns in more than fifty countries with more than 500,000 people praying to receive the Lord.”

Former Southern Baptist Convention president Jimmy Draper, reflecting on the 1963 Texas Baptist Evangelism Conference in which Jackson made the appeal for the Japan New Life Crusade, said he “electrified those who attended. I still tingle just thinking about that night and his remarkable challenge.” For many years, Draper served as board chairman of the World Evangelism Foundation, founded by Jackson after leaving the then Foreign Mission Board, which initially resisted the partnership missions strategy.

Noting the International Mission Board later embraced partnership missions, Draper added, “I often contemplate what our convention would be like if Dub Jackson had not been God’s chosen vessel to arouse the conscience and compassion of Southern Baptists to the strategic importance of partnership missions.”

In a November 2015 interview with Dub and Doris (who would die less than a month later) the Jacksons reflected on their life of missionary service. The interview was conducted by Keith Eitel, former dean of the Fish School, and is available in the W.H. Dub Jackson Digital Materials Collection in the seminary’s digital archives.

Jackson compared his time in the military to his missions work, saying in each “you have to be ready to go all out. There’s no partial commitment to missions. There’s no partial commitment to combat. You’re either for it or you’re not. You either go all out or you don’t.”

At the end of the war, Jackson was stationed in Japan during the U.S. occupation, where his firsthand observation of the destitute people turned his heart toward reaching them for Christ, although he initially opposed the idea of being a missionary to Japan.

“We were fresh from the jungles, where we were trained to destroy. And I don’t know specifically how the Lord did it, but he sure changed my feeling” toward the Japanese people, Jackson said. Reflecting on an experience with the impoverished people in Tokyo, he recalled during his time in college and seminary the “Lord kept in my mind … to get me back to Japan.”

After the war, Jackson completed his undergraduate degree at Hardin-Simmons University and seminary at Southwestern, during which time he led his first mission trip to Japan while a student in 1950, which saw some 2,200 Japanese became Christians.

That student mission trip was the beginning of what would become known as partnership missions.

“If we can do that, so could somebody else,” Jackson said. “So, we started asking other people to go, telling them what God had done [during the mission trip to Japan]. … And that motivated other people to go, and we didn’t have trouble in those days getting people to go. The Lord impressed them that it was urgent.”

Reflecting on the single greatest lesson God taught him in ministry, Jackson said in the 2015 interview with Eitel, “There’s no place God cannot give the victory. Don’t ever feel like you’ve hit a dead-end wall. God is able to give victory anywhere, anytime we look to him and ask.”

Jackson’s comments late in life are reminiscent of something he said in a 1954 letter written from Sapporo, Japan, after two years on the field as a missionary.

“[W]e would not choose this pulpit because it could approach any of the good ole Texas Baptist churches, for it cannot as yet do that, but the place where God would have us serve has everything in its favor, if he is there and we will follow. That is our desire.”

Jackson was preceded in death by Doris, his wife of 68 years; his son, William H. (Bill) Jackson III; grandson Jered Jackson; sister May Bond; and brother-in-law, Colonel Vic Lipsesy. He is survived by his children, Shirley and Randy Roberts, Lynda and Mike Hughes, David and Darlyne Jackson, and Juanita and Steve Hayden; and daughter-in-law Susan Jackson; sister Annette Lipsey; 15 grandchildren; and 18 great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be held Thursday, Jan. 23, 6-8 p.m. at Laurel Land Funeral Home, 7100 Crowley Road in Fort Worth. The committal service will be held Friday, Jan. 24, at 9:15 a.m. at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. The memorial service will be held Jan. 24 at 11:30 a.m. at Laurel Land, with a reception to follow.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Dub and Doris Scholarship Fund at Southwestern Seminary.