Monthly Archives: March 2009

A Call to Prayer: April 15,2009

As our nation continues its plunge into financial and economic uncertainty, it would appear that God may be trying to get our attention. Whenever God rattles the financial structures of a society it is clear He is seeking to get the undivided attention of the people. Few things get our attention as quickly as a financial crisis, whether you are talking about an individual, family, church, school, or business.

In a pivotal conversation with Solomon upon the dedication of the Temple in the heart of Jerusalem, the LORD warned the king saying: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14 NIV).

Note the LORD said, “when” not “if” speaking of his discipline of His people. The LORD knows us all too well. He knows our hearts tend to wander, but He loves us enough to step in to get our attention before it is too late. I suspect God is up to something in the West, if not in the whole world. As Friedman observed, “The World is Flat” and our lives are becoming increasing interconnected. We may be part of a world-wide spiritual movement of “biblical” proportions!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit with Danny Sinquefield, President of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. In the conversation he shared with me a challenge he has issued to all the presidents of our Baptist state conventions across the land. Sinquefield has called the leaders and churches of Tennessee to set aside April 15, 2009 as a day of “focused prayer” for our nation and its families.

As president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, I have asked Dr. Randel Everett to issue this call to prayer for our leaders and churches as well. As pastor of First Baptist Church of Canyon, I have joined in this effort and have called our church to a twenty-four hour day of prayer. We are asking our people to sign up and to fill our prayer room every hour of the day from 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. In addition, we will have a solemn assembly for prayer at noon in our sanctuary, and our evening prayer meeting at 6:00 p.m. will be a special time of prayer for our nation. I am also challenging all our music, youth, and children’s activities on Wednesday evening to focus on praying for our nation.

Many of us for years have been praying for a spiritual awakening in our land. Could April 15, 2009 be the day the fresh winds begin to blow?

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BGCT Presidental Journal 11

My destination this week took me to the bustling heart of the old south Atlanta, Georgia. Bucky Kennedy, president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, invited all the state convention presidents to join him in a private meeting with Dr. Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This historic meeting was the first of its kind, and revolved around the theme of “The Great Commission Resurgence.”

President Hunt came to listen, and much of great value was shared. I learned a great deal and found a real sense of partnership among my brothers from around the nation. My personal challenge to the group was for us to stop drawing lines in the sand to divide us and to get back to making the Great Commission the focus of our efforts and cooperation in the years to come.

By gentleman’s agreement, the discussions among these leaders will remain private, but I pray the outcome of the meeting will make a huge difference publicly as we seek to work together for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

While I was in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to renew an old friendship with Dr. Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board. It was hard to believe Geoff had been at his post for two years, and it have been well over twenty years since we had seen each other. Our relationship goes back to days when we both served as church planters north of Dallas in Lewisville. It was mind boggling to see where the Lord has taken us since those simple days of our youth.

Over dinner, Geoff and I discussed family and our spiritual journeys. We also discussed our visions of tomorrow in Baptist life. I resonated greatly with Geoff’s simple strategy for reaching North America. His vision revolves around three primary objectives: “Sharing Christ, starting churches, and sending missionaries.” He felt that it was essential in the complex world we live in to make our mission simple and direct. The truth is the Kingdom of God is not complicated, and our mission is not reserved for the intellectual. Jesus used common ordinary people to start His movement, and we would be wise to follow His example.

After dinner, Geoff gave me a walking tour of the NAMB complex. On each floor, he had stories to tell about the amazing staff and their work. He showed me the command center used by Southern Baptists during major disaster relief efforts. He also showed me a life size cut out of Annie Armstrong. I had no idea this strong woman of our Baptist heritage was over six feet tall!

One strong impression I received from my time with Dr. Hammond was this. He has a strong passion to see North America come to Christ, and he wants to be a full partner with the BGCT in this effort. He commended us on our Texas Hope 2010 efforts, and offered to help in any way in this effort.

Once again, I sense fresh winds blowing. A new day is dawning for the rediscovery of kingdom cooperation in our day. I believe we stand at a historic moment in American history. I believe God has humbled us as a Baptist people by allowing our selfish striving to undermine our position of power and prominence. We are a broken people, but God has an amazing way of taking broken people and using them for His glory!

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BGCT Presidential Journal 10

This week I had the special opportunity to participate in the 88th Panhandle Pastor and Layman’s Conference at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, just sixty miles south of Canyon. Participation in this annual event is a highlight of the winter months for me. I had the honor of being the president of this conference just a couple of years ago.

This year’s event featured Dr. Calvin Miller and Dr. Randel Everett as keynote speakers. The conference emphasized dreaming big dreams for God. As usual when Dr. Everett speaks and circulates among our Texas Baptist family good things happen. We are blessed to have a leader who naturally reaches across the barriers that have historically divided us. His actions incarnate a new day is dawning among as we work together to bring hope to Texas.

The wit, creativity, and passion of Dr. Calvin Miller inspired me. Too often I settle for less than my creative best, but Miller inspired me to think deeper, to love, to dream, to write, and to be creative as an expression of the divine spark within me. As usual he spoke from the heart and read from a couple of his many texts. This year his favorite text was his memoirs entitled Life Is Mostly Edges.

One quote from Miller’s addresses that struck a chord with me was “a life determined from somewhere else.” He used Paul and his Corinthian writings as the backdrop for his comments, but I don’t remember the exact context of this statement. “A life determined from somewhere else” reminds me that my life has purpose and significance from above. None of us accidentally stepped on the stage of history. Each of us must play our part. Each of us uniquely express the passion and creativity of our Creator and Lord. In these chaotic days of uncertainty and the movements of forces beyond our control, it is a profound blessing to know that our lives were created and meant for “such a time as this.”

The 88th edition of the Panhandle Pastor’s and Layman’s conference was just a shadow of its former glory. The attendance was sparse, but represented some of the finest among our West Texas Baptist family. The conference and break out sessions were outstanding, and the fellowship reminded me of a family reunion.

One highlight of the conference for me was sitting in on a session my father, Dr. D.L. Lowrie, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church of Lubbock, presented on the “Legacy Church.” The “Legacy Church” is a politically correct way of referring to the “traditional church.” One truth I walked away from this session with was the reminder of the importance of “story” for the traditional church. Lowrie noted every “Legacy church” has a story, and that wise pastor learns the story of his church and is careful to minister within the story line for effectiveness and favor. He also warned of the danger of trying to change the story. The story can be changed, but a wise leader helps the people to rewrite their story, because the true storytellers of the traditional church are the people themselves.

Much like an older Christian statesman the days of the Panhandle Pastor and Layman’s conference may be coming to a close one day, but the wealth of wisdom and influence it offers is like the treasure found after a good long conversation with someone who loves you. I am richer and wiser because of time well spent in Plainview.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 9

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

Over the past several weeks it has occurred to me that the spiritual struggle I am in is with an enemy that plays for keeps. Whether your focus is on the local church or the workings of a large denomination, our enemy cares little if we are going through the motions or simply playing “church” but when one gets serious about spiritual warfare and engaging the culture strife and struggle breaks out.

On a personal level I have gone through more personal struggles and professional difficulties in the last few weeks than I have encountered in the last twenty years combined. I mentioned to someone that I feel like I am walking around with a huge target on my back.

What encourages me in this struggle is that I have also seen with my own eyes the walls of division beginning to crack between our comrades in arms. I see renewed commitment to the Great Commission of our Lord at every turn. Texas Hope 2010 is becoming much more of a mandate than a motto.

I suspect I am experiencing the difference between being a spectator rather than a participant in change. In the stands even though the competition is brutal on the field, the spectator can make his or her “expert” pronouncements without the fear of an angry 300 lbs. defensive tackle attacking. In the stands, it is easy to see what is wrong, but in the huddle the conversations are quite different. Team work is essential. The battle and the bruises are real. The game is in the balance. In the huddle it is not every man for himself, but rather one for all and all for one.

As president I feel the weight of leadership even though my role is somewhat limited by authority and position. I believe I bear this mantle for this hour to bring the change we need and long for. However, change on the level of a convention is much more like changing the course of an aircraft carrier rather than a speed boat. It will take time and intentionality.

Last week I attended the Engage XP conference at Second Baptist of Odessa. It was the next to last of these events across the state. John Randles reported by the time the event at FBC Woodlands was over 6,000 leaders and people would have participated in these evangelism training and inspiration efforts. I had the opportunity to attend three of the events. In each one the training was exceptional, and the challenge to reach our state was inspiring. The day of a large state-wide evangelism conference may be over, but taking the training to the people will be a key step in implementing Texas Hope 2010.

On the financial front, the February numbers are looking much more promising the January’s returns, it appears some of our churches are righting themselves and are stepping up in their giving. As you know our financial strength reflects the strength of our churches. The really good news is the fact that our Texas World Hunger offering is significantly ahead of last year and our Mary Hill Davis gifts are also ahead. In these trying times, we must remember it is our faith not our finances that determine our course and effectiveness.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 8

The Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is an amazing collection of men and women from across the state. I discovered they come to the table with one heart and mind to accomplish our Kingdom assignment. However this mission is much easier said than done. In times of seismic change like we are going through these able leaders must wrestle with difficult and complex decisions.

As president of the convention I have the honor to serve on the executive board this year. I must admit I show up for the meeting “wet behind the ears” with a great deal to learn. As I sat in on the meetings I gained a much better grasp of the challenges we face together. There are very few easy choices these days.

The most daunting challenge we face today as Texas Baptists is our financial crisis. The plunge in the giving of our churches reflects the state of affairs on the local level. One must never forget the BGCT is not a staff in Dallas gathered in the Baptist Building. The BGCT is our member churches who have voluntarily agreed to work together on the God sized tasks of missions and evangelism, Christian education, and being an advocate for the least of these.

From my limited perspective of the past, I suspect much of our financial crisis came from somewhat self-inflicted wounds. Over the past ten years as we struggled for our identify and place within the Kingdom at times our message and mission was lost in a fog of fringe agendas and actions. The genius of Texas Hope 2010 revolves around the clarion call to return to our core values of missions and evangelism, and helping those on the margins of life.

There is good news to report on this front, last year we only lost twenty churches from cooperation and we birthed ninety-one new churches. Granted the Cooperative Program giving in the transaction was a wash this year but in the years to come as these new churches grow and develop we will be able to do more and more together.

In addition, I learned that the success rate of our new church plants is now over 90%. This percent is unheard of in the world of church planting. Having been a church planter years ago I remember when a 33% success rate was accepted as an industry standard.

The genius behind this transformation was born out of a simple change in strategy. Instead of funding church planters, the BGCT helps churches plant churches. The BGCT helps churches with training, equipping, and financial support. Instead of being a “missions bank” and simply throwing money at the problem, the BGCT strives to be a mission partner helping our churches to be effective at reaching their communities and context.

I believe church planting must play a major role as we embrace our future together. This year we will fund these partnerships to the tune of $3.9 million but I pray in the years to come we will be able to double our efforts and more. We must never forget as I learn as a church planter in Flower Mound, “the resources are in the harvest.”

Simply put, our future rests on “making the main thing the main thing,” closing the back door by staying on task and on mission, and kicking the front door wide open through missions and evangelism.

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