Monthly Archives: February 2011

Revenge: Great Movie Script–Questionable Life Choice

This week guest lecturer Thane Rosenbaum from Fordham University will be speaking on the theme:”Vengeance: An American Obsession” at the University of Texas at El Paso. As a pastor and devoted follower of Jesus this title caught my attention.

In pursuit of his take on the issue of vengeance and revenge, I came across the following quote from his article in the Huffington Post entitled: “True Grit and the Truth about Revenge.” Rosenbaum wrote:

The deeper truth of True Grit is that it, too, serves as a quick fix for our addiction to vengeance. But is revenge an unhealthy addiction or a guilty pleasure? We have all been warned, repeatedly, that revenge is barbaric, a holdover from primitive times. And yet vengeance properly taken feels so righteous and true, especially when depicted in a feature film. The audience roots for the avenger all the while knowing that individuals are not permitted to take justice into their own hands. Is this just an example of people acting out their fantasies of bloodlust while sitting in a darkened theater, like a peep show featuring an “eye for an eye”

I must admit that I am a “sucker” for a good revenge movie or television show plot. This year I have had almost an obsession with past episodes of the hit television show “24” starring Keifer Sutherland as the American hero Jack Bauer who saves the world from terrorists in a singe day! In fact this afternoon my wife commented that we needed to send Jack Bauer into Juarez for 24 hours and everything would change! (I must admit I thought it made good sense from a human perspective).

At the core most of us believe in right and wrong as well as black and white realities. However, life does not always fall neatly into our categories. Life in the real world is complicated and messy. Justice is slow, and often feels very unjust–especially to victims.

As a resident of El Paso who gazes across the border to the dusty and often bloody streets of Juarez, I can see vividly what revenge looks like. In fact, just a couple days ago there were 53 murders in 72 hours. An “eye for and eye” gets very bloody very quickly when evil gets the upper hand.

So what would Jesus do? Was He serious when he talked about” turning the other cheek” and “praying for your enemies?” Was Jesus out of touch with reality or in touch with  a whole new way of seeing the world? I would argue Jesus was more in touch with reality than any man who has ever stepped foot on planet earth.

As a follower of Jesus vengeance is not a non-existent reality–it is just a reality out of my control. Paul took Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome:

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NIV)

When justice is slow and apparently missing in this evil world, Paul counsels us to trust in the righteous judge of creation. God promises to avenge in His time and in His way.

Our creator knows us very well. He knows that when we set the course of our lives on revenge that we often become the very evil we seek to stamp out. Anger and bitterness mars the image of God upon us. We cease being the “light” of the world, and only increase the darkness and despair by hateful actions.

Recently  I heard an interview of Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google executive that played a key role in the transformation of the face of Egypt. During the revolution he spent eleven days in prison at the hands of the secret police. In the course of the interview he said that when he was released he kissed on the cheek each of his captors, and that he forgave them. He knew in his heart that they were only doing what they thought was right and he had no hatred for them. I was stunned by his example. In a polarized world of hatred his example was a beam of light and hope.

Revenge may make for a great movie plot but it is a lousy way to live. I would encourage you to follow the example of Jesus rather than Rooster Cogburn when you think about how to make our world a better place for our children.


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Bold Baylor Line: A “Big” Tent or A “Baptist” Tent

On February 11, the Baylor Board of Regents announced their decision to open the Baylor Board to non-Baptist regents. These “non-Baptist” regents will make up to 25% of the board. As you might imagine this action sent shock waves across the Baptist family across Texas. Granted, this is not the first time the Regents have rattled the cages of Baptists in the last twelve months. Last year the Regents named Judge Ken Starr to be the president of the university. Starr was born and raised Church of Christ, and had no Baptist background to prepare him to lead the largest Baptist university in the world. This move made the phrase “slippery slope” the catch word for many stanch Baptist across the land.

In fairness to Judge Starr, I believe the decision to name him president to be a stroke of genius. Starr has brought to his post a power and credibility that will pave the way for a bright future for “Jerusalem on the Brazos.” However, it is because of this move that many wonder about the timing of this action to broaden the board to “non-Baptists.” Many conspiracy theorists will use this latest action to add “grease” to the “slippery slope” and declare the “sky is falling” in Waco. The once grand lady of the Baptist world is in real danger of losing touch with its heritage.

Another reason that many will question the timing of the action is related to the rejection of the proposal by Houston Baptist University to do the same thing by the messengers at the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas held in McAllen. Some would argue that the BGCT has spoken and that it is firmly against such an action as opening the boards to non-Baptists. However, if you look closely at the proceedings in McAllen it was clear that there was not a consensus among the messengers. There was a lively debate, and a fairly divided vote.

In the past I spoke in favor of the motion of Houston Baptist University to broaden their board because I believe the playing field has changed dramatically in our day for our private Baptist universities. There are so few distinctively Christian universities in the land that many within our Kingdom family are looking for universities to support. If we take a position of courageous faith rather than “slippery slope fear” into the future we would be wise to broaden our influence in the Christian community by invited faithful followers of Jesus to join us on our mission to change the world.

I trust the Baylor Regents in this bold move. I believe that we will see that the new regents added will be men and women of great faith and devotion to the cause of Christ around the world. In addition I believe they will bring a very high commitment to the mission of Baylor University as it seeks to be a distinctive Christian university among the elite universities in the world.

My confidence rests in my belief that the closer others get to learning about our Baptist distinctive the greater our influence among the Christian community. As a lifelong Baptist I believe the Baptist way is still by far the best way. If we fly the Baptist flag high we will only increase our influence in Christendom.

One key observation by Dary Stone, chairman of the board must be noted, he pointed out that only one-third of the incoming freshman to Baylor this year were Baptist. In other words we are training the young leaders of tomorrow from across the Kingdom of God. Clearly the parents and the young adults of the Kingdom are looking to Baylor to guide the way into the future. This bold move by the Board of Regents will enable Baylor to continue to set the pace for Kingdom expansion into the future.


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Tom Elliff: Great Selection

The search committee of the International Mission Board announced recently the selection of Tom Elliff to be the new president of the IMB. Elliff has a long history of distinguish service to Southern Baptists and to the Kingdom of God.

Elliff knows Baptist life from the inside out when it comes to missions. He served as a missionary in Africa for 20 years. He served as the senior pastor of a large dynamic church in Oklahoma for 20 years, and most recently he has been the senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations for the IMB.

From a distance I have observed Elliff to be a godly humble leader. I am personally thrilled by his selection. I believe he has the leadership style and temperament to build on the solid work of Jerry Rankin, and lead our mission efforts into future with innovation and integrity. Since he has serve as President of the SBC, he knows all too well the politics and power struggles that go on behind the scenes, and yet I believe he will have the ability to help us navigate those in a healthy way.

For those who love Lottie Moon and SBC missions, put Elliff’s name high on your prayer list.


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John Petty: Sudden Loss

I received word on Saturday of the untimely death of John Petty, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Kerrville, and former chairman of the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. When I first heard the news I could not believe it. John was just 42 years old. A few months ago in Austin I had a brief conversation with him and his beautiful wife Kelly. It is so hard to imagine his life has so suddenly ended.

Please pray for Kelly, and John’s two young children David and Mara. Pray for the people of the Trinity Baptist Church who will stand over the grave of their pastor this Tuesday.

I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist–“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

It is a great comfort to know our steps and sorrow are watched by our loving Father in heaven. His presence in the valley of the shadow of death makes all the difference in the world.

John will be greatly missed.


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Loss of Innocence

Over the past couple of weeks a series of news reports captured my attention. As a father of a teenage girl it was troubling to think of what her generation of borderland students are enduring. Her generation of high school students have been forced to confront the dark face of evil on a much more personal level than most. Instead of the significant issues of who is dating who, or what kind of car the elite are driving, they are struggling with the issues of life and death.

A few days ago, two teen-age boys from Cathedral High School in El Paso were gunned down outside a used car lot in Juarez.

“We’re in the middle of this crisis in Juárez. And Cathedral opens its arms and its doors to a number of kids who are in this diaspora,” Nick Gonzalez, the principal of Cathedral High School said. “I’m in awe of their love of Juárez, their anger at the injustice and their determination to survive this and to return and rebuild.”

After a rosary service in memory of the boys, the Catholic Bishop said:

“I hope you pray that we’re all reminded that life is precious,” Bishop Armando X. Ochoa said. “I hope we take this opportunity to examine where we are in our life’s journey.”

Sadly the life journey of the teenagers in El Paso is being shaped and influence by the worst of human nature.

In addition this week the Associated Press reported:

Mexican prosecutors have filed homicide charges against a 14-year-old U.S. citizen who allegedly acted as an assassin for a drug cartel.

The boy confessed to killing four people whose beheaded bodies were hung from a bridge in Cuernavaca, a central colonial city that is popular with Mexican and international tourists alike and is known for its yearlong springlike climate.

The boy, whom authorities only identified by his first name, Edgar, has been charged with the homicides and other crimes, including arms possession and transporting cocaine, prosecutors from Morelos state, where Cuernavaca is located, said in a statement late Wednesday. By Oswald Alonso / Associated Press Posted: 02/10/2011 12:51:00 PM MST

What kind of world are we creating when a fourteen year old boy is encouraged or worse chooses to participate in four murders and beheadings.

In a third article I came across two new video games being released highlighting the violence on the streets of Juarez.

One is the “Call of Juárez: The Cartel,” developed by Ubisoft Entertainment and Techland, which will be out this summer.

The second one by Boston-based Owlchemy Labs, “Smuggle Truck: Operation Immigration,” rewards safe-smuggling drivers in the game with a “green card.” It will be available in March as an application for iPad and iPhone.

“These games — making tragedy and human consequences invisible — provide fun and adventure. I can only imagine, with sadness, the stereotypes that are reinforced, especially among non-border people,” said Kathleen Staudt, political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso and the author of several books on Juárez and the border.

Ubisoft’s announcement describes its “Call of Juárez” game as a first-person shooter game bringing the Old West into the present day.

“You’ll embark on a bloody road trip from Los Angeles to Juárez, Mexico, immersing yourself in a gritty plot with interesting characters and a wide variety of game play options,” it states. “Take justice into your own hands in this modern Western shooter.”

The future rests in the hearts and minds of the next generation. It is time for the light to shine into the darkness.

Lord Jesus shine in us and through us in this dark world!

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The Rite: Movie Review

Last Sunday I preached a sermon on Jesus’ confrontation with a man with an evil spirit in the synagogue in Mark 1. In preparation for the sermon, I decided to get Hollywood’s spin on exorcism from the recent release of “The Rite” starring Anthony Hopkins, who played the part of Father Lucas Trevan, a Roman Catholic priest who served as an exorcist in Rome.

A key part of the plot of the movie revolved around the story of a young American seminarian who was sent to a Exorcism School at the Vatican. This young American entered the priesthood for all the wrong reasons, who was at heart a skeptic who did not really believe in God nor the devil.

In the course of the storyline, the young American was confronted the face of evil and the demonic. The climax of the movie revolves around his life and death struggle with the demonic that led him to declare not only his belief in the Devil but much more importantly in God in the person of Jesus Christ.

I must admit I am often skeptical of movies coming out of Hollywood, but I was pleasantly surprised by the message of this movie. If you know someone who is a seeker this movie would create many conversation points to talk about faith. There were a number of points in the movie that I would question the theology from a biblical position, but over all its declaration of Jesus as the victor of the demonic is right on target.

In the first chapter of the gospel of Mark it is clear who holds the supreme authority in the spiritual realms. Just listen to the demons as they cry out to Jesus.

“What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24 NIV)

Yes, Jesus came to destroy the work of the Devil and his minions. It is good to know as John declares:

Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4 KJV)



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Hungry for Love

“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”
Mother Teresa

In preparation for a presentation to our Women’s Missionary Union gathering, I stumbled across this quote from Mother Teresa. Over the past eight months as I have adjusted my life and ministry to the ebb and flow of ministry in an urban setting I have discovered some interesting things about myself. I have discovered that I am often tempted to give “bread” to those who are hungry so I don’t have to give myself. The “bread” is a substitute for love and truly getting involved in the life of someone who is hurting and struggling.

One of the young women in our church has begun to befriend the homeless that mark her travels across the city. She has learned their names. She knows that when she delivers them a sack lunch they prefer “Sprite” instead of other colas. How did she learn this? Simple–she cared enough to ask.

I suspect the hunger for love in our city is much greater than the growl of the hungry stomachs.

I am often reminded of the words of our Lord when He said:

“Whatever you do for the least of these you have done it unto me.”

Mother Teresa knew this all too well. She pointed out:

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”

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