Month: September 2022

Pastor and wife lead Colombian couple to Christ on SBTC trip to Israel

JERUSALEM—Travel to Israel had long been a desire of Juan Munoz, longtime pastor of Arlington’s Iglesia Bautista Cristo es el Camino, and his wife of 44 years, Nina.

Calling the opportunity to go on the SBTC-sponsored Holy Land trip for pastors and wives in July a “privilege,” Munoz said, “It was a dream that my wife and I had. It finally came true.” The couple cried and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, among many moving experiences.

Little did they know that the Lord had also prepared gospel encounters for them in the land of Jesus. For example, outside a Byzantine church in Bethlehem visited by the SBTC group, a Palestinian man approached Munoz, asking the pastor to pray for him after striking up a conversation.

Munoz also had the chance to share the gospel directly in an unexpected place: the lobby of the Lady Stern hotel, where the group stayed in Jerusalem.

A divine appointment

Relaxing with his laptop in the hotel’s plush sitting area on Saturday, July 16, after dinner, the Munozes were joined in the lobby by Jesse Rodriguez, of Murphy Church. Rodriguez planned to help Pastor Munoz with a computer issue.

As he sat, Munoz noticed a younger Latina sitting nearby and offered a friendly, “Hola.”

“Hola,” she replied with a smile. The Munozes learned the woman’s name was Paola, that she was from Colombia, and was visiting Israel with her husband, Fernando, who soon joined the group.

Paola and Fernando said that they had come to know the land of Jesus Christ, Munoz said.

“It’s great that you came to know Jesus’ land,” Munoz said in response, “but can I talk to you a little bit about Jesus?”

The couple listened eagerly as Munoz explained about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus did all of this for us because He loves us. He loves you so much,” he continued.

When he asked the couple if they would like to trust Christ as their Savior, they both said yes and prayed to receive Him.

“Let me tell you the great news,” Pastor Munoz said. “You came to know even more about the land of Jesus Christ. But now you not only know the land of Jesus, you know him as your Savior,” assuring the couple that they now had eternal life.

“They were excited and wanted to know more,” Munoz said. The two couples exchanged contact information.

A last chance

Then Munoz asked the couple how he could pray for their needs.

Paola admitted to loneliness and fear of abandonment.

“God will never abandon you,” Munoz counseled. “He will live with you all the time. You are not going to feel lonely.” Paola started to cry, and Nina hugged her. Soon tears filled everyone’s eyes.

Fernando spoke next. The couple had also come to Israel in a “last chance” effort to save their faltering 14-year marriage.

“We decided to come to Israel to see if God could do something for us,” he admitted.

“Now you have Jesus with you. This world is an infernal world. It is bad. The only way that we are going to be able to survive these attacks of the enemy … Satan … is by getting close to God. This is what you guys did today,” Munoz said, referencing Ephesians 6 as a guide for believers.

“Now you have someone to defend you. You have Jesus on your side. Trust Him and never give up,” the pastor continued, advising, “Don’t even mention divorce. Don’t even mention each other’s faults. Focus on the good things.”

He prayed for the couple and asked God to heal and bless their marriage. He suggested that they ask each other for forgiveness, which they did, amid more tears.

A saved marriage

“Hola, mis amigos,” Paola exclaimed when Juan and Nina came down for breakfast the next morning. Fernando rose from the table and gave them a hug.

“How’s everything? How do you feel?” Munoz asked the smiling couple, who thanked him again for what he had told them the night before.

Soon the two Colombians left with their tour guide for Jordan while the Munozes joined the SBTC group for the day’s activities. An apparently “chance” encounter had reaped eternal benefits.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Pastor Munoz has been in contact with the couple, who have assured him that they are doing well and even intend to visit Texas one day soon. He has sent them encouraging messages and texts.

“I just praise God for the opportunity,” Munoz said. “We did enter their lives and they had a tremendous need. It was orchestrated by God.”


Weather is a reminder of God’s sovereignty

It’s hot!

Of course it is. In fact, if you read this any time before October, you’re rolling your eyes at the tired observation. Here’s another: pretty soon it will be cold, and you will be shuffling to your car wishing you’d brought a heavier jacket. Weather folks will search intently for some way in which this day is extraordinary for a blustery October day, just as they did for 30 August days in a row; it’s a job and it is remarkably interesting to nearly all of us. When I talk to my mom or dad, we invariably talk about recent rainfall or temperature trends, and cluck our tongues about how the weather has disappointed us in some way. It’s cliched; it’s nearly unavoidable; and it’s a form of street theology.

I had this thought as my Sunday School class went through Elijah’s drought in 1 Kings a few weeks back. Why do you suppose God chose a drought to discipline the nation instead of the Syrians or some other tool? I think maybe it’s the same reason that I look at the Weather Channel app on my phone nearly the first thing every day—the weather affects a lot that happens every day. In an arid place like Israel, the land is always pretty close to being too dry to farm. How many months passed in Israel until the idle chatter about rain turned to panic and despair when the sky closed up? The conversations almost certainly became, “Why is this happening?” within a short time. By the time a year or two had passed with no harvest, people were starving.

If God meant to direct the attention of an evil king to Himself, it worked. We know Ahab was beating the scorched bushes looking for Elijah. Ahab believed the drought was sent by God and he believed that Elijah was God’s prophet. But Ahab didn’t fear God. That combination of belief and disregard only increased the judgment on the faithless king, but God was revealed as holy and just in judgment.

I’ve never seen a three-year span with no rain at all, but I’ve seen long droughts. These multi-year dry spells that put farmers and ranchers out of business put a strong feeling of unease on even city dwellers. Each morning, we’d look at the weather and then glance at the sky in hopes our app was mistaken. A recent drought had churches across the Southwest praying fervently for rain.

"But God reminds us that our lives are in his hand every time we look at the weather forecast. We see it when the forecast is wrong, and we see it when the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike."

That’s what I mean by street theology—an everyday way that we think about God and even understand Him a little better. What God’s expressed judgment of Israel in 1 Kings had in common with our own hot 2022 summer is that God is completely sovereign over the sun and the wind and the rain. Absolutely, and even in our sophisticated day 3,000 years after Elijah. Sometimes it grates on us to be powerless because we are proud. At other times it humbles us as we come to the end of ourselves. The former is judgment, and the latter is repentance.

A casual reading of the Elijah story makes me wonder how the people remained “limping between two opinions” three years into a deadly drought. Their disdain for Elijah was in a sense a repudiation of Baal, the “storm god” who couldn’t make it rain (because he didn’t exist). But still, they wouldn’t repent.

We’re that way about so many things. The relentless parade of drug advertising that chokes my television implies that we can altogether avoid the effects of age and bad habits—as though to live forever. I read a statement from a prominent scientist in which he proposed to extend his physical life until our technology reached the point that his consciousness could be uploaded to a digital storage device and live there until we found a way to keep a cyber-physical body alive forever. Until! You might find that rich, but it is only a bit down the road from our apparent hope that we can escape the sting of sin, death.

But God reminds us that our lives are in his hand every time we look at the weather forecast. We see it when the forecast is wrong, and we see it when the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

I’ve always believed that two professions should be especially humble before our Creator—farmers and physicians. These folks share the almost daily experience of being flummoxed or delighted by something beyond their understanding. In my short life, I’ve heard doctors say more than once, “I’m not sure,” or “I’ve not seen this before.” We can map the human gene, and we can alter the genetic characteristics of a grain of corn, but life and rain are beyond our control.

I thank God for those who puzzle over the mysteries of life. They have blessed the world a thousand  times a year. But that’s the point; we should thank God, realizing that all wisdom and weather flow from His hand.

There’s joy in that—for those who fear God.

SBTC DR volunteers encourage, assist Tarrant County flood survivors

FORT WORTH—For East Fort Worth homeowner Olivia and her neighbors, that city went from experiencing one of its driest Augusts ever to suffering one of its wettest.

Severe storms on August 21-22 pummeled Tarrant County, dropping 8.41 inches in Fort Worth and 7.72 inches in Arlington, the second highest total amount of rainfall yet recorded in North Texas over a 24-hour period, the National Weather Service reported.

Olivia, a retired correctional officer and preschool teacher, was among those who were ministered to the week of Labor Day by some 15 Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers. They arrived in the area over the holiday weekend with an SBTC DR recovery unit housed at First Baptist Pflugerville, a shower/laundry unit from the Bi-Stone association in Mexia, and a feeding unit from First Baptist Flint. Feeding and laundry personnel served volunteers, who are staying at the International Baptist Church in Arlington. Chaplains and assessors also accompanied the teams.

Kelsey Melvin, SBTC DR assistant and a volunteer herself, facilitated the use of International, her home church, to house teams. “It’s so good to be a part of it and have my church host,” she said, adding that Tarrant County marked her first weeklong DR deployment in a few years.

While the work is hard, the days long, the heat and humidity challenging, and the post-flood scent of mold lingering, DR volunteers seek opportunities to make spiritual connections with survivors. Divine appointments are part of the mission.

Soggy sheetrock and insulation removal is just part of the job for DR volunteers following a flood. SUBMITTED PHOTO

A countenance turns

The storm had left the normally optimistic Olivia downcast when crews arrived to mud out her flood-damaged den. As they removed damaged sheetrock and sprayed anti-mold treatment, volunteers engaged in friendly conversation with Olivia, Melvin said.

“She was stressed out and morose at first, but by the end, we were laughing and talking like old friends. She walked with us and talked to us the whole time,” Melvin added, noting that the team prayed with Olivia and that volunteer Jean Ducharme of Del Rio gave her a Bible.

Olivia, who described herself as a churchgoer, assured volunteers she would be staying in touch and checking on them.

Challenging times

For another homeowner, a flooded home came on top of several life-changing events. Among these, the young man, co-owner of a townhome in the West Seventh area with his brother, had recently become engaged.

Teams tore out drywall and helped clear the men’s sodden garage. Toward day’s end, Melvin chatted with the newly engaged man, inquiring about his faith background and explaining, “We are here as Christians.”

The homeowner replied that he had grown up in a Christian school but now wanted to “see for himself” about matters of faith. He admitted he was searching.

Melvin gently affirmed his quest, mentioning that, “We never know when we are going to die,” and reminding him of the parable of the prodigal son, who returned home to his father’s welcome and embrace.

“That’s what God would feel for you if you came back to Him,” Melvin said.

“I do need to get it figured out,” the young man agreed. “I do want to find what the truth is. Whatever that is.”

After their tasks were completed, teams prayed with the brothers. Volunteer Jon Sheppard of Houston described a similar search for spiritual truth he had undergone during college, recommended resources from evangelist Josh McDowell, and gave the homeowner his contact information in case he has further questions.

“I hope that’s a step in his journey back to the Lord,” Melvin said. “Those transitional times are often when we are more open to hearing from God.”

Among other jobs, teams also worked on tarping the roof of the recently acquired worship center of Empowerment Life Cathedral, which suffered storm damage to its facilities. The job illustrates another goal of SBTC DR: to assist local churches in recovery so they can minister to their communities.

Incident leader David Dean of Pflugerville confirmed that teams will work in the area through Sept. 9.

This article also contains reporting from the Fort Worth Report.

SBTC DR assistant Kelsey Melvin is seen at work helping tarp the roof of a church. It was Melvin's first weeklong deployment in a few years, and teams are being housed at International Baptist in Arlington, her home church. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Meaningful theology is accessible to everyone

For some in our congregations, theology can seem like an intimidating subject. Many folks view theology as inaccessible—assuming the theological task is reserved for a special few and believing the lie that they are not well-read enough or smart enough to practice meaningful theology. But when we understand that theology is the study of God and all things in relation to God, we recognize it is a journey for everyone.

As we set out on the adventure of contemplating God and all things in relation to him, we will be transformed. Moreover, this transformation should be a transformation into Christlikeness leading to spiritual fruit. To state it plainly, the life of the mind can, and should, lead to the fruit of the Spirit. The result of theology done well should be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).

Here are three biblical reminders to help people in your congregation see theology is a journey for every believer:

Think about these things (Philippians 4:8)

You possess something of immense value—your attention. The world wants it, and it will throw much at you to get it. There are folks whose primary job is to continually maintain and upgrade sophisticated algorithms to guarantee that your attention will stay fixed on your phone. Neil Postman was correct in his incredibly insightful book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” when he warned that we are people in danger of simply becoming an audience. The world is a stage where your gaze and attention are the commodity.

For this reason and countless others, Paul’s conclusion to his letter to the Philippians is just as relevant today as it was in first-century Philippi. Concluding his letter, Paul instructs the saints at Philippi, saying, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

What Paul understood, and what we must understand, is that whatever we give our attention to will form us as people. If our minds stay on the ever-changing and increasingly shallow events of our culture, we will continue to decline in our wisdom and reasonableness as followers of Christ. However, if we let Paul’s command sink into our lives and have the self-control to look up and out of the dizzying array of distractions surrounding us, giving instead a hard, sustained look at that which is good, true, and beautiful, we may be transformed into wise and stable men and women.

Be transformed (Romans 12:2)

Paul’s letter to the Philippians was not the only place where he made clear the connection between our thought lives and our actions. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul writes: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). Renewing our minds has the power to transform us so that we might be wise and able to discern the will of God, finding what is good and perfect.

It is sad that in our day theology often receives the caricature of being obsolete. Some discuss theology as if it is a pastime for those who are out of touch, an irrelevant exercise providing nothing more than intellectual stimulation.

But contemplating God in Christian theology is no mere intellectualism. On the contrary, setting our minds on God and all things in relation to God allows us to gaze at him who is love. In so doing, we will be transformed by the renewal of our minds. A mind full of truth should lead to a heart full of love and hands full of care.

Behold the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18)

In this glorious chapter, Paul contrasts the saints of the old covenant and those of the new. He recalls the scene in which Moses, after seeing the goodness of the Lord in Exodus 33, comes down from Mount Sinai with his face veiled so that he might not startle the other Israelites. Paul says that reading the old covenant is like attempting to look at God through a veil, like Moses. On the contrary, seeing God in the face of Jesus Christ is like seeing God with the veil removed so that we can behold his beauty and splendor uninhibited.

Paul writes, “We all, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

It is easy to miss Paul’s progression here, but it is important for us to see his argument unfold. Working backwards through this verse helps the meaning come forward:

  1. The Holy Spirit ministers to us by giving us,
  2. The grace to move from one degree of glory to another,
  3. Until we are transformed into the same glorious image of Jesus Christ,
  4. Which occurs as we behold his glory.

This passage is brimming with beauty. One of the greatest benefits of Christian theology is simply beholding the glory of God. And one of the most practical things you can do in your life—counter to the idea that theology is an irrelevant ivory-tower pastime—is catch an eyeful of God’s grandeur and grace. This is the vision we can give our congregations. While we should always attempt to work out our theology and ask important questions like “How can I live this truth out today?” we should not forget that there is immense wisdom in simply beholding this great God of ours. When we behold him, we begin to look like him, as we are transformed from one degree of glory to another.

May we have strong minds and gentle spirits that seek to use Christian theology for the glory of God and the good of others. May the task of Christian theology give us even a small taste of heaven on earth as we join in that eternal joy of gazing upon the glory of our Lord. May our theology be the death of the works of the flesh and the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. May the life of the mind lead to the life of the soul in all of us as we spend our days contemplating God and all things in relation to God.

Adapted with permission from an excerpt of Fruitful Theology by Ronni Kurtz. Copyright 2022, B&H Publishing.

Churches should be havens for those struggling with mental health

Earlier this summer, the new national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live. The three-digit, memorable number was designed to efficiently connect people who are suicidal or in a mental health crisis to a trained mental health professional. With calls expected to increase as people learn about the helpline, some call centers say there are limits to what they can accomplish without more local resources.

Suicide is not something we like to talk about. Yet, we must acknowledge that there are times when the circumstances of life threaten to overwhelm—a spouse leaves, a child passes away, a business folds, or a house burns down. We watch people we care about hurt, wander, and undergo immense difficulty. Sometimes their pain can turn into to feelings of hopelessness, depression, or even suicidal ideation.

As part of the family of God, we’re called to walk alongside struggling brothers or sisters to help shoulder the weight of a trial that threatens to pull them under (Phil. 2:3–4). The strength and encouragement of others is often the difference between finding healing or giving up. Galatians 6:2 calls us to bear one another’s burdens and to hurt alongside those who are hurting. Helping our friends, neighbors, and friends carry the weight of their troubles ought to be a priority of every Christian—and could be the answer to the lack of local resources in place to help those who are suffering.

We’re one body, called to help the hurting

When someone experiences tragedy, loss, or other overwhelming circumstances, feelings of hopelessness can arise, sometimes even leading to suicidal thoughts. While a crisis hotline, therapy, and medicine are extremely important, they’re not always sufficient. The best antidotes for hopelessness are a perspective rooted in faith and a community of support, both of which the church can offer to help those burdened by situational depression and suicidal ideation.

A person with suicidal thoughts may feel like there is nowhere left to go and no one who cares whether they live or die. For many people, the church is their last hope. Statistics reveal that 1 in 5 people suffer from some form of mental health issue, and those who love them are also affected by it. Many of these people are sitting in churches week after week, suffering in stigmatized silence. Pastors need to wake up and start talking about depression and hopelessness from the pulpit, helping people to develop an attitude of looking to Christ for help long before a person would reach a point of suicide.

While no one can assume full responsibility for someone else’s circumstances or emotional wellness, the church can, and should, help to remove the stigma of depression and other mental health issues by addressing them. Let‘s not pretend the church is immune to these issues. There should never be a time when someone is embarrassed or ashamed to seek help for the way they’re affected by sin and brokenness.

Churches should prioritize caring for those with mental health struggles

Research shows that people who are deeply depressed or have thoughts of suicide feel relief when they have a community of people they can count on. A strategic way churches can facilitate these relationships is by establishing support groups that include people who have “been there” and can offer a listening ear, encouragement, and perspective. Programs like Fresh Hope for Mental Health equip churches to provide those who are hopeless a safe place to process their pain and experience faith-filled hope through support groups, classes, and other resources that are led and written by peers who are living well, despite their own mental health challenges.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” With Jesus Christ as our focus, the church can uniquely offer something to those who struggle with mental health and those who love them: hope through Jesus.

Large or small, every church should strive to become a nurturing and compassionate haven for people with mental health burdens and their families. People who are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s our duty as followers of Christ to create a safe and honest place for them and love them well.

The post The church and suicide appeared first on ERLC.

Pruitt sees an opportunity to reach Gen Z

NASHVILLE (BP)—Shane Pruitt, national Next Gen director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), says churches now more than ever have the opportunity to step into the brokenness of Generation Z with the hope of the Gospel.

In a video interview with Baptist Press, Pruitt said the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t create new problems for Gen Z, but instead “poured gasoline,” onto problems that were already there.

He encouraged churches to point to Jesus as the solution.

“You have a whole generation that I think realized through the pandemic that the world is broken,” Pruitt said.

“They’re looking for hope and answers, and that’s a perfect opportunity for the Church to come in and say ‘we know you’re looking for hope. We know you’re looking for answers. We know you’re looking for truth and hope has a name. The answer has a name, truth has a name and that name’s Jesus.’”

The interview with Pruitt was an installment in a new weekly series from Baptist Press entitled ‘Baptist Press This Week.’ Episodes are available on the Baptist Press website and Baptist Press’s YouTube channel.

One important big avenue that Pruitt mentioned for connecting with Gen Z is through social media.

He explains that not only does social media allow the generation to know everything going on in the world good and bad, it also creates a weird social dynamic where they are “connected, but super lonely at the same time.”

Pruitt said he challenges the age group to prioritize time in God’s Word over time on social media.

“I will often say to teenagers, ‘What if you read one Bible verse for every social media post you read every day, how fast would you get through the Bible?’”

Although time in God’s Word is most important, Pruitt went on to say social media can be used for good and even encouraged churches to ask teenagers in their church for tips in using other teenagers with social media.

“Over half of the world’s population is on social media, so it’s part of discipleship to say to them ‘leverage this for the Kingdom of God,’” Pruitt said. “I say the most effective person at reaching a teenager with a Gospel is another teenager that has a heart that beats with passion for Jesus, and that same heart is broken over the spiritual lostness of their own generation.

“I would say get them to the table, learn from them, hear from them, and even add them as a part of the decision-making process of your online strategies.”

Pruitt encourages older believers to be “real and authentic,” to who they are and preach the same Gospel that led them to faith.

“I will tell you in the two years of my ministry, I’ve seen more college students, young adults, and teenagers get saved than probably the 15 years of my ministry before that combined,” Pruitt said. “It’s because they are searching for truth and we can point them to Jesus and preach the Word. The same gospel that has worked for 2000 years still works today and the Bible is always relevant.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

What’s your story? Using personal loss and grief to minister to others

Easter weekend of 2015 was a wonderful time for my wife and me. We were not only celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we discovered that our first child would be born in December of that year. 

Everything proceeded smoothly until morning sickness reared its ugly head. The nausea was so intense that my wife had to be admitted to the hospital for several days. However, everything with the baby was progressing as it should. As we moved forward in the pregnancy, we scheduled a sneak-a-peek sonogram to capture detailed images of our baby as a keepsake. 

When we arrived, the lady at the front desk had us sign all the paperwork, and I noticed one part that informed us that any abnormalities would be relayed to my wife’s doctor. We did not think too much of this at the time, and we actually had peace knowing the doctor could review and confirm any issues. 

Unbeknownst to us, our child had two complications that were not compatible with life. One was anencephaly, where the skull had not fully developed, and the other was ectopia cordis, where the heart had developed outside of the chest. While medicine has advanced significantly over the years, the issue with our child’s skull could not be corrected through medical means. We began to pray for a miracle only God could provide.   

As we prayed, we fervently asked God to heal our daughter on this earth. We specifically prayed for her skull to be made complete and the heart to be placed back within her chest wall. King David wrote, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:13-14). 

We knew from these verses that God had a plan, but we were petitioning Him to change how He had made our daughter. Our immediate response to the situation was that He had made a mistake, but then the Spirit ministered to us, assuring us that God had formed our daughter exactly as He planned. God did not and cannot make a mistake.  

"God’s plan for my life is sure, even in the wake of unthinkable loss and grief."

Image Courtesy of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

My wife was able to carry our daughter full-term, and we enjoyed three wonderful hours with her before God called her home. As a young couple, we did not know how to process this grief or where to turn for dealing with this situation. I was also in my first pastorate after graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We were confused, hurting, and grieving the loss of a child we barely knew. My wife and I needed a ministry to help us during this difficult time.  

Since 2015, God has blessed us with two more children who are happy and healthy. We, however, experienced a situation in September 2021 that we did not anticipate. After the complications with our first child, we never imagined we would deal with a miscarriage. Our fourth child passed away during the first trimester of the pregnancy. Again, my wife and I were facing grief, hurt, and confusion. Our child was alive, but now he is not. If this was not enough, my wife and I experienced another miscarriage in January 2022. Therefore, we need a strategy and plan for processing this grief.  

I am currently serving on staff as an associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Leonard and I have a desire to develop a group counseling ministry for couples who have experienced a situation similar to ours. The ministry will be a weekend retreat consisting of a session on Friday evening and sessions on Saturday. The focus will be upon helping couples process and move forward in their grief. The retreat is scheduled for September 9-10. This ministry will be for couples who have experienced the death of a child under the age of five or a miscarriage. It will also be open to individuals who have experienced the death of their spouse or have been divorced.  

God has opened this door of ministry for me, and I am using it to complete my Doctor of Ministry degree at Luther Rice College and Seminary. My prayer is that other churches will be able to use the content of my project in their own setting for the purpose of ministering to those who have faced this kind of grief. 

So, what’s my story? God’s plan for my life is sure, even in the wake of unthinkable loss and grief.

What's your story?

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Biblical engagement is not a lost cause

Afew months back, the American Bible Society released its latest “State of the Bible” survey. As has been the case over the preceding decades, the metrics that measure Bible engagement are increasingly trending downward. 

Four in 10 Americans say they ever read the Bible outside church, and only two in 10 say they read it twice a year or less. Only 10% of all Americans read the Bible daily, and the sum of all the numbers reported in this latest report, according to ABS, represent “a major shift away from personal Bible reading.”

I don’t know a single Christian who wouldn’t be troubled by these numbers, but I fear we’ve grown calloused when we hear them because we just don’t know what to do about it. So what can we do to reverse these trends?

Here are a few recommendations:

Emphasize Bible study over topical study

There’s nothing wrong with topical teaching, and it can be done well. People need to know what the Bible says about marriage, gender, conflict, finances, and more. But if topical teaching or preaching is all we ever do, we may unintentionally create generations of people who are culturally literate while being biblically illiterate. 

When done poorly, topical teaching and preaching can lead to proof-texting instead of a thorough exegetical study of the Scriptures. In reality, the Bible should always speak first and never be used as secondary material.

"I’m not sure there’s a greater heirloom we can pass down to future generations of Christ-followers than the ability to ably handle the Word of God for themselves."

Be careful teaching application

We sometimes have a tendency when we preach and teach of not only providing a summary of all our research for that particular sermon or lesson, but of telling our listeners all the ways we think  they should apply the biblical principles to their lives. 

We run the risk of making (at least) two errors when we do this. First, we train our people that there’s no need for them to personally engage and interact with God’s Word because they know we’ll tell them everything they think they need to know. And maybe even worse, we risk playing the role of the Holy Spirit, who is the only one who can guide us into a right understanding of how God’s unchanging Word applies to the ever-changing situations that will arise in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong—good Bible teaching will walk people into a space where they learn how to apply God’s principles to their lives. We just need to be careful to leave the Holy Spirit space to speak to Bible learners, as well.

Read the Bible with other people

One of the easiest methods of Bible study has seemingly become a lost art: simply reading the Bible together out loud. Sometimes our good intentions to follow strategies, measure discipleship growth arcs, and present compelling lessons with impactful illustrations have the potential to complicate something God did not intend to be complicated: discerning His Word.

When was the last time you sat down with a group of other Christians, read a passage of the Bible out loud, and then asked each other, “What might God be trying to communicate to us through this passage?” It really could be that simple.

What works in one church context may not work in another. Regardless, we must continue to try something in whatever context we find ourselves to raise the level of biblical engagement. I’m not sure there’s a greater heirloom we can pass down to future generations of Christ-followers than the ability to ably handle the Word of God for themselves.

Congregación de Dallas tiene un nuevo liderazgo y nuevos métodos, pero el mismo corazón por el evangelio

Para la Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida, el Primer Mandamiento y la Gran Comisión son la fuerza motora que los guía para cumplir su visión: “Amar a Dios, amar a los demás, alcanzar al mundo.”

Fundada en 1966, Nueva Vida (también conocida como New Life) es una congregación bilingüe que sigue predicando fielmente el mismo mensaje del evangelio, aunque su metodología haya cambiado. Esos cambios han dado grandes resultados, según el pastor Nelson Fonseca, incluyendo el bautismo de 34 personas en lo que va de año. 

“Queremos que la gente venga a Cristo,” dijo Fonseca. “Los amamos y queremos que lleguen a conocerlo, no sólo a nivel local, sino también en todo el mundo. Es por eso que damos a las misiones, al Programa Cooperativo y apoyamos a los misioneros en diferentes partes del mundo.”

Fonseca fue elegido recientemente como pastor principal de Nueva Vida después de que el pastor David Galván anunciara su jubilación tras 40 años de servicio en la iglesia. Fonseca, hijo de pastor y nativo de Nicaragua, llegó a Nueva Vida en el 2006 mientras estudiaba en el Seminario Teológico Bautista del Suroeste de Texas en Fort Worth, completando una Maestría en Divinidad. Fonseca fue director de misiones y evangelismo y ha estado involucrado en el discipulado, pero describe el evangelismo como su “primer amor.”  

“Un distintivo de nuestra iglesia es la oración y el evangelismo,” dijo Fonseca.

‘Donde está la gente’

Durante la semana, Nueva Vida no tiene servicios de adoración en el templo, sino que se reúnen en casas con un total de 47 grupos de crecimiento alrededor del área de Dallas. Según Fonseca, estos grupos son la principal estrategia de evangelización en Nueva Vida “porque es donde está la gente.” El propósito de los grupos se basa en Hechos 5:42, donde los seguidores de Jesús tienen dos objetivos: enseñar al creyente maduro a seguir aprendiendo de la Palabra de Dios, y tener un alcance evangelístico en aquellos que no han escuchado el evangelio.

“Hemos visto personas que no van o se sienten intimidadas para ir al templo, pero llegan a la casa de un hermano y llegan al conocimiento de Cristo,” dijo Fonseca.  

El enfoque y la conformación de estos grupos varía, ya que están estructurados para familias, mujeres, hombres, solteros, niños y adolescentes. Cuentan con siete líderes regionales quienes proporcionan información actualizada sobre cómo se está llevando a cabo el trabajo a través de los líderes de los grupos.

"Hemos visto personas que no van o se sienten intimidadas para ir al templo, pero llegan a la casa de un hermano y llegan al conocimiento de Cristo. "

Escuela dominical no convencional 

Entre los cambios que Nueva Vida ha implementado, está un enfoque de discipulado sistemático en su enseñanza dominical. Todos los que llegan a Nueva Vida comienzan con el programa de discipulado “Nueva Vida,” que está diseñado para que los nuevos miembros comprendan los fundamentos del evangelio. Una vez completado, pasan a estudiar la obra clásica “Mi Experiencia con Dios” de Henry Blackaby, que busca que el creyente se fortalezca en disciplinas espirituales. A partir de ahí, el discípulo tomará la “Estrategia de Grupos de Crecimiento,” que es la “columna vertebral de la iglesia,” según Fonseca. 

Después de completar esas tres clases de discipulado, que se ofrecen en semestres durante la primavera, el verano y el otoño, el discípulo podrá comenzar a estudiar otros temas enfocados en el crecimiento y la madurez de los creyentes y en ser comisionados para discipular a otros.

Alcanzando y orando

Nueva Vida también llevó la Escuela Bíblica de Vacaciones (EBV) fuera de los muros de la iglesia este verano, con 13 grupos que se reunieron simultáneamente en diferentes lugares como parques, apartamentos y casas de algunos miembros. La EBV se celebró de lunes a jueves, y el viernes de esa semana, los 13 grupos se reunieron en el templo para celebrar un día de clausura junto a la comunidad. Un promedio de 185 niños asistió por día, 161 voluntarios participaron y se registraron 34 profesiones de fe. 

En Nueva Vida, la oración corporativa juega un papel importante y ha tenido un impacto en la congregación, dijo Fonseca. Durante más de 20 años, la iglesia ha celebrado una reunión de oración matutina a las 6 AM todos los días para orar por los enfermos, la iglesia, los ministerios y las misiones. Entre 10 y 12 personas se reunían regularmente para orar. Cuando las instalaciones de la iglesia cerraron debido a COVID, la reunión continuó por teléfono y llegó a tener entre 35 y 40 participantes, muchos de los cuales todavía se reúnen para orar.

“Nos hemos tomado la oración corporativa muy en serio”, dijo Fonseca, “y el Señor ha hecho grandes cosas.”

Late Night offers YPN opportunity to fellowship, encourage one another

Afew weeks ago, Caleb Fleming—pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Sherman—received news that someone he loves was facing a potentially serious medical diagnosis. 

He instinctively reached out to the leadership team of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Young Pastors Network (YPN), of which he is a member. Within minutes, he said his phone began “going off” with messages from team members committing to pray for his family.

“It is seriously overwhelming, the depth of friendship and fellowship we get to enjoy by being part of the Young Pastors Network,” he said. “YPN is one of the most life-giving things I have been able to be a part of. I am so thankful the SBTC sees the value of investing in us young guys.”

The Young Pastors Network consists of SBTC pastors 40 years old or younger. It provides networking and leadership development opportunities and is headed by Spencer Plumlee, pastor of First Baptist Church of Mansfield. YPN gathers twice a year—at the Empower Conference held each February, and at the SBTC Annual Meeting, which is scheduled this year for November 14-15 at American Bank Center in Corpus Christi. Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville who was recently elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will give the keynote address at the YPN’s Annual Meeting gathering.

Join us for the YPN Late Night with guest speaker Bart Barber at this year’s annual meeting immediately following the Monday evening session

The YPN has three main objectives, Plumlee said: to encourage pastors, to connect members with other pastors across the state, and to empower young pastors to have a voice in shaping the future of the SBTC. 

YPN offers a Young Pastor Cohort led by an experienced mentor who coaches young pastors in the areas of soul care, preaching, church leadership, and more. Those groups consist of 7-10 young pastors each and meet four times over a two-year period. 

Matt Bowles, pastor of Ovilla Road Baptist Church in Ovilla, said he got a later start in ministry than many of his peers, having been called as a youth pastor in his 30s. He was called to serve as Ovilla Road’s senior pastor a couple of years ago knowing he still had much to learn about how to lead a church while at the same time facing the reality that “many people think senior pastors are supposed to have all the answers.”

“I can’t express how soothing it is to be able to ask other pastors questions, share struggles, and realize that you really are not that crazy,” Bowles said, “and that things that happened and problems you face are not always as unique as you think they are.”

Bowles recalled attending a dinner with YPN members at last year’s annual meeting that provided an opportunity for those present to talk about the joys and challenges of ministry.

“We sat around and told crazy stories about things that happen to us in our churches, and we praised God for placing us in those churches,” he said. “We laughed at those crazy things and all expressed that we felt like the luckiest guys alive to be called to do what we do. [Pastoring is] hard—but we are not alone.”