Author: Russell Lightner

2021 SBTC Annual Meeting to feature fellowship, food, panel discussions

FLINT—When Baptists gather, food and fellowship follow. The 2021 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention at Flint Baptist Church, just south of Tyler, should prove to be no exception as attendees will have ample time to enjoy Texas cuisine and friendly conversation.

Even before the main events, the Spanish session of the annual meeting will feature a luncheon Mon., Nov. 8, from 12-2 p.m. at Flint Baptist. The event will include a panel discussion on the persecution of the church in the U.S. featuring Joshua Del Risco, George Levant and Rafael Rondón.

Monday evening’s events will commence at 4:45 p.m. with an outdoor steak dinner honoring June and Jim Richards. Space is limited so attendees are encouraged to reserve their spots soon. Nathan and Jenna Lorick will be feted at a reception following Monday night’s program.

Messengers and guests will enjoy breakfast tacos at the church prepared by SBTC DR volunteers under the direction of Scottie Stice on Tues., Nov. 9. Others may choose to attend the alumni breakfasts hosted by Criswell College, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

At noon Tuesday, attendees will pick up their lunches and enjoy two breakout sessions of presidential panel discussions, with the audiences shifting spots and the panelists remaining in place.

Breakout session 1 will be from 12:15-1 p.m., followed by session 2 from 1:10-1:55 p.m.

The president’s panel discussions will focus on the following topics:

• Keeping the Basic: Evangelism and Prayer will be moderated by Kie Bowman, current SBTC president and pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin. Panelists will include Todd Kaunitz, pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Longview; Jason Paredes, pastor of Fielder Church, Arlington; Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, Humble; Damon Halliday, pastor of The Key Church, Fort Worth; and Nathan Lorick, SBTC executive director.

• After Covid: Rebuilding the Pastor and the Church will be moderated by Tony Wolfe, SBTC associate executive director. Panelists will include Danny Forshee, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin; Ed Johnson III, pastor of Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church in Denton; Ramon Medina, global pastor of Spanish ministries at Champion Forest Baptist Church, Houston; Jacob Fitzgerald, pastor of Denman Avenue Baptist Church of Lufkin.

• Young Pastors Network: Worship, moderated by Spencer Plumlee, pastor of First Baptist Mansfield, will feature Matt Boswell, composer and pastor of The Trails Church, North Texas. The Young Pastors Network panel will be held only during the first lunch session.

• Tuesday evening will feature a 5 p.m. barbecue dinner and time of fellowship. Tickets are $10 each.

• Missional Ministries will also hold a Tuesday evening dinner featuring Jarrett Stephens, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church. Tickets are $10.

Register for the annual meeting at sbtexas.com/am21 and then scroll down to or click on “meals” to sign up for the various times of food and fellowship. 

‘Pero Dios’ será el tema de la reunión anual y la sesión en español de la SBTC

La Sesión en Español de la Reunión Anual se celebrará el 7 de noviembre en la Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana en Pittsburg, Texas.  El evento comenzará con un café y compañerismo a las 5 p.m., servicio de adoración a las 6 p.m. y una cena ligera a las 8:30 p.m. Los oradores enfatizarán Efesios 2:4-7 que el amor de Dios supera el pecado del hombre, nos ha sentado en lugares celestiales y la gloria de Dios es nuestro objetivo.

Por primera vez, el departamento de SBTC en Español ofrecerá un panel de discusión durante el almuerzo, antes de la Reunión Anual el lunes 8 de noviembre a las 12 p.m. en la Primera Iglesia Bautista de Flint. La discusión será “La persecución de la iglesia en los Estados Unidos”. Los oradores de ambos eventos serán Joshua Del Risco, fundador, Of The Rock Ministries; George Levant, pastor, IB Nueva Vida en Jesús, Laredo; y Rafael Rondón, pastor asociado de Fielder Church, Arlington.

Para más información y registro, visite sbtexas.com/event/spanish-session-of-annual-meeting. 

SBTC to host summer 2022 Israel trip for pastors

GRAPEVINE—The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is providing a rare opportunity for its pastors next July. A 10-day trip to Israel will be available to the convention’s pastors with $1,000 in financial assistance for pastors visiting the Holy Land for the first time provided by a grant from reserves approved by the SBTC Executive Board at their summer meeting. Clergy members travelling must be currently pastoring an SBTC church. 

The trip will depart Dallas, July 12, 2022, and return July 21. Total cost of the trip for pastors, from Dallas, is $2,195 ($1,195 for pastors visiting Israel for the first time, after the $1,000 grant from the SBTC) and $2,495 for pastors’ wives. This price includes various fees and taxes, plus gratuities. 

Highlights of the tour include Caesarea Maritima, Megiddo, Mount Carmel, Galilee (including a boat ride on the sea), Caesarea Philippi, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Temple Mount, Masada, the Dead Sea, the Shrine of the Book, the Garden Tomb and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. This list is not exhaustive but illustrates the thoroughness of the travel among significant sites. 

The tour will be led by SBTC executive director Nathan Lorick. Lorick expressed great anticipation at seeing Israel again, “Traveling in Israel—seeing the places where Jesus walked and preached—is truly a life-changing experience. I look forward to seeing it again with many of our pastors and church leaders. Come join us!” For more information, SBTC pastors can contact the SBTC office.

At this time, Israel is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry into the country. This requirement may change between now and July, so travelers are encouraged to keep track of changing requirements. Current information and registration are posted at sbtexas.com/israel

Mission City opens new campus in former dance hall

After five years in a temporary facility, Mission City Church in San Antonio opened its Northwest campus with over 1,000 in attendance on Aug. 15. Pastor Matt Surber began a new series from Acts on that day and many have responded to the gospel and have engaged in ministry at both the Central and Northwest campuses.

“What is so exciting to me, is that 95 percent of the Northwest campus is new growth, with no connection to the Central campus in Castle Hills. Our philosophy of campuses is like a new church plant, only there is a connection to the greater church. Our prayer is for four or five ‘Mission City Churches’ in communities all around San Antonio,” said Surber. 

Early in his tenure as pastor of Mission City, Surber was praying about additional San Antonio locations. One day, while washing his truck, he spotted the Leon Springs dance hall, a historic spot in the fast-growing northwest corridor of San Antonio. He asked if they would be open to a church meeting there and the owners agreed. 

During the construction of the new Northwest campus, COVID hit, and the church went to online worship for a time. Surber felt like the pandemic was an opportunity, not just a negative. Donnie Anthony, who has served for 20 years at the church and is currently mission pastor, shared, “We more than doubled our weekly food ministry and expanded our community outreach.  We saw over 80 trust Jesus as Savior in our drive-through distribution of food during COVID.”

That year of ministry laid the groundwork for a successful start to the church’s new campus. 

—Mission City Church

Does justice or profit drive abortion?

By now, the controversy in Texas over the Supreme Court allowing its near total ban on abortion to take effect has become part of the public ether. For some, the current moment offers a foretaste of what a post-Roe world could look like.

For others, it is a dystopic descent into a religious theocracy. But in this intervening period where the Texas Heartbeat Act is in effect, it is worth wondering if the threat of financial ruin brought on by the prospect of the law will lead to the continuation or a decrease in abortion.

Whether it continues or abates is a valuable opportunity to unearth what is really at the center of abortion and why abortion receives the degree of protection it does in our country. In short, it’s a question of justice. Is abortion a natural right worthy of pursuit and protection no matter the cost, or is it something else?

Abortion, justice, and civil rights

There is no right to an abortion before God or before the Constitution. Legal rights are enacted to protect natural rights. Natural rights are those attributes of human personality so essential to human happiness and human flourishing that to deny the exercise of these faculties is to deny citizens their right to basic self-constitution. Abortion fundamentally negates this. Rather than allowing life, it ends a life. In the Christian tradition, abortion is never a right, and the only reason it is in our public lexicon is because “rights” talk has been completely severed from its Christian beginnings.

But that brings us to our central concern: If abortion is not happening with the frequency its proponents demand is essential, it raises the question of whether the cause of abortion is grounded in the sacrosanct category of a right, or whether access to abortion is about something more fundamental, namely, profit.

If abortion access is about a so-called “right” to reproductive justice, it would seem essential that for the sake of justice and the common good that abortion providers break the law, engage in civil disobedience, and pay the consequences for their prophetic indignation.

This is what the classic formula is when it comes to engaging in civil disobedience. It is what motivated Martin Luther King Jr., and he appealed to it in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Citing the Christian natural law tradition, he appeals to the existence of a moral law that offers a higher standard to define what is just. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God,” King writes. “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. … Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

Abortion as predatory and lucrative

If abortion is morally right, it should align with the moral law of God and be pursued regardless of the consequences. In this scheme, a failure to offer abortion services for fear of legal challenge is, in effect, a refusal to honor one’s conscience. But as of right now, there is no push for civil disobedience in Texas. It is likely that abortion numbers will dramatically decrease. Why, though? If the cause is righteous and truly grounded in a right, these so-called enablers of justice should be bursting through the legal barricades to do what they know is right.

But they aren’t.

All of this just exposes the abortion lobby for what it is: a predatory scheme that traffics in “compassion” while garnering rich profits in the form of human death. Abortion providers do not really care about women. They do not really care about rendering justice. They care about the profit margin that an unplanned pregnancy garners them and their investors. It is an unspeakably sordid reality – in America, people are becoming rich off murder.

God is the author of life (Acts 3:15). The truth is that every person is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). The Bible tells us that. Human embryogenesis tells us this, too. Every person was once a “fetal heartbeat” or “cardiac activity.” We only use such inane, vacuous euphemisms because our morally bankrupt culture has no honest reckoning with teleology.

The problem with culture is not that personhood is not known or apparent, but that we know it is real and suppress this truth with euphemisms, reducing human origins to “electrical activity,” as NPR did. We are a Romans 1 nation drinking from the cup of judgment. Only biblical judgment means getting what we want no matter the cost to ourselves.


This article originally appeared at ERLC.com.

Prestonwood and Operation Christmas Child: To the ends of the earth

PLANOLike thousands of other congregations of all sizes, the multi-campus megachurch Prestonwood Baptist will be ready for Operation Christmas Child’s 2021 National Collection Week, Nov. 15-22. Prestonwood has partnered with Samaritan’s Purse and OCC since the shoebox ministry’s earliest days. 

OCC began in summer 1993 when, according to the organization’s website, a friend in the UK asked Franklin Graham if Samaritan’s Purse would fill shoeboxes with gifts for children in war-torn Bosnia. Graham agreed under the condition that Samaritan’s Purse could share the gospel with every child receiving a gift. Some 28,000 shoebox gifts made their way to the Balkans.

Samaritan’s Purse has never looked back. Neither has Prestonwood, considered a legacy church with OCC because of its early involvement. 

Pastor Jack Graham learned about OCC in 1994 from his friend Franklin Graham. The pastor was visiting Billy and Ruth Graham when Franklin filled him in on the outreach. In a Prestonwood publication a few years ago, Deb Graham, Pastor Graham’s wife, recalled her husband’s enthusiasm: “Jack came back and showed me the shoebox and he said, ‘I want us to do this.’ He got Ross [Robinson] and me together—at that point, we’d never done anything like this before—and soon we were handing out empty shoeboxes.”

To date, the church has supplied more than 200,000 boxes bearing gospel booklets in the children’s own languages and filled with toys, clothes, books and school supplies. 

Ross Robinson, OCC senior ministry strategist in church partnerships and a former Prestonwood staff member, said each shoebox provides additional gospel opportunities as children share their gifts and stories with others, generating evangelism, discipleship and multiplication opportunities.

“I love the missionary adage I heard long ago that is so fitting for the heart of our Prestonwood family: ‘The light that shines the furthest shines brightest at home.’ And I think Operation Christmas Child encapsulates it very well,” Jack Graham said in comments to the TEXAN.

“Operation Christmas Child is truly one of our favorite things to do each November as it encourages people of all ages to pack shoebox gifts for children, which above all provides an opportunity to share the gospel. Many of these children have never received a gift. These shoeboxes filled with gifts and packed with love, let them know that they are not forgotten.

“As for our church, it complements what we are already doing through our missions ministry and it provides a wonderful way to engage more of our members and guests in ministry—serving the local church and helping fulfill the mission of God’s church … to the ends of the earth.”

Prestonwood serves as a drop-off site for Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts every year. Photo submitted.

OCC at a glance

Filling the shoeboxes is something individuals, small groups and entire families at Prestonwood enjoy delivering the boxes to Prestonwood Cares collection stations.

The church, like many others, will start promoting OCC in the fall, perhaps showing one or more of the free videos—Including “How to Pack a Shoebox”—downloaded from the OCC website at with additional videos available.

Promotional materials are furnished at no cost to participating churches and organizations. The OCC’s familiar green and red cardboard or plastic boxes may be purchased online in bulk from Samaritan’s Purse.

Churches and groups collect the gift-filled boxes and transport them to drop-off locations the third week of November annually. The boxes are then taken to one of eight national processing centers.

Boxes collected in Texas wind up at the Samaritan’s Purse DFW processing center in Coppell, where volunteers inspect and prepare the shoeboxes for international shipping, stopping work every hour to pray for the children who will receive the gifts.

The shoeboxes are then distributed to kids in more than 100 countries. Even before this happens, OCC National Leadership Teams have trained pastors and leaders in these countries in how to host the child-friendly evangelistic events at which the boxes will be distributed.

OCC carefully works with like-minded, biblically-based, Christ-centered churches in the host countries, Robinson said, explaining the international process: “The gospel is shared through the local church. They have a children’s event. Unchurched children are invited by their friends from that church. The events are festive, with singing, clowns, puppets, balloons.”

The shoeboxes are distributed at some 75,000 such events yearly.

Many children also receive materials to participate in a 12-lesson discipleship program called “The Greatest Journey” that has been used with more than 26.5 million children since 2009, resulting in 12.5 million decisions to trust Christ. The program is taught through the local church.

Online options

While traditional collection and distribution is the most popular, OCC also offers people, churches and groups the opportunity to build shoebox gifts online, Robinson said. Samaritan’s Purse can even help churches set up goal pages on an OCC website free of charge.

For only $25, plus an optional extra $6 for the addition of “The Greatest Journey” material, anyone can assemble a box online by visiting the Operation Christmas Child website and clicking on the “Build a Shoebox Online” link.

An additional benefit to online assembly: these shoeboxes go to some of the most unreached countries across the globe.

Since 1993, more than 188 million children in more than 170 countries and territories have received an OCC shoebox. “The Lord uses the gifts to pull on their heartstrings to receive the gospel,” Robinson said.

“A small shoebox is a simple gift, but the blessings are eternal.”

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Tweet

All-church benefits

OCC is not just for big churches, said Jim Harrelson, OCC vice president, applauding Prestonwood’s partnership: “Prestonwood’s deep commitment to Samaritan’s Purse over many years, among many other local and global ministries, is a very strong example for churches of any size to follow.”

Churches often discover that participating in OCC can benefit their communities and congregations, fostering a spirit of unity and excitement that strengthens the body, whether the church is a veteran OCC participant or is using OCC as a first missions outreach, Robinson said.

Parents find teachable moments as they introduce their children to the joys of giving and evangelism. The outreach even enhances cooperation with other churches in the community as groups band together to fill the shoeboxes.

“The people of Prestonwood have been blessed beyond measure over the years to be part of this life-changing ministry,” Jack Graham said, sharing the story of a young girl who hosted an annual packing party for several years, collecting about 500 boxes each year, starting early and inviting friends and family members to do the same.

Another long-time member included her name and address in a shoebox gift, Graham recalled. Little did she know the one box would be divided among several boys in a Christian boys home in Uganda. The boys wrote to thank her. She and her husband developed a relationship with the boys and even visited them.

“The blessing received by another member was truly full circle,” Graham said. “She was a teenager living in a Christian orphanage in Peru when she received an OCC shoebox, and a woman shared the gospel with her.” The girl and her sisters were adopted by a missionary family who became involved with a ministry distributing OCC boxes, so she helped hand out shoeboxes to children.

Later, she later became a missionary herself, and with her husband and two children eventually ended up in the Dallas area. They joined Prestonwood, where the whole family participated in packing shoeboxes.

“A small shoebox is a simple gift, but the blessings are eternal,” Graham said.

Disney Junior’s ‘Muppet Babies’ features cross-dressing Gonzo

The controversy over gender roles this summer reached the children’s channel Disney Junior, when an episode of Muppet Babies showed Gonzo wearing a dress and calling himself “Gonzo-rella.” 

The episode was applauded by LGBT groups and opened with two female characters—Miss Piggy and Summer Penguin—wanting to hold a “royal ball,” similar to the one in the story of Cinderella.  

Hearing the story of Cinderella, Gonzo tells his friends, “I’d love to wear a dress like that to your royal ball.” Summer Penguin responds, “But Gonzo, Piggy and I are the princesses. We wear the dresses.” Miss Piggy agrees and adds, “According to the royal handbook, the girls come as princesses, and the boys come as knights.”

Soon, though, a magical “Fairy Rat-Father” transforms Gonzo’s outfit into a blue dress, complete with slippers. Gonzo attends the ball without revealing who he is. 

In the episode’s final moments, he tells his friends he was the one wearing the blue dress.  

“I don’t want you to be upset with me, but I don’t want to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, either. I want to be me,” Gonzo says.

Piggy apologizes and tells Gonzo, “It wasn’t very nice of us to tell you what to wear.” Piggy then says she wants to make a new “royal handbook” which will include new rules.

The episode closes with Summer Penguin declaring, “And in our new handbook, everyone can come to the ball dressed however they like.” 

—Christian Post, Christian Headlines 

Kendrick Brothers’ ‘Show Me the Father’ opens in theaters Sept. 10

The Christian filmmakers behind the hit movies War Room and Courageous will release a theatrical documentary in September that will explore a subject at the core of Scripture: fatherhood. 

The film, Show Me the Father, will open in theaters Sept. 10 and feature inspiring stories about fathers interwoven with biblical truths about the fatherhood of God. Alex and Stephen Kendrick served as executive producers.

The movie includes interviews with Texas pastor Tony Evans, Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly and former NFL coach and player Sherman Smith, among others.

It is the first documentary by the Kendrick Brothers, who also made War Room, Courageous, Fireproof, Overcomer and Facing the Giants. 

Stephen Kendrick called it a “dream project.” He and his brother interviewed multiple people and “compiled about five of the best stories that are tied to the fatherhood of God together,” he said.

“It is an emotional roller coaster. It’s engaging from the opening scene all the way to the end,” Kendrick said. “This is an evangelistic, edifying, theological, emotional journey.”

—ShowMeTheFather.com, Southern Baptist TEXAN 

Israeli archaeologists uncover evidence of biblical earthquake mentioned in Amos, Zechariah

Israeli archaeologists have discovered what they say is the first physical evidence in Jerusalem of an earthquake referenced in the biblical books of Amos and Zechariah.

The earthquake took place some 2,800 years ago after the reign of Solomon and during the time of the divided kingdom. 

It is mentioned in Amos 1:1, which says Amos lived “in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” It also is referenced in Zechariah 14:5: “And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.” 

Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) say they found broken vessels, bowls, lamps and jars. The discovery was made in the City of David National Park. 

“When we excavated the structure and uncovered an eighth-century BCE layer of destruction, we were very surprised, because we know that Jerusalem continued to exist in succession until the Babylonian destruction, which occurred about 200 years later,” IAA excavation directors Joe Uziel and Ortal Chalaf said.

“We asked ourselves what could have caused that dramatic layer of destruction we uncovered,” the two archaeologists said. Examining the excavation findings, we tried to check if there is a reference to it in the biblical text. Interestingly, the earthquake that appears in the Bible, in the books of Amos and Zechariah, occurred at the time when the building we excavated in the City of David collapsed.”

—The Jerusalem Post

Senate committee passes bill forcing women to register for draft

A U.S. Senate committee passed a groundbreaking proposal in July that would force young women to register with Selective Service and be eligible for a future draft.

Current law requires men to register with Selective Service when they reach the age of 18. Selective Service keeps a list of all men ages 18-25 eligible for the draft.

But under the proposal passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, young women, too, would be required to register. The proposal passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, criticized the proposal.

“American women are free to serve and proud to serve, but they shouldn’t be forced to serve,” Nance said. “Young women today need to know they are respected for their female status and the many essential roles women embrace in all seasons of life as workers, wives, mothers and caregivers. Setting women up to be sent to war shouldn’t be one of them.

“The selective service is not a social experiment,” Pence added. “Women do not need to be conscripted to fight on the frontlines of war to prove their worth. Nor should we be denied the respect of our intrinsic value based on the inherent physical differences we embody. God-given distinctions between the sexes have everything to do with military readiness in wartime.”

Seminary president Albert Mohler also denounced the idea, saying drafting women would have been unthinkable “throughout most of our nation’s history.”

“A society that will send its women into war is a society that, to some significant extent, is at war with itself and at war with nature,” said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

—The Hill, CWFA, AlbertMohler.com