Author: Jayson Larson

SBC Executive Committee president/CEO candidate Iorg recalls Texas roots

ABILENE—The message of a Four Spiritual Laws tract shared at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo transformed a 12-year-old boy whose life was filled with chaos.

The son of a violent alcoholic father, the boy’s mother had fled for her life across four states to hide out in Abilene. Her second husband also struggled with addiction and two more children were born into the family.

Neither parent had any interest in the gospel or church, though both had come from Christian families. The boy had gone by an assumed name, but that caught up with him when his Little League team advanced to state competition. Confrontation over his name not matching his birth certificate required to prove his age added to his identity crisis as he realized other people did not live like his family.

His mother decided her son needed religious instruction, dropping him off for Sunday school at Elmcrest Baptist Church in Abilene. On the day he went to the fair, the church name was on an exhibit booth and he wondered why they were taking a survey. Burtis Williams recognized him and asked if he’d like to answer a few questions.

That’s all it took for the boy to participate. Williams’ final questions were easy to answer: “Do you know for certain you have eternal life?” and “Do you know you’ll go to heaven when you die?”

“When he shared the gospel with me and told me God had a plan for my life that would give me purpose and meaning, and not only that, but I’d get to go to heaven, I prayed to receive Christ the month before I turned 13.

“And that changed everything,” said Jeff Iorg, who, if approved on March 21 by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, will become its president and CEO.

Iorg’s decision to follow Jesus began a journey from convert to disciple to intern to associate pastor at Elmcrest Baptist Church, where longtime pastor, T.C. Melton—an ardent supporter and longtime consultant for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—shepherded the young man for over a decade and remained “a mentor, supporter, and friend all the rest of my life,” Iorg added in an interview with podcaster Chad Harms.

Iorg went on to serve as a children’s pastor, church planter, state convention executive director, and president of Gateway Seminary. No stranger to the SBTC, he frequently has addressed its annual meetings and training conferences in evangelism and church health, as well as a convention staff retreat.

Looking back over his life, Iorg told Harms that Elmcrest Baptist Church taught him what it means to be a man, a leader, and how to get ready for marriage. Doctrine, church polity, soul-winning, and money management were a part of “10 fantastic years.”

“I’ve said many times—Jesus saved my soul,” Iorg said, “but Elmcrest Baptist Church saved my life.”

EMPOWER 2024: Apoderados emphasizes reaching the nations at annual gathering

EULESS—They sang it and they prayed it: “Put in me the same mind that was in Christ … make me a servant for your glory.”

That was the heart cry of the more than 400 people who attended Apoderados Feb. 23-24 at Cross City Church. Apoderados, a conference held each year in conjunction with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Empower Conference, seeks to encourage, equip, and inspire Hispanic believers to evangelize their communities.

This year’s conference emphasized world missions and how followers of Jesus can fulfill the Great Commission locally, nationally, and globally.

Apoderados kicked off with a dinner for pastors and their wives Feb. 23. Charles Grant, the Southern Baptist Convention’s associate vice president for convention advancement and relations, thanked those in attendance for their support through Cooperative Program giving and encouraged Hispanic churches to continue to advance the gospel mission.

“It is not all up to us,” Grant said, “because we have the help and power of the Holy Spirit.”

Chuy Avila, interim pastor of Cross City en Español and an SBTC church planting associate and catalyst, also spoke at the dinner and encouraged the attendees. Referencing 1 Corinthians 12:6, Avila reminded the pastors and their wives that Christians celebrate and suffer together as members of the body of Christ. Avila also led a time of prayer for pastoral families that have been going through delicate health problems.

Additionally, Julio Arriola, director of Send Network SBTC—a church planting partnership between the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the SBTC—shared statistics of how God is moving in Texas through that effort.

“About two years ago, this alliance between the SBTC and Send Network began, and in that time, about 90 churches have been planted, with the majority of the planters being Hispanic,” Arriola said. He emphasized that all of this has been possible because of the willingness of churches to invest in the kingdom, both through CP giving and as sending churches.

Eloy Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Baptist Network and pastor of Idlewild Hispanic Church in Tampa, Fla., brought an encouraging and challenging message based on Hebrews 12:1-3. He reminded pastors and their wives that life is like a marathon that requires attention to personal health, vigorous training, and a focus on the finish line. He also warned the audience of the importance of staying in their own lane as they run to the finish line, encouraging them to look ahead and not to the sides so they don’t lose focus.

Annel Robayna, Hispanic church mobilization strategist for the International Mission Board, spoke during the Apoderados’ general session on Feb. 24. Referencing the invitation of Psalm 117, he said, “All nations need to know that God has increased His mercy so that all nations will praise Him.” He concluded by inviting attendees to continue giving to cooperative efforts such as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, as it funds 3,600 missionaries around the world—including 65 who are Hispanic.

“Hispanics can do more,” he said. “God is calling us.”

Martin Gonzalez, a missionary who has served in Mexico and Nepal and who serves as an SBTC People Groups strategist in the Houston area, echoed those sentiments during a breakout session later in the day, saying, “It is more comfortable for us to reach people who speak the same language, but God has called us to reach the nations, and they are reaching us.”

A lunch panel on the final day of the conference focused on opportunities churches have to practice the Great Commission. Regardless of whether churches work toward that mission on a short or longterm basis, Bruno Molina—SBTC’s language and interfaith evangelism associate—said it is a responsibility of all believers.

“We are all missionaries and we must live as sent ones,” he said. “The SBTC can provide many opportunities to do so: helping, praying, and giving.”

Eloy Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Baptist Network and pastor of Idlewild Hispanic Church in Tampa, Fla., brings a message during a portion of Apoderados. SBTC PHOTO

SBTC DR’s rapid response to largest wildfire in Texas history continues

PAMPA—James Greer, director of missions for the Top O’ Texas Baptist Association, knew the situation was getting dire as wildfires erupted across the Texas Panhandle at the end of February.

Greer quickly contacted Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief Director Scottie Stice to inform him that the convention’s quick response unit (QRU) housed in Pampa had been activated. Volunteers staffing the mobile food truck had already begun preparing hundreds of meals for first responders by Feb. 27.

After analyzing the paths of multiple wildfires and their proximity to nearby shelters, Stice and Greer coordinated the Pampa QRU’s move the following day to nearby Canadian, in Hemphill County, so it would be closer to where it would be needed most.

This is sometimes how disasters go. SBTC DR’s decision to locate equipment and units at key spots throughout Texas once again proved practical, facilitating rapid response.

Additionally, a shower and laundry unit has set up operations at First Baptist Church in Canadian.

“We’re not centralized at one yard or one warehouse with our units and equipment,” Stice said. “The system works for us. We can get to places fast.”

Five wildfires thus far have burned 1.3 million acres and are only partially contained as of March 4, according to published reports. The Smokehouse Creek Fire in Hutchinson County is by far the largest, to date burning 1.1 million acres with only 15% contained as of March 3. The wildfires are the largest in Texas history.

Five wildfires have burned more than 1 million acres, and emergency responders say the fires are only about 15% contained. SUBMITTED PHOTO

In addition to the Pampa QRU, where volunteers have now prepared more than 1,000 meals, SBTC DR assessors, chaplains, incident management team members, and clean-up and recovery volunteers have arrived in the area and begun work.

“Our first assessors were onsite over the weekend,” Stice said, adding that recovery teams from First Baptist Church in Melissa and First Baptist Church in Pampa were already clearing debris and preparing to help homeowners sift through ashes.

“Teams have also started cutting up the frames of mobile homes destroyed by the fires,” Stice said.

SBTC DR volunteers in the area will be relieved by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams from New Mexico and Arkansas, Stice added. Send Relief is also transporting donated hay from Kentucky to the area to help care for 65,000-plus cattle impacted by the disaster.


EMPOWER 2024: Breakouts include emphasis on reaching, refocusing, and raising up leaders from Gen Z

IRVING—Several breakout sessions at the 2024 Empower Conference focused on how to reach Generation Z—the generation of people born between 1995 and 2010—and molding them into the future of the church. Here’s a sampling of the content from those sessions, held Monday and Tuesday at the Irving Convention Center:

‘Relationships matter deeply’

Sean McDowell, a renowned apologetics professor and author, acknowledges there’s a certain level of cynicism from older generations when it comes to Gen Z. Churches that look beyond the negative narrative, however, will be better equipped to reach them with the gospel, he said.

“How we view this generation shapes how we relate to them,” McDowell said. “I will tell you one thing about this generation—they value authenticity, and they can kinda tell if you really care and if you’re invested and whether they’re important to you or not. … We have to remind ourselves it is a privilege and honor to reach out to this generation.”

McDowell said Gen Zers have faced unique challenges. Theirs is the first digitally native generation, he said, one in which its members learned to swipe smartphone and tablet screens before they learned to talk. Ninety seven percent use social media, and nearly as many (79%) experience emotional distress when they are unable to use their smartphones.

Despite having more access through technology to personal connections than any previous generation, Gen Z is on the verge of the greatest mental health crisis in decades as it labors to stay afloat in a sea of loneliness and overwhelm. While 71% of its members identify as religious or spiritual, as few as 4% have what some would consider a biblical worldview. Only half believe gender is defined by one’s sex at birth.

Two approaches can help churches be more effective at reaching Gen Z, McDowell said: helping them develop a biblical worldview by addressing culturally relevant issues from a godly perspective, and working hard to build trust relationships that will open the lines of understanding and communication. Both require long-term, relational investments.

“ … Relationships matter deeply. We need to lean in with Gen Z, build relationships, get to know them, go on their turf, spend time with them,” McDowell said, “so we have [the opportunity] to speak to their hearts.”

Grant Skeldon of Thinq works with Christian leaders to amplify their impact for the kingdom of God. SBTC PHOTO

Asking the right question

As churches have considered how to reach Gen Z, Grant Skeldon wonders if there’s been too much focus about why they’re leaving the faith and not enough attention on a more important question: Why do those who remain in the faith stay?

Skeldon is next gen director for Thinq Media, an organization that aims to help Christian leaders faithfully navigate culture while provoking the curiosity of non-believers. As Skeldon has interacted with high-capacity leaders ranging from pro athletes and actors to musicians, he said he began to notice common themes that led God to use them to have wider influence.

High-capacity Christian leaders generally have had a disciple-maker who invited them into the most intimate, personal spaces of their lives. That approach works well with Gen Zers, who tend to place a high value on authentic relationships, and it stands in contrast to approaches that merely invite them to church to hear information about Jesus.

“Mentorship is come meet with me. Discipleship is come and follow me. Church [is often] come and listen to me,” Skeldon said. “We are telling that [last one] to a generation that is already saturated with content. But they are starved for connection, and that’s where we can separate ourselves.”

The leaders he has studied have also:

  • Had a milestone moment in their lives when someone recognized a particular gift or talent and verbalized that recognition;
  • Had “robust exposure” to a community or group of people who raised their standards or view of excellence;
  • Been entrusted with what he called “ridiculous, huge” responsibility at a young age;
  • Had someone who not only encouraged them, but offered resources to help them achieve their dream or big goal;
  • Received tough love in the form of helpful feedback that tangibly changed them; and
  • Benefitted from the network of someone more experienced and resourced.

“I want to train up Christians who go and change the environments they are in,” Skeldon said, “places where they work, play, live that become different because of their relationship with Jesus.”

Winning the battle for young minds

Eighty percent of Gen Z Christians hold a sexual worldview that is not consistent with biblical values, according to Amy Davison, a popular author, podcaster, and founder of Mama Bear Apologetics. Fifty seven percent of professing Christians believe premarital sex is acceptable, and more than half believe homosexuality should be “accepted, defended, and promoted in the church,” she said.

Such numbers shouldn’t be a surprise considering the constant barrage of attacks on biblical worldview coming from an increasing number of sources—including the media, Hollywood, musicians, and even toy manufacturers. With those attacks has come a coordinated effort to normalize “sex positivity”—a worldview that espouses as proper any sexual activity that is desirable and consensual.

The strategy to implement that unbiblical worldview is two-fold: use intimidation and fear to silence Christian adults who disagree, even to the level of trying to criminalize biblical teaching as hate speech, while simultaneously grooming younger generations to accept them or risk one of the worst fates they can imagine: unpopularity and rejection—especially on social media.

Just as the culture tries to capture the hearts and minds of the young, so, too, should the church, Davison said. Parents and guardians still have the greatest chance to lay the biblical foundations necessary to refute false teaching: 54% of young people ages 12-15 say their parents have had the strongest influence over their sexual decisions, while 32% of those 16-19 say the same thing.

Davison offered a method for parents to teach truth using an acronym she calls R.O.A.R.:

  • Recognize the messaging being offered by cultural sources and evaluate their claims;
  • Offer discernment, guiding younger generations through conversations about what is true and what is false about the claim;
  • Argue for a healthier approach, encouraging young people to juxtapose claims against the unchanging truth of God’s Word; and
  • Reinforce truth through continued discussion, discipleship, and prayer.

“What we, as the church, need to be doing is empowering parents to be bold in the faith,” she said. “ … We need to be fighting for truth, because our kids are wanting to hear from us.”


EMPOWER 2024: Pastor’s powerful testimony headlines CP luncheon

IRVING—John Meador, lead pastor of Cross City Church in Euless, offered a simple-yet-powerful reminder to the capacity crowd at the Cooperative Program luncheon on the final day of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention 2024 Empower Conference: “God is faithful.”

Meador delivered the luncheon’s keynote address, sharing personal stories of God’s faithfulness from his 17.5 years at Cross City—although he admitted having experienced God’s provision at every church he has served.

“In 45 years of marriage and 40 years of pastoral ministry, it never ceases to amaze me to see how God moves,” Meador said, “ … to move people’s hearts to give in such a way that churches are funded, pastors are paid, mission dollars are sent, and missionaries share the gospel all over the world.”

He shared how at previous churches where he served, he had seen God enable congregations to pay off massive debt incurred before his arrival. Cross City’s story provided a more recent illustration of God’s faithfulness as the church embarked on a 2016 reset.

In 2004, Cross City—then known as First Euless—had $6.7 million in debt with no repayment plan and no lead pastor. Bill Anderson, a former pastor, returned as interim and challenged the congregation to give more, restore missions giving, and retire the debt. When Meador arrived as pastor in 2006, he said he realized the wisest thing he could do was allow the momentum to continue that had already been established through a renewed effort to give.

Within 28 months, the church was debt free. “We burned the note,” Meador recalled.

By 2016, Cross City was giving more than 20% to missions, with at least 10% going to the Cooperative Program. Yet building renovations were needed and the reset vision involving significant ministry expansion—including a northwest Tarrant County campus—would cost $30 million, four times the church’s budget.

Meador said he recommended temporarily reducing CP giving from 10% to 7%. Then a church member called him.

“Faith is not doing less. It’s doing more and expecting God to accomplish what He wants,” the godly man told the pastor.

After three sleepless, prayer-filled nights, Meador returned to the committees he asked to slash the missions budget and admitted he was wrong, promising never again to ask for a reduction.

“It was a decision that needed to be made,” he said. “The question to ask [is]: How do we trust God in all of our decisions so that the decision is financial but faith-oriented?”

After extensive planning, Meador and Cross City launched its Generations campaign, sharing the master plan in 2019. By March 1, 2020, people prepared their commitments to the campaign. Then COVID hit and, beginning in mid-March, the church paused in-person worship for 11 weeks.

“It was not a comfortable way to begin a fundraising campaign,” Meador said.

But God provided miraculously, despite the pandemic. “It was a humbling and awesome time,” Meador said. With God’s provision and through the generosity of His people, the church received $7.5 million in unexpected designated giving, as well as other funds raised through the sale of some church property. This opened the door for the church to move forward with its efforts to launch a satellite campus and fund other ministry efforts related to the reset.

“We saw God fully provide everything we needed and do more while we gave more to missions,” Meador said. “God is truly able to make all grace abound to us.”

It’s not lost on Meador that Cross City might have missed such a blessing because of his own willingness to consider giving less to missions.

“One phone call made me walk by faith,” he said. “ … Trust God with your decisions. Trust God with the money He has provided. He is able to do above and beyond all that we could ask or think.”

In closing the luncheon, SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick encouraged churches by reminding them CP giving contributes to advancing the gospel across Texas, the nation, and the world.

“The Cooperative Program is the only thing under God’s kingdom where you can be where you are and all around the world at the same time,” Lorick said. “It is not a program. It is a people.

“In a day in which culture would say step out, I am asking you to lean in.”

To truly care for your flock, you must lean in

Shortly after arriving at his first pastorate, a friend of mine hosted a dinner at the parsonage for his church. As the members of the church trickled in, the same phrase was repeated: “So this is what it looks like inside here!”

No, my friend’s new partners in ministry were not being nosy about his decorating style. They were simply reacting to being in the parsonage for the first time. You see, during the 20-year tenure of his predecessor, many had never been invited to step foot in the pastor’s house, located just 30 yards from the church.

It’s not possible to provide effective pastoral care while keeping the flock at arm’s reach. I would suggest that while one can carry out the actions required for pastoral care without any particular emotional investment or relationship, caring for our people holistically requires much more. How do we nurture these necessary relationships?

Cultivate a heart of gratitude

In Philippians 4, Paul says, “Whatever is true, honorable, righteous, holy, pleasing, or praiseworthy, if there is something that is virtuous and if there is something worth praising, think intently about these things.” While this is a command for all Christians, it is a non-negotiable for pastors because it undergirds our care for our congregation. When we cultivate a heart of gratitude and think intently about the best in our people, it makes it much easier to care for them—not just through action, but through emotion as well.

Gratitude sets the tone for a positive relationship. Moreover, gratitude can be contagious. If you lead by example, your people will recognize you are not simply doing your job in caring for them, but that you truly appreciate them. That paves the way for them to develop reciprocal gratitude. It is a beautiful thing to see a pastor and a church member who each view the other with genuine thankfulness to the Lord.

Be vulnerable

Through personal experience, warnings from others, or simple personality preferences, some pastors develop a wall between themselves and their people. They are “on” when they are around their flock, and they will rarely, if ever, let their flock see behind the curtain. Perhaps you’ve even heard the phrase “mask of ministry.”

This sort of artificial relationship would be troubling if spotted in one of our members, but it is no less troubling when it shows up in our own lives. If you always wear the mask, don’t be surprised if your people never truly know you—or if you don’t know them either. Choose to be vulnerable. Let your members see behind the mask. Is there risk here? Of course! But it is the same risk you ask your people to take when you challenge them to be vulnerable and open with other believers.

Invest in their lives

A pastor choosing to invest in his members will look different in each church. For some, this can be as simple as learning the names and prayer needs of your people. But if you are able to invest more, do so, knowing that the pastoral dividend will be great. Bring a meal after a hospital stay, show up at birthday parties, invite your people to come watch sporting events with you … the options are truly endless.

Have patience

The last ingredient is time. Gratitude, vulnerability, and life investment are all necessary ingredients for caring for your people well. But much like stock, this investment requires time to bear the greatest fruit. A pastoral relationship with these key elements can yield wonderful fruit, but a relationship that has faithfully incorporated these elements for years will yield a much greater harvest.

So, faithfully tend to your flock knowing that your investment, vulnerability, gratitude, and patience will yield their greatest fruit in the years ahead.


EMPOWER 2024: Lyons urges ‘holy resilience’ at multigenerational Women’s Session

IRVING—How should Christian women meet life’s challenges? With “holy resilience,” according to author, and teacher Rebekah Lyons.

Lyons served as the featured speaker at the 2024 Empower Women’s Session held Monday at the Irving Convention Center. The crowd that gathered to see her was diverse—including mothers with infants and toddlers, senior citizens, and every age in between.

Lyons, author of Building a Resilient Life and the devotional A Surrendered Yes, shared the story of her family of six—which includes two children with Down syndrome: the couple’s oldest son and their youngest child, an adopted daughter. Popular culture maintains that resilience merely means to bounce back, she said. “Jesus tells us the opposite: ‘In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.’”

Brokenness is universal, she added: “Any kid, any marriage, any home life, any relationship—we are all broken people in need of a Savior.”

Lyons said resilience is a consecrated daily act and not “naïve optimism.” At its heart, resilience is “a belief that Christ has truly overcome the world.”

Unexpected tests

A move to New York City challenged Lyons and her family in unexpected ways. She began having acute panic attacks, times of sheer terror that strained relationships with loved ones. She became afraid of elevators, subways, trains, and crowds—circumstances impossible to avoid in New York.

In researching her struggles, she learned that confronting one’s fears and entering spaces provoking fear cause physiological changes in the brain, enabling the growth of neurons. Avoidance of difficult things, she found, has a different growth effect.

“When you avoid fear, it grows,” she said. “God isn’t calling us to be fearful.”

Over time, she discovered an utter dependence on God that enabled her to survive. Through that process, she learned to stop being a “control freak” and came to understand God had a purpose in her tears.

“If you can’t grieve, you can’t be comforted,” she said. “If you are crying, there’s a good chance you are on the road to healing.”

Five rules of resilience

Lyons’s experiences led her to develop five rules of resilience, the basis of her book, Building a Resilient Life.

The first rule of resilience is to name the pain. “Ask Jesus to get in the middle of that place of pain,” she said, recommending a rhythm of confession like that of David in Psalm 139. “Tell God the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The enemy dwells in the secret. He wants to keep you there.”

Secondly, Lyons urged the audience to shift the narrative from what is broken to what is whole. “We are all broken and it’s Christ’s mercy and kindness that invites us to bring anything to Him … No conversation [is] off limits with God,” she said.

Third, to develop a holy resilience, one must embrace adversity, moving toward, not away from, obstacles. “The reason we can … embrace adversity is not because we are the savior but because we are governed by the one who is,” she said.

The fourth key is to make meaning. Lyons reminded listeners they are reflections of God’s glory. God has willed our various stories so His glory might be displayed in us. “No two of us look alike,” she said. “That means your imprint on this world was ordained by God Himself.”

Finally, Lyons called for the audience to endure together to become resilient. She stressed the importance of community, calling for emphasis on relationships rather than possessions.

“You show up. You keep showing up,” she said. “You don’t just drop [off] a casserole and run.”

EMPOWER 2024: Gaithers, Jeremiah, Reavis exalt Jesus during Classics Session

IRVING—A crowd of over 1,800 enjoyed the Classics Session of the 2024 Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Empower Conference, featuring the Gaither Vocal Band and pastors David Jeremiah and Herb Reavis Jr.

The event, held Monday at the Irving Convention Center, is planned each year with senior adults in mind. The Gaithers led off the session with an hourlong concert featuring their gospel quartet sound and later returned for another 40 minutes, after which SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick presented Bill Gaither with a plaque commemorating his long impact on the kingdom of God.

‘God has something for you to do’

Speaking from Romans 13:11-14, Jeremiah—pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif.—preached a message he called “Live Like You Were Dying,” emphasizing the urgency of “getting better” in your Christian walk.

“The only way you deal with the darkness is to shine the light,” he said, referring to verse 12. He went on to suggest four ways to resist and overcome the world’s influence on our lives:

  1. Watch vigilantly (v.11): Quoting Matthew 16:3, Jeremiah asserted, “It’s important to understand the times so that we know what we ought to do.” In the context of Romans 13:11, he emphasized the imminence of Jesus’ return.
  2. War valiantly (v.12): “You are the light of the world,” Jeremiah said to his listeners, noting that Jesus has left His followers to carry that mantle. “Walk as children of light, not like you used to be.”
  3. Walk virtuously (v. 13): This verse lists a set of sins—carousing and drunkenness, sexual impurity and promiscuity, and quarreling and jealousy. “We can’t be just like everyone else,” Jeremiah said, noting that such sin can make us useless to God.
  4. Wait victoriously (v. 14): “Be watching for the return of Christ,” he urged. “Put on Christ. Intend that He goes where you go.” Jeremiah said other Christians in our lives can provide strong safeguards so we can “kick sin off [our doorsteps so] it won’t end up in [our] house.”

In conclusion, Jeremiah urged his hearers to stay holy, stay healthy, stay humble, and stay hungry.

“God has something for you to do,” he said.

David Jeremiah preaches from Romans 13 during the Classics Session of the 2024 Empower Conference Monday at Irving Convention Center. SBTC PHOTO

‘Does Jesus have all of you?’

Emphasizing the lordship of Christ, Reavis—pastor of North Jacksonville Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.—turned to Philippians 2:5-11 for his text.

“Jesus does not want to be your co-pilot,” Reavis said. “He demands first place in your life.” To illustrate his point, Reavis noted Jesus is called Lord more often in the New Testament than He is called Savior.

He drew from his text two reasons everyone should make Jesus Lord:

  1. Because of what He gave: From verses 6-8, Reavis noted Jesus was in the form of God prior to the incarnation, but “emptied Himself of all outward trappings of majesty. … He clothed Himself in the body of a peasant carpenter … and stooped low to become obedient to the point of death … to death on an old rugged cross.”
  2. Because of what He gained: Jesus’ terrible suffering on our behalf is in stark contrast to God’s exaltation of the risen Christ. God highly exalted Him and gave Him a name and title above all others. “On the field of battle … there was only one standing, robed in white, with the keys of death, hell, and the grave,” Reavis exclaimed, “and that was Jesus Christ, whose foot was on the neck of the enemy!” We should, therefore, “live like Jesus is alive forever more.”

“This truth,” Reavis said, “demands a practical response: I should bow my knee and confess Him as lord. His will becomes my will; His aims become my aims.

“You have all of Jesus. Does Jesus have all of you?”


EMPOWER 2024: ‘God absolutely loves you”: 18 saved as Student Rally draws massive crowd

IRVING—In only its second year, the high-energy Empower Conference Student Rally drew double the crowd—nearly 750 students and youth leaders from 70 churches—as the inaugural event did one year ago. But that wasn’t the most important number.

Before the night ended at the Irving Convention Center, 18 students gave their lives to Christ following an invitation offered by evangelist Ryan Fontenot, founder of RAGE Ministries.

“The world says find yourself … identify yourself. … Jesus says, ‘Deny yourself,’” Fontenot said. “Jesus is not signing up to be your co-pilot. He doesn’t ride shotgun. …He came to take over your life.”

Fontenot’s gospel invitation was preceded by his sharing a humorous anecdote about the first time he told his eventual wife he loved her. He then pivoted, addressing an even greater love: the love of God evidenced in Luke 5.

“Those words—‘I love you’—are thrown out kind of casually. … We have all these things that we say we love,” Fontenot said. Referencing Luke 5:27, which recounts Jesus’ calling of Matthew, Fontenot added, “This story gives us a full picture of the love of God. I want you to know tonight that God loves you. God absolutely loves you.”

Just as Jesus pursued Matthew before calling him, Fontenot said, “The love of God finds us right where we are.” Many of those Jesus sought and called to salvation were in difficult life situations, including those who were demon-possessed and a woman caught in sin.

“You come to Jesus in order to get right with God. You don’t clean yourself up first,” Fontenot said.

Not only does God meet us where we are—He also invites us to where He is, Fontenot said. “Jesus loves you. Jesus will meet you. Jesus won’t leave you right where you are.”

Fontenot added that when God calls people, He calls them to fully surrender all aspects of their lives. That surrendered life “changes us forever.” Matthew, a tax collector, left behind an entire business to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew, fishermen, “jumped ship” and did the same.

Jimmy McNeal leads the more than 750 students and leaders in worship during the Empower Conference Student Rally. SBTC PHOTO

In doing so, those men experienced literal life change. Fontenot urged students who have already made a profession of faith to examine their own lives to see if there is evidence of change, asking them to evaluate their music playlists and other forms of entertainment, their attitudes about church, and their desire—or lack thereof—for the Word of God.

In addition to Fontenot, the rally featured illusionist Zak Mirz and worship leader Jimmy McNeal.

Mirz warmed up the group with a series of illusions heavy on audience participation. Students expressed amazement as Mirz made impossibly correct guesses, manipulated silver coins, and created artificial snow. As McNeal and his team led from the stage, students sang, raised their hands, and worshiped enthusiastically.

Exclaimed McNeal, quoting Psalm 150: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”


A powerful way to edify your church

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” — Revelation 1:3

Normally, before we preach through any book of the Bible at our church, we have an introductory sermon. For longer books I preach an overview sermon, and for shorter books I will read the entire book and preach a shorter sermon.

As we were preparing to preach through the book of Revelation this year, Revelation 1:3 continued to come to mind. I thought about how amazing it would be to read the entire book of Revelation as a church, but my hesitation came from its length: 22 chapters, 404 verses, 11,472 words (in the English Standard Version). However, after reading it aloud (which took almost an hour, much longer than my 35-40 minute sermons), I couldn’t be happier that we did or more confident in our decision to do so. We knew this would be a new experience for many, so we shared four reasons with our church as to why we did:

Scripture is God’s inspired, inerrant Word

1 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12
While I am full of excitement to preach the depths of God’s truth from Revelation over the next few months, this is better than any sermon I’ll ever preach. I’ll be honest: reading this book will take significantly more time than an average sermon. But there is no better use of your time than to spend time reading God’s inspired, inerrant Word.

Publicly reading Scripture is biblical

1 Timothy 4:13
The public reading of God’s Word is modeled in the Old and New Testament (Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 31:10-13; Joshua 8:34-35; 2 Kings 23:1-2; Nehemiah 8:3-4; Luke 4:16-21). In fact, in Nehemiah 8, Ezra read the law to God’s people from sunrise to noon. But it’s not just a biblical practice that brings blessing: it’s a biblical command (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 1 Timothy 4:13).

Reading entire books brings understanding

Luke 24:27, 44-45; Acts 8:30-35
Each book of the Bible is a complete literary unit. Therefore, knowing what happens in the book provides context to help us understand each smaller part within the whole. Not only should we read books completely, but reading the whole book in one sitting furthers our understanding of the content and purpose of each book and how it fits into the larger story of Scripture.

Faith comes from hearing God’s Word

Romans 10:17
God’s Word is powerful, for by it the universe was created (Genesis 1). And while creation declares God’s glory, God’s Word is what revives the soul (Psalm 19:1-7). This is why the Holy Spirit inspired men to record the 66 books: “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

After reading this book, we received numerous words of encouragement from members and visitors. Even though it took almost an hour to read the book, everyone’s ears were tuned and their eyes were glued to the page (especially the youth). I cannot wait to see the fruit this will bear on our church in the coming months and years.

Pastors, read entire books to your church on Sunday mornings. It may take a long time, and you may need to change your service around a little bit to allow for more time. But it will edify, strengthen, encourage, challenge, and bless your church. You won’t regret it.