Monthly Archives: April 2009

Thrift: A Good Word for Today

In 1933, as our nation struggled in the aftermath of the collapse of the stock market, Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote:

We need enthusiasm, imagination and ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct by drastic means if necessary the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer. We need the courage of the young.

In this dark day in American history, Roosevelt challenged young and old alike to face the future with creativity and character. To not hide in the shadows but to step into the light by facing reality as it is, and striving to do something about it.

It amazes me how contemporary his words sound today. David Blankenhorn, founder of the American Values Institute and devoted follower of Jesus, is sounding a call back to the bedrock values of industry and frugality. He fears that if we don’t reverse the trends of the last thirty years the “debt culture” we have created will sow the seeds of financial disaster and death for many of the families of America.

Blankenhorn looks the Bible and to the example of men like Benjamin Franklin for his inspiration for change. It is interesting how “old” ideas offer “new” insights and principles for our day. The wise man of Ecclesiastes rightly noted this truth saying:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

Franklin coined sayings like “a penny saved is a penny earned” to inspire his revolutionary generation to have the kind of core values that would win the day. In many ways we need a return of this revolutionary spirit to return our nation to its firm footing.

Blankenhorn seeks to return the word “thrift” to good standing within the vocabularies of young and old Americans. He wrote:

The word “thrift” comes from “thrive.” Understood in this way, thrift is the ethic and practice of best use. Being thrifty means making the wisest use of all that we have — time, money, our possessions, our health, and our society’s natural resources — to promote both our own flourishing and the social good.

Understood in this way, “thrift” reminds me of the sacred value of “stewardship.” Our Father in heaven has entrusted his riches into our hands, and has called on each of us to be good stewards of His creation. This stewardship is a sacred trust.

In this day of economic change and uncertainly, I pray we will be courageous and brave like the young, and return to the sound financial principles of being good stewards under the watchful care of our heavenly Father.

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WorldconneX: A Glimpse into the Future of Missions

On April 16th the WorldconneX Board of Trustees affirmed the recommendation from the executive leadership of the Baptist General Convention of Texas to dissolve the organization and to move three key facets of its work directly into the mission of the convention. This action ends a seven-year adventure of faith and creativity led by Bill Tinsley, a creative and loyal BGCT leader. I must confess my reflections on this transition in the life of WorldconneX will be colored by my long-term relationship with Tinsley. He has been my mentor, friend, and example in ministry now for over twenty-five years. We served shoulder to shoulder together in the Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention for several years. In my opinion, you will not find a better friend to the local pastor and a more passionate follower of Jesus than Tinsley.

I want to make two observations about WorldconneX as this chapter in our mission journey ends, and a new day dawns. It is my opinion that WorldConnex was hindered and limited by the struggles of the BGCT. Since WorldconneX was so closely linked to the BGCT, it suffered along with the BGCT leadership. While this dream was trying to take form and shape, the mission endeavors of the BGCT were struggling on many fronts. It is hard enough to dream new dreams and to be on the cutting edge of a new day in missions without struggling against the tide.

Secondly, I believe WorldconneX was just a bit ahead of its time. Pioneers and trailblazers are often misunderstood, and sadly sometimes the enemy of those who are in power. Change means new paradigms and possibly the ending of some long term efforts. The paradigms and ideas espoused by WorldconneX from my perspective were old and new at the same time. The vision of WorldconneX was as old as the book of Acts that paints a picture of local churches on mission to reach the world. WorldconneX envisioned a return of the local church to the front lines of missions. As the world increasingly became “flat” and advances in technology, communication, and travel made the world much smaller and much more interconnected, Tinsley and others saw an open door for the local church, big and small, to be one of the primary forces behind the Great Commission. Out of this old vision emerged its commitment to “front-line services” which help local churches deploy their own missionaries with the technical and practical help provided by WorldconneX. In addition, the “Inside/Out” weekends were designed to help each local church discover its own unique “Kingdom assignment.” These old ideas and paradigms were also taking on new shades of color and vibrancy. WorldconneX cut new ground in creating networks around the world for individuals and churches to do more together while following their own sense of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

We live in a time when hard decisions have to be made. I was not in the loop on the timing or all the deliberations behind this decision, but I strongly support Randel Everett and Bill Tinsley as they seek to pursue a new day in Texas Baptist life. Even though it saddens me to see WorldconneX end as an organization, much like an organ transplant gives new life and vitality to a body struggling for life, I believe the infusion of life coming from WorldconneX into the mission of the BGCT will lead to greater good, and possibly even a greater reality than WorldconneX could have seen on their own. Now these creative and innovative tools, ideas, and concepts will be mainstream in BGCT life. No longer will these endeavors be a sidebar to our work together, but will be part of our identity as a Kingdom, missional movement. Tinsley and his team of creative, innovative and persistent leaders have given Texas Baptists a gift that will color and shape our future for many years to come. For this I am personally and deeply grateful.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 14

This week I had the opportunity to be the chapel speaker for Truett Seminary, and to visit Baylor University my Alma mater. Robyn and I traveled to Waco on Monday where we met at Baylor as freshmen in a psychology class in January 1979. As we walked the campus on a beautiful spring afternoon it was amazing to us how much the Baylor campus has changed. You know when you are getting older when the dorm you spent one of the wonderful years of your youth in no longer exists. I suspect the rules of the Geneva Convention must have come into effect and Brooks Hall had to go the way of the wrecking ball only to be resurrected as “Brooks Residential College.” To be frank, the current parking buildings are more lavish than my dorm. The campus of Baylor University is a gem on the Brazos. The vision and financial commitment of the leaders and alumni of Baylor have given our Texas Baptist family a wonderful gift for the generations to come.

This was my first trip to Truett Seminary since its inception. I was very impressed with the faculty and staff of the school. The students were bright and passionate about preparing for Kingdom work both here and around the world. The faculty was very gracious and encouraging to me. I must admit preaching in a seminary was a bit unnerving for me since the last time I preached in seminary I received a “B” for my efforts. Preaching in the presence of Dr. David Garland and Dr. Joel Gregory was for me like a golf hacker having to tee off on the first tee of the Masters with Tiger Woods watching on. I don’t believe I hit a 300 yard drive but I think I kept the ball in the fairway. I felt led to speak out of Mark 1 on two defining moments in the life of Jesus. I pointed out how at Jesus’ baptism, a significant rite of passage, God the Father ripped open heaven and declared “This is my son, whom I love. In Him I am well pleased.” This critical moment in the journey to the cross for Jesus reminded Him how much His Father loved Him. I encouraged the students to remember it is the love of Jesus that inspires and encourages us to give our all for the Kingdom. The other defining moment was an early solitary moment Jesus spent with His Father after a night when the “whole city was at the door.” Popularity and the voices of the masses often can drown out the still small voice of the Father. I challenged these young leaders to never neglect their solitary silent moments in the presence of the LORD. His voice and His voice alone needs to guide our steps and decisions.

Following chapel my wife and I had a private meeting with Dr. David Garland, interim president of Baylor and dean of Truett. Dr. Garland is a wonderful Christian scholar, leader, and gentleman. I left the meeting feeling really good about the present state of affairs at Baylor, and really good about the future of Truett. One of Dr. Garland’s passions is to see Truett turning out more and more “happy pastors” to serve our churches. Sadly many of our seminary students have almost no interest in going into the pastorate. This is a grave concern for Dr. Garland as he looks to the future of the church at large. If we don’t raise up a generation of young pastors to lead our churches we will marching into a crisis of leadership in the near future. (On a personal note: I suspect we need to be preparing for a large number of our smaller churches turning to bi-vocational pastors. We need to find ways to train these pastors. Many of these pastors will be entering the ministry later in life. In some ways this could be a very positive trend.) I suspect one reason so many of our young leaders are not moving toward the pastorate is their sense of calling to reach the nations. This generation has a real heart and passion for the nations, especially those people groups who have never heard the name of Jesus. This is good news from the worldwide Kingdom perspective.

During the afternoon my wife and I received a tour of the new athletic training facilities. Since Baylor competes in the Big 12 it is important that the training facilities be competitive with the large state schools in the conference. During the visit I had the honor of meeting the athletic director Ian McCaw, a wonderful Christian gentleman, who has assembled one of the finest staffs of Christian coaches in America. McCaw takes very seriously the Christian distinctiveness of Baylor University. The Bears and Lady Bears have an opportunity to be a light on the big stage of Division 1 NCAA competition. Rick Darnell and David Hardage were our guides through the state of the art training facilities. When we visited the training room of the basketball programs lead by Scott Drew and Kim Mulkey there was a sign that caught my eye. As the student athletes leave the room each day after training there is a list of values posted for them to be reminded of. On the list are values like hard work and using no profanity. At the top of the list is “Give the glory to God.” As a pastor and Baylor alumni this was quite inspiring for me to see. The Baylor basketball program has just come off of another excellent season, but their number one focus was not winning but rather giving glory to God which is as it should be!

The budget of Baylor towers over the ministry budget of the BGCT. The BGCT’s gifts and financial support of the Baylor are very small compared to its needs, but this historic partnership is an example of for other Baptist schools to follow. In a day when many Baptist universities are pulling away from the denominational roots, it is my hope that the relationship between Baylor and the BGCT will only get stronger as we seek to work together to “give the glory to God” in the classroom, on the field, and most importantly in the world.

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April 15: A Date for Real Change

Benjamin Franklin observed “the only things certain in life are death and taxes.” Young and old Americans know each year that the “tax day” is coming. Especially in these days of historic bailouts that boggle the mind and drain the batteries on calculators—taxes are getting to be more and more a sure thing!

Filling out the IRS 1040 form requires a graduate degree or a highly trained red-eyed CPA. Albert Einstein who solved the mysteries of noted “the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” I must agree!

On April 15th around our nation there is a grassroots movement rallying around the theme of “Tea Parties.” Those who know American history remember the historic revolt in the harbor of Boston when our founding fathers tossed British tea overboard in revolt against unfair taxation from Mother England. Today, many are angry and frustrated with the course we are taking as a nation. So rallies are springing up all across the land calling for change—real change!

I fear the cries of the people are directed to the wrong place of real change. If we want real change we need to cry out not to Washington but to heaven. On April 15th churches and believers across the land will be hitting their knees crying out for real change. I plan on joining this movement.

In a dark hour in Israel’s history the prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the LORD offered a powerful promise to His people. He said:

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV)

We will find what we are longing for when we seek the LORD with all our hearts.

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Maundy Thursday: Reflections on BGCT Life

Last night our church gathered around the Lord’s Table for our annual Maundy Thursday service. This solemn evening of worship has been a part of my ministry over the past ten years. During my days in Wisconsin I became more aware of the seasons of the ancient church, and incorporated this special evening in the midst of Holy Week into the life of the churches I lead and love. In preparing for the service, I read some of the historic origins of the Maundy Thursday service. Its origin goes back centuries and revolves around the dark night before the cross, when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet and instituted the Lord’s Supper out of the elements of the Passover meal, and gave His disciples a new commandment.

The word “Maundy” actually comes from the Latin word “man datum” which literally means “to command.” The “disciple that Jesus loved” revealed a new commandment given by our Lord on during that “dark night of the soul.” Just moments after Judas departed into the night to carry out his act of betrayal, Jesus looked deep into the faces of His disciples and closest friends and said:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

It appears this statement was lost to the disciples in the events of the night. Peter is still trying to get his mind around Jesus revealing that He was leaving them and going somewhere Peter could not follow. I fear in all of our kingdom busyness we too have lost this command. A simple close look reveals a powerful truth. Jesus commands that His followers “love one another.” It would have been much easier if He had commanded “loving the world.” Loving a stranger in a land I have never visited is much easier than loving the person who lives close to me and knows me. Let’s face it our deepest wounds can often be traced by to those closest to us, and the ones we hurt too often are those within our inner circle. Loving one another calls for a life of devotion and intimacy few aspire to.

To make sure the disciples understood the depth of this love commanded, Jesus added, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He set the bar high. The benchmark of love is not the sentimental standards of a country western ballad, but the vivid colors of love revealed from heaven in acts of Jesus. Jesus loved first. Jesus forgives with the scars to prove it. Jesus loves forever.

In Texas Baptist life I fear we have neglected this simple command to “love one another.” This may be at the root of many of our struggles over the past ten years. We have forgotten Jesus’ insight “By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” As we march forward with our Texas Hope 2010 orders, I pray we will all be mindful how important it is to “love one another.”

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Theological Lines in the Sand

Today I was studying the story of Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees over the fact his disciples did not wash their hands before meals. It strikes me odd that in a world dominated by the Romans, and the plight of the people in the 1st century that these religious leaders found time to keep up with the washing habits of a group of disciples. Of course, we too are good can getting caught up worrying about the details and missing the point.

In Dr. David Garland’s commentary on Mark, he quotes Donald W. McCullough who wrote in an article in Christianity Today entitled “Serving a Wild Free God”:

“God does not always respect the boundaries we create and carefully protect. Drawing lines in the theological sand may serve our purposes; separating good guys from bad guys and can be helpful, because it is hard to know that you’re on the inside unless you know who is on the outside. But God has a studied disregard for anxieties of this sort. Prodigal grace keeps spilling over into alien territory”

I don’t know about you but I am tired of drawing lines in the sand to narrowly define the “pure and holy.” It seems these lines rarely made us a better people, or even really change character they just define the appropriate public mask we must wear.

Jesus pointed out in Mark 7, the real issue and wellspring of life is the heart. He notes:

“What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” Mark 7:20-23 (NIV)

Lines in the theological sand are fitting for religious systems, but rarely breathe life into those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We would be better served to stop worrying about whose on the inside or outside, but rather be more concerned about what’s going on inside our own hearts.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 13

Houston: This week I traveled to Houston to work with the Committee on Convention Business (COCB) chaired by Jeane Law of First Baptist Church of Lubbock. The meeting was held in Houston so the committee to walk the halls and check out the massive George R. Brown Convention Center. Our annual meeting this year will be held exclusively on the second floor of the convention center that will make the meeting much more convenient for our messengers.

The theme for this year’s convention will be “Texas Hope 2010.” The officers selected this theme because it only seemed fitting to our annual meeting should emphasis our corporate efforts to share the gospel with every person in Texas by Resurrection Sunday 2010, and to make it our mission to make sure the hungry of Texas have “something to say grace over.”

During the course of our meeting Tom Billings, Executive Director of the Union Baptist Association, brought greetings to the committee, during his remarks he shared an amazing fact. Billings noted that one-fourth of the population of Texas lives within thirty miles of the George R. Brown Convention Center. Since I live on the great plains of the Panhandle of Texas I often forget how the masses of people live in the great metropolitan areas of Texas. If we are serious about bring hope to Texas we must bring hope to the great cities of Texas.

During the meeting there was strong sentiment within the COCB that we must start thinking outside the box as we plan our annual meetings for the future. At our May meeting, the COCB will consider what actions to take to bring a motion to the convention to take a hard look at what we need to do to make our annual meetings more effective for the future. Trying to draw large crowds to a glorified, expensive business meeting is difficult at best these days, but it is critical that we find ways for us as Texas Baptists to meet together for business, collaboration, synergy, communication, fellowship, and worship. If we lose the sense of our connectedness and the spirit of Kingdom cooperation we will be far less in the future than we have been in our past. Coloring outside the lines is never easy for large complex organizations too often controlled by those vested in the status quo, but we must forge a way to think new thoughts and dream new dreams.

I was particularly moved by the spirit of the meeting in Houston. The COCB is a very diverse group of Baptists, but we functioned together as a team. I pray this year’s convention in Houston will set the tone for some exciting days ahead for us as Texas Baptists.

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