Monthly Archives: November 2010

I-10: The Human Trafficking Highway

Slavery is alive and well today in the United States of America. The attack on humanity no longer exists in the cotton fields and plantations of the deep South. It has reared its ugly head in the sex industry of America.

According to recent studies over 800,000 human beings find themselves deceived and controlled in search of the American Dream. Many of these victims are young women from poor countries who fall for the lie of high paying jobs which turn out to be jobs in prostitution and worse.

According to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott nearly 200,000 are transported to along the I-10 corridor between El Paso and Houston.

Chris Burchell, president of the advocacy group Texas Anti-Trafficking in Persons explains the situation as follows:

Human trafficking is not human smuggling. Trafficking refers to someone being coerced into performing labor, sexual or otherwise. Trafficking victims tend to be immigrants who were lured into the country under false promises of employment.

As a pastor and a resident of El Paso it is deeply troubling that this dark reality is happening on my watch.

When Jesus launched His ministry, He chose well the words from Isaiah 61

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God we cannot close our eyes and ears to the plight of these victims among us. Lend your support to Texas State Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio as she crusades to stiffen our legal response to the crime against humanity. Look for ways to help the victims on a practical way locally. If we don’t help who will?

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Better Then Bigger

This morning I was listening to a leadership podcast by Andy Stanley, pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta. During his presentation he told a story about Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fila.

As the story goes, several years ago the executive leadership team of Chick-fila had worked for over a year on how to fend off the challenge created in their market by Boston Market. At the end of this year of study and exploration the leaders were in a frenzied debate on how to get bigger faster! It was a room full of young visionary leaders with big dreams and big ideas.

At the height of the dialogue, Truett Cathy the founder of Chick-fila began to pound on the table, which was very uncharacteristic of this great leader. When every eye in the room turned to him, he exclaimed that he was sick and tired off all this talk about getting bigger and bigger. Then he said:

“If we get better our customers will demand we get bigger!”

Over years of competing in the volatile food service industry, Cathy knew the secret to success and significance. It was getting “better” before you get “bigger.”

In fact in another quote Cathy pointed out that the best place for his restruants to be located was right next to their greatest competition.

“The best location we get is right next to a McDonald’s. We can compete with them because we do it better.”

This principle has rung true through the ages. The writer of Proverbs wrote:

Do you see someone skilled in their work?
They will serve before kings;
they will not serve before officials of low rank. (Prov. 22:29 NIV)

I also like the translation in the Message:

Observe people who are good at their work—
skilled workers are always in demand and admired;
they don’t take a backseat to anyone.

Sadly it appears greatness is sacrificed on the altar of bigger and bigger, faster and faster. If a leader desires to leave a lasting legacy, he or she would be wise to focus on getting better and better.

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Why? Where?

Since the news of Dr. Everett’s looming call to First Baptist Church Midland began to sweep the great state of Texas, the Baptist grapevine has been working on overload. The blog world which often is closer to fiction than reality has been filled with dialogue, predictions, suggestions, and speculation about the meaning of all these events. In some respects I have found blogging is a pseudo-history on the fly which is often colored sharply by one’s own bias, perspective, hopes, and fears. I fear it is hard to make sense of the storm in the midst of the downpour. Too often the darkness of the hour reduces our perspective.

I must admit that my perspective on the future of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is bias in a positive way because I believe in our family of churches, and I believe in spite of our losses in recent years, that the BGCT is still one of the most powerful forces for good in the world. Now that you understand this about my perspective, you will be better prepared to interpret my thoughts. I urge my readers to deal with my thoughts like one would eat fish–eat the fish and spit out the bones!

Many are speculating on why Dr. Everett is leaving so quickly from his post as leader of the BGCT. At face value, Dr. Everett believes God is calling him to be pastor of the First Baptist Church of Midland. He believes at this point in his life and in the life of that great church that he is well suited to be their leader in the years ahead. I suspect he also believes that he can serve well our Texas Baptist family by leading FBC Midland to be a flag ship church in our  Hope 1:8 strategy. We must never forget the BGCT is churches–so the most valuable position in the life of our convention is leadership in the local church. I believe in the future much of the innovation, creativity and effective models of ministry will come from the grassroots rather than from the top down. No longer does vision and innovation come simply from the “experts” in Dallas or Nashville. Vision and innovation grows out of experiences on the front lines. I believe Everett will do a great job leading FBC Midland to lead the way for our Texas Baptist family.

Having just completed my presidency of the BGCT I can also assure you that leading the BGCT in these days is not for the faint of heart. The strength of the BGCT is also one of its greatest challenges for a leader. The BGCT is a very complex, diverse network of churches. We may have once been a family, but that kind of close relationship has been strained in recent decades. The issues and challenges faced are complex and are often times divisive. The majority of our churches are at times relatively silent while a strong minority voice is strongly felt by those in leadership. The leader must wrestle with the common good, and is often the object of criticism and critique regardless of what he or she does.

Everett was genius in calling our Texas Baptist family back to the basics of Missions/Evangelism, Christian education, and advocacy. These bedrock beliefs historically have been our rallying cries for action. Over the past three years we have gained some momentum toward these objectives, but to be frank we have not turned the ship completely. Hard decisions and choices loom on the horizon.

Everett carried the load of this vision of tomorrow coupled with the weight of our diversity and past for the last three years. It has taken a toll on him. He has grieved over our losses. He has celebrated our accomplishments. He has spend long hours racing across our state seeking to restore bridges and create alliances for change. He has spent sleepless nights making hard choices that affected the lives of those he loved and who served under his watch. He has suffered fair and unfair criticism. He gave us his all, and in my book the Lord has assigned him to a new place of service. I am thankful he came our way, and I was honored to serve with him. I will miss him at the helm of our convention.

I know there are many others who will weigh on this issue. Each of us has our own perspective on why, but the truth remains all our speculation is just that– speculation. I hope we can learn from the why questions, but it is the where question that will determine our future.

Where are we going to go from here?

Recently Marv Knox wrote an insightful analysis of the challenges facing the BGCT in the Baptist Standard. He issued a call to getting back to the basics with more pinpoint focus in our ministry endeavors. I have spoken with others who advocate a start from scratch mentality, calling on the BGCT to totally reinvent itself into a new mission movement.

I suspect the BGCT has much more in common with an old downtown First Baptist Church than it does with an innovation new church plant. Transitioning the BGCT into a mode of ministry for the challenges of today will take a skilled hand at the helm or if the change comes too fast the whole convention could splinter into hundreds of pieces. Of course some might even suggest this splintering would actually be best for the Kingdom.

In McAllen the remnant that gathered there rallied around the theme of Hope 1:8 rooted in the words of our Lord in Acts 1:8. Jesus said:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What would happen is this commission from our Lord became the “where” for our work together? What if the power came not from position, prominence, or population but rather from the Spirit of God blowing in and through our churches. What is witnessing was not something a few did on a Tuesday night at visitation, but rather “you will be my witnesses.” A witness whose very life was the witness and his or her words explained the transformation only Christ could bring through a Spirit-filled life. What if our churches took back the whole mission cause and realized it was not the work of the “convention” rather it was our work, and that the BGCT was in reality churches working together rather than sending in money so someone else could do the work.

Where we go from here rests with us. I pray we boldly move into the future with our eyes on Jesus, with our hearts burning with a passion to be His people, with our feet quick to move at the impulse of His Spirit, and with our hands reaching out to Texas and the world with the hope of the gospel.

 

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Everett to Midland: Be Strong and Courageous

El Paso: News spreads fast in Baptist life–even to far West Texas! I heard the news today that Dr. Randel Everett will be going on December 5th to preach in view of a call as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church Midland. Mixed emotions fill my heart and mind as I seek to put perspective on this change in the Kingdom.

1. I am confident in Randel and Shelia’s ability to sense God’s will for their lives and ministries. With courage and vision, Randel Everett took on an almost impossible task three years ago, and has effectively led the BGCT to cast a bold vision into the future. Having worked closely with Randel the last two years, I have learned to trust his heart and judgment. Randel loves the BGCT, and if this is what he believes God wants him to do, I believe it must have been a decision that came after much soul-searching and struggle. I pray the vision we cast in McAllen will inspire us to continue our work at bring hope to Texas and the world.

2. I am saddened by losing Randel at the helm. Randel had the unique ability to lead our diverse Baptist family with understanding and wisdom. The BGCT is by far one of the most complex and diverse religious bodies in the world, yet Randel led us well and helped us to work together as a family of believers. We will miss his vision and courage. We will miss his boldness to reach out and embrace all aspects of our Texas Baptist family.

3. I am confident in the future–because I know the future rests in the hands of our Lord, and in the hands of our churches. The BGCT is much bigger than any one leader. It is a movement. It is a living organism of churches passionate seeking to be the presence of Christ in the world. If we are serious about being a people of hope, we need to demonstrate our courage and faith in this hour of change and transition. Our hope rests in the Lord, and since He has decided to make this change at this time I am excited to see what God has in store for all of us. I am confident in the wings the Lord has a uniquely prepared leader ready to build on the foundation of today with an eye toward tomorrow.

Let me encourage you to pray for Dr. Everett and the people of FBC Midland as they seek God’s will. Pray for the BGCT staff as this news colors their holidays. Pray for Victor Rodriguez as he leads our Baptist family during this time of transition. (On a personal note: I am so thankful Victor is leading us. He is a courageous bold leader. He is the right man in the right place at the right time.)

When the Lord called me to El Paso these words of Moses inspired me and I turn to them now:

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8)

Times like these call for strength and courage rooted in the confidence that “The LORD himself goes before” us into tomorrow.

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Lord’s Prayer in a Violent World

El Paso: Yesterday I was invited to give pastoral support to a group from our community who had gathered to be part of our Camino de Luz ministry. This community group is made up of approximately fifty men, women, and children from the neighborhoods around our church facilities in the central city of El Paso. The fellowship and Bible study is in Spanish, and the people gather faithfully every other week to learn from God’s Word together.

Many of the participants have friends and families who live in Juarez. Due to the incredible violence in the city their lives have been touched and shattered by the dark face of evil. During their time together one by one the people began to tell their stories. One young couple shared about how they were kidnapped. He was taken in one car to a remote location and she was taken in another car to a different location. Abductions of women are all to common on the streets of Juarez and have been for decades. The couple gave testimony that as they prayed and pleaded with their captors for freedom that they were released. They testified they believed God had set them free and protected them from danger because they were open about their faith and confidence in God.

Another woman in the group shared how their teenage grandsons had been kidnapped and threatened that if they did not come up with the ransom that one by one their captors would cut off their fingers. As you can imagine the horror of this kind of cruelty filled the room. Meanwhile at the back sat a young grandmother holding her grandson in her lap. She was wearing black in mourning for her son who had been gunned down last summer on the bloody streets of Juarez.

As I stood among them listening to their stories, I felt so ill equipped to help. What was I going to share or say? How could I help them? I have lived most of my life in safety and security, yet they were turning to me for hope.

Immediately my mind was drawn to the prayer of our Lord Jesus. I have come to realize that Jesus’ words take on a new power and clarity when you see them through the eyes of those who live in danger. Jesus knew all too well the fears and struggles being faced by these struggling believers. He had experienced the power of evil and its grip on a society or community.

Suddenly His words came alive in my heart and I shared them with the people.

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

The hope for our community rests in the hands of our heavenly Father, who is a holy God who cannot sit idle in the midst of such evil and suffering. He is our Father in heaven, so He has at his disposal all we need in this life.

We pray for the coming of His Kingdom–because the King is the only one able to stop the violence by changing the hearts of the people. Taking up guns and seeking revenge only makes matters worse. We take on the image of the very evil we are seeking to stop. Jesus taught us to pray for the advance of His Kingdom and for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus taught us to seek forgiveness and to grant forgiveness. Forgiveness frees us from the poison of bitterness, and vicious violence cycle of revenge. Forgiveness places the one who terrorizes us in the hands of Almighty God to do with them as He pleases.

Jesus taught us to pray “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil or the evil one.” Daily we must depend on His protection and presence.

I must admit in less than half a year on the border, Jesus has opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing Him and His Word. No longer I am as tempted to play the religious games we place in safety. I realize people are desperately looking to God for hope and help in dangerous situations.

Please pray for us as we seek to live in the hope of Christ along the border of Texas next to the most dangerous city in the world.

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Reflections: BGCT McAllen

El Paso: Nearly a week has pasted since the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting in McAllen. I must admit serving as president of the convention means much of what happened was a blur to me. In some respects it has taken me a week to get my barring back, and to gain some perspective on the event.

Overall, I was very pleased with the spirit of the meeting. I believe a number of significant things were accomplished. Of course, these kind of subjective feelings are not much to build on, but to be frank, I would rather leave with a heart full of positive memories than to walk away with a deep feeling of frustration. The energy in the room was positive and uplifting and the  business was conducted with great dignity and respect.

Of course, one of the big white elephants in the room was the sparse attendance. The attendance was low by any standard. Interestingly enough there were more guests than messengers. In fact, there were more professions of faith (789) during Valley Reach than there were messengers. Without doubt there are 789 people who are thankful Texas Baptists showed up in the valley.

Personally, I believed the new format with three worship services and two business meetings has a great deal of potential for future meetings. In addition I think the Morning of Missions was well received.

From the perspective of planning the meeting the new format allowed for more creativity and energy in the worship services. I had hoped to bring in one or two nationally known keynote speakers to McAllen to create a high sense of anticipation for the sessions, but trying to schedule these kind of speakers on such short notice is very difficult. I believe with the new format of advance planning approved by the convention, the BGCT will be able to bring these kind of speakers to future conventions.

Dr. Everett and Victor Rodriguez challenged the convention with two powerful words of hope. I totally agree with Victor that it is time for us to open our eyes to the future.

I believe Victor Rodriguez will serve as an excellent president. He is a man of vision and courageous leadership. He will represent all of our Baptist family very well, and owns no one for his place of leadership. I am also confident Victor Rodriguez,  Jerry Carlisle and Sylvia DeLoach will serve as a good team.

If you were paying attention you will note that the motions made at the convention by messengers were dealt with by this annual meeting. We made a concerted effort to make sure that the people who were willing to make the trip to the annual meeting would be empowered to do the business of the convention. Three motions from the floor were passed and I believe each of them helped us take a step forward into the future.

In addition, you will note that one recommendation from the Executive Board was voted down, and one major recommendation was amended twice. I believe these are very healthy signs for our convention. We left the rubber stamps at home, and came together to do business. These business items were debated, but the debate was respectful and fair. As moderator I believed that each one who spoke wanted what they believed was best for our convention, and even though many of the votes were divided, it appeared from my vantage point that the  house was not divided. I believe what we witnessed Baptist polity at its best.

In closing, I find myself agreeing with this post by Ken Coffee on his blog Strong Coffee:

Amusingly, some continue to critique the McAllen meeting even though they were not present to witness it. Frankly, I was surprised at the spirit that prevailed. The 1731 people who registered may be the last vestige of support for the BGCT, but, if they are, so be it. Let’s build it from there.

I believe we have something to build on coming out of McAllen. Let’s get to work and spread hope across Texas.

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A “Wright” Moment in McAllen

El Paso: At the close of the business session of the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting, it is customary for the convention to stop and honor those who have joined the great crowd of witnesses in glory during the past year.

Each year this has been a touching moment for me as I am vividly reminded how richly my life has been blessed through the touch and influence of others.

This year as I closed out my second term as president I sat at my place on the platform with my mind racing back over the past four years. During this four years  I struggled to help our Baptist family pull together for our future. Suddenly as my mind was racing through the flood of memories and emotions, I saw the smiling face of my dear friend and comrade Bill Wright smiling right back at me. It was a moment that caught me off guard. I was not fully prepared for the flood of emotions I felt. It was hard for me to control my emotions.

In an instant I remembered Bill asking me to consider being nominated for president when no one else was knocking on my door. I remember our first step in the journey in Lubbock when we invited David Currie to meet us for a face to face meeting to talk about the election and to lay down the ground rules for this journey into the unknown. I remembered Bill’s nomination speech in Amarillo when he closed with these lines “if you can’t vote for David, then by all means vote for Joy!” (As you know Joy won by a slim margin and some even suggested it was his fault… which is clearly not the case. Of course my final instructions to Bill before he stepped on stage was: “Bill, please don’t cuss!”) I remember countless long conversations about the future as we played the parts of good cop/bad cop to our very best.

Bill Wright stood tall as a Texas Baptist. He knew our only hope was not walking away but getting involved. He challenged me to be better than I thought I could be–I miss him more than words can fully express.

Some have suggested that under my administration nothing really changed. I would dare to disagree but only time and history will tell the full story. Often times real change must begin in the heart and in the attitude. The BGCT that Bill Wright dreamed of was a BGCT that worked together to share the gospel with those searching for hope. It was a BGCT that sacrificed for those in need.  It was a BGCT that sought to major on the majors and not on the minors.  He dreamed of the BGCT being family not a collaboration of factions and political parties.

I for one think Bill would have had a great time in McAllen. Fresh winds are blowing. If you looked closely the people at the convention wrestled with the issues and made decisions. We left the rubber stamps at home and brought our hearts and minds to bear on the task at hand. In addition, the exhibit areas were abuzz not with closed circles of those plotting some denominational strategy, but with friends laughing with friends, and new friendship being born.

Next year we will return to Amarillo for the annual meeting. I have decided I am going to spend most of the convention in the hallway in a circle with my friends catching up on old times, laughing and having fun! I cannot think of a higher tribute to Brother Bill!

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