On August 8, 1974, Gerald Ford found himself standing on the brink of becoming the most powerful man on earth. The next day he would place his hand on the Bible and take the oath of office as the 38th president of the United States. What would outwardly seem to be a day of great joy and celebration after a long career of public service in reality was a dark obligation thrust upon him. He was being summoned to lead a nation struggling with the shock and shame of the fall of the administration of Richard Nixon. The Watergate scandal that transformed the presidency like no other scandal in American history set the back drop for Ford’s ascension to power. He would now have to lead in a world of suspicion, investigations, and late of trust from the farms of his beloved Michigan to the streets of power in Washington D.C.
On the night before this fateful day, Gerald Ford and his wife Betty knelt in prayer before the Sovereign God who called them to meet this challenge. Ford quietly repeated the words of the Proverbs that his mother had taught him as a boy growing up in Michigan in a much simpler time.
Ford quoted: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6 KJV)
This simple prayer and confession would be his mantra. As Ford faced challenges that would have brought the strongest among us to their knees. He too went to his knees in humility and admitted before his Lord and Savior—”I need you help today….and everyday”.
In fact, Ford began each day of his presidency saying “Trust in the Lord with all your heart….” No matter what challenges you may be facing, I believe we would all be wise to follow his example in leadership and begin our days on our knees acknowledges we don’t have all the answers, nor the strength to meet the challenge of the day. As Habakkuk so rightly noted “The just shall live by faith” and that is also the best way to lead.
Dr. Howard Batson announced that Dr. David Garland has agreed to serve as the interim president of Baylor University. From my seat in the bleachers this is a huge step forward for my beloved alma mater. I have had only brief conversations with Dr. Garland, but I have found him to be a man of vision, insight, scholarship, and grace. I believe the Board of Regents should be commended for naming him to fill this critical role.
It probably goes without saying that the task facing Dr. Garland is a “God-sized task”, but Dr. Garland has demonstrated a deep confidence and trust in the Lord throughout his career. It is clear we need to get all the various factions in Baylor life back to the same table. Talking about each others, and plotting and scheming behind the scenes will never get Baylor to the place of prominence and influence we all long for it to hold. Baylor may be attempting the impossible by trying to be a distinctively Christian (even Baptist) university while also seeking to move into the upper echelons of academic research and instruction. From my perspective most “world-class” universities march to the values and principles of this world rather that the world to come. However, just a causal glance back in history reminds us that some of the greatest scientists and discoverers of history were devout men and women of faith. Faith and learning should go hand in hand because all truth flows from the very presence of God himself.
I pray the Lord will use Dr. Garland to help Baylor take a big step forward into its future.
I attend the Texas Baptist Committed Convocation yesterday in Dallas. David Currie, the executive director, invited me to come when we were together at the Howard Payne Board meeting last week. Since Bruce Webb has announced that he is going to nominate me from president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), I felt that it would be good to go to the meeting to learn more about the Texas Baptist Committed (TBC). Those who keep close tabs on BGCT life know the TBC has recently made the decision to no longer publically endorse candidates for office within BGCT life. From my perspective this was a good move for our future. The TBC played a vital role in our convention’s struggles, but we are moving into a new day of denominational life. It’s my hope and prayer that God will help us embrace the future with a renewed vigor and passion, but only time will tell.
From my perspective, the TBC has chosen to take role of guardian of our Baptist heritage, encourager of Baptist distinctive, and behind the scenes encourager of pastors, leaders and the laity to be all God wants us to be. I must admit the meeting was informative and challenging to me in a number of ways. I believe the TBC has much to offer our convention as we move into the future and in some ways I believe their new role will help them build some bridges with those who may not have seen eye to eye with them on some highly charged matters.
When the news that I attended this meeting begins to circulate many may have theories about my motivation or intentions. So let me go on record, I believe if the BGCT is going to embrace its future it is going to take all of us. I believe our leaders need to be represent all the shades and expressions of Baptist life in Texas. The BGCT is a miracle of diversity and cooperation. We are probably one of the most diverse expressions of Christian fellowship on planet earth. I view leadership in basic simple terms. Leadership is about relationships and influence. I worshipped and learned with my TBC brothers and sisters yesterday because they are my brothers and sisters, and I am richer today for having spent the day with them.
This week Otto Arango filed a libel suit in Hildalgo county court against the Baptist General Convention of Texas, David Montoya, The Baptist Standard, Calvary Baptist Church of Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto Baptist Association, David Tamez, Dexton Shores, The River Ministry, Roberto Rodriguez, Primera Iglesia Bautista, and Eloy Hernandez. Once again the Valley Gate Scandal has reared its ugly head in Baptist life.
Now the glaring lights of a public courtroom will bring to light struggles within our Baptist family. From a distance it is hard to know what or whom to believe. Was Otto Arango a victim or victimized? It appears a court will make this judgment.
As Randel Everett is calling together iTeams for Hope 2010 to “ignite” us into sharing the gospel with every man and woman, boy and girl, in Texas our good name will be drug through the mud of public scrutiny. I pray we can turn this situation for good. It’s my prayer our leaders will be forth right and determined to shed light on what really happened. Let’s get to the bottom of this dark chapter and learn our expensive lessons. I deeply regret Arango felt that this was his only course of action in this matter. I don’t know his heart or motives, but I pray in the end truth and right will prevail, and that justice will be served. Difficult days lie ahead, but we do not need to fear what is around the corner. I am confident the Lord can work through these events to accomplish His purposes in our lives.
For those of us in the stands, let’s not be spectators let’s be intercessors. For those on the front lines and in the hot seats, you will be in our prayers, speak the truth in love and shed your light on this dark secret in our work together. I am confident the light will drive back the darkness and we will walk out of this chapter stronger and wiser.
On August 6, 2008 Win Oakes finished the race and laid hold of his eternal reward. After a long struggle against cancer, Win entrusted his life into the hands of our Lord. When I heard the news of his death my heart and mind were flooded with memories. Win blessed me in more ways than he probably ever knew. He believed in me when I and others had a hard time taking me seriously.
I have been under Win’s influence every since my kindergarten days in Lubbock. His little daughter Amy was a kindergarten sweetheart, and Win and Martha were good friends to my parents. At the time Win worked for a local business but it would not be long before he left a success business career to serve the Lord in fulltime ministry. His first significant touch of my life was in 1982 when I graduated from Baylor. I was a newly wed preparing to enter Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Our intentions were for Robyn to teach and for me to be a full-time student until I could land a ministry position at the ripe old age of 22. One day Win called to ask for my resume. He was the Director of Missions for the Denton Baptist Association and he wanted to recommend me to the small struggling First Baptist Church of Roanoke. The church in the previous weeks had forced out their pastor and were longing for a pastor to rebuild the fellowship. Win believe I was the man for the job and stuck out his neck on my behalf. He arranged for me to get an interview with the committee, who felt led to present me to the church to preach in view of a call.
To give you some kind of perspective how green and naïve I was, let share this brief story. After preaching my heart out in my call sermon, Robyn and I were rushed off to the small pastor’s study to await the vote of the church. We waited patiently hoping and praying the church would call us. When the chairman of the pulpit committee appeared in the door he smiled and said “the majority voted to call you as pastor”. I asked “what was the vote?” I don’t remember the exact figures, but in essence he reported that 60% voted in favor and 40% voted in opposition. I looked at Robyn, smiled and said, “I would love to be your pastor”. He led us back to the auditorium and reported to the church that I had accepted the call. I suspect the people looked at each other and thought to themselves what in the world is going on. I was so wet behind the ears I did not even realize that 40% opposition was a bad vote. All I knew was it was a fulltime church with a parsonage that would allow me to go to seminary. Over the next five we grew to love each other and God did amazing things in our fellowship. I am sure when word got back to Win about what had happen he must have scratched his head, but the thing I remember is Win believed in me.
Over the next twenty-five years time and time again God would bring Win back into my life when I needed someone to believe in me. While I was serving Wisconsin Win was a constant source of encouragement. Serving in the upper Midwest can be a source of great discouragement and loneliness. Southern Baptists are few and far between on the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. Most serve in small remote churches with limited success. Questioning your gifts and calling is quite common, but Win fought that discouragement with his practical help and friendship. Rank and prominence meant practically nothing to Win. To Win each and everyone of us were special and significant in the work of the Kingdom.
I am going to miss Win. My heart goes out to Martha and his family. I suspect only when we get to heaven will we really ever know the difference this quiet, behind the scenes, leader made for the sake of the Kingdom.
Win, since I know you are now in that great cloud of witnesses watching down over us—”Thank you for believing in me!”
Once again the regents of Baylor University will be searching high and low for a new president of the largest Baptist university in the world. Dr. John Lilley’s tenure at Baylor was short and not so sweet. The task of a college president may be one of the most difficult in the world. He or she has the responsibility of balancing relationships with college professors, donors, students, and alumni. Each and every one of these constituencies offered unique challenges and opportunities for success and immediate failure. In Lilley’s case, he stepped into a high divisive situation following the controversial tenure and dismissal of Dr. Robert Sloan, who now serves as president of Houston Baptist University. Sloan led Baylor with a strong hand, and with the tenacity of a Baptist preacher.
Needless to say, Dr. Lilley stepped into a mine field of challenges. Living in the “Baylor Bubble” may work for freshman from Canyon, but not for the president. In many ways looking in from the outside it appears that Dr. Lilley was an “unintentional interim”. After his firing, Dr. Howard Batson, president of the board of regents, gave high marks to Dr. Lilley and his administration on many fronts. It appears Baylor was moving in forward, yet deep divisions within the life of the university appear to be the undoing of Dr. Lilley’s administration. These divisions were there when Dr. Lilley arrived, and they will continue to haunt this great university until the leaders of the various factions choose to get on the same page and behind the same vision for the future.
Those of us who love Baylor and want to see it continue to be the Baptist response to higher education and Christian scholarship need to pray for Dr. Batson, and those who will be charged with the selection of the next president. I would encourage presidential search committee to be very deliberate, prayerful, and selective as they seek the next president. Baylor cannot afford another “unintentional interim”. Baylor needs a proven servant leader who models his administration after the leadership principles of our Lord. Baylor needs a president that is fully devoted to Jesus Christ, Baptist by conviction, a scholar and life long learner, someone who will listen, and someone who will lead. Baylor needs a president who can articulate a vision bold enough to lead this great university to raise the bar in Christian scholarship to heights unmatched by any previous generation. Baylor needs to be committed to turning out the finest servant leaders in all arenas of life whether in the boardroom, the court room, the pulpit, or the playing field.
In closing I want to thank Dr. Lilley for his service to Baylor. I pray his days ahead will be fruitful and blessed. I want to pledge my support to Dr. Batson and the regents. Yours is a thankless task. I pray the Lord will guide you during these difficult days of transition. I pray the best days for Baylor and the good old Baylor line are just around the corner!
If you have been checking in on my blog the last few days you probably wondered what happened to me. I doubt many of you feared that I had been raptured and you had been “left behind”. I went “away without leave” to Hawaii with my parent’s to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in Kona. If you have never been to Kona Hawaii it would be a trip worth taking. I will try to now bore you with too many vacation stories, but when our plane landed it appeared we had landed on the moon. The Kona airport sits squarely in a pitch black lava flow. It was a sign to see for a boy from West Texas…I felt right at home!
I guess the big news during my absence was the announcement that Bruce Webb will be nominating me for president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas this year in my hometown Fort Worth. I am excited about the adventure ahead. Stephen Hatfield is a good friend of mine. Obviously I am not running against him but rather offering my services to the convention during this time of change and transition. I trust the Lord will speak through the votes of our messengers. I am at peace about whatever the outcome may be. I am confident that whatever happens in Fort Worth, the BGCT will come out the winner if our people show up and commit themselves to be part of the solution to our challenges.
I am still trying to catch up from jetlag. Thanks for checking in.