Monthly Archives: August 2012


In 1881 El Paso sat as a tiny adobe village of three hundred people on the banks of the unpredictable Rio Grande River. Little did the citizens of this small border town know what the future held as they heard dynamite blasts in the distance at night and the rhythmic sounds of picks and shovels in the hands of over 1600 Chinese workers lay track for the railroad during the day.

 On May 19, 1881 El Paso entered a whole new era in its history, ready or not, when the old Iron Horse of the “Southern Pacific” steamed and chugged into town across the Fort Bliss parade grounds and came to a stop at the corner of Oregon and Mills streets. Soon after the “Texas & Pacific” railroad would arrive under the direction of Jay Gould out of Fort Worth followed by the “Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio” railroad, the “Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe” railroad, and finally the “Mexican Central” railroad out of Mexico City.


In a matter of days El Paso boomed from a sleepy little town perfect for an afternoon “siesta” to burgeoning “boom town” complete with saloons on practically every corner, houses of “legalize” prostitute and gambling lining the streets, and visionary business men from the East and West. Soon the town grew to over 3000 residents and would reach 10,000 by the year 1890.

 With the growth came a wide spread reputation. Soon El Paso came to be known as “Sin City” or the “Six-shooter Capitol” of Texas. Sadly these reputations were well deserved as stories spread like the legend of “Four Dead in Five Seconds.” On April 14, 1881 John Hale, a cattle rustler and gunfighter, found himself as the center of an inquest concerning the deaths of two Mexican ranchers. The charges were dismissed. Following the inquest Hale, in a rage, drew his six-shooter on Gus Krempkau, the inquest translator, gunning him down in cold blood. Just down the Marshall Dallas Stoudenmire heard the gunfire and came charging down the street with three shots he dispatched an innocent bystander, Hale, and George Campbell, a Hale supporter and former El Paso Marshall. In less than five seconds a reputation of gunplay emerged and spread across the plains.

 Meanwhile, a handful of Baptists settled in “Sin City” as representatives of the Kingdom of God. On a hot summer Sunday evening, August 26, 1882, fourteen gathered to hear Rev. George Baines, Jr., a Baptist pioneer missionary preach in the home of Major W.F. Fewel, a Methodist no less. Baines chose as his text the story of Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 28.

 Centuries before Moses recounted the story of Jacob running for his life and finding himself falling asleep and dreaming of a staircase to heaven where the angels of God descended and ascended to the throne room of the LORD. When Jacob awake he declared the place none other than the “House of God” and named it “Bethel.” With this text Baines declared to the faithful that he envisioned El Paso becoming the “House of God.” That night the vision of the First Baptist Church of El Paso came to life in the hearts of those brave pioneers.

 On this Sunday, August 26, 2012, over seven hundred followers of Jesus will gather in the heart of El Paso keeping the light shining that was sparked 130 years ago. Truly this is the “House of God.”

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Howard Payne Opportunity: El Paso Style

A hardy band of Baptist believers gather on a hot summer evening August 26, 1882 in the home of Major W.F. Fewel to hear a message preached by Baptist pioneer Rev. George Baines, Jr. This evening sparked the beginning of First Baptist Church El Paso by fourteen strong-hearted visionary Baptists who claimed this Wild West village for Christ.


Meanwhile seven years later in June 1889 Rev. John D. Robnett, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Brownwood set out with a vision to establish a Baptist school in Central Texas. In his tireless efforts to raise the funds he asked his brother-in-law for financial help. E. Howard Payne heeded his brother-in-law’s plead and gave a sizeable gift for the founding of the school. In response to his generosity the board of Trustees named the new school Howard Payne and the rest is history.


This coming Wednesday, August 22nd, our church has the opportunity to join the histories of these two historic Baptist institutions into one story.


HPU President Bill Ellis recently asked our church to join in a dynamic partnership to bring higher Christian education to the heart of El Paso.


HPU has had a presence in our city for over thirty years, but desires to strengthen their involvement and commitment to our city. Part of their strategic plan revolves around moving their classroom facility from the near East side to downtown. This is where our paths crossed. When HPU officials approached me my immediate response was “yes” because I could see the wide variety of opportunities this relationship could bring both of our institutions.


Jerry Sawyer, chairman of our Finance Committee, and Richie Mesa, chairman of our Deacons represented our church in the negotiations and has a proposal for our church to consider at the business meeting.


In order to provide the kind of quality space both of us need for our future, we will be considering a “first-phase” build out of the second floor of Price Hall. This build out will provide six classrooms for our two ministries to share, and an office space for HPU. In addition the entire infrastructure for the complete build out will be laid. The estimated total cost of this phase will be $360,000.


The good news is that most of these funds are available to us through money we have on hand, a generous matching gift from the First Baptist Foundation, and $38,400 provided by HPU as pre-paid rent for the next two years. As a church we will need to raise $136,000 over the course of the next twelve months. This is a challenge, but a challenge I am confident we can meet.


“Why would God want us to do this?” Let me suggest a few thoughts on this matter.  This dynamic partnership will enable us to help a Baptist school get a stronghold in our city, plus it will open us to dozens of new relationships with their students. In addition, we will gain a number of accessible classrooms to provide for our future growth. Third, this will be a bold first step in our future commitment to be a strong presence for the Kingdom of God in the heart of our city. Pray about it, join us for the discussion, and do as the Lord leads.

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James Semple: A Texas Baptist

This afternoon I heard the sad news for Texas Baptists that one of our giants went home to glory. Dr. James Semple passed away on July 22 after a long battle with esophageal cancer. When the news sank in my mind raced to a handful of conversations I had with Dr. Semple over recent years that shaped and changed my life as a leader.

One of my favorite sayings attributed to Dr. Semple is:

“You cannot run a revolution on spare time and spare change.”

He had an amazing gift for cutting to the chase and getting to the point. Dr. Semple was far more than a simple man–he stood tall as a man of God noted for his character, courage and leadership. He will be greatly missed.


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Intended Consequences

One of the most famous laws of human nature was named after Captain Edward A. Murphy who worked on the Air Force as an engineer who worked specifically on a deceleration project. Murphy’s Law as it has been called states:

“If anything can go wrong—it will.”

I suspect most of us can identify with this timeless principle more than we want to admit. However, when it comes to the work of the Kingdom of God we discover a force that curves if not crushes the gravitational pull of “Murphy’s Law.”

This summer we have found ourselves caught up in a “wave” of blessing as we have witnessed time and time again the power of God at work all around us.

A few months ago Carmen Estrada and Edgardo Martinez prayerfully envisioned a ministry opportunity aptly entitled “A Spiritual and Nutritional Summer.” The genius of the plan revolved around provided supplement groceries to low-income families with children at home from school for the summer months.

Many children in our neighborhood depend upon the breakfast and lunch served at school to sustain their diet, but during the summer months these children from “food insecure families” face a food shortage in their kitchen at home.

The simple plan of providing supplemental food would have been a worthy endeavor, but Carmen and Edgardo along with a wonderful team of volunteers envisioned far more. God planted a dream in their hearts of establishing relationships around the dinner table. As the old saying goes:

“Offer a hand up not a hand out!”

So twice a month on Thursday mornings, these families and children have been invited to share a morning together spending time making friends and learning more about what it means to have a growing personal relationship with God.

You may recall Jesus knew instinctively that a growling stomach often silences the whisper of God, but after a satisfying meal the heart tunes in with clear focus. Jesus also knew that “man shall not live by bread alone.”

After the feeding of the five thousand when He was chased down by those who wanted to miraculously feed them time and time again He declared:

 “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never go thirsty.”  (John 6:35 NIV)

 Jesus came to not only put daily bread on our table, but to satisfy the deepest hunger and longings of the human heart. He alone quenches the thirst of the soul. He alone offers us all we really need. Through the “Spiritual and Nutritional Summer” ministry twenty-one mothers found in Jesus a Savior who satisfies.

One Thursday morning during the summer program Edgardo heard the voice of a young boy calling his name. He turned to find a boy chasing him down saying “Pastor, I want to give my heart to Jesus. Will you help me?” With a big smile on his face, Edgardo guided this young man to Jesus–the “Bread of Life.” Sometimes you get just what you hoped for—“A transformed life!”

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A Quiet Mind

A few days ago I attended a funeral service for a dear saint of God who worships as part of the family at St. Clements. As part of the service, we recited a series of petitions from the Common Prayer Book.

I was struck by the supplication from the following petition.

Grant, we beseech Thee, Merciful Lord, to Thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleaned from all sins, and serve Thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

So what does it mean to serve the Lord with a “quiet mind?” Based on the context of the prayer, clearly one aspect of a quiet mind rests in knowing and claiming by faith that your sins have been cleansed and forgiven. Guilt and shame created a constant troubling noise in the soul and mind.

I also would liken a “quiet mind” to experiencing the “peace that passes all understanding” that Paul championed in his letters. The very peace that Jesus promised those who followed closely after Him.

In our highly connected digital age finding a quiet peaceful place has become increasingly more challenging. Too often I long for a dead spot where my cellphone has no reception so I can escape for a moment from constantly being in touch.

This morning I long for a “quiet mind” by which I can ponder the grace of God, rest in His goodness, and hear the “still small voice” of His Spirit that guides by thoughts and steps.


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