Monthly Archives: November 2009

Texas Hunger Summit: Baylor University 2009

 

32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” Matt 15:32 (NIV)

“Hunger is a problem we can solve together”—President Obama

 

Waco: Baylor University School of Social Work hosted a Hunger Summit on November 19, 2009. This Hunger Summit called together leaders from across the state and nation to address the hunger needs in Texas. Around the tables sat the catalyst of leaders ready and willing to “end hunger in Texas by 2015.” To put this goal in perspective, one must realize that Texas is the 2nd hungriest state in the nation. Only Mississippi has a greater need than the great state of Texas.

 

Texas prides itself on being bigger and better, not this is one high rank we should all be ashamed of. Over the Thanksgiving holiday as rich Texans gorge themselves at table overflowing with the goodness of the land, 1.5 million children live in a “food insecure” home where emergency food provision make meal time possible. It is estimate that 1.3 million Texans feel the pains of hunger everyday, while their fellow Texans spend millions of dollars on gym memberships and diet plans.

 

Max Finberg, Director of Faith Based Neighborhood Partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture shared President Obama commitment to address the hunger needs of America by partnering with faith based ministries across the land. He noted in particular the great challenge of giving food the hungry children during the summer months. During the school year hungry children get two square meals a day at school, but what happens when school lets out. How many of these children go hungry is the great question facing the church and government?

 

For instance in Canyon where I serve I discovered that we have approximately 29% of the children who qualify for free lunch, but since we are well below the 60% threshold our schools are not mandated to provide the program in the summer, so nearly 1000 children do not receive the meals they could receive because no one is providing the service. When we looked into the program one thing we were reminded was how much paperwork and red tape would be involved in trying to meet this need and to work with the government agency. So the great question looming over us is how far will be go to help a hungry child? I suspect many across the state face the same dilemma. So what are we to do as a faith community?

 

In Texas during the summer only 12% of the children who qualify for the summer feeding program actually receive the services. The stated goal of this Summit was that this summer 40% of the children would participate. For this goal to become a reality it will take more of us from the faith community caring and getting involved.

 

Jeremy Everett, one of the key leaders of Texas Baptists, pointed out that we can address the great hunger needs in Texas, but it will demand that we stop being “polarized” and we must stop “blaming the victims.” The harsh reality is that most of the hungry in Texas are part of the “working poor” who mow our yards, build our homes, clean our houses, clear our tables, and fix many of our meals. For those of us in the middle class I fear we have become callous to their plight and blind to the day to day realities of their lives.

 

If we are going to address this great need then we like Jesus must be moved with “compassion.” We are going to have to start to move beyond good intentions and words of caring to actions—costly actions that inconvenience our lives. Before Jesus feed the four thousand He said, “I do not want to send them away hunger.” I don’t think Jesus has changed, and I hope we change to be more like Him. For Texas Hope 2010 to be more than a slogan it must become a lifestyle for all us who claim the name of Jesus.

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BGCT Resolution on Sexual Ethics 2009

This week the Baptist General Convention of Texas went on record again about its historic position on sexual ethics and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. There are those who question why does the convention need to keep saying where they stand over and over again.

From my perspective there are a number of reasons:

  1. Our society continues to be bombarded with an onslaught of messages suggesting that the historic and biblical standards of the Bible in the area of sexual ethics are outdated and irrelevant. This especially true in the area related to homosexual behavior. The Bible clearly defines homosexual behavior as sinful, yet today there are many who claim it is normal and healthy behavior. In this kind of environment it is important that people of faith stay in the conversation. This is one of the great debates of our society and we cannot be silent on the matter. Please note, my emphasis on behavior not being. In my book, what we do does not define who we are.
  2. The BGCT needed to clearly restate its position in light of the Southern Baptist Convention’s actions against Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth. There were many churches and leaders questioning whether the BGCT had wandered from its historic roots, especially since so many of its conservative churches left to form another convention in Texas. It was important that the BGCT reaffirm its commitment to biblical truth and morality.
  3. Finally the BGCT needed to restate its position for this generation of leaders, because every generation needs to affirm for itself where it stands in light of the rapidly changing world we serve in.

I affirm the resolution and the efforts made by the BGCT leadership to state clearly where it stands in this great debate over sexual ethics.

Below is the resolution affirmed in Houston:

Whereas the resolution of sexual values adopted by the 1992 annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas upheld a biblically grounded “sexual ethic of fidelity in marriage and abstinence outside of marriage”; and

Whereas the 2005 annual meeting reaffirmed this resolution because “society continues to be plagued by sexual values and practices which are both harmful to humanity and unfaithful to God”; and

Whereas the 1996 annual meeting adopted a report stating the “Bible teaches that the ideal for sexual behavior is the marital union between sexual relations — whether premarital, extramarital, or homosexual — are contrary to God’s purposes and thus sinful”; and

Whereas the 1982 annual meeting adopted a resolution stating that “homosexual lifestyle is not normal or acceptable in God’s sight and is indeed called sin”;

Be it therefore resolved that we maintain the consistent position of past convention statements and actions which affirm the biblical sexual ethic of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, and also affirm the biblical image of marriage as the union before God between a man and a woman (Genesis 1:24); and

Be it further resolved with the 1992 resolution that we “encourage all persons to uphold a lifestyle of biblical sexual values” and “affirm that the gospel provides forgiveness and restoration for all persons through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ”; and

Be if finally resolved with the 1998 Executive Board statement that “churches should seek to minister to all persons” and that “the love of God embraces all persons and instructs all Christians to share God’s love with others.”

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124th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas

I write this journal entry with a heart deeply humbled by the honor of getting to serve the Baptist General Convention of Texas for a second term as president. At times I have to pinch myself just thinking about the amazing opportunities afforded me this past year, and the opportunities and challenges just over the horizon.

This past year exceeded all my expectations. It was a joy to serve with Carolyn Strickland and Bobby Broyles. I don’t know two people who love the work of our convention anymore than they do. It was also a thrill to work with Randel Everett. He is so creative and passionate about our work together. He always seems to be two or three steps ahead of all of us as he leads us to accomplish our Kingdom assignment. Let me share my mental image of my job as president from the world of football, when it comes to Dr. Everett. I believe he is the quarterback, and I am a pulling offensive guard. I try to create the holes and clear the way for him to get us across the goal line.

This is going to be an exciting year for us as Texas Baptists. Ed Jackson and John Ogletree will be fun to work with this year. They both bring expertise, leadership and vision to their post. They will stretch us and challenge to do more together than we have done before.

I must admit I was disappointed by the low number of messengers at the annual meeting in Houston, but I believe it was a wonderful meeting. (Of course I assumed the low numbers were due to the confidence the people had in me! Just kidding).

Jeane Law and the COCB did an incredible job of planning the meeting. The local arrangements people were on top of every detail. The BGCT communications team work long and tirelessly to make it all come together without a hitch. Of course, everything was flying by me at warp speed, but I sensed that the spirit of the convention was high, and the people did get a chance to visit with felt like fresh winds were blowing. I was particularly moved by the challenge by George Mason to stop choosing sides!

In the coming days as I am able to gain more perspective, I will write more about my impressions and thoughts. It is still a blur to me, but I had a sense the whole time I was part of something much bigger than myself.

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The Baptist Standard

Amarillo: Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a dinner sponsored by The Baptist Standard. This meeting was an effort by Marv Knox and The Baptist Standard board to reach out to its readers and supporters.  Anyone paying attention to the news and information business knows it is going through a sea change, and this change is impacting the Standard possibly harder than other Baptist papers because of its unique relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

All the Baptist papers of the other state conventions are the voice of the administration and state leadership. However, the Standard stands apart from the convention.  Not a single door of Cooperative Program money goes to support the Standard. This historic distinction gives the Standard the kind of editorial freedom that no other state paper has. This freedom has allowed the Standard to challenge the convention in days when a challenge and rebuke were in order, and at times this freedom has made the Standard the champion and cheerleader for the BGCT.

In defense and support of this unique position, Marv Knox said, “To be authentic, faith must be free.” I totally agree with him. This is one of the priceless treasures of Baptist life—“freedom,” but as we know all too well freedom comes with responsibility. I must admit I have not always seen eye to eye with Knox on all the complex issues facing the BGCT and the SBC, but I have found in Knox, an editor who seeks the greater good and is willing to dialogue and interact on the issues.  He is an editor with a “pastor’s heart” who uses the power of the pen to seek to advance the cause of Christ in the world. He has also been a strong encourager to me as I sought to introduce change. He treated me as a “real player” in Baptist life when I honestly thought I was out on a limb all by myself.

I would encourage you to read the Baptist Standard, and when you do thank God for the freedom we have as Texas Baptists to be ourselves.

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Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

Milwaukee: This week I had the opportunity to go “home” of sorts and participate in the annual meeting of the Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention (MWBC) at Northwest Baptist Church of Milwaukee. I had the honor of being the pastor of Northwest Baptist Church for 1997-2001 (or four winters as my wife refers to our days there).  One of my favorite Wisconsin memories was when the summer came on a “weekend.” Seriously, Milwaukee is a wonderful upper Midwestern city with some of the finest followers of Jesus I have ever had the honor to serve with in my ministry.

Northwest Baptist hosted the convention in the new sanctuary and fellowship hall built by faith and with the cooperation of volunteer teams of Baptist men from across the nation. It was exciting for me to see the tangible growth of the church under the leadership of their pastor Tom Harrington, who served with me as an associate pastor during my days. Tom is a tenacious leader who moved to Milwaukee to earn a PhD in Theology from Marquette, and invested his heart and life into this historic Baptist fellowship.

The MWBC strangely enough started as an association of the Baptist General Convention of Texas over fifty years ago. I guess you would consider this fellowship of church “far North Texas!”  Originally it was a small cluster of Southern Baptist churches founded to offer southerners who moved north a worship expression closer to home. Today, the MWBC is an innovated, committed convention of churches striving to be indigenous to the upper Midwest and share the hope of Christ among a very religious region that strangely enough needs the hope of the gospel clearly articulated. Minnesota and Wisconsin are dotted with cathedral and church buildings, yet most of the people live religious lives devoid of the power of a personal relationship with God.

One of the things I love about the MWBC is the fellowship and deep personally relationships. This is a convention that fights over important matters like “football.” Especially since Bret Favre “fell from grace” and abandoned the Green Bay Packers to leader their arch rivals the Minnesota Vikings. Seriously, apart from the fun rivalries of the region these Baptist have much to teach us about Christian fellowship and cooperation.

Leo Endel is the Executive Director of the MWBC and has done a wonderful job leading the convention through some very challenging days of transition. The BGCT decided a few years ago to change its historic relationship with the MWBC and began cutting its financial support to the convention. These cuts have created quite a challenge and opportunity for this struggling convention. One lost fact in the change of funding was that the multiplied impact. The North American Mission Board matched the Texas funding with doubled its impact, and now doubles the loss. (The actual percentage is 4 to 1, so a gift to MWBC will be multiplied by four). Personally I wish we could have continued our investment in the work up north, but I realize that this kind of relationship could not last forever in light of the BGCT current financial struggles. Fifty years of support was a wonderful expression of partnership and cooperation.

The theme of the convention was “Right here, Right Now.” It was a challenge for the MWBC to step up and meet the challenge of today. Endel in his address challenged the messengers of the convention to focus on the goal of “transformed lives” by making disciples of Jesus. Les Stevens, president of the convention, pointed out the weakness and struggles of the churches, yet how they were uniquely positioned to experience the power and presence of the Lord through a touch of revival. In tough economic times the leaders of the MWBC called the attention of the people to trusting in God.

One of the highlights of the convention was the special music provided by the worship team from Northwest Baptist Church and the choir from Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church. The Northwest worship team led the congregation in a variety of contemporary worship songs with great passion. Since I knew most of the worship team personally from my days in Milwaukee it was a moving experience for me to worship with them again. It was exciting to see how they had matured and developed in their faith and musical expressions.

The large choir from Mt. Pilgrim brought heaven down with their powerful expressions of worship from the African-American gospel tradition. Since I was sitting on the front row, I was moved by the power and the passion of the singers. It was clear these songs of worship were coming straight from the heart. It was also fun watching the other messengers from the stoic upper Midwest clapping, standing, and celebrating with me. I think I had a small glimpse of heaven, but I hope when I get there I get a bit more soul and rhythm so I can at least keep up!

Baptist life in Minnesota and Wisconsin is alive and well. Hard days are ahead, but these hardy souls are ready for the task with their eyes fixed on Jesus.

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John Ogletree: BGCT Second Vice President Nominee

On October 19th Bob Fowler, a Houston attorney and former chairman of the BGCT Executive Board, announced his intentions to nominate John Ogletree, founding pastor of First Metropolitan Baptist Church of Houston, as second vice president.

 

I have had the privilege of getting to know Pastor Ogletree over the past few months and have found him to be a good man, and gifted leader. If the messengers of the convention elect both of us to serve, I would be honored to serve with him.  I believe Pastor Ogletree brings valuable experience to the position. As a former chairman of the Executive Board, he knows all too well the inner workings of our Baptist family and convention. He knows the challenges face us, and brings a valuable perspective to our work.

 

Pastor Ogletree has also just completed a term as president of the African American Fellowship (AAF). The AAF is a key part of our Texas Baptist family. The leaders and churches of the AAF are setting the pace for many of us to follow with the innovations in ministry, their commitment to reach into some of the most difficult and challenging communities in our large cities with actions of compassion and powerful expressions of the gospel. Pastor Ogletree and current president Dr. Michael Bell have led the way in helping our Texas Baptist family understand and impact the challenges faced by African Americans all across our state. I believe their contributions have helped the BGCT to be one of the most powerful forces for good in our state in recent years. It should also be noted that in these hard economic times that our African American churches have been leading the way in their sacrificial giving. While many churches and affinity groups have given less in recent years, the AAF has increased their giving. We should all follow their example.

 

On a personal note, a few months ago I found myself in an awkward situation of having offended some of my AAF brothers by some statements I had made. I had not intended to offend, yet my words did. In an effort of reconciliation I approached Pastor Ogletree. In this encounter I found him to be a gracious and understanding man. He received me with mercy, and helped me to understand better life from the perspective of our African American churches. I am indebted to him for sincerity, kindness, and willingness to open his heart to me. I saw Jesus in him, and went away blessed and better equipped to lead.

 

Needless to say, I would be honored to serve along side a man like Pastor Ogletree. He and his wife Evelyn have been significant leaders in our recent past, and I believe are uniquely prepared to help us embrace the future.

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The Future of the Texas Baptist Committed

Recently David Currie, Executive Director of the Texas Baptist Committed, stepped down as its leader and there was a public announcement the TBC will be moving their headquarters to Dallas. These historic moves indicate a new day is dawning for the TBC because the challenges faced by the Baptist General Convention of Texas are much different today than they were in days gone by.

 

On October 19th, Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, wrote an editorial speculated about what was next for the TBC. In the editorial he championed the work of the TBC during the volatile days of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, and the struggle for the soul of the BGCT. Without doubt the TBC stood as a powerful, organized force fighting off the abuses and threats of fundamentalism in Texas Baptist life. As part of their strategy of leadership, the TBC took an aggressive role of endorsing the officers of the BGCT, and giving their stamp of approval to the men and women who held these posts for over fifteen years.

 

In recent years after the split of the Southern Baptists of Texas convention made up of hundreds of former BGCT churches, the challenges facing the BGCT shifted. In fact, if my memory serves correct, Knox spoke of the future challenges facing the convention were those of “winning the peace.”

 

Knox in his editorial called for the TBC to become a “first-rate educational organization.” He noted that Baptists need “to know our heritage.” He also called for the TBC to continue to be on the watch for the “clear” danger of fundamentalism.

 

As I reflect on the “clear dangers” facing the BGCT I would humble suggest the TBC focus on one or all of the following challenges:

 

  1. Cooperative Program Promotion: The life blood of the BGCT and its institutions continues to be the Cooperative Program. With recent cuts in the staffing of the BGCT those commissioned with the task of the telling the CP story are few and far between. The TBC could take up this mantle and get the story out of all the ways the BGCT is impacting Texas and the world. In the recent political struggles the story of our working together has been lost as back page news. I would encourage the TBC to put the CP and its work on the front page. I also believe this will be a key strategy of protecting our ranks because the BGCT is today focused on Texas Hope 2010 by implementing our historic values of evangelism/missions, Christian education, and advocacy. There is no better place in Texas to give your mission dollars than the BGCT if you truly want to impact the world. We need to tell this story far and wide.
  2. New Generation of “Baptist” Leaders: I personally believe the greatest threat to our future is the loss of a generation of young leaders who have deemed denominational involvement irrelevant, insignificant and old fashioned. Of course, I would highly questions these judgments, but these are their perspective is real to them none the less. Part of reaching this generation I believe will involve building relationships with these leaders, and listening to their perspectives and stories. I would recommend the TBC develop some “think tanks” to help create new models for Kingdom cooperation and collaboration. Pull together the brightest and the best of these young leaders to form a younger version of the “Future Focus Committee” and begin now to begin thinking about the future. How do will we do evangelism/missions, Christian education, and advocacy in the next twenty-five years. What part will our institutions play in extending the work of the Kingdom and promoting the “Baptist-brand” church life?
  3. Lie Detecting: I also believe the TBC should continue to monitor attempts by some to promote half-truths, and out and out lies about the BGCT and its mission and institutions. Like some of those “urban legends” that continue to circulate on the World Wide Web, there are still some who try to pass off lies about the BGCT as factual truth. I hope those days will soon come to an end, but unfortunately I suspect we still have some work to do to get the truth out.
  4. Restore Bridges: I would also encourage the TBC to help pull together our Texas Baptist family. In recent years I have seen many of the walls of suspicion and fear fall around us, and I would encourage the TBC to take those stones and restore the bridges among our Texas Baptist leaders. I would pay special attention to fostering authentic relationships between loyal BGCT leaders who continue to be active in the SBC, and those who either cooperate with the CBF, the BGCT, or other networks.

 

Over the past year as president of the BGCT to get more people at the table, I believe the TBC will continue to play a significant role in our future. Their perspective and tenacious commitment to Baptist distinctive are critical for our future together as build for a new tomorrow.

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