It only takes a spark

There have been bigger evangelism conferences, but I have never been to a better one than this year’s in Rockwall. This was a special experience.

I don’t know the final registration count yet, but the reality is that a few hundred people rattled around in a large auditorium. I sat there tonight (Tuesday) thinking how great it would have been to have 2,000 Texas Baptists in the room and then spreading out around Texas with evangelism on their hearts and minds. But that kind of thinking is not very helpful. We had what we had. There may have been only 100 or 200 there tonight, but God has shown through the ages that he can do unbelievable things through a very few people. And, of course, the people in that auditorium are not the only Texas Baptists who care about evangelism and are actually working to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

I’m glad Jon Randles had the passion and faith to secure a big place for this event. There really was no way of knowing how many people would come to a new evangelism conference, but Jon erred on the upside.

I remember a pastor telling me the story of when he first became pastor of a small African American congregation in the Chicago area. The pews were virtually empty, and he was very discouraged. He went to visit his father, a pastor in another state; and his dad told him to go back and pray in that auditorium until he saw angels filling the pews. The young pastor didn’t think too highly of the suggestion, but a desperate man will do things that seem a little crazy to others. He prayed. Finally, he told me, he began to see angels in every pew and around the walls of that small auditorium. Convinced that God was in that work, this young pastor continued to preach and minister. When I left Illinois eight years ago, that congregation was the largest Southern Baptist congregation in Illinois, with about 2,500 in worship every Sunday, if my memory serves right — it may have been more because the auditorium was huge.

Some people may want to focus on the empty seats at this year’s evangelism conference, but I think it’s much better to pray for those who were in the seats as they go home and pray that in the years to come God will fill those seats, no matter where the conference is held. Not so we can brag of a big meeting but so more people can be encouraged and inspired to spread the good news.

Texas Baptists have always been an evangelistic people. The conferences are only a means to an end. So whether or not you were at this year’s evangelism conference, my prayer is that God will stir all of us to a renewed awareness of the importance of spreading His good news.

Now there I go, for the second time in two days I’ve gone to preaching. Maybe I should ask to have that added to my job description.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

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Tribes seeking return to casinos

Two Native American tribes have hired “prominent Austin lobbyists and consultants, some with close ties to Republican Gov. Rick Perry,” in an effort to get casino gambling restored to their tribal lands, according to an Associated Press <a href=”http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6163155.html”>story</a&gt; in the Houston Chronicle.

In 2002, both tribes’ casinos were closed  by court orders sought by then-Attorney General John Cornyn.

The BGCT’s Christian Life Commission, working with Texans Against Gambling, has done a great job in recent years helping limit the spread of gambling in Texas. Gambling is a seriously flawed approach to state government finance, and it causes untold economic damage to communities and families. Quite simply, the only thing that benefits from the gambling industry is the gambling industry, plus the politicians it supports.

While the CLC is a great voice against the spread of gambling, our individual voices with our state representatives and senators are extremely important.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

Bush should be impeached

Richard Nixon would have been impeached if he had not resigned. Bill Clinton was impeached and should have been booted from office for lying under oath. Now there is George W. Bush. He should be impeached and kicked out for misleading the American public and leading us into an unnecessary war in Iraq, but it’s really too late now.

George McGovern, in Sunday’s Washington Post, called for President Bush’s and Vice President Cheney’s impeachment in an opinion piece titled “Why I Believe Bush Must Go.”

“Bush and Cheney are clearly guilty of numerous impeachable offenses,” McGovern writes. “They have repeatedly violated the Constitution. They have transgressed national and international law. They have lied to the American people time after time. Their conduct and their barbaric policies have reduced our beloved country to a historic low in the eyes of people around the world. These are truly ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ to use the constitutional standard.”

“From the beginning, the Bush-Cheney team’s assumption of power was the product of questionable elections that probably should have been officially challenged — perhaps even by a congressional investigation.

“In a more fundamental sense, American democracy has been derailed throughout the Bush-Cheney regime. The dominant commitment of the administration has been a murderous, illegal, nonsensical war against Iraq. That irresponsible venture has killed almost 4,000 Americans, left many times that number mentally or physically crippled, claimed the lives of an estimated 600,000 Iraqis (according to a careful October 2006 study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and laid waste their country. The financial cost to the United States is now $250 million a day and is expected to exceed a total of $1 trillion, most of which we have borrowed from the Chinese and others as our national debt has now climbed above $9 trillion — by far the highest in our national history.

“All of this has been done without the declaration of war from Congress that the Constitution clearly requires, in defiance of the U.N. Charter and in violation of international law. This reckless disregard for life and property, as well as constitutional law, has been accompanied by the abuse of prisoners, including systematic torture, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”

McGovern is a liberal Democrat; I’m a moderate Republican. But some things should be above party politics. We should all expect our government officials to abide by the Constitution. President Bush has not.

It’s probably too late to impeach Bush 43 now, but the reality is that his willful blunders far exceed those committed by Presidents Nixon and Clinton. So sad. And I voted for him — twice.

Gambling industry gearing up

A Dec. 26 story in the Austin American-Statesman talks about ailing horse and dog racing tracks and reveals that industry’s plans to try to expand gambling in Texas by influencing the political process.

“Texans for Economic Development, the umbrella group for track owners, breeders and other segments of the racing industry, has budgeted $1 million to contribute to campaigns in next year’s [2008] legislative races and $2 million for a lobbying effort to persuade the Legislature and Texans that the industry needs slot machines at tracks to survive.”

“It’s not about Democrats and Republicans; it’s not about the speaker’s race,” said Tommy Azopardi, the group’s president. “It’s not anything other than, ‘Are you for (VLTs (slot machines) or not.’ ”

Then there’s a New York Times story that refers to a new type of lottery game now being pushed.

“With the popularity of traditional lotteries waning across the country, many states are turning to instant games priced at $20, $30 and as high as $50 to lure new players and raise revenue.

“Scratch-off tickets, for example, now account for more than 75 percent of lottery sales in Texas, which this year became the first state to introduce a $50 scratch-off game.”But critics in Texas and elsewhere say games promising this kind of instant gratification are more likely to contribute to the kind of problem gambling that is usually associated with fast-paced casino betting, and they are now trying to limit them.

“They say the games take particular advantage of the most vulnerable members of society, including the poor and members of minority groups.”

These stories are a reminder that the gambling industry never sleeps. Money is at stake; or, rather, that industry’s ability to make money off of regular folks. Almost all informed people know that the gambling industry’s rhetoric about economic and educational development is simply hogwash. Texans, led by the BGCT’s Suzii Paynter, have done a great job in recent years in stopping the spread of gambling. Something tells me this will be a never-ending task.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)

Dr. Frankenstein, I am

I have created a monster.

There once was a time when I was undefeated at the board game Risk. No longer. My daughter, Tabitha, has taken be down twice in a row.

For the uninitiated, Risk is a game where you try to conquer the world with your armies. The winner literally destroys all other would be tyrants.

Last night, we (Trese, Tab, Meredith, Cameron, Matt and I) brought in the new year with a Risk game. Ending time: 2 a.m. The really bad thing this time was that I came in fourth. All three of the women outlasted me–and Matt and Cameron. Cameron might have done better, but he was smart and went to bed, leaving his substantial armies in Great Britain open to slow death at the hands of the rest.

So I begin this new year as a failed conquering — Ferrell, the Fallen. This is what happens when you let a daughter study military history in college. She pulls a Napoleon on you without the Waterloo.

A little Anne Lamott in the morning

In her book, Traveling Mercies, Annie Lamott tells about watching a movie about gypsies. In the film, the young girls seem full of life and are “practicing” for adulthood while the old women are full of life and dancing. In the middle, the women are pretty weighted down by the cares of caring for the young and the old and just getting by.

“Where does that leave a youngish middle-aged woman like me” Lamott asks. “Maybe it leaves me needing to consider how wealthy I am in the knowledge that the girl of my past is still in me while a marvelous dreadlocked crone is in the future–and that I hold both of these females inside.”

I love that. Of course, for me it’s that I hold inside me the boy of my past and the marvelously spry old man of my future, and that they may not be all that different.

Lord, teach us

Monday afternoon we held the monthly meeting of the BGCT Communications Team, and we started by lifting some prayer concerns to God. Then we let God speak to us.

Mark 1:21-22 says: “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.” (ESV)

It’s good to be reminded of the special nature of Christ’s teaching. Many of us have read His words, plus many words about Him, so many times that we forget the uniqueness, power and authority that they possess. At least I do.

I saw a note earlier in the day from Dan McGee, interim director of the BGCT’s Congregational Leadership Team, about the importance of spiritual formation. That got me to thinking. How, during this special time of the year, am I allowing the Holy Spirit to continue forming me?

Christmas is a good time to be reminded of the ongoing importance of allowing God to shape us, mold us, build us.

Lord, teach us.

(Originally published by me on the We Are Texas Baptists blog on this date.)