Monthly Archives: February 2009

Remarks to Executive Board of BGCT

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to make some brief remarks to the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. As president of the convention I have the unique opportunity to speak to the men and women charged with the oversight of our state convention executive leadership and staff. During the previous day I sat in on a number of meetings to learn in greater detail about the inner workings of the convention.

These meetings revealed good and bad news on many fronts. The good news came as reports are coming in from all over the state about churches and leaders buying in on the Texas Hope 2010 vision. The bad news centered in on the economic woes faced by the convention and our member churches. Due to the recession and other factors the BGCT is facing monumental challenges in trying to make ends meet and to do the work of the Kingdom assigned to us from above. Over the past several years I have been monitoring our financial position from afar. Now that I have access to first hand knowledge I believe the struggles have changed. In the past I believe many of our financial struggles were self-inflicted, but now I believe we have been caught up in the wave of recession sweeping our nation. In addition many of our churches were devastated by Hurricane Ike, and their ability to join in our cooperative efforts was severely hampered. One of the key motions made at the meeting was the authorization to use of up to $2.5 million in reserve funds to weather this storm.

In light of these dark economic days, I felt compelled to speak to the board from a text in Psalm 37. David wrote, “Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and find safe pasture.” The phrase “trust in the Lord and do good” captured my imagination. I wondered as I meditated on this truth if it was really possible to do ultimate good if you do not trust in the Lord. Granted it is possible to do good things, but the ultimate good our world needs and longs for, the kind of good that marks our heritage as the children of God. Trusting God leads to loving enemies and those on the margins of life. Trusting God leads to going the second mile and working behind the scenes when no one is watching. Trusting God leads to sacrificially giving so orphans can find a home and the hungry can be feed. Trusting God leads to planting your life in an inner city so those who cry in the night can find hope in the morning.

During these difficult economic times BGCT churches face many challenges. How our churches respond will color and dictate our future cooperative efforts. The BGCT is our churches and when our churches struggle we struggle, and when our churches succeed we succeed together. The temptation facing most of our churches is the temptation to circle the wagons and fight for survival. It is the temptation to pull back and do less so we weather the storm.

The question we must ask ourselves to quote a classic novel, “Is this the worst of times or the best of times?” Many would think this question is out of context, but I believe it is the right question for our day. Could this actually be the best of times? I believe for those of us in Kingdom work the answer is a resounding YES! This is the best of times because the gods of the West are crumpling at our feet. Young and old alike are confronted with the empty promises of the American dream and must begin to question what Kingdom offers the most hope. Do you believe it is an accident that the Lord led us to launch Texas Hope 2010 in a day such as this?

Imagine the typical BGCT church. If you can you are much more gifted and creative than me. There is no typical BGCT church. We are a miracle of Kingdom proportions. We are by far one of the most diversity and amazing families in the Kingdom. We practice heaven on earth each and every Sunday. We have large churches towering over the suburbs of our major cities and we have small churches fortified in the inner cities. BGCT churches dot the plains of West Texas and are nestled in the piney woods of deep East Texas. BGCT churches stand at attention on practically every square of every county seat town in Texas, while across the land the “Day of Pentecost” is reborn as Texas Baptist speaks practically every language under the sun. There is no average BGCT church, but the vast majority of our churches are small in number but big in heart. Most BGCT churches average less than one hundred in attendance and voluntarily cooperate together so they can be part of something much bigger than themselves.

Let’s imagine this small BGCT church trying to make decisions about their immediate future. There is a real temptation to believe the bleak nightly news reports and to board up the windows like someone hunkering down to weather a hurricane. Conversations turn toward cutting back and being conservative. The Cooperative Program gifts are in play as some question the logic of sending money to help others when there are so many needs at home.

There is an alternative however to cutting back. The alternative is “trusting the Lord and doing good”. It is the alternative of doing more not less. Imagine this small church with a big heart decides to take the message of Texas Hope 2010 into the streets and byways around them. Let’s imagine they begin to reach out through their concentric circles of concern. Let’s imagine as they share the “hope of Christ” that men and women, boys and girls come to faith and Christ and join the movement. Slowly the church of one hundreds adds two, then ten, and then ten more. By the miracle of the harvest, the church of one hundred is now a church of one hundred and twenty or one hundred and fifty. Even though the average member is still struggling to make ends meet the church as a whole has more than ever. Truly the resources are in the harvest.

Imagine a dry dirt farmer on the plains of the Middle East, it has been a long winter and the pantry is bare. Hidden away he has a sack of seed for harvest, but his family is hungry and he could mill the seeds and feed his family for a week or two. Or he could plant the seeds and hope and pray for a harvest. By faith he chooses to plant the seeds casting his fears aside and embracing the future with hope. Could this be the context of the words of Psalm 126? The Psalmist wrote:

5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.

Psalms 126:5-6 (NIV)

As Texas Baptists, “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Let’s sow down Texas with hope and trust the LORD for the harvest!

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BGCT Presidential Journal 7

This journal will be more about observations and thoughts rather than actions. I started the week attending Patriot Day at Dallas Baptist University with my wife and youngest two daughters. My third daughter Jamie is graduating from Canyon High in a few weeks and is very interested in attending either Dallas Baptist University or Howard Payne University the alma mater of her two older sisters. This trip to Dallas was to give her a chance to interact with the student body of DBU, and to get a feel for campus life. We started the day off by a brief visit with Dr. Gary Cook, who has become a very dear friend and mentor to me. He was very gracious to us, and encouraged Jamie to prayerfully seek God’s will for her life. Following this visit, we participated in the Patriot Day events.

One of the highlights was attending chapel with the student body. I would encourage all Texas Baptists to attend a chapel service of one of Baptist universities near by. Being in a room full of young men and women praising God, and seeking His face in the middle of a busy school week is exhilarating. It will also make you proud to be part of the BGCT. Our commitment to higher Christian education is an investment that will pay dividends for many years to come. During the chapel service I had the honor to be part of Jim Denison’s first speaking engagement as the theologian in residence for the BGCT. He spoke powerfully on how to seek God in the midst of uncertain and difficult days. He shared the life struggle of his father a WWII veteran who along with 16 comrades were abandoned and left to die on a small island in the Pacific. Denison pointed out how the grace of God can turn tragedy into hope, and how even though his father never returned to church God redeemed his suffering in his life and ministry. It was a powerful word for these young students living in the midst of a chaotic storm, but it spoke volumes to me as well.

One note about DBU, I deeply appreciated the fact that in their presentation to the potential students and parents, that the vice president spoke of how DBU was “not simply a Christian school, but rather a Christ-centered institution.” Christian is not merely a tag line in their profile, but rather the heart beat of its ministry and education plan. I especially enjoyed hearing three deans of the University speak about how they integrate Christ and Christian values into their curriculum and training of young servant leaders.

On Monday afternoon I caught a plane to travel to Nashville to participate in the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. All the state convention presidents and executive directors are invited and encouraged to participate in the EC meeting. It is a way to build relationships and to find ways to work together as Baptists to accomplish the Great Commission. During my time with the EC I had the opportunity to stand with Broadway Baptist Church as they sought to remain in friendly cooperation with the SBC. A motion at the Indianapolis convention to remove them from fellowship was made and this decision was referred to the EC. The day began with a long productive meeting with the Bylaws workgroup lead by Dr. Stephen Wilson.

I won’t go into all the details of the meeting because there are press reports that can do a better job, but I will share my heart in going. I shared with the EC that I was not there representing the BGCT because no one can speak for the BGCT, rather I was there as a loyal SBC/BGCT pastor. I interceded on Broadway’s behalf that the EC give this struggling church in crisis the opportunity to deal with the issues that they were facing without punitive action from the SBC. I stated that I believed that Broadway’s leadership was acting in good faith and desired to remain in friendly cooperation. I also warned the EC of the media blitz that would happen if the EC recommended punitive action against Broadway. I feared that every media outlet would quickly spread the word of this action and that our cooperative work together would be deeply hindered by the negative press. (Clearly, we cannot make decisions based on the fear of the media, but in this case we were dealing with a church trying to work through this situation, and I believe we could handle this matter in a much more productive way). I also shared with them as a BGCT pastor that I hoped and prayed that we could take the stones that we had used to build walls between us to build bridges we could cross to work together to accomplish Kingdom work and the Great Commission of our LORD. I was deeply moved by the positive reception I received both in public statements and in private conversations.

After the EC voted to give Broadway more time to deal with this situation at home and gave them proactive means they could take to stay in friendly cooperation. I stood to thank them for their deliberations and decisions. I was especially thankful for whoever made the decision to send this matter to the EC rather than to the floor of the annual meeting. If this motion had gone to the floor of the convention in Indianapolis with only the news articles and headlines to base a decision on I have no doubt the SBC would have ousted Broadway. However, by choosing this course of action I believe God used this situation for good on all fronts. A standard for Christian conduct was established, and deeper understanding on all sides was realized. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to be on the front row watching the leaders of the SBC and Broadway Baptist Church work together in humility and openness to find common ground and a way to work together. To be fair, we must realize the journey is not over and much still needs to be done, but what a wonderful start we are off too.

I believe fresh winds of the Spirit are blowing among us as Baptists and a new day of cooperation for the sake of the Kingdom is dawning.

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Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and Broadway Baptist Church

Today I had a front row seat for a historic day in Baptist life. I travelled to Nashville to stand with Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth as they sought to find a way to stay in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. Last year in Indianapolis a motion was made in essence saying that Broadway was not in friendly cooperation due to a violation of Article III of the SBC constitution. This motion was wisely and prudently referred to the Executive Committee.

To be frank if the motion had gone to the convention in Indianapolis I believe the convention would have ousted Broadway, and the opportunity for dialogue and working toward common ground would have been lost, plus the fact that the headlines across the nation would have rung with a clanging message that would have distracted us from our Kingdom assignment. I commend those who made the motion to refer for the prudent and wisdom. Their decision set the stage for an amazing moment in Baptist life.

Interim Pastor Charlie Johnson led a three person delegation to dialogue with the Executive committee on this issue. Joining Johnson were Dr. Jorene Taylor Swift, and Lyn Robbins. I was deeply impressed with the humility and openness in which they came before the Executive Committee. I was also very impressed by Dr. Stephen Wilson, chair of the bylaws subcommittee, and Rick Lineberger, chair of the Administrative committee. These two Christian gentlemen set the standard in how they conducted the meetings and the frank discussions.

Another key player in the dialogue was Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. In advance of the meeting Dr. Patterson met privately with Charlie Johnson to help find common ground on this issue. He gave wise counsel. He spoke frankly and fairly. He worked for the common good. Considering the fact that Dr. Patterson personifies the values of our most conservative leaders and Broadway would be on the far left wing of the convention, I commend him on his efforts to help this struggling church find its way through a difficult storm. In addition Dr. Randel Everett made the trip to Nashville to stand with Broadway to affirm their historic and vital role within our Baptist family.

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about this meeting. I did not really know what to expect, and I was very pleasantly surprised. The decorum of the meetings was fitting for how the body of Christ should work together. Like James’ admonition to “be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to become angry” the discussions were marked by a deep desire to understand each other and to address the core issues rather than personal agendas or personalities. I believe “speaking the truth in love” was the order of the day. Like Dr. Wilson commented to me and a couple of others saying that Baptists tend to talk at each other rather than to each other, what he said was true, but he set the example for how that can change.

At the end of the day work still needs to be done before there will be resolution, but this was a good day in Baptist life. I believe we took some of the stones from the walls we have used to divide us to build bridges across which we can work together for the cause of the Great Commission and the Kingdom of God.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 6

This week I had the opportunity to participate in the first meeting of our Committee on Convention Business (COCB) meeting. This year the committee will be led by Jeane Law, former president of the Texas Woman’s Missionary Union and long time family friend. The committee is made up of a diverse cross section of Texas Baptist life. The sixteen members had the monumental task of putting together our annual meeting which includes the business sessions and breakout training sessions.

The theme of this year’s convention in Houston will be “Texas Hope 2010…Christ in you, the Hope of glory.” Instead of coming up with some creative new theme, the officers of the convention recommended that this year’s meeting stay in unison with the heartbeat of our convention under Dr. Everett’s vision and leadership. We are leaning toward shaping the business and worship sessions around the words of Paul –”Christ in you—the hope of glory.”

One exciting idea for this year’s convention will be an IKE Reunion. We are working on a reunion of all the churches in the greater Houston area that were impacted by Hurricane Ike and those churches and individuals who came to their aid and continue to come to their aid. The reunion will celebrate the Texas Baptist family at its best—helping each other in our times of need.

As part of our initial meeting I was asked to give an opening devotional thought and challenge. I selected as my text David’s song of ascent Psalm 133. Years ago the hills around Jerusalem rang with the lyrics of this song as the pilgrims climbed their way to the temple. With each step the hills rang out with “How good and pleasant is it when brothers dwell together in unity.” This call for unity among the people of God rang out then, and still rings out today. As the oldest of four boys, I know that unity among brothers can never be considered a given or easily attained. Unity does not mean uniformity, or sentimental feelings of love. Unity often is messy, and requires embracing conflict.

In my closing charge to the COCB, I spoke of the opportunity we had to write a new chapter in BGCT history. I shared the first BGCT annual meeting I attended was in 1980 in Houston as a young Baylor bear. I attend the meeting with my dad, and vividly remember the circles of frustrated and plotting leaders. I remember rumors of caucus meetings in hotel rooms, and the tension in the air. The meeting was far from the family reunion atmosphere anticipated. Now thirty years later one can look around a see the rubble of years and years of infighting and struggling.

I warned the COCB if we don’t end this chapter we may be writing the last chapter. I am forty-nine years old, and the generations following me have neither patience nor desire to follow our patterns of struggling. Rather their passion beats with the march of the Kingdom around the world. These young men and women want to lose their lives in a cause much bigger than themselves and far too many of them see our political and factional struggles as a huge waste of time and energy. I fear they may be right.

In 1979 this struggle began in Houston on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting while its architects watched from a skybox above, and it is my hope and prayer that this struggle ends in Houston in 2009 as a new day dawns while our LORD watches from the heavens above.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 5

This week I had the opportunity to participate in the Christian Life Commission Conference in Austin. The theme of this year’s conference was “Hope in the Heart of Texas”. The CLC director Suzii Paynter and her capable staff put together a challenging and very enlightening conference this year. The topic spanned the scope of issues facing followers of Jesus in Texas from the current economic crisis to the dark recesses of human trafficking within our borders.

This was my first venture into the CLC world apart from reading much of their material through the years. This conference and the relationships I was able to begin helped me to see the importance of this prophetic voice in our Baptist life. The CLC holds in many ways the role of the Old Testament prophets of old who gave voice to the values of the Kingdom of God into a religious world whose hearing had become dull by influences of the secular society around.

One interesting encounter of the week was on Monday night when the conference had a college activist’s invasion of sorts. Sean Green, one of the CLC consultants and lobbyists, encourage Suzii to show a film on human trafficking by Justin Dillon a young musician from San Francisco. To promote the film, Green set up a “Facebook” event and invited those in the Austin area who were interested to come to the conference free of charge at FBC Austin at 9:30 p.m. for the movie. Around 9:00 p.m. one by one these college kids began to arrive in small groups. They entered the sanctuary dressed in the spectrum of college attire these days complete with tattoos, body piercings, unusual hair cuts and wool caps. Their number soon grew to the point that it appeared the majority of the crowd were these college kids. Many looked in wonder at the sanctuary because it has been a lifetime since they had entered such a “holy place”. It was like the collision of two worlds—or better the uniting of two worlds.

In many ways this “movie night” may be a parable about our future together. The generations stepping on the stage of history right now are looking for spiritual relationships and causes worth living and dying for. Most have felt the mission of the BGCT has become dated and irrelevant like transistor radios in an “Ipod” world. Yet late at night a Kingdom synergy was born between two distant worlds. I suspect the CLC and its vision to be the “light and salt” of the earth must become a vital part of our message if we want to catch the winds blowing among the young generation of followers of Jesus rising around us.

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