Saturday, April 16, 2016

Remembering my baptism - 55 years ago tonight
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

I was baptized 55 years ago this evening. April 16, 1961, at First Baptist Church, Richardson, Texas.

55 years ago! To put that in perspective, here are a few things going on in the world around that time:

  • John F. Kennedy had been inaugurated less than 3 months earlier; an inauguration, by the way, that I watched on TV along with my classmates in Mrs. McClearin's 4th-grade class at Spring Valley Elementary School. (We all crowded around a TV wheeled into the room, probably a 13-inch screen. Black-and-white, of course!)
  • Only four days earlier, on April 12, Yuri Gagarin of the USSR had become the first human in space. It would be almost three weeks before Alan Shepard's suborbital flight on May 5 would make him the first American in space. Later in May, President Kennedy would announce a goal of reaching the moon before the end of the decade.
  • The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba would begin the very next day, April 17 (and end in disaster two days later).
  • Legendary actor Gary Cooper would die almost a month later, on May 13.
I had walked the aisle to profess faith in Christ the previous Sunday evening, April 9. It was almost a month after my 10th birthday on March 14. I would have done it long before, but I was deathly afraid of water. To this day, I'm not a swimmer; took lessons at the YMCA when I was a kid, but I just never got the hang of it.

Anyway, I had a nightmare the Friday night before that. Suffice it to say that the dream involved my family and me gathering with others to be taken up to heaven; at the last moment, I realized I had forgotten to bring my dog with me. (I had had her only a few months; her predecessor had been killed by a car out on the road next to our house, an incident that was obviously still fresh in my mind.) Yes, it made about as much sense as most dreams, which is NOT MUCH, but I woke up in a cold sweat and realized that I - not my dog - was the one who was going to be "left behind."

Mother heard me screaming and came in to see what was wrong. As best I can recall, Mother helped me come to a decision that night that it was time for me to go public with my profession of faith. It was my decision, but she helped me think it through.

So I walked the aisle on Sunday evening, April 9th. LLOYD CLOUD, our pastor, was away that Sunday, so a retired preacher in our church, BROUGHTON MORGAN, greeted me as I reached the front that evening. He did something I had never seen before that; since I was the only one responding to the invitation that night, he spent several minutes asking me about my profession of faith, and in essence letting me testify to the congregation. I thought that was kind of neat, and it made the experience more meaningful than it would have been otherwise.

The following Sunday evening, April 16, Lloyd Cloud baptized me. And my fear of water betrayed me; my feet were supposed to be hooked under the stool at the bottom of the baptismal pool, but I must have panicked and flailed as he lowered my head into the water, because my feet wound up coming out of the water, causing not a few snickers from the congregation.

In school the next morning, one my classmates who also went to our church announced to the rest of the class, "Bill got dunked last night!"

Well, it's been quite a journey ever since:
  • Growing up in Kansas City, MO, with my world revolving largely around Youth Choir and other youth activities at church
  • Deciding, when I was around 14 or 15, that God was calling me into the music ministry; I was blessed with a music minister, JOE RUST, who encouraged me, gave me opportunities, and mentored me
  • Entering Oklahoma Baptist University in the fall of 1969 with a faith that was certain but shallow, knowing I had all the answers
  • Getting all that certainty - and faith - knocked out of me in one fell swoop one morning in Western Civilization class, in November of my sophomore year; one statement by a professor exposed all those doubts I had been suppressing
  • Abandoning the Church Music program, switching my degree away from ministry, and beginning a long, difficult search for truth I could believe in, a faith that was my own instead of my parents' or my pastor's
It was a long way back to Christ, but my testimony is that God never gave up on me, and He helped me to not give up on Him. But it was a difficult struggle to learn the difference between certainty and faith.

My parents never gave up on me, either. I know they were praying for me and they must have agonized over me, but they never pressured me. Daddy even admitted to me that he had gone through something similar when he was young, so he understood that this was something I had to figure out on my own.

Friends in the dorm - especially RON RUSSEY and CARY WOOD - challenged me in late-night bull sessions and helped me to learn how to think through the very knotty issues of faith. Ron pointed me to the pastor at University Baptist Church across the street, JERRY BARNES. I went to see Jerry, was totally truthful with him - that at that point, I didn't believe in God, much less Jesus as His Son - and what do you think Jerry said? "Come join our church." Because Jerry knew I needed to be in church regularly, and his preaching challenged me to dig deep, like no preaching had ever done before. Once a semester, I would meet with him in his study, and he would help me with the next steps of my journey.

It took over 5 years before I could again accept Christianity intellectually, but it was still a very gradual process from there - taking several more years - for me to be able to again make a true faith commitment.

It's interesting for me to look back on it. I don't fully understand it all. But less than 10 years after my baptism, God saw that my faith wasn't worth much, and that such a shallow faith would lead to an unproductive, even counterproductive, ministry. If there's one thing I have no doubt about, it's that it was God who used that Western Civ professor, Dr. BILL MITCHELL, to knock the props out from under my shallow faith. Thanks be to God He didn't leave me where I was in November 1970.

And the journey continues. Fifty-five years since my baptism - and over 45 years since that fateful day in Western Civ - God continues to reveal Himself to me in new and surprising ways. Though I never completed a degree in ministry (my degree is in music education, which I haven't used professionally, because teaching was never really what I wanted to do), and never went to seminary, God has seen fit to lead me along the way, deepen my faith, give me certain passions (such as commitments to Baptist principles and to Christian ethics), and then provide me with ministry opportunities along the lines of my passions. Remarkable ministry and leadership opportunities for which I could have never imagined myself suited, for which I never even knew to ask.

Early on in that journey, God blessed me with JOANNA, with whom I'll celebrate 40 years of marriage in September. We've grown in faith together during those years, and I'm blessed that we are still making that journey together.

Thanks be to God for His faithfulness, perseverance, and steadfast love.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What makes America so great and Christianity so special?
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

Two particular themes have been prominent in the 2016 presidential campaign:
  • Making (or keeping) America great
  • Recognizing Christianity’s unique place in American life

As both an American and a Christian (but not in that order), I emphatically affirm the greatness of America and the uniqueness of the Christian faith.

But what is it that makes America great? And what is it that makes the Christian faith special to those of us who claim it?

What I'm hearing from some of our presidential candidates - and their legions of supporters - is that both America's greatness and Christianity's uniqueness derive from power, wealth, and fear.

Really?

These don't make America great and Christianity special. They make them small, weak, and ugly.

So what is it that makes America great and Christianity special?

It is the principles that underlay them at their founding, principles that – though imperfectly applied by adherents from their beginning until now – we ignore at peril of losing the heart and soul of what it means to be either American or Christian.

America means:
  • Recognizing the equality of all people under the law
  • Giving a home to the oppressed and dispossessed
  • Government by compromise for the common good of all, not a privileged few
  • Separation of church and state, which has the effect of making both stronger

Christianity means:
  • Following, first and only, Jesus Christ, his person, his teaching, and his commandments
  • Taking care of "the least of these" - hungry, sick, imprisoned, poor - at the sacrifice of one's own comfort and even one's own life
  • Loving our enemies
  • Praying for those who harm us
  • Refusing to let fear rule our actions and attitudes
  • Defending the rights of those with whom we disagree
  • Living and working from the margins, not from the center of power, for those on the margins

If we focus on what really makes America great and Christianity special, we will: 
  • Welcome refugees oppressed and dispossessed by their native lands
  • Welcome those of all faiths to America, refusing to let fear control us
  • Seek peaceful and equitable resolutions to conflict, both external and internal to our shores
  • Give grace rather than condemnation and discrimination to those whose actions and beliefs offend us

When Americans build walls to keep people out . . . when Christians seek governmental sanction to discriminate against those whose actions and beliefs offend them . . . when Americans and Christians refuse to help refugees who have nowhere else to turn . . . when Americans seek to “win” by any method available, regardless of its illegality or immorality (waterboarding . . . killing the innocent families of terrorists) . . . when Christians thirst for political power . . .

WE BETRAY OUR FOUNDERS AND FOUNDING PRINCIPLES AND CEASE TO BE TRULY AMERICAN OR CHRISTIAN.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

5 YEARS . . . 2.9.2016 - 2.11.2016
by Kelly Hamill Petty

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The author originally posted this to her Facebook page on Feb. 9. She has graciously consented to Texas Baptists Committed's request to republish it here.

Kelly Hamill Petty was married to John Petty for 19-1/2 years until his death on February 11, 2011. Today Kelly is a special education teacher in Montgomery, Texas. Their son, Truett Davis Petty, is 18 and hopes to enter Baylor University in the fall of 2016; their daughter, Mara Hamill Petty, is 10 and in 4th grade. At the time of his death, John Petty was pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Kerrville, Texas. John was the youngest person to ever serve as chair of the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a longtime member of the Texas Baptists Committed Board of Directors, and a treasured friend to me and many others throughout Texas Baptist life. - Bill Jones)



Today marks 5 years since John left the house. February 11th marks 5 years since John's death. 5 years is a mark in time on a calendar that really stands out. On the day that I found out that he was gone, somewhere in my confused mixed up mind . . . I said to myself . . . Will we even make it 5 years? Where will we be in 5 years? I have no idea why 5 years was the pick of the moment.

So here I sit . . . on this day that I never thought I would see – because in days like those you are doing life minute by minute, and that 5-year mark seemed a lifetime away.

I want you to know that I have made it to that 5-year mark. I have traveled the journey of deep grief and deep soul-growing moments all at the same time – such a paradox. Paradox = a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth. I have learned so much in the last 5 years. And yes, I have survived.

You learn lifetime lessons that can be taught only by traveling the road. So I share some of my lessons.
To be real through it all is the best. 
Tears are definitely cleansing to your soul. 
We are called to be open and vulnerable in order to help those who come behind us and are hurting. 
To rely on people and ask for help. 
To have gratitude . . . because you realize you took things for granted before. 
You learn to be strong and have courage even when you are weak – for healers don't lack courage.
Things don’t matter – relationships do. 
Suicide is not a sin. 
Depression and anxiety are diseases just like heart disease and cancer . . . they make the mind sick.
That even the strongest who have the will to survive . . . can fight only so long . . . and sometimes the disease wins out.
The evil one targets the generals.
You find strength that you didn't realize you have.
Nature, music, art, and writing are healing.
Being physically present is more important than saying anything to those who have lost loved ones.
You realize memories are your true treasures and your lifeline. 
You are grateful that the person you are mourning chose to do life with you.
Life is good even in the tough times, for those who love deeply and invest in lives . . . grieve more deeply.
You can find peace and joy in the midst of the pain – a paradox in itself.
Forgiveness is freeing.
You doubt your faith and God . . . and I have found out that that is okay. 
You are not the same you . . . you will be a different you. 
You realize what is really important in life. 
You realize the simple things are beautiful.
The person that is gone is still a part of you and inside you – you must share that.
Rejoice in the days that you had . . . for some don't get those days. 
Grief will ebb and flow and become less and less. 
The Grief Monster stays with you. You learn instead of letting it manage you . . .  you learn how to manage it. 
You realize all you have is God and how you wished you had spent this much time with him before. 
Grace is a beautiful thing.
You will choose life again.
You will dream of the day you will sit at the table with your loved one again and there will be no more pain.
You realize that Heaven is closer than we all think. The distance between this world and the next is not as far as we might think. The wall between the two is not as thick as we might imagine. There are times when we can sense that one of those loved ones who have gone ahead is very near to encourage us on in this life.
And I guess it comes down to this . . . that any kind of struggle and loss hurts because we love something or someone else more than we love ourselves. It is our humanness.

Then after you have traveled through the birth of the struggle or the loss and all of the sadness that goes with it, one day you will begin to see a flicker of light that says I think I am going to make it this minute, today, this week, this month and before you know it, it will be years – 5 YEARS. You will look back at what you have come through and realize what you have gained in the process. For grief is never wasted.

For those of you who are struggling with any kind of loss . . . You will survive your tough days . . . and you will do life again. How you do that is up to you, your choice  will you be bitter or will you be better?

We have found life again . . . in a new and different way. We have found joy again, and John walks with us everyday. Live everything. So go and live.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Remembering two Baptist saints:
Rudy Camacho and Millie Bishop
by David R. Currie

(EDITOR'S NOTE: David R. Currie served as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed from 1987-2009.)

Heaven is welcoming too many great Baptist leaders who inspired me thoughout my ministry.  I guess it comes with getting older. To be honest, I do not care for it.

We lost James Dunn, who I met before I met Phil Strickland, Foy Valentine, or Jimmy Allen, all great mentors to me. I met James when I was a freshman at Howard Payne; he became my friend for life.

Recently, we lost Diana Garland, a precious gift to all Baptists. Diana and her husband David may be the most influential married couple in Baptist history, as they accomplished so many tremendous things, especially at Baylor University.

I could write much of my appreciation and love for these two saints, but many others have already done so, and they have spoken well on behalf of all who loved James and Diana.

However, I do want to say a word about two other great, beautiful, tremendous Baptists we lost within the past month – Rudy Camacho and Millie Bishop. If Baptists had saints, they would be so honored.

Both served on the TBC Board for many years. I know of no one who did not love them, admire them, and treasure their counsel and guidance. Both of them gave me their unconditional love. They believed in me, supported me, loved me like a son, and I was honored they felt that way about me.

Every experience of seeing them brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. They were that special.

Rudy was a prince of a man. He was kind, caring, yet unwavering in his commitment to historical Baptist principles. He was very influential in the close relationship between the BGCT and Convención, the Hispanic Baptist Convention. No other state has anything like the relationship between Hispanic Baptists and our state convention, and I’m sorry that Rudy won’t be here to see another wonderful Hispanic leader, René Maciel, elected president of the BGCT this fall.

As Rudy was a prince, so was Millie a princess, yet strong in her convictions. My mother, Mary Jim, loved Millie and her work with the WMU. WMU leaders such as Millie, Joy Fenner, Ophelia Humphrey, and Mauriece Johnston were vital to the success of TBC. I loved working with all of them. They traveled and spoke with me all across Texas, and I treasure those memories.

I’m the type of person who moves on from things pretty well. I love the life I lead now – ranching, building houses, and developing land, as well as church and nonprofit activities; but when these saints pass away, I am reminded of what a blessed life I have had to know and work with people like Rudy Camacho and Millie Bishop. They were true Texas Baptist giants.